Survivor HHH Episode 5: Check Your Masks

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Okay, okay, you got me. I like this season.

After the gong show of a premiere and a theme that begged to be mocked, I had a bad taste in my mouth for awhile because I knew it could get worse. I think enough time and enough good episodes have passed for me to let my guard down, though, and expect good things and not a return to crappiness.

True, this episode wasn’t as great as the last two, but if this is the lower end of the episodes that’s a good thing. I mean, I’ve been releasing recaps a day or two before they were due out. The recap writing is less “grow up and do it” and more “I can’t wait to talk about this”.

A big part of why HHH is so interesting to me is because this season is really making me think about social dynamics in and out of the game. It’s a damn sociology class in here. Every episode has helped teach me and bring ideas from the back of my mind to the front. I’ve littered my articles with these to varying successes, but I’ve never been one to hide my opinion.

This episode brought some of that as well with the tiff between Roark and Chrissy, who both try and position themselves as the smartest in the room. This especially illuminates Chrissy to me, and gave me more respect to her career and how it connects to Survivor. In addition, we have a powerful, powerful PTSD scene with Ben the marine which if I had no thoughts on, shame on me.

See, this is the stuff I live for, not so much the idol finds and tribe swaps. Those can be summarized in a few sentences. This other stuff I could go on for ages about. Ultimately, that’s why I like this season- it interests me and keeps me on my toes for an entire week. I don’t know many seasons I could say that about. 

This episode in particular gives me miles to talk about, because it boils down to perception- how we perceive people vs how they are- whether we like it or not.


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IQ Tests and Census Forms

I’m reminded of October 22, 2014, when the tribes swapped on San Juan Del Sur. Missy and Baylor were reunited on Baylor’s tribe. Hunahpu, led by Jeremy, utilized their rice, overeating it to perform better at challenges. Coyopa, Baylor’s tribe, barely ate any, in part because of the rigid regimen that Dale put them on. Dale was reunited with Kelley, his daughter, and tried to dole out the smaller portions. Missy disobeyed Dale, however, and tried to give Baylor a Hunahpu-sized portion of rice. Dale exploded and stomped off, telling Kelley what a bitch Missy was.

Missy hate blew up like a dynamite with no fuse and the fire is still burning today. She was never given the second chance fans said we should give Rocker. She’s considered a bottom tier Survivor even today.

I’m reminded of this nearly three years to the day on October 25, 2017, the second round after the tribe swap on HHH. Chrissy, a Levu, didn’t do well on the immunity challenge. Roark, the only Soko on her tribe, decided that this meant she had to go. Chrissy talked with Roark to feel her out with the offer of a women’s alliance, but both realized it was a crock of shit. This led to their confrontation at Tribal Council, where they got heated calling out each other’s BS. Chrissy got the numbers to vote out Roark, giving a voting confessional about how she’s outsmarted “miss smarty pants”.

Ever since then, in a similar manner, Chrissy has been a lightning rod. While so far she has gotten more defense than Missy could dream of, there have been plenty of cries, even from my close friends, that she is entitled, cold, arrogant, a “nasty woman” and/or a straight up bitch. These are insults I cannot see at all, but there has been quite the uproar that she voted out a pre-game favorite, with unsaid asterisks that she did so while being an older woman who wasn’t perfectly proper.

There was a sense that Chrissy was trying to prove her intelligence, and that she wasn’t happy with the fact that Roark was calling out and diminishing her traits to the point where Chrissy perceived her as acting superior. However, as I posted on reddit, Chrissy is from a STEM field as an actuary, in a very male-dominated part of her career. It’s near-impossible to deny that women are treated as inferior or less capable at the same jobs men are. Even at levels where women have more seniority the subconscious biases reign and they have to repeatedly prove the worth they’ve already proven.

Now imagine you’ve gone through this in life. Then go 13 days without any of the basic necessities. No food, no water, no home, no cleanliness, nothing. Then an opponent wants to eliminate you from the game and is using shortcomings against you. Even in a public forum she points those out. Can you honestly blame her for not liking it?

I don’t think so, but many have, because Chrissy showed qualities that a woman, older woman especially, is not supposed to show. Last episode, she was argumentative and responded when confronted about her perceived shortcomings from someone she was about to vote out. She wasn’t polite about it. Apparently you are supposed to be ceaselessly, unfailingly polite about it.

