1) With the holidays and their gastronomic over-indulgence upon us, it is only appropriate that I begin this column by eating a ton of crow with a huge slice of humble pie for dessert. Last week, I opined at length about Penner’s vote for Abi; he was sowing the seeds of discord, I insisted, and turning other players into targets by doing so. As strategic theories go, it sounded good and felt right… but as we all found out a few nanoseconds into the latest episode, it was also utterly, entirely, and egregiously wrong. Alas, I had fallen victim to a rookie mistake: I had given an otherwise clever castaway too much credit. Not only had Penner not considered the long and short-range implications of his vote, but he had also failed to see the possibility of, and potential in, a Pete blindside. Worse still, Penner had to have this explained to him by Carter. CARTER! Gaaaaaaa!
As it turns out, Penner was simply “P.O.’ed” at Abi about the existence of a “Plan B”; me, I’m just pissed at Penner. Not for making me look foolish – I do that a dozen times a day – but for voting without thinking. There has to be a point and a purpose to each and every move a player makes in this game, particularly post-merge; sadly, Penner was voting emotionally, not strategically. He’s fortunate that this lack of foresight didn’t come back to haunt him this week; I suspect, though, that the flaws in his game (trusting the wrong people, voting with his heart over his head, inspiring more fear than faith in his followers) will catch up to him before the Final Tribal Council. As a wise coach once told me: When you don’t plan ahead, you don’t finish first.
2) That said, here we go again: Against my better judgment, I’m going to give another castaway the benefit of the doubt. This week’s beneficiary of my idiocy: Lisa (and by extension, Mike). Much has been made of Lisa’s “loyalty” to Tandang – especially in an episode built around the possibility of her flipping sides – and the question at the heart of it all has been this: Did she know that Mike was going to flip and that Artis was headed to Ponderosa?
My answer: Yes and yes.
Over the last two episodes, we’ve learned that Mike and Lisa have had a long-term alliance, and that both of them have agreed to consult one another about potential game moves. We’ve also seen Lisa work to protect Mike, which is an important piece of the puzzle: In Survivor, the only alliances one can really trust are those that have been tested.
Assuming that these two are comfortable sitting next to one another at the FTC, here’s how I think this might have gone down:
** Mike and Lisa agreed that the Axis of Evil needed to take a hit, if only to even the playing field (the game now consists of four tandems – Lisa & Mike, Abi & Pete, Denise & Malcolm, Penner & Carter – although the latter pair are really free agents).
** Mike and Lisa are aware that they’re trading the fourth and fifth spots in the Tandang alliance for, possibly, the fifth and sixth spots in the Three Tribe Alliance (tandems from all three original tribes). But they agree that the Tandang pecking order is fully entrenched, while the social politics of a Three Tribe Alliance would be far more fluid. The possibility of slipping one notch is, in the end, far outweighed by the potential of a completely new power dynamic – especially if Mike and Lisa feel they have potential allies in players like Penner and Denise.
** They know that only one vote is needed to swing the game, so the question is: Do they both flip and irrevocably align themselves with the Matsing and Kalabaw tandems, or might there be some value in splitting their votes?
3) My answer to that question: I think Lisa wanted to split the votes for a few reasons, each with a vastly different motive.
** Alliance-assisting: Lisa could argue that by her voting with Tandang, Pete and Abi would end up trusting her enough to believe that they’re still in an alliance. This could help in any number of ways: Pete and Abi will include Lisa in their discussions about potential alliances and voting strategies, allowing Lisa to play double agent… Lisa will be able to misinform Pete and Abi about what the other castaways are planning to do (with regards to flushing idols and whom they’re targeting)… and, given that Abi is a perfect F3 goat, Lisa and Mike keep their options open with how they can vote at F7 (and possibly F5) – Abi will need a lifeline, especially if Pete goes home, and the only person she would even remotely trust is Lisa (who has “proven” herself by voting with Tandang).
