The following is a Survivor blog from RobHasAwebsite.com Survivor blogger, Andy Baker ( Follow @GetOnSurvivor )
Sometimes when you’re cooking up a Baker’s Dozen, you have to hit the store with a grocery list… and that’s just what we’re doing in this week’s BD. Below is a list of issues both big and small which I needed to get my head around as we head into the merge; personally, I think they all have substantial implications on the endgame, but I’ve been known to be wrong…
1) There was a small moment at the end of last week’s tribal council which might, in hindsight, have a massive impact on how the game unfolds:
Did you notice what Penner did when Probst revealed Katie’s vote against him? Instead of glaring at Katie – the expected reaction – Penner looked over at Jeff and exclaimed, “Oh HO!” Why does this matter? Because Penner instantly understood what that vote meant. Let me explain…
Jeff thought that by having Katie vote for Penner, he was keeping his options open; he and Carter could piggyback on her vote and send Penner and his idol out of the game. But that’s first-order thinking – Kent was focusing on his own plans while completely disregarding how Penner would perceive the vote cast against him.
Here’s the thing: When a vote is going to be cast against someone who will remain in the game, you HAVE to anticipate how that player will react.
Penner, unlike Jeff, never stops at first-order thinking; he’s forever analyzing how castaways are playing, plotting, and feeling. Given how keenly aware and empathetic Penner can be, then, I guarantee that as soon as he saw that Katie had written his name down instead of Denise’s, he immediately knew the following:
** Katie had undoubtedly approached Jeff and Carter with a plan to blindside Penner…
**… or, worse yet, Jeff and Carter had pitched the idea to Katie.
** One thing’s for sure: Jeff and Carter did not dissuade Katie from voting for Penner.
** Even more damning: Jeff and Carter chose not to tell Penner that Katie was going to vote for him.
Given all this, there’s only one conclusion for Penner to reach: Jeff and Carter had plotted with Katie to blindside him, but for some reason – most likely Carter’s Freudian slip and the possibility that Penner could play the idol to protect himself – had decided not to follow through with it.
The end result of this idiocy? As soon as Katie’s vote was revealed, the Four-Fingered Handshake alliance was dead. And it was all Jeff Kent’s fault.
2) Here’s what SHOULD have happened: The moment Jeff abandoned the plan to vote out Penner, he HAD to tell Katie to target Denise; the former Matron of Matsing would not have been surprised to see her name written down, and more importantly, Penner would have been none the wiser about the pre-merge plot to take him out.
Once Kalabaw lost the Immunity Challenge, Jeff had two choices: blindside Penner or tell Katie to vote for Denise. Instead of going with one of these two possibilities, however, Jeff, like Dawson a couple of episodes ago, created and went with an illogical third option: He kept Penner while letting the savvy vet know that he and Carter had seriously considered betraying him.
Because of Jeff’s asinine decision, three things have happened:
** Jeff Kent has, amusingly enough, backstabbed himself; he now has ZERO chance to win the game. With a solid alliance of three, Jeff, Carter, and Penner could have teamed up with Denise and Malcolm to topple the Tandang majority, or they could have joined forces with the outcast Tandang tandem of RC and Skupin. Alternately, Jeff could have gone into the merge having just eliminated a major threat while also removing a strategic variable (the Kalabaw idol) not completely within his control; at that point, he could have teamed up with other newbies looking to take out the last remaining returning player. Instead, Jeff committed alliance assassination, and, as a result, is heading into the merge with a massive target on his chest with no one to protect him. To put this in baseball terms that Jeff will understand, the former MVP just got rung up with a reverse K: Penner grooved a fastball down the middle of the plate (by allowing Jeff to control Carter’s vote), but instead of swinging, Jeff watched it go by. Hang your head and head to the bench, rookie – you’re out.
** Penner just became one of the most dangerous post-merge free agents the game has ever seen. He now has no reason to remain loyal to Jeff or Carter, he’s armed with an idol, and there are multiple alliances which might welcome him in. Honestly, almost getting blindsided might be the best thing that could have happened to Penner; now, he can do what he does best: negotiate and navigate. He may not win the game, but as I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, he will be instrumental in who does.
** The endgame – which was already going to be filled with intrigue thanks to the personalities, conflicts, and idols involved – just got even more interesting. So thank you for that, Jeff.
