The following is a guest post from Rob Has a Website Contributor, Andy Baker
So, this column is going to have to be quick: normally, I can ruminate and write over the weekend, but with the finale on Sunday, I don’t have that luxury. Add in the fact that I flew into L.A. last night – which created hysteria bordering on Armageddon in my teaching gig – and let’s just say that I’m writing this blog entry with my brain teetering precariously at the precipice of insanity.
The column will also be rough around the edges, because my editor nonpareil – my loving and lovely wife – is holding down the fort back in Connecticut while I gallivant around Los Angeles. Please forgive the inconsistencies and errors; my wife is the one with all the talent.
With that in mind, let’s get half baked…
1) I’ll admit it: Abi started making sense over the last two episodes. Sure, her strategy – “Everybody hates me!” – isn’t all that hard to figure out, but at least she was making the effort (unlike, say, Christina Cha last season). Even ripping into Skupin at Tribal Council was, in her mind, strategic: That was her way of asserting, “Why not bring someone as loathsome and reviled as me to the end?”
Abi wasn’t wrong: she WAS the swing vote. The other players SHOULD have been courting her. I don’t think she would have been as helpless at the Final Tribal Council as she insisted she would be; an indecisive jury could allow someone to secure the win with only three votes, and is it so impossible to imagine Abi getting at least two? How deft of Malcolm, then, to turn the goat argument around on Abi: As he pointed out, players have gotten to the end of the game – and won – having successfully pitched themselves as someone who is easy to beat.
As always, Abi made the whole argument moot by proving, once again, how tone deaf she is to the music of personality management. Abi has but two gears when it comes to Survivor strategy: logic delivered condescendingly and, when that fails, resorting to withering insults. I’m sure that this has worked for her in the real world: People either see things her way, or they bend to her will after she has vivisected them with her vitriol. In small doses, confrontation can work in a social game like Survivor, but Abi brought a howitzer to a fistfight – and in the end, the only moron or idiot at that Tribal Council was her.
2) Like many of you, I was eagerly anticipating Abi’s arrival at Ponderosa and the inevitable clashes she would have with RC. Once the confrontations began, though, I swiftly realized that acrimony and antagonism are extremely unattractive spectacles: seeing RC say that she pities Abi was uncomfortable in the extreme, and it’s painfully obvious that for all of her apologies, Abi still doesn’t possess the ability to empathize with her early-days alliance partner. Do the Survivor therapists get hazard pay when they have to deal with a destructive relationship like this one, I wonder? Anyway, for all of my hope that the “Losers Lodge” would get a jolt of much-needed conflict with Abi’s arrival, I have to say, I regret having watched RC and Abi poison Ponderosa with their psychodrama. I thought it would make for good TV… but I was wrong.
3) Watching the secret scenes over at CBS can be a mixed blessing; I know that I’ve been urging you to check them out all season long, but I wonder if at times they tell us TOO much. Usually, this isn’t the case: we get some enlightening information about ongoing strategy (sometimes from unlikely sources), characters are more fully fleshed out for us, and there’s an awful lot of footage involving the castaways talking about food. This week, though, there was one comment that might be a bit of a spoiler (so read on at your own risk): Penner, while talking about the Final 4, says that if the other three players take out Malcolm – as they should – then it’s a fait accompli: Denise will win the game. Normally, I would take this sort of proclamation with a grain of salt: Most if not all jury members will have a strong opinion about who should (and/or who will) win the game at this point. But this is Penner we’re talking about; if ever there was a castaway born to play the role of jury foreman, it’s the fedora-wearing Mensch of Mayhem. I have no doubt that Penner has been shaping the “Who should get the million?” debate from the moment he arrived at Ponderosa – so if he says Denise is a lock, I have a hard time doubting him.
4) One other item of interest from the secret scenes: At the tail end of Abi’s second Ponderosa video, Probst introduces the jury members (including Abi) at the Final 4 tribal council. This is, as you probably know, a recurring narrative device: we see the jury members dress up for Tribal Council, say a few words about what they expect to happen, and then they take their seats on the TC set. Normally, jury member facial expressions are either stoic or accusatory; this time, however, they’re all smiling incredulously. Now, why would they do that? I can think of only one compelling reason: They saw who was wearing the immunity necklace and couldn’t believe it. That rules out pretty much everyone, right? They’d expect Malcolm to win it… Denise is incredibly tough… and Skupin’s won a couple of challenges at this point. So, did we just find out, thanks to a bunch of smiling faces, that Lisa won the final immunity challenge? It certainly seems like it.