** Psyche-protecting: Lisa would dread the treatment she’d receive at the hands of Abi (and possibly Pete) if she flipped; by having Mike cast the decisive vote, the heat is off of her and onto Mike, who at this point most likely doesn’t care what Abi and Pete think of him. If splitting the vote gets the results they want – a weaker Axis of Evil – while also allowing Mike to spare Lisa some social blowback, I’m guessing that Mike would see this as the Christian thing to do. Mike really has nothing to lose here; it’s not like Pete and Abi can like him any less.
** Totally self-serving: As a long-time fan of Survivor, Lisa is no doubt acutely aware of how jury management factors into who wins the game. By voting with Tandang, Lisa can lend credence to the “loyalty” argument she would use at the FTC (assuming she gets there); this is an especially persuasive “hook” if the long-term plan is to have Pete, and possibly Abi, join Artis on the jury. After Mike’s betrayal, there’s zero chance any of them would vote for Mike to win the game; Lisa, on the other hand, might be able to convince them that she tried to get the Tandang Five to the endgame together. I say ‘might’ because it’s possible the jury would see through her rationalizations and expose the hypocrisy they’re built upon; the fact that Lisa was simply avoiding getting blood on her hands may end up offending a jury which wants to feel that the snuffing of their torches was due to active gameplay rather than to passive hand-wringing.
4) As if all of that isn’t enough, there are two more observations that inform this overly elaborate (and perhaps entirely inaccurate) theory:
** One of the secret scenes over at the CBS Survivor website shows Lisa in full spin-doctor mode with Artis: She wants Artis to trust that she’s loyal to Tandang, even though she’s admitted to double-dealing. During the clip, we find out that Lisa made a Day One Pact with Artis; it’s pretty clear by the time the scene is over that Lisa is trying to accomplish several things simultaneously: one, assuage her guilty conscience; two, make Artis feel safe even as forces are marshaling against him; and three, plant the seeds for her FTC speech. Had the vote been 6-3, Artis would have known that Lisa had betrayed their Day One Pact, and she would no longer be able to count on Artis as a FTC ally; with a 5-4 vote, however, Artis – who points out that actions speak louder than words – would be more inclined to believe that Lisa was on his side all along. Which is precisely what Lisa wants him to think.
** Lisa couldn’t have scripted a better “establish my FTC opening statement about loyalty” Tribal Council: Abi attacks her, the other castaways react with “This is why you have to flip!” body language, Lisa echoes Artis’ observation that actions speak louder than words… and then she votes with the AoE against Penner. You can already hear Lisa telling the jury, “I never betrayed my original alliance,” can’t you?
But here’s where she’s wrong: If I’m right, and Lisa agreed with Mike’s decision to vote out Artis, then her words will speak far louder than her actions. Yes, she has not yet voted against a member of her alliance – and she may not do so before the FTC – but she has already betrayed them in her heart. That truth – and the indecisiveness that has accompanied it – may very well cost her the game.
5) Which brings up Mike’s role in all of this. If we’re willing to run with the idea that Lisa knew Mike was flipping – and that Mike knew that Lisa wasn’t – why would Mike be okay with this plan? It makes him out to be the bad guy, and quite possibly hands the game to Lisa – so why go along with her split-vote approach?
Because it’s brilliant, that’s why.
(Bear with me as I hatch yet another crazy theory.)
In his heart of hearts, Mike has to know that he can’t beat Lisa at her own game; if the two of them make it to the FTC, and they’re both telling the same story once they get there, then Lisa wins, hands down. But if Mike can tell a different story, one that’s more compelling to a majority of the jury members, then he could possibly earn the title of Sole Survivor. His job, then, is to begin the process of narrative differentiation: he needs to carve his own path, forge his own identity, and in the process give the jury what they need to write his name down when the story is complete.
Let’s say that Mike and Lisa make the Final Three with Abi; the jury then would be Artis, Pete, RC, Jeff, Carter, Malcolm, Denise, and Penner. There is zero chance Mike could get Artis or Pete to vote for him (in a secret scene, Artis confesses that the Axis of Evil told Mike that he cannot win the game if the other members of Tandang have anything to say about it); on the other hand, I’d guess that he’s got RC’s vote in the bag (despite her Ponderosa complaints that Mike betrayed her). The other votes would, I feel, be up in the air; a better story, a more “heroic” journey, would override the anti-returning player rhetoric (particularly with Penner around to argue that vet status is a virtue rather than a vice).