3) One World winner Kim Spradlin – one of the most thoughtful and perceptive winners Survivor has ever had – artfully articulated the strategic realities of the second half of the game at a mid-season Tribal Council: “[There is] beauty in a merge.” Players who were once liabilities are now assets and assets, liabilities. To steal the tag line from the underappreciated Cohen Brothers gangster film “Miller’s Crossing,” when Survivor hits the merge, “Up is down, black is white, and nothing is what it seems.” Personally, I liken the merge to peering into a kaleidoscope: with one twist, two tribes become one, and suddenly all of the elements – players, alliances, relationships – shift into a new configuration. Sometimes the new patterns are more beautiful, sometimes less, but it’s ALWAYS different; by design, players and viewers are forced to perceive the game, and everything in it, in a whole new way.
So, peering through the merge kaleidoscope, whose outlooks have taken a turn for the worse? If history is any indication, most, if not all, of the alpha male individual immunity threats are now living on borrowed time: Carter, Malcolm, and Pete are at the top of the list, and, given how fit they are, you could add Jeff and Skupin to it as well.
And for whom did the twist of the cylinder make the landscape of the game more beautiful? First and foremost, the floating females, Lisa and Denise, whose vulnerabilities (the former being a tribal challenge weakness despite acquitting herself well during the wicker ball battle; the latter being the alliance outsider who would have been voted out at Kalabaw’s next Tribal Council) have instantly disappeared. It’s no wonder that Malcolm, as we learn in this week’s promos, wants to team up with them both: he knows they now have the clearest path to the Final Three, and he wants them to bring him along for the ride.
And what about the other castaways still in play? Here’s my quick read on their post-merge narratives:
Once the Tandang majority alliance (Pete, Abi, Lisa, Artis) falls apart – which will happen sooner rather than later – Artis will become a float vote and jury goat.
Abi and RC will, as I wrote last week, destroy one another. I’m guessing that Abi will outlast RC – thanks to Abi’s idol and the collective perception that RC is the bigger F3 threat – but neither one is in a position to win the game largely because of their mutual enmity. Sadly, they have no one to blame but themselves (and each other).
And then there’s Penner, whose narrative is far more complex: As a manipulative mercenary, he’s going to rescue some of these players from their proscribed fates as a way to further his own agenda. The most likely candidate to join forces with Penner and benefit from his assistance? Skupin. (More on that a bit later.)
In the end, though, Penner’s journey will be a retelling of the tale of the scorpion and the frog: someone he is carrying to the endgame is going to stab him in the back – Malcolm, perhaps? – because it’s in the scorpion’s nature (and best interests) to do so. Will the scorpion, as the fable predicts, seal his own fate with his act of betrayal? Impossible to be sure at this point, but I would say yes. Why? Because fables exist to tell us terrible truths: You can never trust a scorpion – and eventually, scorpions are the final victims of their own treachery.
(Random observation: If Malcolm is reading this, I bet he likes being compared to a scorpion.)
4) Looking objectively at the eleven players remaining – and by that, I mean thinking about these people as pawns without personality – there are two Alliances of Convenience that the castaways should at least consider:
The Elder Alliance
Why they should consider it: They outnumber the younger players 6-5, so if they banded together, they could take out almost all of the individual immunity threats.
Why they won’t: Artis hates Skupin. (Swap him out for RC, and they really might have something…)
The Sausage Factory
Why they should consider it: Lisa and Denise are genuine threats to win the game; RC, as a puzzle-solving swimmer with less body mass than the men, could go on an individual immunity run; and Abi is both unpredictable and armed with an idol.
Why they won’t: We’ve never seen a sizeable all-male post-merge alliance, most likely due to the inevitable “Whose [expletive deleted] is bigger?” contest. If they could keep their junk in their board shorts for a week or so, though, the guys could coast to the final seven, and at that point engage in a “May the best man win” pissing contest.
Do I think that any of the remaining castaways will seriously consider either of these scenarios? No. But they should.
