Like the outrageously magnanimous and raucously indulgent master and overlord of this web site, Jeff Pitman, wrote in his recap, I’d like to have a reset button for this season, because so many of my opinions shifted during the premiere, and, in the case of quite a few tandems, my reads completely flipped.
But before I can get into that, I need to begin with this week’s…
1) Elimination Deconstruction: Nadiya
To be blunt, I don’t much care why Nadiya was voted out – other than enjoying Dale’s killer instinct when he threw her under the bus for being aggressive on The Amazing Race – just so long as she’s off my TV screen.
Her relentless characterization of Josh as “one of the girls” was ignorant and offensive.
(It was also brutally bad Survivor strategy – an abject failure in the social game – but that’s far less important in the overall scheme of things.)
I’m aware that Nadiya was probably the victim of a harsh edit – it’s far more likely that she was booted for a combination of her reality show résumé and being on a tribe dominated by men – but that doesn’t alter the fact that every time she talked about Josh, she revealed just how deeply entrenched her insensitivity really is. Indeed, she STILL doesn’t understand how her words could have been so insulting: in her post-game interviews she’s been referring to Josh as a “queen.” Given Allison Grodner’s love of cheap controversy, it seems like we should expect the Twinnies to be the first people to complete the reality show trifecta and appear on Big Brother – where offensive, outsized personalities are welcome.
Which brings me to my final point about Nadiya’s ouster: I have to believe that one of the reasons that Nadiya behaves and speaks this way is because of how deeply invested she is in her Twinnie persona. She might be this outspoken in real life, but is it so hard to believe that she feels pressure to be extreme in her attitudes and interactions (especially when she’s been cast to be outlandish, confrontational, and annoying)? She’s been playing this role for several years now – can she even tell the difference between who she is and who she feels she has to be?
(By the way, we’re going to see more of this “playing to my role” behavior in the weeks ahead, as John Rocker – who HAD to be pissing off producers over the first three days by playing the nice guy role – goes into attack mode. There was no way he could get through the season without acting like a jackass. And – conspiracy theory time! – the producers were going to do everything in their power to make sure it happened.)
Anyway, enough about Nadiya. She’s gone. Good riddance.
2) The most complex character of the episode was… Josh.
Let’s take a look at what he accomplished over the first three days in the game:
** He’s central to the plans of two competing alliances… while it’s always dangerous to be the swing vote, at least he KNOWS it’s dangerous. (It was unwise of him to talk about being the swing vote during Tribal Council, however.)
** He knows to say yes to any deals that players approach him with – something he used to his advantage with Baylor.
** He is seen as empathetic, which – if you’ve been reading this column for any length of time – you know I feel is the most important trait a Survivor player can possess. (It’s NOT great that this defining characteristic is a topic of conversation during Tribal Council, though… he’s well on his way to being targeted for being a threat.)
** While I don’t agree with his choice to join forces with the Meathead Alliance – I think he could do far more damage working with the women of Coyopa – we have to focus on this important fact: he had a choice. That’s power. And power’s important (obviously).
Two other items of note:
** I’m guessing that he decided to team up with the guys because of Baylor and her connections to the younger men (I’m still betting on a showmance between Baylor and Alec). A Josh-Baylor-Alec core alliance could easily make it to the merge, and they’d have one of the biggest meat shields the game has ever seen in John Rocker. The male power alliance on Coyopa will be short-lived, I think, as the need for brute force fades the deeper we get into the game.
** I’ve read a lot of different theories about Josh’s vote for Baylor… here’s what I think might have been going on: Baylor will do whatever Josh says, right? At least, that’s what we were led to believe given the footage we were shown (and it fits with the sort of player Baylor is likely to be). I can’t help but think that Josh knew that Baylor was going to vote with the guys (he may have even told her to do so); as a result, he went into Tribal Council absolutely certain that Nadiya was going home.
Under those circumstances, might Josh think, “We’re going to need to pick up orphans after the merge, so I need to be able to tell Natalie – if she gets there – that I didn’t vote for her sister.” That’s how I would play it, anyway… and I would have warned Baylor beforehand that I’d throw a stray vote her way so that she didn’t obsess over who wrote her name down. Unless, of course, I wanted Baylor to worry about someone on the tribe being after her, which might push her closer to me for safety. AND there’s an added bonus that I could vilify another tribemate – “He’s/She’s the one who voted for you!” – if I felt I needed to.