5) So, it turns out that I forgot about one key element to Lisa and Mike’s rationale for keeping Denise around over Abi: They need her help to beat Malcolm in the Final 4 immunity challenge. It’s solid strategic thinking, and I’m kicking myself for not anticipating it. Anyway, what’s more important about this explanation – which, interestingly, came from Lisa and not Mike; once again, she’s a confessional superstar – is that Lisa and Mike have their priorities in the right order: despite their verbal agreement to go to the end with Malcolm, they’re planning to take him out at F4 if he doesn’t win individual immunity. While it’s a long shot that they beat Denise at the Final Tribal Council, there’s NO WAY either one of them gets more votes than Malcolm; that final immunity challenge simply HAS to be an everyone-against-Malcolm extravaganza. (And, given that Probst and some of the players have guaranteed that the FTC is exciting and dramatic, Malcolm simply can’t be a part of it; were he there, it wouldn’t be a competition, it would be a coronation.)
6) So, for all of the talk of a potential 2-2 fire-making challenge, isn’t it pretty obvious at this point that Malcolm and Denise are turning on one another? Malcolm cut his own F3 deal on the reward challenge (selling out Denise as the player who can’t be beat) while Denise, who was stranded with Miss Congeniality, worried in a secret scene confessional that this is precisely what Malcolm was up to. Denise, too, realized that Malcolm is her biggest threat; I have no doubt that she is going to talk with Mike and Lisa about taking out Malcolm, and while Lisa will once again struggle with the morality of breaking her word (this time with, rather than against, Malcolm), in the end she and Skupin will help Denise plunge the dagger deep into Malcolm’s back.
7) It’s the little lies I love the most: When Mike, Lisa, and Malcolm were cementing their Final 3 deal, Mike said to Lisa, “I’ve never lied to you, you’ve never lied to me, and we’ve never lied to him.” Malcolm, understandably, ate this up: as far as he’s concerned, he just made the deal that will win him the game. Surely, Lisa would never betray him, right? (He might not have as much faith in Mike, since Skupin already flipped once.) But what we know – and Malcolm doesn’t – is that this is a bald-faced lie from Mike: Both Mike and Lisa mislead Malcolm just a day or two before this reward challenge. They were GOING TO BLINDSIDE Malcolm at F6 if he hadn’t won immunity! The end result of this well-delivered lie: If Malcolm wins individual immunity at F4, he’ll bring Mike and Lisa to the end; if he doesn’t, though, Mike and Lisa need not feel beholden to this pop-fueled pact, for it is an agreement built on a compelling, powerful, and believable little lie.
8) Once again, I find myself inclined to criticize Malcolm for his challenge strategy, for there was NO WAY he should have wanted to win individual immunity. Here’s why:
** First, the obvious: Since he already had the Matsing Hidden Immunity Idol, he didn’t need the necklace.
** Winning guaranteed that Denise would ask him for his idol. If he planned to give it to her as a gesture of good faith, then no harm, no foul. Sure, he’d have to put some spin on this for Mike and Lisa – “I know she’s safe, but we found this idol together, so one of us should play it” – but I don’t think he’d have a hard time selling that.
** But he DIDN’T want to give it to her, so why put himself in an awkward position that, when he refuses, will give Denise yet another reason to turn on him at F4? So far, he’s left her out of the Loved Ones Visit, he abandoned her back in camp with Abi while he went off and solidified a F3 deal with Mike and Lisa (yes, this was Mike’s choice, but Malcolm could have at least tried to talk him into it), and now he’s refusing to give her the idol? It is now a LOCK: Denise will write down Malcolm’s name at F4 if her erstwhile partner doesn’t win Individual Immunity.
