Remember before the season began, when I warned you there would be weeks when I wouldn’t be able to deliver a full-fledged Baker’s Dozen?
This is one of those weeks.
I could blame it on having to pull together fall interim grades and comments for my students this weekend, or better yet I could justify my distraction on the fact that my wife could go into labor at any minute. The truth is, though, that John Rocker’s admission in an interview with Dalton Ross – that production, knowing that their controversial stunt-casting selection was in danger of going home early, did everything short of telling him to play his idol at Tribal Council – simply took the wind out of my sails.
I know that I’ve been annoyingly relentless in my claims that Survivor is far from pure in the realm of producer manipulation, but that doesn’t mean that I like it when I hear it confirmed. Quite the opposite, really. It makes me wonder why I bother.
What follows, then, is a list of topics that have been kicking around in my head since the episode. If you find my exploration of these topics to be underdeveloped and underwhelming, blame the unnamed producer who all but told Rocker to bring his idol to Tribal. That person, whoever he or she may be, is a jerk.
1) Elimination Deconstruction: John
I love John Rocker.
Not because he’s good at Survivor. He isn’t. It’s because he never wants to play again.
Rocker shouldn’t have apologized to Jeremy at the Exile Island reward challenge… he shouldn’t have threatened to punch a woman in the face… and really, he never should have gone out there in the first place.
I’m also not a big fan of how the edit, ultimately, protected him. Head on over to Jeff Pitman’s take on Rocker this week – it’s mandatory reading. It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Amazing, no? Particularly the part about the pre-season commercials having disappeared from YouTube. Jeff, as he so often does, nailed it.
Anyway, here’s why I love John Rocker: He told the truth.
Most players don’t – because they want to play again. Rocker has no illusions that he’ll be invited back. More importantly, he doesn’t WANT to return.
The truth Rocker revealed is a sad one, of course; no one wants to hear that Survivor is rigged. And it isn’t, at least not the way Big Brother is. But the producers play favorites and shape events, and castaways who shouldn’t go home do go home because of the decisions that producers make. Had Rocker played the idol and Baylor gone home last week, she would have a legitimate – and potentially legal – gripe. And the only reason this scenario didn’t play out was the fact that Rocker is tone deaf to social politics.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you, but I blame Probst for this mess. As the Executive Producer, all major decisions – up to and including “Do we save Rocker?” – run through him. It’s a shame that Probst doesn’t trust the game enough to let it unfold without interference; it’s a travesty that he gets ever more brazen with his efforts to influence the outcome of the game.
I’m thrilled, of course, that Probst’s beloved alpha male semi-celebrity sports figure recruit made such an unremarkable exit. One of the most amazing things about Survivor – a game that rewards players who can adapt – is that it seems to possess the ability to correct for everything that Probst tries to do to it. And yet, as Rocker left with an idol in his pocket, I couldn’t help but mentally rewrite T.S. Eliot:
This is the way his game ends
This is the way his game ends
This is the way his game ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
Probst, to be gratuitously grad school about it, is one of T.S. Eliot’s hollow men. More importantly, if we can’t see what he’s doing to Survivor in the name of entertainment, then we are the stuffed men, heads filled with straw. And to think, Probst is willing to compromise the integrity of the game…
… for John Rocker.
And now, my half-baked thoughts…
2) How many members of this cast are actively – strategically – playing the game right now?
The obvious: Josh and Jeremy.
Seems like the rest of them are content to coast to the merge.
Yes, the edit shapes our perceptions of these people, and other players are likely advancing their games in significant if not showy ways, but if there were meaningful strategy sessions to be shown, they would have been aired, right?
3) Anyone who thinks they’re going to coast to the merge, though, is in for a rude awakening…
… because I still think a swap is coming.
I don’t know how they’ll handle the Exile Island reward challenge (what to do if the loved ones who have not yet competed are on the same tribe?), but I think there are three forces at work that make a swap inevitable:
** They want to shake up the tribal imbalance so that Coyopa isn’t annihilated (that trick works only once, and Palau already did it).