While a universal concept, masking is prevalent with women, often for our own safety, to protect ourselves from physical and verbal attacks. That mask is one that’s always positive in some way- always goofy, always poised, always polite, anything positive. It just can’t be negative, or the mask has slipped. Not when you’re being harassed, not when you’re being pressured, and certainly not when you are being talked down to.

Admittedly this is speculative, but Chrissy seems like someone who has had to keep the mask up during countless condescending attacks against her intelligence. I also get the sense that the mask slipped last night.

Just about all of the criticism I’ve heard against her comes with a layer of shock that Chrissy would be like this. All humans are like this. Yet this goes against what people expected, and I cannot help but get the sense that this is all because it goes against what they expect from an older woman. She’s cold, she’s arrogant, she’s bossy, she’s hardheaded.

If that’s all true, why is it such a big deal? I mean, Joe crash-landed on Fiji with all of these traits and he still has a good few defenders. Ryan spent all of Simone’s episode then the beginning of the episode after bashing the hell out of her. Even Roark said in pre-game that people shouldn’t banish the word “bossy” and you know what, she’s right. The pearl-clutching has gone beyond “I don’t like this person” and to “this person is morally offensive” because two women fought.

People fight. It happens.

I bring up the Missy thing not just because the two are similar in “small things that turned a nation against a 40+ woman” but because they’re both moments I saw the masking theory in action. In lieu of college at this interim period I’m trying to take lessons from the show to write about it better. With Chrissy I was enlightened to it. With Missy I was exposed to it.

After Missy was castigated for the rice by angry fans, Jeff came to Hunahpu, where Jeremy still resided as the leader, and took all the rewards as a trade/punishment for a rice replenishment. People hated Missy for it. Later Hunahpu’s leader would be blindsided down the road, because of Missy- and the fans felt that Jeremy was done dirty. Those same fans got enraged that Missy didn’t quit after an ankle injury left her on crutches. I repeat- they were mad at her for not quitting. They were mad at her for not quitting.

All of this stemmed from the fact that Missy and Jeremy led the tribe into eating a lot of rice, but while Jeremy got angry in confessional at the tribe for eating rice and trading for it, Missy went to Coyopa and served the same amount of rice. However, even as Jeremy let more of his mask slip, Missy let just enough slip to start the hatred of her. This got her one jury vote. In Cambodia, which the public cleanly voted him onto, Jeremy got them all.

Roark was voted out by Ryan, JP, and Chrissy, and because JP has no relevance whatsoever Ryan and Chrissy essentially did it. Neither are getting much love from the fans, but just as Ryan said in his bio that he hates political correctness, any dislike towards him is depicted as just that- PC sensitivity. Even in-show, while Chrissy blowing the challenge was enough to make her a target, Ryan bombed the one before it and got more praise for his questionable antics than Brandon Kee. Will Chrissy recover? I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. I wouldn’t be surprised if, because of that same crowd, she didn’t.


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The Things They Carried

Can you believe I ever said the heroes tribe would be boring? The only one who’s boring is J.P., and that’s the best part about him! (Seriously dude cemented himself as my #2 of the season after his genius change of opinion on Roark that took all of .5 seconds.) Somehow, though, this section is not about him, but about Ben.

What put Ben on the Heroes tribe is that he served in the Marine Corps. That may be the most clear cut hero designation to ever exist. Heroes are also exactly what said military folk are treated like- everyone’s first instinct is to label them as such, then their heroics and villainy are later defined by the game. The show shelves their military life after a short while and they are instead treated as Survivor contestants. That’s fine, but also shows a twelve year old’s knowledge of the military- they’re cool and badass and brave and everyone wants to be them.

Last night showed the sacrifices of trying to be them.

The scene starts with Ben helping around camp, returning from washing dishes in a good mood. Suddenly, in the fire, bamboo goes off sounding like a gunshot, startling Ben and causing him to curse. When others are concerned, he tries to brush him off. Then it happens again, causing him to flinch again, yell some more, and leave the scene to take some time to himself. Other speculate that perhaps Ben is having some PTSD reactions and left the scene to get away from the repeated gunshot noises.

In confessional, Ben confirms this- sudden loud noises are part of his overall disturbance from the military. He confirms that for him, and many others who serve, things mentally are not the same, changed in ways that many who didn’t serve couldn’t understand. As he says “there’s no way to adjust fully” once returning. When he got back, he was depressed and lonely, feeling that no one could understand him. His outlook didn’t improve until he got married, and he claims that his family has saved him from living in the past with all its trauma.

