How Abi-Maria Took Down the Tandang Tribe

This week, I’m in customary mourning for my pick to win. At least Pete lasted a little longer than Jonas did last season, and as with Artis, I’ve been reminded of just why I liked him so much pre-season. Pete had a very clinical, logical attitude to the game in his pre-show interviews, which I liked, and I thought it would lead to his fellow players not taking his moves too personally.

So much for my predictions. Still, I enjoyed seeing the chaos-driven gamestyle tackled from a more logical standpoint, and I was delighted to see Pete assess his game in his day after interview and talk about where he went wrong as opposed to the standard options of “They knew I was too big a threat,” and “They don’t know how to play this game.” (He does plenty of ego-tripping too, never fear!)

Disclaimer: since Pete won’t be doing interviews until Monday, I’m going to have to write this without the knowledge of what he thinks now. For all I know, he might have completely changed his mind after a few months to think about it, but for now we’ll go by his Ponderosa opinions.

Playing the Wild Card

I’m particularly gratified that Pete validated a personal peeve of mine. He believed that his biggest mistake was in keeping Abi for too long, because “she runs her mouth.” Abi ended up being this season’s wild card, the unpredictable player who is determined to play hard. Every season it seems that a would-be puppetmaster or two aligns with this person. They see that the wild card will make the perfect finals goat, and they figure that they can control them since such a chaotic player is clearly not very smart.

In fact, what almost always happens is that the wild card screws up the puppetmaster’s game. The only players I can think of in recent times who have successfully pulled off a win from a wild-card alliance are Natalie (Samoa) and Rob (Redemption Island). I actually had Zane pegged as the wild card for this season – and I’m sure I’m not alone – so I will give Malcolm and Denise and whoever else major kudos for getting rid of him. Instead, it was Abi who took on the mantle.

One of the traditions of the wild card is the uncomfortable Tribal Council. Abi has already contributed to a few, but this week she was the one taking it instead of dishing it out. With Abi finally in the minority and the other players assuming a position of power, they freely unloaded their frustrations onto her. Even Jeff Probst got in on the action by haranguing her until she had to tell him to stop.

Jeff declared her issues to be a cultural thing. Speaking as a foreign national residing in the United States, I devoutly hope he didn’t intend to sound so patronizing. Pro-tip: if you really want to get under my skin, criticize me and then say, “I expect it’s a British thing.” I’m sure that the last thing Abi wanted was to be turned into a representative of her country just as she was facing some bitter truths, and I’m even more certain that your average Brazilian didn’t care for that comment either!

Like Pete, I felt sorry for Abi. Whatever her past actions, that kind of public flogging is still a form of bullying. As Penner commented in his webclip, she probably isn’t a bad person at heart. I’m not the kind of person to take pleasure in seeing another person’s pain. Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

So you see what I mean about that kind of statement being annoying? (And you only have to flip through a British tabloid to completely disprove it.)

That said, I don’t think we can completely rule cultural clashes out, even if she has lived in the States for a long time. I’ve lived in the States on and off for well over half my life, and I still cringe at the American pronunciation of ‘buoy’. At the very least, Abi is likely to move in social circles where her outspoken behavior is acceptable, maybe even encouraged, whether that be through race, class, age or gender. See also last week, when I discussed her perspective on a family unit. However, a cultural divide would be just one factor of many.

Another clue comes in Pete’s secret scene. He’s light-heartedly teasing Abi that she should give the idol to him, and she tells him that it would be a dumb move and she has to think of her image. That’s a wonderfully ironic statement, but it’s telling. It’s a cliché for female Survivors to describe themselves as ‘a strong woman’ (often followed by a ‘but’), and I wonder how much of Abi’s attitude is due to a resolve not to be a coat-tailer.

She certainly achieved that, since if nothing else, we can describe Abi as a dynamic player. She compared herself to Parvati in her biography, and I can see where she’s trying to play a Parvati game. She’s flirty, happy to do the mean girl clique thing and aggressive in playing the dominant role in her alliance. All that lecturing of Lisa and RC was very possibly her way of asserting her authority for the cameras.