** Probst and the producers want to capture the range of emotions a swap will trigger. Some players will be reunited with loved ones while others will still be apart. Tears, jealousy, anger, joy – this is why Blood vs. Water came back so soon.
** And let’s not forget the alliance-busting potential of those emotions. Will players stick with the deals they’ve made during two weeks of game time? Or chuck it all to work with their loved ones?
They’re not going to let Hero Arena get in the way of all that, are they?
4) Right now, Jeremy and Josh are playing chess, using the other castaways as pawns…
… but Survivor ISN’T chess, and they may both eventually discover that this particular game allows the pawns to break the fourth wall and take out the grandmasters.
The editors are going out of their way to provide parallels between Josh and Jeremy: The former said that Rocker couldn’t win and that he should take the goat to the end; the latter, meanwhile, said pretty much the same thing about Drew. Josh ultimately decided that he needed to sacrifice Rocker; does the same fate await Drew at the hands of Jeremy?
We’ve also been given reason to wonder and worry about the endgame chances of both of these strategists: Josh has, to some degree, alienated Baylor, and he admitted to Rocker that he flipped his vote at Tribal (did Rocker tell Wes, Alec, and/or Dale, I wonder?). Jeremy hasn’t covered himself in glory, either, by reacting emotionally after Val’s elimination.
The season is young, and without Rocker around, other plants can catch rays of editorial sun and grow in the weeks head, but I still think that if Josh or Jeremy doesn’t win the game, we’re going to have our biggest WTF winner since Fabio.
5) Speaking of Josh, he fell prey to the Fundamental Attribution Error.
A quick dip into social psychology geek-dom (this is the stuff I live for): Psychologists use the term “fundamental attribution error” to refer to the human tendency to blame the actions of others on their underlying characteristics while chalking up their own choices on situational circumstances.
An example: to Josh, flipping his vote to save Baylor was simply good strategy, despite being a betrayal of the Meathead Alliance. When Rocker admits that he was trying to save Val – also a betrayal of the Meathead Alliance – Josh labels Rocker an untrustworthy jerk and promptly votes him out.
Yep, the fundamental attribution error turns us all into hypocrites.
6) A Few Character Notes: Hunahpu
** As I wrote last week, Missy is playing a strong social game: her empathy is on overdrive, as we saw with Julie after the immunity challenge blow-up. When anyone needs a shoulder to cry on – and the deeper we get into a Blood vs. Water season, that more that need will grow – Missy’s shoulder is the one they’ll seek. She’s going to be around awhile (and may last as long as Trish did last season).
** Speaking of that Missy-Julie moment, the fact that Julie isolated herself immediately after returning to camp shows that she’s:1. Not emotionally connected with anyone in the camp (after 9 days?)
** There’s only one reason to show Keith admitting that he misplayed the idol situation during his visit to Exile Island with Val: he’s getting this season’s “Growth Arc.” Expect to see him figure out the game in the weeks ahead. He’s going to be comedic, emotional, and strategic gold, just you wait.
** On the flipside, though, what the hell was CBS thinking, including Keith talking lightheartedly about corporal punishment – on a network that makes millions with the NFL – when the Adrian Peterson scandal has been all over the news?
** Drew’s harsh edit continues: weave a little, nap a lot. Conspicuous laziness occurs with one or more players every season, and is so prevalent that there has to be an underlying psychological force at play. It’s almost as if castaways self-sabotage when they’re suffering, overmatched, and are beginning to realize that they have no chance to win the game.
** Natalie’s treatment of Drew in the shelter – while seemingly justified – will make the other players like her less. Pair this with her attack mode persona during confrontations and she’s transforming into an endgame goat before our eyes. And I bet Jeremy knows this.
7) A Few Character Notes: Coyopa
** Wes feels like he’s close to Josh? WHAT? News to me. A sign that Josh is in good with EVERYBODY.
** I have to admit that I was shocked that Alec didn’t immediately tell Rocker that Baylor was trying to convince the guys to vote him out.
