Monday, February 20, 2012

SSAC Report: One World E01 Welcome to Nutsville

Assembled deep in bowels of the interwebs is a group of Survivor fans, a gathering of analytical, bright, and clever minds know as The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission. That’s right. They know their ABCs. Their mission is to analyze the story of Survivor better than ever before in the history of the universe. What follows is their first report for the One World season.

In regards to the first episode “Two Tribes, One Camp, No Rules" in the 24th season of Survivor "One World," The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
-An alternate thematic title for the episode would be “Welcome to Nutsville”
-The theme of the episode was “How will the players respond to the lack of rules?”
-To explain why they dominated this episode, the Manano tribe was shown establishing firm order and boundaries.
-To explain why they lost this episode, the Salani tribe was shown descending into anarchy.

When Jeff Probst says a line in the opening of an episode and it’s also the episode’s title, we’re forced to pay attention—especially when it’s reiterated again at Tribal Council. That symmetry is a nice bit of framing by the editors. This season after the traditional opening confessionals, Jeff Probst stated, "For the first time, two tribes, one camp, no rules.” At Tribal Council, Monica explicated the state of the Salani tribe, "It's almost like whatever is right in front of us that has to happen right now takes precedent. It's crazy. It's total anarchy,” directly explaining how the women responded to the lack of rules. They never climbed out of anarchy because they were reactionary to the men’s actions and all talk. As Jeff Probst summed up, “And you're laughing about it like it's kind of funny, but what's not funny is coming to Tribal Council...right now the guys are thinking those women are all over the map, we have them right where we want them, nutsville." That is the story of the episode. Lawlessness caused the women to hem, haw, deny, and protest while the men made quick decisions and confidently stood by them leading to Manano dominating Salani.

The dominance started in the intro when four men spoke in comparison to only one woman. Each of the men talked about how he was specifically approaching the game. Most notable were Jonas, who said the lack of rules would play to his advantage because no one would see a sushi chef as badass, and Michael, who said that he was mentally prepared for any twist the game threw at him. Neither man had any preconceptions. The other two men, Colton and Jay, talked about how they would relate to both genders in the game. In contrast, Alicia, the player most symbolic of the female stereotype in the episode, started shit-talking the men saying she’s going to play them if they like her. Really Alicia, how? And how is that going to help you survive? The divergence had begun, and it only grew from there.

Right before he split the tribes, Probst talked about gender issues with a few players and Troyzan stated exactly what Alicia and Sabrina had just done, "Those women are just purely all talk right now.” The comment followed Sabrina’s, "We all know men can't survive without women." As we learned in the episode, the men could survive without the women (getting fire and winning the challenge). Thus Alicia and Sabrina’s statements never came to fruition, nor did Chelsea’s statement about the women sticking together and being a big ball of badassness. By the end of the episode they were disjointed and anything but badass. Hell, in the opening 60 second stripping of the truck the women already showed they were ill-equipped for the lack of rules. The men stole most of the women’s items, taking the majority of the bounty, and the women went off to camp bitter and understocked, their talk getting them nowhere except a reactionary position.

On the hike to camp, things began to unravel even more for the women. Kourtney introduced craziness to the conversation, "I'm a girl, I know, I'm crazy. We're all crazy. I mean women, and that's the thing too, no offense, but women can be so warm and they seem so understanding and compassionate and accepting and before you know it it's just like (throat stabbing motion), you know?" And who immediately began that throat stabbing? Alicia, one of the biggest blusterers and the villain of the episode, tried to play by traditional Survivor rules and formed a five person alliance with Kim, Chelsea, Kat, and Sabrina. Nuance in the character portrayals becomes more apparent, however, as Kim begins to differentiate herself from the rest of the women by saying, “I didn’t plan to form an alliance right off the bat. I was just going to lay low but, when we saw the guys stealing off the truck, that was a huge rivalry right off the bat so, when the guys did that, the women were like: Women Power! I’m not a big fan but I am going with it.” To her credit, Kim is adapting to the situation rather than going with her preconceived notions. She is doing more than talking. However, she is still making a partially reactive decision based on the men’s stealing by going along with the talk of “women power.” The gender divide only gets wider with the chicken incident.

After Jonas tells Colton, "It doesn't look like One World to me, bro. It looks like their world and our world” (a sentiment Jay later echoes), Chelsea rebuffs on a chicken deal over what has happened before. The setup here is interesting, as it subtly demonstrates who actually forced the gender chasm—the women. Jonas’ statement to Colton isn’t a desire. It’s a statement. He’s seeing two different worlds. Likewise, who is the one who tries to strike a deal for the chicken? Matt. And who rebuffs it? Chelsea. It makes sense psychologically why Chelsea wouldn’t agree to the deal, but in reality, why would she antagonize the men? And that’s definitely what she did, as Matt, in a seeming villain’s edit, declared to close the scene "It was obvious from that minute that I'm with the guys, not these girls.” Storywise, this was what solidified the gender animosity, as Bill and Michael echoed those feelings right before and Jay did in the later fire incident.