At the moment, Lisa’s story is one rife with contradictions; she believes she’s being loyal, but she’s either standing idly by as others do the dirty work or, even worse, enabling Mike and the others to backstab and betray those to whom she is supposedly loyal. Either way, Lisa is knowingly allowing the members of her alliance to be gunned down because doing so helps her game; if this is exposed and expounded on at the Final Tribal Council, she’s going to be hemorrhaging votes left and right.
Mike, meanwhile, is shaping a different, arguably more impressive, narrative. While Lisa was failing in her effort to blindside Malcolm, Mike helped to eliminate Jeff, and then at F9, Mike did what Lisa was too timid to do: He single-handedly flipped the game. As Probst is fond of pointing out, to win Survivor, a player HAS to make at least one big move; Mike has made his (and may not be done), but Lisa, in her efforts to appear loyal, may very well get to the FTC without accomplishing anything. Sure, Lisa wins style points for attempting to take out Malcolm – but the judges (in this case, the jury members) will deduct a ton of points because she didn’t stick the landing.
There’s no way to know how this will play out – the magnitude of the strategic decisions to be made between F8 and F3 is beyond measure, and there’s no way to be sure that Mike and Lisa will be around to make them – but if they DO navigate to the end together, I am now increasingly intrigued by the stories they’ll tell when they get there. Two roads have diverged in the Philippine jungle; the question is, who has taken the one less traveled by? Because as Frost pointed out, that makes all the difference.
6) Since I keep talking about possible endgame scenarios, I think we’re probably overdue for a quick Edit Audit. Let’s rectify that, shall we? Given what the Survivor producers and editors have given us over the course of the season, here’s where I think we’re headed (in reverse order of finish):
Pete (8th place): His story has been one of “Pride goes before a fall.” We’ve all been waiting to see Pete’s hubris richly rewarded with a blindside, and I don’t think we’re going to have to wait much longer. One possible scenario: He opts to trust people he shouldn’t – Malcolm and Lisa, most likely – and goes home when Abi plays her idol to save herself.
Carter (7th): It’s taken me a long time to figure out Carter’s edit – weeks ago, I thought for sure he’d be an early-merge casualty – but I think I’ve finally got it: He’s the guileless victim of the plan to flush Malcolm’s idol. By the by, I find some of the recent speculation that Carter is more savant than idiot to be pretty amusing; if you want proof, look no further than one of his secret scenes this week. In it, Carter gets ever so close to brilliance: He explains that it would be smart for Malcolm, Denise, and him to work with Skupin and Penner, since they’re both veteran players who, if the anti-returnee sentiment prevails, can’t win the game. If, at that moment, Carter had said, “Then I’ll make a sub-alliance with Mike and Jonathan, backstab Malcolm and Denise at F5 and F4, and cruise to an easy victory!” I would have screamed with surprise, soiled myself in shock, and then quit writing about Survivor because clearly I know nothing. But instead, Carter explained that he, Malcolm, and Denise could cut Skupin and Penner loose after the old Tandang members were gone; yep, that’s right, Carter wants to go to the FTC with Malcolm and Denise, two of the most charismatic and articulate underdogs the game has ever seen. So please, folks, stop trying to say that Carter has any idea what he’s doing.
Malcolm (6th): More on this later, but I think the agenda at F7 and beyond will be to flush Malcolm’s idol and then, barring an epic individual immunity run, vote him out of the game. If there are two things that can unify disparate voting blocks, it’s fear of an idol and the collective need to take out a triple threat.
Penner (5th): As I’ve written in several columns this season, Penner is being edited as the player who shapes the endgame without getting to fully participate in it. He may go earlier than this – in fact, he probably should, given that he would be working overtime to break up the Mike/Lisa tandem at this point (something Denise and Abi would be more than happy to help with) – but whenever Penner’s torch is snuffed, Mike and Lisa, who will ultimately benefit most from Penner’s help, may also end up being the architects of his demise.