5) Speaking of ‘should,’ I suppose I should probably say a word or two about Katie’s departure. Were I more snarky and less verbose, I’d simply write “See ya,” give a little pageant wave, and move on – but I have to admit that Katie had more game than I thought she did. Two invaluable skills for any Survivor player to possess are knowing when someone is lying to you, and aggressively protecting your own self-interests when it turns out someone is, in fact, doing so. As it turns out, Katie was solid on both counts: she saw right through Penner’s “We’re voting Denise out tonight” ruse, and, rather than passively hoping Jeff and Carter would remain loyal to Kalabaw, she attempted to engineer a Penner blindside. It didn’t work out, of course, but not only can’t I blame a girl for trying, I have to give her kudos for it. If Dana hadn’t left the game… if Dawson had exposed the truth about Jeff Kent… if the merge had happened at 12… if Penner thought Denise was a major post-merge threat… heck, if Katie’s cuddling with Penner hadn’t been a platonic heat-grab (I’m only half-kidding)… maybe, just maybe, Katie avoids being inconsequential. But it just wasn’t to be.
See ya, Katie.
6) Another ‘should’: Every Survivor pundit has weighed in on the Reward Challenge Controversy, so I suppose I should, too.
(For the record, I hate the word “should.” Everything in life is negotiable. The only question is if you’re willing to pay the price.)
There’s a famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that you’ve probably heard: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.” (Sounds like The Great Emancipator would have been a great Survivor player, especially if he had been willing to exploit his “Honest Abe” reputation.) Anyway, the Controversy highlights an enduring Survivor truth that is a variation on Lincoln’s maxim: You can please all of the players some of the time, and some of the players all of the time, but you cannot please all of the players all of the time.
In other words, no matter what you decide to do, some players are going to be pissed off. As a result, a castaway has a choice: he can either be immobilized or liberated by this truth. He can keep his mouth shut, avoid conflict, and let circumstances (or other players) determine his fate, or he can realize that anger and blame are inevitable, so he might as well do something.
Tandang needed rice. Kalabaw needed a win. They both got what they needed.
The Tandang “forfeit” made the fractures within the tribe wider, vaster, deeper. The Kalabaw castaways probably had their intestines vaporized by the depth charge reintroduction of fat-laden food. So both tribes paid a price for getting what they needed.
So, who got the better end of the deal? Tandang – because in the Rochambeau of Survivor, rice beats grease. There’s no way to know if Tandang won the immunity challenge because of what they ate or if Kalabaw lost it for the same reason, but food MIGHT have been a factor, and that’s enough for me.
7) Since Probst didn’t announce that Katie was the first member of the jury after he snuffed her torch, I should (there’s that word again) write a quick follow-up to last week’s screed about jury composition. First, as you might imagine, I’m thoroughly pleased that we’re not going to have any pre-merge jury members. Second, it looks like we’ve got five potential jury configurations:
** A Final Two with a 9 member jury: As I mentioned last week, Probst has stated publically that he’s adamantly opposed to a F2. I suppose it could all be a smokescreen, and when he said that Survivor: Philippines was an “old school season,” he was hinting that we’d get a F2, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
** A Final Two with an 8 member jury: I’m including this simply to avoid being accused of leaving out a possible permutation. Needless to say, an F2 with an 8 member jury would be silly (even if they did it in Fans vs. Favorites).
** A Final Two with a 7 member jury: Now THIS would be old-school Survivor. One can dream…
** A Final Three with an eight member jury: As much as we’d all like to find out what the producers would do in the event of a tie, I really don’t think Burnett would so willingly court disaster (they did it once, when it was a surprise to players and viewers alike; without that “twist,” there’s no incentive to risk a tie and whatever monumentally unfair method they’d use to break it).
** A Final Three with a seven member jury: This is where I think we’ll end up, which means one more player will be headed home before the jury. An interesting choice, having seven players decide the winner; one can’t help but suspect that every elimination from here on out will be shaped by the reality that four votes are enough to win. (As if I wasn’t excited enough about the post-merge possibilities.)
8) Okay, so about 1200 words ago, I said I would talk more about my pre-season pick to win, Mike Skupin, and his post-merge possibilities with Penner. To do so, however, I first have to provide some context, so that the inferences I draw don’t seem completely ridiculous. So here we go…
In the premiere, we predictably saw a lot of Skupin; he’s an icon from the golden age of Survivor, so he was going to get a ton of airtime no matter how he did in the game. But there was one facet in that first episode which felt different, more important, more relevant to the overall narrative: When Skupin was approached about forming an alliance with RC, Abi, and Pete, he told us via confessional that no matter what his personal preferences were (teaming up with Lisa, for example), he was going to play the game that was available to him. I was happy to hear this, because that level of game awareness is both precious and rare; to do well in Survivor, a player must adapt to the circumstances of his season and tribe rather than cling desperately to a preconceived notion of what works. It seems obvious, but so few are able to let the game come to them that it must be much harder than an armchair quarterback might assume.
