It was very recently that we came across a sentence that said that ambition is just the louder cousin of decision. Borrowing further from the writer, they described ambition as the endless hunger for the next best thing, whereas a decision was a determination about a certain kind of life. There is no rush or restlessness with the latter, just an acceptance of what must be done to live the way they want. The reason this analogy came up with respect to Big John is because of how he let go of El Dorado, his lifelong quest, in the final episode of “Outer Banks” Season 3. Honestly, we did not understand why he never tried to contact his son. He very broadly says that he was just trying to protect John B, but in that case, why did he contact him again, to begin with? We blame the writers for all the plot-holes regarding his character. But either way, from what we have understood of him, he was a hyper-nervous person who lived with the single-minded goal of finding the lost city of El Dorado.
The picture we had of him through “Outer Banks” Season 1 and Season 2 was that he let his obsession affect his family. We can assume that he was an absent husband and father and probably squandered a lot of money on his quest. In one particular scene, John B yells at him that he cannot sell their truck/bus, Twinkie, and Big John tells him that he will buy him a better one when he finds the treasure. Big John very clearly placed the needs of his treasure hunt above the needs of his family. He claimed that he did that so that his son would think of him as a hero, but he failed to see that his son would have thought of him as one regardless, if he had just been there for him when required.
Big John’s obsession with El Dorado started back when he was in college. He couldn’t let go of the idea of the city of gold to the extent that he was kicked out of the course by his teacher. The thing is, Big John is probably not the first person in the world to be fascinated by a mythical treasure, and he also won’t be the last. But not everyone lets go of crucial milestones the way Big John did. He cannot gauge the priorities of the moment. Life would have been so much better if he had just finished college, and that would have actually left him with a better lifestyle, which indirectly would have given him more time and resources to focus on the treasure. He also strikes us as a bit of a lone wolf. People similarly obsessed with parts of history joined groups or organizations dedicated to them. For example, Kelly Kepler, who was obsessed with the Mayans, went on quite a few expeditions to study the civilization. But Big John preferred to work alone. It could have been because he wanted to keep the entire treasure for himself or because he had a plan of his own. Maybe that is why his partnership with Ward Cameron was such a disaster. It was undoubtedly Big John’s fault for not being clearer about the terms of the contract from the beginning. He changed them at the last moment, saying the distribution of the treasure should be 80/20. But then, he was not a smooth talker, to begin with.
Despite everything that happened, despite the fact that he and his son had been through hell and back, Big John was not ready to give up on the treasure. We might still have accepted the idea that it is not easy to let go of an obsession that has kept one in a chokehold for over two decades. But what we couldn’t let go of was Big John sending John B, his teenage son, to rob a woman, and in another instance, not caring that he was scared and shooting two men in front of him. We cannot say if Big John was always like this or whether his recent ordeals had hardened him, but being a father still took a backseat to being a treasure hunter.
Probably the only impressive thing he ever did was cure Clara Limbrey with the placebo effect. He never believed that the shroud was real, yet he used her resources for his treasure hunt by making her think that what she wanted was attainable. When it came to actually answering her, he fibbed his way out by giving her a random garment and telling her it was the shroud. We don’t know if it was bad writing, whether Clara’s condition was psychosomatic, or if it was just a powerful placebo effect, but Clara believed that she was cured. Whatever it was, Big John was an amazing liar, and he got away with the biggest scam of them all.
When Big John is rescued by the kids, his first instinct is not to get to the safest place possible. He had gotten his hands on the translation key, and he wanted to get to the next step of the treasure hunt as soon as possible. When they were on top of the mountain, trying to decipher the code, Big John was a man possessed. That is why it surprised us so much when he “passed the baton” to John B and Sarah and asked them to go through the water and find the city. When they came back with the evidence, it must have been such a moment of victory for him to know that after all those years, he was right. El Dorado existed, and it was his research that had led them to it. Big John was not just seeking money; he wanted his name etched in the annals of the greatest adventure seekers ever, and he had gotten that. He did not need any further validation, and that is why he chose to destroy the cave to protect his son and escape from Carlos Singh. It must have pinched him not to be able to see El Dorado for himself, but after everything they went through, it probably did not matter.
When Big John died in Season 3 of “Outer Banks,” he had accomplished the two things he always wanted. One, he had found El Dorado, and two, he was a hero for his son. He died a satisfied man, and that is probably the best thing the hungry soul of an adventure seeker can ask for.