Anyway, here’s hoping that the vote was strategic and not emotional. I’ve completely flip-flopped on the Josh-Reed pair – I’m much higher on Josh now – given what we got in the first 90 minutes. This is hardly an isolated case, though: the premiere made me reverse positions on at least four tandems (more on this later)…
3) Exile Island – and the hidden immunity idol clue – will reveal who knows ANYTHING about this game.
** How is it possible that in Season 29, players aren’t immediately examining everything in their camp (especially those things that both tribes would have) in an effort to find out where the hidden immunity idol is buried? The cover to your water well has PICTOGRAPHS ON IT. Don’t you think that might be important?
Whenever I feel this degree of outrage, I have to remind myself that there’s a ton of footage we haven’t seen, and that at least some of these castaways are game aware enough to put the pieces together. Lest I feed my impotent rage at the persistent casting of people who have no idea what they’re doing, I have to believe that some of the savvy players noticed the well cover and have figured out that:
A) The images are connected to the idol
B) In all likelihood, the clue to the meaning of the symbols is probably on Exile Island
C) They have to talk to Val/Keith, and if the player isn’t forthcoming about the nature of the hidden immunity idol clue, they have to watch them carefully, and follow them every time they leave camp.
** The fact that Keith didn’t figure out that Val got a clue – that he didn’t call her out on the fact that either one of them could have picked that urn, so it has to be a clue for both of them – told us all we need to know about him as a Survivor player.
** The fact that Val didn’t figure out that she needed to be forthcoming with Keith – to build a relationship in a season that’s all about relationships – tells us a lot about her as a player, too. In that moment, she had to anticipate the future of the game: other players will be going to Exile, which means that eventually, everyone is going to know about the idol clues. As soon as Keith realizes that Val lied to him in the earliest moments of the game, he will cease to trust her. Wouldn’t it be far better to show Keith the clue, and make sure that you and quite possibly your husband have idols in your possession?
** And how about Val’s “I might have found an idol” head fake at Tribal Council? To me, that’s a sure sign that she knew she was in danger – not because she wasn’t around for the first two days, but because the members of Coyopa knew she had been searching for the idol (and had either figured out – or assumed – she got a clue when she was on Exile). Right now, the show would like us to think that everyone other than Val is in the dark regarding the hidden immunity idol, but that simply isn’t the case.
4) Let’s play a quick game of “Why is it in there?”
Q: Why give us a scene where Natalie breaks down the age groupings of the Hunahpu castaways?
A: Because alliances are going to be formed based on age (which is a good thing for Drew, Jon, Kelley, and Natalie).
Q: Why include Jon’s story about his father suffering from a brain tumor?
A: Because Jon is going to be around for a while, and this is going to be a part of his emotional journey through the game.
Q: Why show Dale taking the medallion on top of the well?
A: NOT because it’s the hidden immunity idol… but other players ARE going to notice it’s gone and will assume that it IS the idol and try to figure out who has it… and Dale is going to turn into suspect number one (either by not being able to hide his guilt or by confessing to the wrong person), be forced to play it at Tribal Council, and find out that it ISN’T real. (That’s one scenario, anyway; safe to say, though, that Dale and the medallion are going to come to the forefront sooner rather than later once the truth about Exile and hidden immunity idol clues comes out, probably this week.)
5) Jeremy should have known better than to volunteer to battle in the first reward/Exile challenge.
Yes, figuring out the high stakes of the challenge would have been difficult to do on the fly, but you’re on a Blood vs. Water season, and it’s a two-person challenge. What do you THINK is going to happen? They want drama – and you stepped right into their trap, Jeremy!
By the way, I don’t buy the argument, “But they thought this was going to be Redemption Island!” If they’re starting the game on RI, why would you EVER volunteer to compete? Probst would need to populate Redemption, so either you’d be putting yourself at risk of starting the game there, or being put in a position where you’d be responsible for other castaways ending up in dire straits.
Bottom line: No good can come of volunteering to compete.
The fact that Jeremy earned his tribe a reward – and was humanized in the process – doesn’t change this fact.