In a series of scenes that show the men acting and the women as all talk, Jay states, “"Even though this is one world, to me it's two hemispheres. I don't think the girls' tribe wanted to be in with us. I think they made it apparent by scavenging around themselves, they was keeping everything on their side, so I don't want to help them in any way possible.” Like Jonas before him, Jay is simply saying he already sees it as two hemispheres. Like Bill and Michael before him, Jay is saying that the women are the ones who made it that way. And the men are completely satisfied with it as they get to work building a shelter and making fire. The women, on the other hand, aren’t shown doing anything except failing to make a fire and saying they need the men for help. The instant the men have a fire, edit-wise, Sabrina walks over and asks for some. In separate attempts, Alicia and Christina fail to steal fire from the men. It is here Troyzan equates the women’s perspective (remember, he’s the one who brought up the talking earlier right before the tribe split was revealed) with craziness, "I mean these chicks, they're in cuckoo land. I mean they want to come and trade fire for a chicken. It's the first day, the first hour, we don't need a chicken." The assessing reality vs. talking dichotomy is clear here, and clearly not working for the women…yet they continue.

Still in need of fire, Kim and Kat decide they should go to the Manano camp and talk to the men about it. Kat even suggests they do the stereotypical thing—act like they just want to hang out and don’t have another agenda. They get there and Michael stonewalls them. Jay joins the conversation and stonewalls them again. It’s an interesting visual divide that echoes the conversation post-chicken catching with Alicia and Matt conspicuous in their absence. The talking does eventually make slight headway though, but not in the way it’s been attempted so far. Rather than try to con them out of fire, Christina is able to strike a deal with Jonas. It is one of two successes the women experience in the episode, the other being catching the chicken.

The Immunity Challenge is likewise embarrassing for the women. Not only does one of their members get taken out of the game because she breaks her wrist in multiple places, but Probst presents a situation that causes them to resort to the only thing they know how to do—talk. Because Kourtney got injured, the men could decide to either finish the challenge or take the win. Manano takes the win causing the women to try and goad them out of their decision. Troyzan once again shuts them down by claiming they’re all talk, “I understand. If it was reversed and one of us got hurt, I just don't think it would be the same thing.” In the viewers’ ears, those words echo as true. It’s clear the women are just trying to talk their way out of their predicament…and failing.

Tribal Council, as always, puts a point on this talking theme. Monica, to essentialize her words, says the women have no plan. They’re just addressing whatever the most immediate problem is—and without a plan that causes a whole lot of bluster. They even try to talk circles around each other as Alicia, playing her edited role well, bends and twists the details of the fire deal with Jonas to make Christina look bad. Christina demonstrates they have indeed reached Nutsville by screaming “Because you’re wrong. So shut up.” Christina may be right, but her outburst doesn’t play well rhetorically, as even Probst is shocked by it. He puts a bow on this all, echoing Troyzan’s sentiments all episode, "And you're laughing about it like it's kind of funny, but what's not funny is coming to Tribal Council...right now the guys are thinking those women are all over the map, we have them right where we want them, Nutsville."

In regards to the overall themes of the 24th season of Survivor “One World,” The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
-A thematic subtitle for the season would be “Beyond the Charm.”
-The theme of the season is “Which gender is better suited to survive without the other?”
-The dominance of the Manano tribe was exaggerated in order to set up two possible outcomes:
1. A member of the Manano tribe wins following through on the strength of the men in this episode.
2. A member of the Salani tribe wins proving the strength of the women in an epic underdog story.
-The exaggeration of Manano’s dominance was so measured and great that #1 is the likelier outcome.
-It is likely a cross-gender alliance will develop and control the game.
-Five characters delivered a possible winner’s quote: Troyzan, Sabrina, Chelsea, Kim, and Jay.
-Two characters were built as villains: Alicia and Matt.
-One character was built as a proxy of the opposite gender: Colton.
-Several characters were given nuanced edits that signal a possible winner’s story:
-From Salani: Sabrina, Kim, and Chelsea
-From Manano: Troyzan, Jonas, Jay, and Michael

The men’s imperviousness to the women’s charm was more than a one episode story, it was the hidden answer to the season’s question, “Which gender is better suited to survive without the other?” This episode was a huge opening salvo by the men, best summed up by Bill, “They need us more than we need them.” The women were knocked down like an overmatched boxer. Nina’s face post-IC was the visual representation of that. That fact leaves us with only two possible stories: options one and two as listed above. If number two were to come to fruition, it would be an incredibly epic underdog story (so that is something to watch for in the coming episodes, the groundwork being laid for that comeback). However, this episode was more than building a Goliath for the David to fell. Amongst all the gender posturing and stereotypical behavior, it was the systematic demonstration that the women are overmatched.