** The editors are being kind to Dale: we haven’t seen him much since the premiere, but every moment we get, he’s being nice. He cheers on his teammates, he defends Rocker during the verbal sparring, and after the immunity challenge, he tells everyone to sit while he goes to get water. Yes, he’s on the outside looking in now that Rocker’s gone and his alliance has fallen apart, but it feels like he’s going to be around for a while (maybe the tribe swap will be kind to him; plus, he’s got that fake idol to play).
8) Somebody needs to give these players a primer on how to wear their buffs.
And yet I suspect that this sartorial spectacle was a calculated decision.
It’s all about building the brand.
9) The challenge was NOT to three points.
** People’s Exhibit A: Watch Probst when he’s explaining the challenge… when he mentions the scoring, the sound is clearly looped (his mouth moves but the words don’t match).
** People’s Exhibit B: Some of the pairings don’t make any sense if the challenge played out as it’s edited in the show.
** People’s Exhibit C: With the score tied at two, Probst bellows that Coyopa would go to Tribal if they lost this point… but if it was really 2-2 at that moment, they both would be at risk.
Survivor has a long-standing history of editing challenges for drama, so there’s nothing particularly surprising or sinister here. It just jumped out at me.
10) Probst Probe: Piling On
** I find it ludicrous that Probst now insists that he didn’t want the sort of confrontation we saw last week. That’s PRECISELY why Rocker – and Natalie, for that matter – were selected for the cast. It was heavily promoted pre-season (despite their shameless attempts to remove any and all evidence), which is all the proof you need that CBS and SEG were happy with what they got.
** Probst took an already antagonistic group of castaways, had Kirhoffer design a challenge that encouraged physical confrontation – and then had the audacity to be shocked that the players were at each other’s throats afterwards? I guarantee you that the production team was positively giddy with the possibilities when the challenge was about to start. It may have gotten uglier than they hoped, but in the end, I’m sure when it was all over, they thought it would make good TV.
** I would LOVE to see the unedited footage from last week’s Tribal Council: I bet Probst questioned Coyopa endlessly (remember, these things go on for hours) until he finally got Jaclyn to reveal that alliances were shifting. Everyone has been ripping Jaclyn for admitting that there were rifts in the Meathead Alliance, but I would be willing to wager almost anything that she held off Probst as long as she could. Bottom line: Coyopa wasn’t going to vote until Probst let Rocker know that he was in trouble.
11) Fortunes Rising: Baylor
The editors have gone out of their way to let us know that Baylor is now awake. Pair that with her growing distrust of Josh, and you’ve got a potential narrative for the Texas cheerleader: she may well be responsible for a Broadway blindside. (The alternative, of course, is that Josh will win in part because he kept Baylor in the game: Save the cheerleader, save the world.)
On a related note, I have to say, it’s refreshing that Baylor is at least trying to play the game. My family and I just re-watched Survivor: Marquesas, and it drove me nuts that Neleh kept admitting that she started playing the game on Day 24. Many young women have followed that same path – for understandable reasons – but it’s good to know that Baylor is more Ciera Eastin than Natalie Tenerelli.
12) Fortunes Falling: Natalie
I’m officially adding the remaining Twinnie to the “Can’t Win” list. According to Rocker, Natalie was verbally abusive to everyone after the past two immunity challenges, and we’ve seen her be attitudinal with Drew back in camp. Her Twinnie persona may keep getting her on reality TV shows, but it will also keep her from winning a million dollars. She might get deep, but she isn’t winning this game.
13) Prediction Time: Hunahpu loses!
Every preview, promo, and cheat tweet focuses on Hunahpu this week… hard to imagine that this would be entirely misdirection.
There’s talk of throwing a challenge (Jeremy’s plan to get rid of Keith, perhaps?)… there’s a lot of drama around the hidden immunity idol (Keith trying to throw Jeremy under the bus)… and we’re going to witness an ill-advised power play by Drew (can anyone be that oblivious to his standing in the tribe?).
In the end, I’m going to act like a Christy boy and not over-think this thing.
Jeremy’s right, Drew can’t win.
The badass -- ladies man -- kingpin is going home.
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