Guatemala Episode 11: Everything is Personal

Airdate: November 24, 2005
Gary Hogeboom
“There’s a winner and a loser in this game, and if you’re going to be jealous then you’re an idiot.” – Stephenie LaGrossa
Rating: 8 + Tier D (2) = 10

“It just feels like all is right in Survivor world.”

“It is…just for a minute.”

Guatemala remains a truly monumental yet simultaneously neglected chapter in Survivor history. It introduced the inarguably most impactful twist the show has ever seen in the hidden immunity idol, paired new and returning contestants together for the first time, and might stand as the single greatest example of the power of editing, which I’ll get to a minute.

But its legacy couldn’t be summed up any better than in Jeff Probst’s ranking of the first 19 seasons of the show. With only a paragraph to encapsulate his thoughts on each season, the host raved about Russell in Samoa, lamented the lack of charismatic contestants in Fiji, and, regardless of his affinity or lack thereof, afforded all but one season the same attention and space.

Ranked fourth from the bottom, Probst could muster up just four unenthusiastic words for Guatemala: “No. 16. Why not?”

Not unlike Bob Seger’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame ballot voting to induct the Red Hot Chili Peppers with a, “Fuck it, sure.”

For a brief moment though, the season actually was a big deal in Survivor world, and though this is far from its best episode, it defines Guatemala better than any other. Because this is the episode where St. Stephenie of Palau, whose glowing portrayal in the previous season made her the most popular female contestant of all time up to that point, morphed into someone whose comeuppance viewers couldn’t wait to see.

Sure, it wasn’t like this episode came out of nowhere. We saw some less flattering Stephenie moments earlier in Guatemala. But pair this episode with the stretch of Palau where it became apparent that Ulong’s losing streak wasn’t an unlucky fluke but an inevitable march of death, and you have maybe the biggest textbook example of how selective editing can shape the audience’s perception.

You’ve got to give the producers credit: they were faced with the challenge of knowing that, in a matter of mere months, Stephenie went from an immaculate fan favorite to getting destroyed in a final Tribal Council vote. And they handled that transformation fairly well. It’s just a shame that they essentially erased Guatemala‘s existence from the Survivor canon, (correctly) placing Stephenie on the Heroes tribe in season 20 while (incorrectly) pretending her Guatemala stint never happened.

Hero. Why not?

Stephenie’s downfall stems from her incensed reaction to losing the reward challenge. It’s the classic pecking order elimination game, and Stephenie is the first casualty because she’s already enjoyed a few food rewards. “Jealousy gets you nowhere,” she muses, tersely noting that other players ate just as much. But it’s not until everyone is back at camp that she really unleashes her anger and shuts down any notion of preferential treatment. It’s harsh, it’s dismissive, and it’s a 180 degree turn from the Stephenie we saw in Palau.

This is a Steph-centric episode and thus a Steph-centric review, but a couple other quick notes:

  • I feel bad that Lydia kept getting saddled as the weakest player throughout the entire season. The other players (and allegedly Jeff Probst) seemed to write her off when she’s such a sweetheart and her social game could have easily won her the million.
  • It still amazes me that the producers have shifted to predetermined teams in post-merge reward challenges, because when individuals have to make tough choices, it guarantees drama. (Insert final two > final three argument here.)
  • In a post-Dan Spilo world, it’s kind of odd watching Rafe take such delight in being “touchy-feely” with Cindy on the reward.
  • Seeing challenges and the players’ campsite among authentic Mayan ruins is really, really cool.

Gary Hogeboom is the other all-star this episode, delivering one of the most entertaining Tribal Council performances ever, and my favorite moment of the season. When Judd proudly professes his unfailing honesty over the first 30 days of the game, Gary–whose entire persona has been based around lying about his identity, mind you–calls him out for his lie that the hidden immunity idol was on the ground. “I’m a damn bad liar,” Judd confesses. But that’s not even peak Hogeboom.

“You gotta wake up pretty early to fool Gary HogebHAWKINS I MEAN GARY HAWKINS.”

Bringing everything full circle, Gary perfectly, succinctly, and hysterically summarizes the first two-thirds of Guatemala in one of the show’s greatest burns ever. “I personally like Steph,” he says, “but there’s some people here that are star-struck by her. That’s not her fault, but they all can probably get her autograph after the show.”

Cut to former rivals Bobby Jon and Jamie on the jury cracking up, united at last in mutual Stephenie LaGrossa loathing, and Stephenie’s eyeroll heard ’round the world.

“I don’t need to take this from a plebian like Gary Hawkins who has never signed an autograph in his life.”

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