Abi (4th): She’s being edited as the “3rd place finisher who gets no votes,” but Abi might end up fourth due to her charming personality (the others might simply be sick of dealing with her) and/or because Denise wins individual immunity at F4.
Denise/Lisa/Mike (final three): That’s how it feels right now, given their edits… but as I’ve said before, a lot can change between now and the finale.
As for who would win in that hypothetical final three? I have no idea. But it would be a great one, wouldn’t it?
7) With three tandems and two rogue votes in play – and with F8 being a spot usually reserved for a safe boot because of the fear of a tie – I’ve been obsessing over what the tribal agenda will be this week. In the end, I think it has to be the flushing of idols. The question is, which one do they go after first?
My knee-jerk reaction was to say Malcolm’s; between the ever-increasing odds of Malcolm winning individual immunity challenges (and thus not having to play his idol to protect himself) and the endgame threat he poses, the other castaways need to make Malcolm vulnerable as soon as possible.
Upon reflection, however, I realized that any plan to flush Malcolm’s idol at this point would require the participation of Pete and Abi – and that’s not going to happen. Why? Because this week’s secret scenes made it abundantly clear that Pete still trusts Malcolm (despite Malcolm lying about his idol and trying to vote out Pete). If anyone tried to convince Pete and Abi to flush out Malcolm’s idol, they’d undoubtedly tell Malcolm, who would then attempt to flip the game (Pete, Abi, Denise, and Malcolm could, at the very least, force a tie; it wouldn’t be too hard to convince Carter to join them). Given Malcolm’s undeniable charisma – combined with Pete and Abi’s desperate need for an endgame alliance – Malcolm could easily take over the tribe if he felt threatened. Penner would undoubtedly anticipate that possible reaction, which means that he wouldn’t even consider heading down this path.
So that leaves Abi’s idol. If the other castaways could be certain she would play it only on herself, I have a feeling they’d ignore it; given the slight chance that she’d let Pete play it, however, and the fact that Pete is a threat to go on an individual immunity run (for all of my talk about Malcolm being a challenge beast, Pete’s the one who has performed better post-merge), the remaining players need to get it out of the game.
The most obvious plan would be for the Three Tribe Alliance to split their votes 3-3 between Pete and Abi. If Abi plays her idol, Pete goes home; if she doesn’t, then they split their second round votes, and Pete gets his torch snuffed when Abi plays her idol (a player can use the HII during a re-vote, right?). Of course, all of that requires Lisa to be on board with the plan and to vote for either Pete or Abi – something that doesn’t fit with everything she’s done up to this point.
Which means that the other players will need to convince Abi that she’s the target so that she plays the idol. Might Malcolm be instrumental in this? Absolutely, given that Pete still trusts him (which staggers the mind). And there’s still the chance that Lisa could feed Pete and Abi misinformation; her game thus far has been predicated on voting loyalty, not strategic honesty.
Of course, what would make all of this REALLY interesting is if Pete won individual immunity; who would go home if he had the necklace and Abi played her idol? Penner, probably. (Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.)
8) Time for a quick post-mortem on the elimination of Artis: On this week’s “Survivor Know-it-Alls,” Rob C. used the power of the white board to shape a convincing argument that voting out Artis was a bad move. At the risk of Rob excommunicating me from his domain, however, I’m going to side with Fishbach on this one; the plan which Rob outlined didn’t take into consideration the two idols still in play and how they’d affect the four (five, if you want to count Penner and Carter separately) different factions which remain in the game. Bottom line: Mike rightly figured that the opportunity to take control of his destiny might not present itself again, so he seized it. Personally, I think he was wise to do so.
