I’ve done a lot of complaining about this season of Survivor so far, but most of it has been reserved for analyzing the weakness of the cast and, as a result, the relative weakness of the gameplay. The cast is something the show can’t change at this point—you cast who you cast, then you roll the dice and see what you get once the cameras roll—but how the show tells stories about these cast members is absolutely under its control, and the storytelling is where everything fell apart in this episode. In a season with really no room for error at this point, it was a definite disappointment.
Valuing surprise over storytelling is an issue Survivor has struggled with at various times in the past, as the easily promotable buzz of “blindsides” and “most shocking Tribal Council ever” have a tendency to spill over from mere promotion into how episodes are actually constructed. The narrative of Jeremy being blindsided by new alliance member Jon is a good story—a promotable story, even—but the show’s desire to preserve the shock of the ending forced the ending itself to become almost nonsensical, able to be constructed only from the showing of the votes during Jeremy’s exit speech. Let me be the first (or maybe the hundredth, for all I know) to say: This is bullshit, and the show needs to quit it.
It’s not like the producers and editors don’t know how to tell a compelling story; just a few weeks ago, they told a gangbusters story about Drew being ousted by his own stupidity. It was a story without a big twist ending, and yet it worked, because it was compellingly told and intensely satisfying. The story of Jeremy’s blindside was never going to be that satisfying, as Jeremy is one of the few big game players and a strong narrator of the season so it’s tough to watch him go out like this, but it certainly could have actually been a story, had the show decided to tell one. Instead, it gave the strategy talk that led to his ouster 45 seconds and one confessional, then breezed right on to the next thing in order to preserve the “surprise.”
The frustrating thing about this story structure—and it’s an actual story structure the show uses on a regular basis—is that it doesn’t tell an actual story at all. This is how it generally works: In the strategy segment after the immunity challenge, the show haphazardly throws a plausible reason for each of the vote-getters to be voted out of the game, then goes right into Tribal Council with very little synthesizing of what any of the strategy actually means. At Tribal, small points from each of these three narratives are touched on but largely in a meaningless way, then there’s one small hint about what is to come right before the votes are counted. Then, in the vote display during the ousted contestant’s final interview, the audience sees the votes and has to put together what actually happened. As a bonus, the “previously on” segment before the next episode will tell the actual story of what happened in the previous episode, in case the audience couldn’t put it together themselves.
This is not satisfying reality television storytelling. Survivor is a very strong show and has some of the most top-notch production values and storytelling in the business, but its recent reliance on this narrative trick in order to maintain the idea of a “blindside” is diluting what is so great about the show. A blindside doesn’t have to be a blindside of the audience to be great: A great blindside of a contestant that the audience knows all about can be just as satisfying if it is a well-told story. The worst part is what is turning out to be a new trend this season: telling the story of what actually happened in the “previously on” segment of the next episode. There’s leaving things for your audience to put together and then there’s the actual absence of story, and the show feels like it is trending toward the latter at times (this being one of those times).
So what actually happened to Jeremy tonight? Well, Jon happened. Jon is playing this game sort of fast and loose, making lots of moves and creating chaos partially because he’s the kind of person who believes the last thing someone tells him, and partially because he’s obviously fairly inexperienced with the mechanics of the game. This isn’t a bad thing—I’m actually enjoying Jon’s dumb moves, for the most part—but it’s certainly a big, fat problem for strategic fans like Jeremy and Josh, who think much more long-term and are more reluctant to change alliances on a dime. Jeremy gets in trouble here without really knowing it when Jon gets the feeling Jeremy doesn’t trust him about his idol lie. It’s not an unfounded worry; Jeremy doesn’t really trust Jon because he suspects his idol lie. But where Jeremy is content to let the lie go and see what happens in the future, Jon is uncomfortable with Jeremy’s uncertainty and decides now is the time to get him out before Jeremy can come for him.
What’s shocking about the whole thing, and what could have been illuminated if the show spent more than 30 seconds on the conversation, is why Missy and Baylor decide to go with Jon and vote Jeremy out. There is no logic to this decision that I can see, and the show gives no logic for the decision because it’s too worried about the shock and awe of the vote to bother to tell us. Sure, there will likely be a confessional in next week’s episode from Missy about why she decided to side with Jon, but that feels a bit too little, too late to save this episode from being the scattered, out-of-the-blue mess that it ended up being.
- I like chaos Reed. Chaos Reed can stay. (Also, his silent “Hey” “Hi” exchange with Josh at Tribal was cute.)
- People sharing and giving up things and asking for trades just needs to stop. This isn’t Survivor: Friendship, it’s just Survivor. Go on the reward you earned, eat the food you have and don’t ask for more. I have officially become my mother.
- This feet challenge is a decent idea except we have to look at close-ups of gross Survivor feet.
- “I just don’t want to be #blindsided.” Don’t hashtag something out loud, Wes. It never goes well.