Anyway, at that point, I was feeling good about Skupin… but then he disappeared.
Not entirely, of course. He was still crushing it in challenges, he morphed into RC’s father figure, and he became everyone’s favorite confessional punching bag. Had Tandang ever gone to Tribal Council during this phase of the game, Skupin probably would have gone home (either just before or just after RC).
Like many other Survivor bloggers, I began to worry: Skupin’s edit was so negative, so bleak, that he just had to be doomed to an early exit, didn’t he?
But I refused to believe it – not only because I was a fan, and not only because I had picked him to be the Sole Survivor, but also because there were too many open questions.
Why show us Skupin being in perpetual danger – on the brink of elimination each and every week – when his tribe was never going to have an opportunity to turn on him?
Why have Pete call him ‘useless’ and ‘the biggest tool I’ve ever met’ during his confessionals? Why have Abi label the decision to trade the reward challenge picnic for Kalabaw’s rice, “The dumbest moment in Survivor”? Why have Artis insist that Skupin, “… did nothing for the tribe”? It’s one thing if the criticism was warranted, but given Skupin’s challenge prowess – and the endless litany of dumb decisions made by castaways over the years – we KNOW that none of these things are true.
(Speaking of Artis, to shamelessly pilfer from a tweet I posted last week, I hope that when Skupin saw Artis call him a ‘cancer’ during a secret scene video, Mike thought, “Yeah, the cancer you DIDN’T beat.”)
And then it hit me: Skoop was being edited as an Underdog.
Now, I know we already have at least three other candidates for the cape – Denise, Malcolm, and Lisa – but I have a feeling that by the time we get to the Final Tribal Council, Skoop will be the one that the cape fits best. Given Tandang’s tribal dynamics, Mike making the merge was unlikely; given the fact that he’s a returnee, making it to the final three is improbable; given that if he got to the end he’d most likely be up against two of those three other Underdogs, a win is almost impossible…
… unless he got the edit he’s getting.
The editors, as I’m sure you know, shape the episodes after the season is done shooting; they head into their editing bays knowing who won, and, given that they’re trying to tell a story, every shot is selected to fit an overall narrative. With that in mind, I have to believe that the fist pump Skupin shared with Penner after the reward challenge meant something; Skupin knowing that Lisa was Blair from “Facts of Life” meant something; and, going back to the very beginning, Skupin saying that he’s going to play the game that is available to him meant something.
So, what does it all mean?
That Skupin and Penner are going to work together, as are Skupin and Lisa.
That the game that Skupin has been waiting for, the one now available to him thanks to the merge, is ripe with possibilities.
And that I’m still picking Skupin to win this whole thing.
9) It’s Sunday night, and I’m racing Hurricane Sandy to the finish line, so I’m going to have to be brief from this point on… here’s a list of some other stuff I should have talked about at length but didn’t:
** Did you notice that when Malcolm got his shiny new Tandang buff, he spit on the blue one from Matsing before tossing it aside? That could have easily been portrayed as a spiteful act, but instead, it was edited as incidental, perhaps even understandable. More proof that the producers want us to embrace Malcolm as a charming rogue.
** Speaking of editing, I’m pretty sure the Immunity Challenge was cut together to make it appear more dramatic than it was (with a fair bit of voiceover fibbing from Probst about the score); we were shown that Kalabaw was up 4-2 and only one catch away from the win, but in a secret scene confessional, Denise mentioned that the game was tied 3-3. The same sort of manipulation occurred during the tense pot-smashing challenge a couple of weeks ago (according to player tweets); Matsing apparently had a massive lead over Kalabaw (bigger than we saw on the show), and only Malcolm’s futility allowed Jeff to send Matsing to their fourth Tribal Council in a row. Once again, the editors were protecting Malcolm’s image… interesting, no?
** While I agree with Rob C.’s tin-foil hat conspiracy theory about the letters from home being used to garner Penner some sympathy, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for those emotional moments (don’t even get me started on the loved ones’ visit). Say what you will about Jeff Kent – and I’ve said plenty – but seeing him tear up as he talked about his family made him far more human, far more sympathetic, and far more likable than he was just moments before. (That said, I’m sure he’s taking copious amounts of crap from all of his baseball buddies for it.)