At the start of any Survivor season, if Probst doesn’t spell the stakes out for you, THEY’RE NOT GOOD.
6) Not that we needed any more proof, but John Rocker is a moron.
You have a choice, though, to decide what sort of moron he is:
A) He’s the sort of moron who thinks, “When someone remembers me as a baseball closer, I’ll tell them that they’re right, I did play in the major leagues, but my last name isn’t Rocker, it’s Wetteland, because John Wetteland was a closer, too, only he didn’t make racist and homophobic comments to a reporter from Sports Illustrated.” In other words, the sort of moron who plans ahead, but does so poorly (if they know he was a closer, they sure as heck know he was John Rocker).
B) He’s the sort of moron who, when confronted, is only able to think of other baseball player names.
I’m guessing it’s A… but I’m not ruling out B.
On a related note, Rocker’s plan to vote out Wes because the kid recognizes him would be fine on a normal newbie season, but Wes’s DAD is in the game – and if Wes knows who you are, it’s a safe bet his dad does, too. The secret is going to be out one way or another, so why not pull Wes into a “I get to hang out with THE MAN, John Rocker!” alliance and have Keith join you after the merge?
7) Here’s a quick run-down of the players who made a positive impression in the premiere:
Jeremy: He may have misplayed the whole reward challenge situation, but he did spin gold out of dross by winning the hearts – and allegiance – of the women in his tribe. He’s got something brewing with Missy, Kelley, and Natalie (with Keith as a fifth), although I worry that he hastily threw this alliance together as a way of overcompensating for sending Val to Exile. Guess we’ll find out when Hunahpu goes to Tribal Council. Yes, Jeremy will eventually be targeted as a threat, but he’s in a good spot for the short term.
Jon: He’s goofy AND serious – a good combination in a social game – and it appears that everyone likes him. Plus, he was a BEAST in the immunity challenge (did you see him motor through the first part?! CRAZY). And let’s not forget the “my dad has a brain tumor” confessional – we don’t get that unless he’s around for a while. (He’s also in the SuperTease talking about hunting down whomever has the idol… so he’s at the center of Hunahpu tribal politics.)
Keith: Yeah, he doesn’t know much about the game. But he’s great TV. Funny, honest, open – and even got emotional after Jeremy picked him to go to Exile. We’re meant to like the guy.
Baylor: She’s being depicted as strategically deferential, insulated in the power alliance, and competent in challenges (although she had an odd body language moment when she untied the third bag and dropped it onto Rocker… it felt somehow, I don’t know, arrogant?). She could be around for the long haul.
Josh: Said enough about him in #2… overall, I think he got a solid edit.
That’s it… which makes me realize something: Coyopa as a tribe isn’t being cast in a good light. Wonder if they’re headed back to Tribal Council quite a bit in the weeks ahead.
8) And now for the negative impressions…
Julie: She could be in the neutral category if only for how well she summed up Drew’s personality… but I think she’s losing the “older woman” battle to Missy, who was central to tribe conversations, while Julie was decidedly peripheral. When showcasing your obvious plastic surgery is your biggest moment of the episode, you’re not terribly important to the season.
Drew: During the douchetastic shelter-building sequence, Drew accomplished three things:
A) He made me root for Alec to get deeper than him (so that Drew has to take crap from his little brother for the rest of his life)
B) He built the first-ever “levitating” shelter, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me, since Drew is a self-proclaimed “genius.”
C) He eliminated any possibility that he could win the game.
Wes: He isn’t sure how many letters are in the name Rocker… and the SuperTease heavily implied that Wes is our quitter. Even if the latter isn’t true, just implying it means that Wes isn’t important to the season.
Jaclyn: It’s never a good sign when you’re utterly invisible in a 90 minute episode. There was even a long, lingering shot of her during Tribal Council during which she said… nothing. One other nail in her coffin: yes, she’s shaped like a beauty queen, but the way she moved during the immunity challenge made it clear she isn’t an athlete.
9) And finally, notes on the neutral ones:
Reed: Totally overshadowed by his partner Josh… all we know at this point is that he’s a nice guy and is good at rock-paper-scissors.
Kelley: Other than making a quick alliance with Jeremy, she didn’t do much.