But back to Artis: He was grumpy, and now he’s gone. Sadly, I think he’s going to be “that guy” at the FTC; you know the one I mean: attitudinal, rude, confrontational, irrational, and bitter. Sigh. I had such high hopes for Artis – he was so full of positive energy during his pre-game interviews, wasn’t he? – but he ended up being the biggest disappointment of the season for me, the Yin to Jeff Kent’s Yang. Such a shame.
9) Because I’m in an ongoing debate with fellow RHAP columnist Sarah Freeman over who’s the better player, Malcolm or Pete, let’s look at what we learned about them this week, courtesy of the secret scenes and the episode itself.
Malcolm: He admits that his ego got the better of him, and as a result, he had to show his idol to save himself… he realizes that he needs to back off, be less aggressive, and lose the ego… he understands the dichotomy of an exposed idol, that it puts a target on his back while also serving as a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card… and after going on the reward, he is shown admitting that the life he leads – “serving girls in bars” – is shallow compared to the meaningful work he did as a teacher in Micronesia. Seriously, all that’s missing from Malcolm’s edit at this point is a halo.
Pete: He honestly believed that Malcolm was going to vote with him against Penner… since he thought he had the numbers, he decided to “take a little vacation” from the game… and he was utterly unconcerned that anyone would flip, while Abi, on the other hand, was genuinely (and, as it turns out, correctly) worried about Mike and Lisa. Bottom line: When Abi, someone who believes she displayed grace towards Lisa despite calling her naïve and gullible, is shown as more strategically aware than Pete, then the editors REALLY want us to think Pete is awful at this game.
10) At the start of the reward challenge, Probst pointed out that the two teams were chosen by the players – but I REALLY want to know more about the selection process. Were two captains named, and did they do the picking? If so, who were the captains? And how were they chosen, by the producers or the players themselves? Did the captains pick all of the players, or did they pick one player, and that player picked the second, and so on? So many questions, and not an answer in sight!
Why is any of this important, you ask? Because given the final composition of the teams, SOMEBODY screwed up. There’s a fundamental Survivor Commandment in play here:
Thou shalt not allow an alliance – or a potential alliance – to go on a reward together
If the Axis of Evil had any control over player selection, there is no way that they should have allowed Denise, Penner, Carter, and Malcolm to be on the same team; no matter how uncomfortable it might be to go on a reward excursion with people you don’t like, you simply cannot allow your enemies time to bond, align, and plot.
How castaways can be on Survivor in its 25th season and NOT KNOW THIS simply boggles the mind.
11) Fortunes rising: Mike. In one of this week’s secret scenes, Mike has a confessional in which he explains that now that he’s made the merge and won individual immunity, “All that’s left is to win.” The fact that this clip was relegated to the CBS web site might make a savvy viewer assume Mike can’t and won’t win; if he were the Sole Survivor, wouldn’t the producers include a confessional like this one in the show itself? But then again, what if the producers knew that a large percentage of their fan base would see this confessional and think, “Winner quote!”, so they had to make it a secret scene if they were going to use it at all? My mind keeps chasing itself in circles on this one, so I’ll leave it at this: Win or lose, it’s a great quote.
No matter how you choose to interpret the placement of that clip, Mike clearly had a good week: He won individual immunity and, perhaps emboldened by that victory, flipped the game on Artis and the Axis of Evil. Is it just me, or is Skoop starting to pad his endgame résumé? Last week, my faith in Mike wavered; after this exceptional episode, consider my faith restored.
12) Fortunes falling: Pete. He trusted Malcolm. He trusted Mike. He trusted Lisa. Fail, fail, fail.
13) Prediction time: It shouldn’t be too hard to convince a vulnerable and paranoid Abi that she needs to play her idol to remain in the game; all the other castaways need to do is escalate the antagonism and let her fear and insecurity do the rest. At Tribal, after Abi has handed her idol to Probst, we’ll get to see her triumphant sneer dissolve into disbelief as the votes are read. Quite frankly, I’m not sure which image I’m looking forward to more: Pete getting his torch snuffed, or Abi’s glare of homicidal hatred for everyone else left in the game.
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – as it turns out, we’ve got a new episode on Wednesday (instead of a recap), so I’ll see you here next week!