** Just wanted to point out that Zane spent a considerable amount of time at Ponderosa with Angie, Dawson, and Katie. That had to soften the blow of an early exit, didn’t it?
** Here’s the difference between Russell Hantz and Pete: Russell would use blame as a weapon, turning everyone against Skupin for making the deal with Penner. He would also admit in a confessional that the deal was a good one; he would understand that there’s value in doubling their rice and leaving Kalabaw with none. Pete, meanwhile, honestly believes that Skupin made a damaging unilateral decision and blames him for the loss (even though he, and everyone else on Tandang other than Artis, agreed to the deal). Sorry, Pete, but you’re not, as you so ardently believe, the “King of the Island.” But you’ll soon be the “Prince of Ponderosa,” so at least you’ve got that going for you.
** Survivor editors have an uncanny ability to make viewers hate a castaway. Proof: when Probst calls out Abi for once again not participating in a challenge, Abi sneers and whines, “It wasn’t my choice not to compete.” At this point, she’s a virtual lock for Heroes vs. Villains 2, isn’t she?
10) The Probst Probe: Hey, Probst, we get it – you like returning players (particularly male ones), and you’ll do everything in your power to keep them in the game. But do you have to be so obvious? Let me see if I can remember what you said at last week’s Tribal Council…
“Hey, Penner, don’t you find Jeff’s comment about every vote being a blindside pretty interesting? No? Well, you should! Hey, what if YOU were the one to get blindsided right now? How would that make you feel? Pretty bad, I bet! So, wouldn’t this be a great time to use your idol – I mean, if you had an idol? Because idols are really helpful when your tribe is going to blindside you. Hey, you know what? I’ve got a new nickname for you: Blindsidey McBlindside. You like it? Let’s see how it sounds: ‘Hey, Blindsidey McBlindside – Jeff, Carter, and Katie are planning to blindside you, so you might want to use your idol.’ Yeah, it works! Sweet! So, I’m going to go tally the votes – Penner, when I get back, I want you to return the cover of the rice container that you stole, okay?”
I’m paraphrasing, so I might have missed a thing or two, but that gets to the heart of Probst’s Tribal Council performance, don’t you think?
11) Fortunes Falling: Carter. Not only did he utter the greatest Freudian slip in Survivor history AND confess that his reward challenge letters made him want to go home, but he’s currently sporting the post-merge “Target Me” trifecta: He’s an individual immunity challenge threat, he’s from the tribe that’s heading into the merge down in numbers, and, strategically speaking, he has nothing to offer the other players other than loyalty and vapidity. To be fair, there’s a lot to be said for the latter two traits – they’re useful qualities in a goat – but let’s be honest: Carter is getting a TERRIBLE edit; there’s no way he lasts more than one or two more episodes.
12) Fortunes Rising: RC. She should have been gone long ago, and honestly, she probably won’t last much longer (Pete, for one, has shifted his sights from Skupin to RC, probably so that he can get Abi to focus on the endgame) – but damn if RC isn’t a fighter. Hearing her talk about the reward challenge in a secret scene confessional was a revelation: Rather than complaining that no one asked her about the rice-for-reward deal, she explained that the information she gathered about the tensions within Tandang was invaluable, and she focused on the fact that the only other person who wasn’t asked for her opinion was Lisa. Now that she’s managed to make the merge, RC will be able to use all of the intel she’s been compiling to possibly forge an alliance with Lisa, and through her, with Malcolm and Denise. Again, I’m not saying RC is in this for the long haul – heck, Abi might attempt to blindside her this week – but I love that RC isn’t leaving without a fight.
13) Prediction Time: When I first started outlining this column, here’s what I wrote in this space: “HOLY CRAP I DON’T KNOW.”
It’s possible that during the first few days after the merge, the four competing alliances will tread cautiously as they attempt to figure out which potential deals make the most sense. If that happens, they might arrive at the first post-merge Tribal Council searching for a stalemate scapegoat – and he goes by the name of Carter.
It’s also possible that alliances shatter, someone with a hidden immunity idol gets an itchy trigger finger, and we get an unexpected victim like RC, Artis, or Pete.
But seriously, almost anything could happen.
And that’s WONDERFUL.
(You say I have to choose? Fine. I’m going with Carter.)
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – see you next week!