** Many an endgame player has kept their HII as a Survivor souvenir, and to some degree I understand that: it is a unique and concrete reminder of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the only time it makes sense to do this is when there is no longer any strategic use for the idol; Kim Spradlin could hang on to hers (although she later gave it to Troyzan as a token of peace) because she had a hammerlock on the game. Malcolm still needs Denise’s loyalty far more than he needs to be “double protected” (his words, not mine), and if he ends up being taken out at F4, will he really want to display the idol on a bookshelf (again, this is his plan) when all it will do is remind him of what might have been?
** Bottom line: If Malcolm had no intention of giving Denise the idol, he should have thrown the challenge (and it wouldn’t have even looked suspicious; wiping out on the bridge portion of the challenge gave him the PERFECT excuse). The only reason to win was to keep himself – and Denise – safe at the F5 Tribal Council. But, in keeping with a season filled with awful third options, Malcolm did neither of these things: he won the challenge, then kept the idol. While it’s true that if you were to cook up an ideal Survivor player in a lab, the end result would be a specimen much like Malcolm – a true triple threat – the unavoidable and undeniable truth is that Malcolm has made a lot of critical errors while racing down the homestretch. A shame, really. He could have given us the second exceptional winner in a row; instead, he may never finish higher than fourth, no matter how many times the producers bring him back.
9) I know that a lot of people – including Probst – are saying that Skupin is a long shot to win. And they may well be right. But as Probst himself insists, castaways need to make one big move if they’re going to be serious contenders for the title of Sole Survivor. With that in mind, let’s look at each member of the final four and examine their big moves:
** Malcolm: As I discussed last week, the only “move” Malcolm has made has been a passive one: Even when it seemed like his spot in the game was in jeopardy, he knew where the votes were falling well enough to feel confident about hanging onto his idol. This isn’t a BIG MOVE in the traditional sense… but what else has Malcolm really done that qualifies? Yes, he’s smart; yes, he’s charismatic; and yes, he’s emerging as a challenge beast (with bonus points for downplaying his puzzle prowess until recently). But he hasn’t impacted the game so much as put himself in a position where he could coast. There’s something to be said for a game like that, but it hasn’t involved the sort of game-changing move that Probst is referring to.
** Denise: Frankly, she’s done even less than Malcolm. Under the radar players have won before, and they will do so again – perhaps even Sunday night – but they’re the exception rather than the rule, aren’t they? Denise endured the immolation of Matsing, ingratiated herself with the members of Kalabaw, and then stood back and watched as the dysfunctional Tandang family turned on itself. Circumstances haven’t really demanded that Denise play the game, but that still doesn’t alter the fact that when she sits in front of the jury at the FTC, she’ll have a great story – “I went to every Tribal Council!” – but otherwise won’t have much to point to when she attempts to make her case.
** Lisa: The adolescent acronym most often applied to those who talk a big game but never really do anything: ATNA. All Talk, No Action. Like it or not, that’s Lisa this season: she’s given innumerable insightful confessionals, she’s analyzed the game with a level of depth and nuance few castaways even know exist, and yet for a myriad of reasons (wanting her moral compass to point forever north; being reluctant to commit to moves which might create unsettling, if temporary, levels of social discomfort; and/or inopportune immunity wins by Malcolm), she never made a single move. Her whole argument to the jury will be about her playing the game with loyalty and integrity; given who is on the jury, though, I have a feeling that this plea will fall on deaf ears.
** Skupin: He is the ONLY member of the Final 4 who has made a big move, serving as the “fulcrum character/vote” when Artis was voted out. Add in the fact that he got to choose whether Pete or Malcolm went home (a wise choice in that Malcolm worked with Mike to get to the Final 4), and that he was the deciding factor in Penner’s ouster (rather than targeting Denise; again, Mike kept someone who helped him advance in the game), the argument can be made that Mike – more than any other castaway – has shaped this season.
If we assume that Mike has RC’s vote (since they were ostracized together) as well as Carter’s (because of their father-son/friend dynamic – that’s got to give him the edge over Denise and Lisa, doesn’t it?), is it POSSIBLE that he could also get votes from jury members who respect big moves? Artis won’t vote for him, that’s for sure; but might Penner and Pete at least consider it? Especially if Mike explains and owns his role in their eliminations?
