I toyed around with the idea that the title of the first episode of the season, “I Need Redemption,” was ironic. What I mean is, anyone who claimed s/he needed redemption wouldn’t win the game because the episode demonstrated how important being prepared was in Survivor. As you can remember, I went with only the second half of that interpretation—a much weaker claim. However, after the second episode of the season, I have to wonder if I wussed out and was actually spot on, as this episode’s story fits perfectly with the ironic interpretation.
On first pass, “He Has Demons” is about Brandon Hantz and his identity as a member of the Hantz clan, as Coach uttered the line in a confessional after he found out Brandon’s secret. However, dig a little deeper and we see that Brandon’s was only the most prominent version of the episode’s theme, mainly because his tribe went to Tribal Council. “Demons” are a metaphor commonly used to explain how the events of a person’s past negatively affect his psychology to the point that he acts in ways that are harmful to himself. This episode featured a number of characters talking about their pasts in a negative way as we were shown major actions they were taking in the game—actions that we were led to believe wouldn’t turn out very well.
Whereas last season Redemption Island was shown to be a powerful and trying place through Matt’s journey of struggle and growth that paralleled his Survivor savior Rob Mariano’s path to victory, this episode portrayed it in a much harsher manner. Semhar reflected upon her past in the game with anguish, lamenting how people in the game could be so cruel (in contrast Matt always talked about how much stronger he was getting and how he was improving himself). Her poem she recited in defiance of her past told us how to view the episode. It asked over and over again if she actually missed the person who broke her heart or if she just missed being in love, concluding with the line, "I don't miss you. I miss feeling loved." If you let them be, demons are a distraction. They make you focus on other people and past events rather than your own feelings and actions. Soon, it’s almost as if you don’t know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
The most prominent example of a person not realizing what he’s doing is, of course, Russell Hantz’ nephew Brandon. Russell is the concretization of his (and in many ways Survivor’s) demons. He is what Brandon doesn’t want to be, so rather than try to be himself, Brandon tries not to be Russell. It’s what causes Brandon to reveal his “secret” to Coach, an even that, in the edited story of the episode, started a chain of events that culminated in a tense Tribal Council.
You see, much was made of what Brandon did (I’ll return to this thought later) when it really didn’t mean all that much at all. The five person alliance still split their votes with Edna as their sixth. Mikayla voted with them and ousted Christine. Christine and Stacey were the outsider but weren’t aligned as was shown. All of these events make sense in game logic. However, if you went by the story of the episode, you would’ve thought something completely different happened.
In an edit that consciously mirrored Russell’s (on the part of the editors), Brandon declared in a confessional, "I swear to you I will get her voted out of this game." He is then shown “bullying” Christine and Stacey, telling them to vote for MIkayla, as Russell always was shown doing. This is especially ironic as Brandon doesn’t even realize how much of a Hantz he is acting like. Unlike his uncle though, Brandon’s plans didn’t work. Mikayla received no votes and Tribal Council seemed to revolve around the distrust he was sowing in his tribe. It’s like Albert’s foreshadowing comment said, "A person's character will creep in." So even though the alliance stuck together and even grew in strength by bringing Edna (and kind of Mikayla) into the fold, what we saw was a story about its fragile state because of the demons of one of its core members. That delicate position in the game was faced by several other players as well.
At Savaii the most notable person struggling with demons was Brandon’s parallel (a comparison drawn in the “Previously On” section and by both of them being shown opening and sharing a coconut), Cochrane. As his tribe returned from Tribal Council, Cochrane reinforced in a confessional that he would be the new version of himself. What was he shown doing on screen though? He was being the old Cochrane. He seemed to be aware that he went into antsy analytical mode, yet that is what he was doing. Even worse, later in the episode as he was shown opening a coconut and sharing it, his confessional was all about his mother and essentially rebelling against his mother on national television. Come on, dude, who do you think would say that stuff, the cool kid or the antsy nerdy paranoid kid? Here’s a hint: Mr. Cool Brian Heidik never talked about his mother. Where’s your Survivor expertise now, Cochrane?
The redheaded step child of Savaii (yes, that’s a Phillip reference) wasn’t the only member of the tribe confronting his past in a negative fashion, however. World Poker Tour champion Jim went from a potential power player to a tragic joke in a matter of minutes. Keith and Ozzy built a five person alliance and let Jim think he was in control. Meanwhile, Jim gives a confessional where he says, "I've always been the kid that doesn't always fit in...and I'm probably the least of the cool kids. I mean, I'm at the cool kid's table, but I'm barely at the cool kid's table." Why is he talking about cool and uncool kids? Why isn’t he focused on Keith and Ozzy’s relationship? Sure, maybe he talked about it in real life. Story wise though, he’s shown focused on the wrong things.
And Jim isn’t the only player on that tribe that Keith’s confessionals point to danger towards. Yes, Ozzy found the Hidden Immunity Idol, but what did he talk about when he did? He still remembers Micronesia and not playing the HII he had then and doesn’t want to let it happen again. That’s a scary statement for Ozzy when Keith says he is wary of the challenge dominator because of his experience in the game. That HII may be as much of a concretization of demons for Ozzy as Russell is for Brandon, which is especially interesting as it seemed Ozzy’s scene of finding the HII was edited to mirror Rob’s from last season. It’s another reminder that this isn’t last season and that Ozzy isn’t Rob.