“The past will eat you alive,” he claims, “but the future will save you.”

It would be wrong to say that this was a scene I was waiting for come 35 seasons, because I don’t like witnessing the suffering of others. However, this was a scene I needed, to at least get a grasp on PTSD. It’s something that in most of our minds is this incomprehensible beast, this poison beyond our grasp. I know it was for mine. To some extent, this scene, while hard to swallow, lets us know what’s in the minds of those who struggle with it. Ben’s right in that those who have never experienced PTSD will not fully comprehend it, but this is education we all need.

Far be it from me to claim that PTSD is something that only those in the military face, as it is not- many civilians face it as well for various traumatic things. We all have monkeys on our back. However, portraying Ben’s PTSD as honestly as it could portrays those in the military as more human and less godly, which honestly is how they have earned being treated. That may seem sacrilegious to say, but gods are unrelatable. We think they are better than us and don’t see the parts where they struggle and fall, and that illusion of them flying makes us fail to see when they struggle. These are moments we can’t fix, but we can do our part to heal.

I remember how in Thailand everyone clapped after Ken said he was a New York City cop in 9/11. Still, that’s a NYC cop in one of the worst attacks on American soil. We will never know what he could have faced. The applause is all we got to know about his career. Meanwhile, with Ben, even if we don’t understand, we know that it has adversely affected him. This is because he told us about it, and we owe it to him to hear him. I had it on a pedestal of awe-inspiring horror, a huge beast in the dark, but I think it deserves to be brought to light.


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The Rest Of The Story

There are a few more things to talk about this episode. Admittedly the smaller details I have to some extent overlooked because the bigger ones have arrested my attention. Still, the stuff about Cole and Roark leaving in general deserve some conversation.

Cole has gone from being a good-natured screwup to a probably good-natured guy with a good few dickish moments. This episode he was seen eating like a pig and others observing and being grossed out by it. Lauren, not one to mince words, calls Cole’s eating habits disgusting in confessional and hopes that his lips are shut by it. The noises they added to Cole eating did not help things from being any more gross.

A lot of people theorize that Cole get by due to the fabled “handsome bubble” popularized by 30 Rock, and that summarizes Cole quite well. To be fair to Cole, he’s released a statement that he is hurt by that stigmatization after having a rough time in high school. I understand that he doesn’t see himself as a handsome tool who should be given things in life, but the concept of the “handsome bubble” isn’t internal, it’s external. It’s how others perceive you and your shortcomings and how they may be softened due to your looks.

Besides, I’d argue despite that they haven’t saved him entirely. Lauren still gave him shit in confessional for his eating habits, and Jessica was none too happy with how he revealed her secret. Cole’s never been to a Tribal Council, which has only served to give him time to make his offenses stack up to the point where they may vote him off for them. It’s definitely a thing amongst fans who try and erase his shortcomings due to them liking him, but in the game I’m leaning more and more towards it being a non-factor.

On Soko there to stay is Roark, who is the other half of the Roark/Chrissy conflict. From Roark, we knew what we were getting from her pre-game stuff and how that led into the confrontation. Roark was headstrong and she saw no problems with it. If Chrissy had a strong grasp of the mask Roark did not use it that much, but honestly it made her a better character.

I’m not gonna claim Roark is gonna go down in legend but she didn’t stay silent to those she disagreed with. I think that’s an admirable quality, even if the world may not. That’s not something that I think we should banish in a person, and it added electricity into the conflict. It was someone that seemed to learn to behave even if denigrated against someone who doesn’t seem to pay heed about what others think.

Her going this early has detractors claiming that not only was she not good in the edit, but she was never good, and those who think she was good are idjits. I think she was pretty okay on the show with her moments of direct confrontation with others and overall good sportsmanship about her downfall. Beforehand, though, she was very interesting, unique, and real in all her pre-game material. Just because she was undersold on show doesn’t make that go away.


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Next Time on… Survivor

I almost included this with the Cole statement but… ooh boy. I think he’s hitting the final straw with his tribe. Eating too much, eating without the tribe in a way the starving members can catch him, saying they can’t win without him… yikes. They also show him passing out but at the rate he’s going they may vote him out anyways.

I think a Cole blindside has been in the works for awhile now and to be honest, it would be the perfect exclamation point on a fantastic pre-merge arc.

-Cameron

P.S. If Brandon wins Project Runway I may call in sick.

P.S.

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