The point of that rambling thought experiment: That Mike is the only castaway left who can legitimately argue that he made one of Probst’s beloved BIG MOVES. I’m not saying that Mike is going to win because of this, but it certainly gives him a solid argument to make to the jury. Here’s hoping that he makes it – and, more importantly, that they listen.
10) Probst Probe: Really, Jeff? THIS is how you want to treat Abi during her exit episode? Let’s see if I have this right: “With respect – which really means without any – you were detested, you were laughed at, you were told that you are not likable and not a good person, and that this has nothing to do with your culture, it’s just that you’re not nice, and no one here wants you around.” Egads! Sure, Probst was simply describing how the other players felt about – and treated – Abi, but was this endless litany of sins truly necessary? Has Probst ever been so brutal? So ruthlessly honest? So needlessly cruel?
11) Fortunes falling: At first blush, Lisa playing to the jury during Tribal Council – reaffirming her commitment to Tandang – went over well. That they REACTED is beyond question, but was it really POSITIVE? I think I caught a smile or two, but the body language was far more mixed; there was noticeable shifting, a couple of players leaned back (a social signal of disbelief), and, unless I’m mistaken, there was a fair bit of non-verbal incredulity. What was easy to read as “They’re agreeing with her!” felt, in retrospect, like a group of people who think that Lisa’s blind loyalty doesn’t count for much when all of them ended up on the outside looking in. Don’t they have to wonder if Lisa could have prevented their departures? So what if she didn’t write down their names – if she knew that the other players were, and she didn’t warn them or attempt to dissuade the dissenters, then isn’t she just as guilty? Anyway, something tells me Lisa’s in for a rough ride during the Final Tribal Council… which will lead to tears… and if there’s one thing that juries HATE, it’s a finalist who cries.
12) Fortunes rising: Denise. My heart tells me that Skupin is going to win… while my mind says that Denise has the game locked up. She’s got a great story to tell, and other than Abi, has Denise earned the enmity of any of the other players? This may come across as tepid support, but “Denise Stapley, Sole Survivor” wouldn’t be a terrible end result… would it?
13) Prediction time: For those of you who have been wondering why I keep mentioning Mike, Denise, and Lisa as the Final 3, I’m operating under the assumption that Malcolm is going to be voted out at F4. His edit demands it, his late-game treatment of Denise warrants it, and the chatter from Probst and the players that the Finale is filled with drama all but guarantees it. As I wrote last week, if Malcolm pulls out the final immunity challenge, he wins the final vote in a landslide; the fact that the end result appears to be in doubt (unless there’s been a brilliant disinformation campaign) has convinced me that Malcolm is Ozzy, not Boston Rob.
With a Final Three of Mike, Denise, and Lisa, here’s how I see this playing out:
Lisa is this year’s third-place finisher. Her emotional journey has come to a satisfying end: she understands the game, and herself, better now than she did when she arrived in the Philippines. I have a feeling that the jury will treat her the way the South Pacific players treated Coach; they’ll point out the hypocrisy of her game (she let bad things happen, and will most likely refuse to own the complicity inherent in her passivity), and refuse to assuage her emotionally ravaged soul.
As for Mike and Denise, I agree with Rob C. and Parvati about the potential for a tie at the FTC, followed by a revote. It certainly would help explain why there are only four players heading into a two hour finale, right? That said, I don’t agree with the particulars of their scenario; I see a 4-4 tie more likely than 3-3-2, and I think Denise and Skupin are the contenders, with Lisa finishing with nary a vote. Here’s how I see the votes shaking out:
Obviously, there are a ton of question marks there: I’m not really sure about Jeff, Pete, Penner, and Abi. This COULD be a landslide for Denise. But it just doesn’t feel like that… there are too many rumors flying around that what is said at Final Tribal Council matters A LOT. If Skupin (or perhaps Lisa) didn’t stand a chance, why would the FTC be at all interesting (beyond our vicarious enjoyment of vitriolic “questions”)?
In the event we end up with a tie, what will happen with a revote? My guess: The jury will be asked to vote again… and if they come back with another tie (more likely than not), Lisa will join the jury and cast the decisive vote.
And if that happens, Skupin’s a millionaire.
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – you’ll hear from me again sometime next week. Until then, leave a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter (@GetOnSurvivor).