Missy: I liked her moment with Jeremy (recognizing that he has a good heart)… she’s wise enough to know that she needs to align with someone she can trust.
Natalie: Not enough of her in the episode to have a read on her. Safe to say, though, that we’re going to get a lot of her this week, as she reacts to the elimination of her sister. We’ll know much more about her – and her chances – on Wednesday.
Rocker: I know, I’m as shocked as anyone that he isn’t in the negative category. He was great in the immunity challenge, his alliance controlled the vote, and he has at least one worshipful acolyte in Wes. The first pre-season commercial makes it clear that this won’t last very long, but for at least one episode, Rocker didn’t blow the save.
Alec: He’s what we expected him to be, bland and unobtrusive. Doubt we’ll see him emerge as anything else. Which is fine by me, so long as he outlasts Drew.
Val: I came into this season really liking Val – and I still sort of do – but there’s something about how her face expresses emotions that bothers me. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but to me, Val has the face of a cop who never quite believes anything she hears. Perhaps this is due to how her game began, but I doubt it: I think she’s reserved and calculating, and used to putting up a front. I’m increasingly doubtful that she’ll be a pivotal member of a power alliance.
Dale: Yes, he started the fire (although he made it harder than he needed to; use a drop of water in the glasses and you don’t have to break them)… yes, he did a great job throwing Nadiya under the bus… and yes, he was game aware enough to grab the medallion thinking that it might be useful. But he is an outsider on his tribe (a situation he made worse by self-ostracizing) and he’s a challenge liability, which means he’ll be targeted sooner rather than later (the Meathead Alliance already has enough votes that they can cut bait with him and still be in the majority).
Looking at these lists, I realize that I’m flipping the script on four of the tandems:
I’m now much higher on Jeremy than Val…
Same goes for Josh and Reed…
Keith and Wes, too…
And Alec and Drew.
As if we needed any more proof that pre-season predictions are pointless and that I’m an idiot.
10) Probst Probe: My wife just told me that I need to create a set of Survivor commandments for Probst – and she’s right.
Here are a few:
Don’t be sexist: Probst has a history of ripping female contestants who are struggling in challenges, but he hit a new low this week by bellowing “Dig, woman!” at Val. Yes, Probst criticizes underperforming males, too, but never this harshly, and never by referencing gender. This is the same sort of sociocultural stereotyping that Nadiya displayed, only with gender rather than sexual orientation; sadly, the fact that Probst is speaking this way on a television show – a medium that both creates and perpetuates these stereotypes – just reinforces that it’s okay to talk to women this way. (Am I blowing this out of proportion? Perhaps. But there’s a reason why a lot of people were taken aback by Probst shouting, “Dig, woman!”)
Cease with the lame terminology: Hero Arena? SuperTease? Gaaaaaaaa. Please, just stop.
Cast real people, not recruits: So, according to the SuperTease, we have another quitter this season? GREAT! The show isn’t getting harder, Probst; the people you’re recruiting are getting softer.
11) Fortunes rising: Jon
For all the reasons stated earlier in this column, Jon is going to be around after the merge… and once there, his could emerge as a social and physical threat (the jury’s still out on the strategy piece of the equation).
12) Fortunes falling: Natalie
Unlike the players in the first Blood vs. Water – who seemingly got stronger when their loved ones were removed from the game – I think Natalie will be vulnerable and adrift without her sister. Even if she makes it to the merge, there’s little chance she will be a pivotal player during the endgame.
13) Prediction time: The trouble with a SuperTease
Without a “Next week on… Survivor” promo, predicting what will happen on Wednesday feels even more like fan fiction. But let’s give it a whirl…
After the two players return from Exile, the truth about the hidden immunity idol clue will come out. When the Coyopa castaways go to the well, they’ll discover that the medallion is missing and/or the idol is gone.
Somehow, Dale will be exposed as the one who took the medallion (perhaps by trusting someone he shouldn’t?) and when you couple that with his status as a social pariah (starting fire only gets you so far in this game) and his weakness in challenges (the press photos reveal that this week’s immunity challenge is HIGHLY physical), and you’ve got a ready-made scapegoat.
Of course, we’re far more likely to see a predictable boot like Jaclyn or Missy – but one can hope for some drama, right? Because without hope, where are we? (Answer: Redemption Island.)
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius