South Pacific Episode 2: He Has Demons

Airdate: September 21, 2011
Christine Shields Markoski
“It’s gonna go one of two ways. It’s either gonna be Coach Wade duped once again on Survivor or it’s gonna be redemption for the Hantz family. I hope it’s the latter.” – Benjamin “Coach” Wade
Rating: 5 + Tier D (2) = 7

From the first season all the way to Winners at War, one of the few constants in Survivor has been the producers’ willingness to fabricate sexual tension for the sake of a good storyline.

For contestants like Colleen and Greg in Borneo, it was a matter of dialing up some playful flirtation and oddly phrased metaphors about snapping a kitten’s neck. In the case of Wendell and Michele in Winners at War, who had in fact kicked it before the game, the editors spun Michele into a scorned ex-lover holding a grudge that A) was allegedly presented in a way overblown fashion, and B) never actually paid off from a dramatic standpoint.

I can relate. I’m still bitter that Taylor Swift never returned my calls after accepting my promposal as a publicity stunt.

All that to say that I think the way Brandon Hantz’s creepy obsession with Mikayla Wingle is portrayed very deliberately implies a more sinister and less complicated angle than was probably accurate. That’s not to say he didn’t cross the line, but oddly-spliced lines like his “Being a married man, I have to stay away from that kind of stuff” as we cut between him staring off into the distance and Mikayla standing in the water feel a bit…off on closer examination. The visual suggestion is clear, but the dialogue lends credence to post-game insight that what made Brandon uncomfortable was Mikayla talking about drinking, one of his titular demons.

Ok, given the context, maybe “titular” was not the best choice of words.

Ah, Brandon Hantz. There will be other episodes to review in the future (when the random number generator tells me to) that will offer better opportunities to chastise producers and CBS for casting someone so clearly unfit to play, but one tidbit often goes overlooked–he was 19 years old the first time he played. The network was so entranced by the Hantz family that they not only spotlighted them on six seasons of Survivor and Big Brother between 2009 and 2013, but they actually exploited a mentally unstable teenager for no reason other than, “well, his uncle was pretty popular.”

The only other time a last name made such a big deal on a CBS reality show was when the host of Big Brother started signing off as Julie Chen-Moonves.

In this episode, Brandon comes clean about his bloodline, and the look on Coach’s face when he finds out is maybe his most genuine onscreen moment across three seasons of Survivor. The two of them are at the center of basically all the action in this episode, and their tribemates’ roles boil down to how Brandon and/or Coach perceive them: Edna is Coach’s friend, Mikayla is Brandon’s temptress, and Christine and Stacy are much-needed foils who see through Coach’s (I’m sorry, Benjamin’s) bullshit in the most aggressive and entertaining fashion possible. Christine goes on an unsuccessful idol hunt, but over at Savaii, Ozzy has better luck. It’s his “ticket to the win,” because having an idol worked out so well for him in Micronesia.

This season boasts some of the most evenly-stacked tribes ever, and despite Upolu’s early lead in the immunity challenge, Savaii comes from behind and pulls out the extremely tight W. There’s a mad scramble before Tribal Council, with almost every Upolu woman’s name coming up as a target. Oddly enough, the one who avoids getting her name written down in a rare Tribal Council with four different people receiving votes is Mikayla, who indirectly caused all the confusion in the first place. “They think that I’m not trustable,” she worries, and now Brandon resents her for making up words.

“I’m a married man. If she’s that loose with the English language, what other boundaries is she willing to cross?”

This episode is bookended with Semhar’s spoken word poetry and Christine’s elimination, and I don’t know which is more regrettable. But one thing’s for sure: neither of them are as bad as the decision to cast Brandon Hantz.

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