The master key to this dungeon was hidden within the fire incident. Monica attempts to distract the men by holding a conversation with Tarzan so Alicia can go for the fire. Tarzan defends the men’s not sharing fire due to the outcome of the chicken incident and then says “we’re beyond the charm,” meaning the men are impervious to the stereotypical wiles of women. What makes the quote so interesting though is the context it appears in. First, while Tarzan is the one talking, he is not the one shown. Instead Matt and Jay are shown—two of the men who have taken hardline stances in shutting the women’s talking down—and, when Tarzan says “we’re beyond the charm,” Alicia was shown, the woman who personified the female stereotype in this episode. Second, Monica then repeats the phrase herself saying, “I’m beyond the charm,” but is immediately proven a liar when Alicia attempts to steal the fire and is blocked by Leif (in his second appearance of the episode, the other being Jonas calling him buff). In other words, Monica and Alicia were attempting to use charm and even the minor character seemingly insignificant to the story men (if Leif comes back and wins, the theme of the season was “buff little dudes ftw) rebuff them. Troyzan puts a cap on it: "The girls are so typical. I've been around 50 years, lady. You can't come over here with your set of taters on you and walking around with your little bikini. You're not going to get fire from me on the first day. You better suffer for like two or three days. Maybe they just want my one quit 'oh, I'm done, this is not what I signed up for.’" Still, this is only one scene, right? That doesn’t say much for the rest of the episode.

Before the tribes were split, Sabrina claimed that men couldn’t survive without the women. The opposite proved to be true. From the 60-second-truck-stripping to the immunity challenge, the women were at the men’s mercy. Sure, the women caught two chickens, but what good is it without fire—fire, which the women were unable to attain until they made a deal with the men. What about shelter though? Were the women able to build that? While it’s true the women offered woven palm fronds in exchange for the fire, Kat was shown suggesting during the chicken incident, “We will give them a chicken, but we need them to help us with our shelter.” As for the immunity challenge, the women couldn’t even get through the first leg of it without one of their players breaking her wrist so badly that she almost passed out due to the pain. If there were a Survivor checklist, the women might have earned half a check, but certainly nothing more. They failed at surviving in every way possible—and it was all because everyone fell in line behind gender stereotypes.

The women and men were equal in one area, the way they approached alliances. Both opted for assembling a quick five based upon physical strength. How they went about it suggests a negative portrayal of the extremes of each gender, which in turn suggests an ultimate failure of these alliances. The key to understanding the extremes of the genders are the portrayals of Alicia and Matt, the supposed alliance leaders, and the relation of the portrayals of the other alliance members to them. The key to understanding the ultimate failure of the alliances is the Sabrina-Colton dynamic. Both aspects were framed by Probst at the start of the episode.

In the intro, Probst told us, “They think they've got Survivor figured out…They think they know the rules…They think they've seen everything, but they're in for a huge surprise." This is a huge red flag for typical tribe play and the success of early built alliances (which is the exact opposite of the last two seasons). It’s especially interesting as the Jay, Michael, and Colton’s quotes in the intro were about working with the women, whereas Alicia’s was about playing the guys. That’s where Alicia’s insanely negative portrayal began. From saying both tribes living together would be a party to targeting Christina, she was shown as the epitome of a bitchy catty woman. Who said Matt wasn’t serious about the chicken deal? Who first tried to steal fire? Who got upset over a deal being made for fire with the men? The answer to all of these questions is Alicia. She was the one leading the divide on the women’s side. Likewise, Matt was the one portraying the stereotypically male bravado and callousness. When the chicken deal fell through he said, “I don't care about those girls. Give us that chicken as an apology and then we'll think about talking.” When he made his alliance he said, "Well the way Survivor always works initially is that the strong stay because they benefit the tribe and the weak's an easy alliance. We're not going to get any Survivor points for that one." The last sentence was meant to be humble, but based upon what Probst said it actually carries a double meaning. None of these alliances will be getting credit for being good at Survivor, because they’re not, because the rules have changed. Their leadership is misguided.