Likewise Coach isn’t Rob. He has his demons too. In a Mariano move, Coach pulled aside his “first friend” Edna and made her into his Sarah-Amber-Natalie. In their conversation he tells her, "I'm stupid in this game. I'm the biggest fool in this game because I'm always hopeful that I'll find someone out here who will play honorably." These are his demons. He looks back upon his past and considers himself the “biggest fool.” He isn’t concerned with who he is playing with, he is concerned with being honorable (see: Semhar’s poem). It’s a psychology that rears its ugly head when Brandon reveals his secret. What is Coach’s response to Brandon being his nemesis’ nephew? He ties his fate, in the story, to Brandon’s: "It's gonna go one of two ways. It's either going to be Coach Wade duped once again in Survivor or it's going to be redemption for the Hantz family. I hope it's the latter." The worst part for Coach is that Brandon is duping him without even meaning to. As Brandon runs around and unintentionally acts like Russell, Coach is shown talking to the rest of the alliance, disappointed in how Brandon is acting. It is a pregnant moment in which we’re meant to ask if Coach will make another Mariano Move and use his sway to vote out the player most wouldn’t think of voting out so early but is the most harmful to his future in the game. (Remember, episode two of RI is when Rob voted out Matt, who one could argue was the Brandon of that alliance.) As we learned later in the episode, Coach didn’t make that move and sealed his fate in the story. He was duped again by sticking to promises made in the past rather than acknowledging issues in the present and there will be cracks in Upolu because of it.
All Is not lost for Coach and Upolu though, as I still see one of them winning the game, and Coach is the prophet that tells them how. His statement in this episode was technically correct, though he obviously doesn’t know how to properly apply it: Coach: "This game is simple. You find people that are loyal to you and that's it. I mean that's just simple. You're loyal or you're disloyal." This one statement accurately describes how every person who has ever gone deep into this game has gone deep into this game (except for a few outlier immunity hogs) from the Tagi alliance to the Ometepe alliance. I don’t believe this season will be any different. Right now I see Upolu sticking together just without Brandon and Coach. Sophie will lead the ousting of Brandon (whom Coach will refuse to turn on and thus follow out). I’m then thinking Sophie will lead the alliance and go to the F3 with Edna and Mikayla. As for Coach prophetic win all the immunity challenges comment that I mistakenly misinterpreted to be a Palau 2.0 foreshadowing? Maybe Coach is the RI returnee. Maybe the winner of the game wins a lot of individual immunities. Or hell, Upolu STILL might win everything from here on out and the alliance crumbling happens post-merge/in the end game.
5. Coach – Coach could conceivably still win if my read turns out to be the opposite of this story’s theme and Brandon does get redemption. He has been getting a positive/intelligent edit so far.
4. Rick – He’s in the power alliance but has nothing going on. His episode one comments still linger with me, though he is probably just a prophet with Coach.
3. Papa Bear – I’d like to drop him down further but he had such a strong first episode and we were reminded of him multiple times, once in the “Previously On” and once in Jim’s “who goes next’ spiel.
2. Sophie – She’s the biggest mover on this last due to a combination of game logic and story reading on my part. Game wise, she is positioned well as a smart person and the only chick in the numbers. Story wise, she has been shown as distrusting of Brandon in each episode and the “Previously On” pointed out that she is the only girl in her alliance, these are also good places to be in.
1. Mikayla – In the “Previously On” Probst’s “Mikayla is a scoring machine” comment from the first immunity challenge was repeated AND she was given credit for the win when she wasn’t in the original episode. Plus, one thing stands out to me about her story. Arguably it is just about her being Brandon’s target. However, if the point was just to make her a victim, all that would need to be shown is her performing well in challenges and Coach’s (and others) comments about her being strong and valuable. We would get that point. Instead, the editors are going out of their way to humanize her, deepening her character. Once again in the middle of Brandon’s craziness, she was given a confessional. And once again, it fit the theme of her first confessional, talking about handling the dirty work and not being a princess:
"At home I bartend and I also play in a professional woman's football league. It's full tackle. We hit as hard as the guys, so I think I'm a pretty tough chick. I am kind of a tom boy, so if you see me at camp, I'm right in there with the guys doing all the diry work. The hardest part of the game is the social aspect. You gotta have thick skin. You can't be a little princess. I don't see myself as a girly girl. I see myself as a strong solid person and I think that's gonna help me in this game.”
Yes, it is going to help her, as we haven’t forgotten Coach’s confessional about how simple this game is. It’s also not a coincidence that she was compared to Parvati by Brandon. I’m sure some of you will call this a reach, but I’m just trying to perform inception on you here. If Brandon is the accidental anti-Russell, acting like him by accident and failing, isn’t it interesting that he is calling my winner pick Parvati when Russell called a girl Parvati last season and she didn’t win?