Below the leaders, however, are interesting gradients of loyalty to the gender to openness to working with the enemy. On the women’s side, Kim flat out stated she was just going along with the women power thing and her and Kat’s discussion with Michael and Jay was a very interesting scene. After the challenge, she also gave a very in-between confessional where she was disappointed the men weren’t more chivalrous yet understood their decision. Chelsea, on the other hand, seemed to be more for the split with her rallying cry to make the women one giant ball of badassness. The woman who best summed up the mixed feelings though wasn’t even in the alliance. Christina said, “I think some of these girls who have this chip on their shoulder thinking like we don't need the guys, look, it's not so much about pride, it's about yes we have a game to play, but we also need to survive as well.” That reinforces that the women can’t survive without the men and is pretty strong foreshadowing, especially considering Michael and Jay’s behavior in the episode. Michael looked the worst of the two. When the “frat boy alliance” was formed, he asked “Who’s going to stop us?” Jay was the more balanced of the two. When the alliance was formed he warned, “You know we're putting a huge target on our back.” Likewise in the scene with Kim and Kat he said they needed to get girls on their side (as well as saying he wanted to align with girls in the intro). To be fair though, he did say this was a war and it didn’t make sense to work with the girls “at this point.” At this point is an interesting inclusion, especially as Michael was shown in conversation with Kim and Kat as well…and gender lines were already crossed.

Perhaps the two most interesting gradient characters in this episode were Colton and Sabrina. Colton, for all intents and purposes, was the female surrogate on the men’s tribe. In the intro he said he worked better with women. After the tribe split he said he wanted to be on the women’s tribe. He even flat out said, “I'm the girl within the guy tribe.” No, this isn’t insensitivity towards homosexuality. This is the story. Matt even said as much (well, minus a meta-comment about the story). On the women’s tribe, Sabrina is the player who most stepped up to the game. Perhaps it was a factor of her finding the idol so she had to be edited that way, but she still said “Colton's a wild card. My gut is telling me to believe in him, but who knows, anything can go down in Survivor,” a quote that may as well have been said by one of the guys. She then, of course, gives the idol to Colton, beginning the tribal line crossing, calling back to the other important Probst line in the intro: “Who will stay true to their tribe and who will make alliances with the enemy?”

Winner’s Quotes

“One guy's called Tarzan, and I'm like 'He can't be Tarzan. I'm Troyzan.' It's like, I'm, um, this is my island, baby.”

“If I had to do the jumping on the truck 60 second grab all over again I would've stole some things from them that they stole from us. They definitely played dirty on that truck. I said ok, we got a good inclination of how they're gonna play the game and, um, Game on.”

“Don’t mess with the country girl.”

“I didn’t plan to form an alliance right off the bat. I was just going to lay low but, when we saw the guys stealing off the truck, that was a huge rivalry right off the bat (Note that Matt was shown at this moment) so, when the guys did that, the women were like: Women Power! I’m not a big fan but I am going with it.”

“Even though this is One World, to me there’s two hemispheres: Their tribe versus our tribe. I don’t really think that the girl tribe wanted to be in with us. They made it apparent by the way they were scouting around and keeping everything on their side. I don’t want to help them in any way possible. As far as I’m concerned, they need to stay on their side, I’ll stay on mine and, if they need us more than we need them, then we are in charge of this game.”

Players to Watch

His winner’s quote looms large as well as his incredibly unique edit. He was the only one continually calling out the women on their talking. On the other hand, his “this is my island” statement is bravado that matches Matt’s. What it amounts to is this: he either wins the game or is the wise old sage that told the men how to win it.

He is the other male with the unique edit. He’s not in the power alliance, yet a point was still made of including him in the episode, as well as establishing his badassness and likability. If he doesn’t win, he’ll at least have a long Dawn Meehan-esque arc.

His winner’s quote at least seems to point to a male winning, but internally to the episode the women needed the men more than the men needed the women, and if a man is going to win, who better than Jay? He hasn’t seemed to make “the single biggest mistake in this game (of) making decisions early on that nobody will forgive you in the end” of alienating the women and not wanting to work with them. In fact, if there is a man ready to work with both, it is him.

In some ways, he’s a less fully realized gradient than Jay. He seems to be more in the arrogant male camp. However, he was shown saying he was ready for twists and then adapting to the twists well. He stole from the women in the 60 second truck strip. He got into the frat boy alliance and still talked to the women. He seemed at least destined to be a major player in a cross-gender alliance.

Out of all the women, she was the quickest to adjust to the lack of rules. Out of the women’s alliance, she seemed to be the most distant from Alicia’s influence. It remains to be seen if this edit is just because of her finding the idol and working with Colton or not.

Kim's quote could be a winner's quote because this episode really highlighted the initial divide between the two sides and how some players were all about the women and some all about the men. If the story is going to be about how the winner balances the two and goes along with whatever her circumstances are, she has shown to be adaptable and able to see both the men’s and women’s perspective.

Her victorious moment of catching the chickens was huge. In the middle of a gender war, she holds them up and says “Don’t mess with the country girl.” If she does win, that will be the scene she is remembered for in Survivor history.

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