But beyond all these factors, she’s an outspoken person who has no idea of how she’s coming across to others. That’s really not such an unusual thing. Her behavior is definitely not intentional. In her online confessional, she assured us that she had been Miss Goody-Two-Shoes until Artis was voted off.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Of course, while it’s more or less certain that Abi set the antagonistic tone in Tandang, she’s not the only one who can shoulder the blame. I had wondered if Pete would admit to RC that he planted the clue in her bag, once they were out of the game. Judging from his Ponderosa clip, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Pete clearly dislikes RC.

Let’s take a moment to pay tribute to whoever put together these Ponderosa clips, because they are totally unbothered by the editing constrictions of the television episodes. In Ponderosa, MLB player Jeff is invisible, Artis and Pete are buddies cracking wise, and RC is providing us with a veritable soap opera as she refuses to let in-game grudges go.

While RC realized the long-term problems of Tandang’s dysfunction and was fretting about it in confessional long before the merge, I’m certain now that she contributed to it. After having a very passive aggressive conversation with Pete, which he returned in style rather than give her the answer she was seeking, she told the camera that there’s a lot more she could say, but she’s trying to be nice, “just like on the island.”

RC might believe she’s being nice, yet she’s making her true feelings all too obvious (as a jump-cut to Artis and Pete proves.). Most of us have done it at some point, but it’s still a huge mistake in the game of Survivor.

So with this new post-merge information, let’s recount Tandang’s members: passive-aggressive RC; Abi who defies definition; Pete who will be a jerk just for kicks; annoying Michael; Artis who spends 80% of his time apparently scheming to kill them all in their sleep; and emotional wreck Lisa, freshly divorced after almost twenty-five years of marriage. Actually, bearing Lisa’s circumstances in mind and watching Pete and RC go at it, I’m impressed she’s holding it together as well as she is. If Matsing was the physically handicapped tribe, Tandang was the socially-disadvantaged one. (Kalabaw’s just plain unlucky.)

Aside: at one point in their cordial argument, Pete reminds RC of an incident where she was talking to Katie at a challenge. Belated kudos to Katie for seizing an opportunity to make connections (and discuss a women’s alliance?) with the opposing tribe.

So Abi is not solely responsible for Tandang’s implosion, yet I agree with Pete that she destroyed his game. In episode, there was the inference that they might negotiate with Pete, if it wasn’t for Abi – and because she held the idol, they had to use Pete as the safe side of the split vote. That’s a simplification, since both Penner and Lisa listed Pete as being equally responsible for the dissension around camp, but the problems seemed to be more about his aggressive strategic play than his social game.

Obviously, in the Abi-centric edit, I can’t say definitively that everybody liked Pete, but his conversation with Skupin was wonderful. Neither man has particular respect for the other, but they talked rationally and earnestly about their prospects if they worked together. Skupin evem acknowledged that Pete had never gone against him. It was all very Yul/Penner-esque, to the credit of both men. Pete’s analytical side reminded me of Yul in the first place, and while I don’t think he’s got the social experience to play Yul’s game, he might have been better served to try it.

Instead, he aligned himself with Abi, let her set Tandang’s tone and let himself be tarred with the same brush. We could make the excuse here that he had no opportunity to cast aside Abi sooner, since the only times they’ve been to Tribal Council, they were targeting important threats. It’s similar to Parvati’s issues with Russell in Heroes vs Villains. However, in both instances, they needed to find some way of making themselves distinct from their ally, some way of reassuring others that they would consider voting off their wild card instead of enabling their chaotic behavior.

Quite aside from the social stigma, Abi would talk when it was better to be discreet. If the edit is to be believed (and it probably shouldn’t be), she singlehandedly drove away Lisa and was constantly saying more than she meant to. Even had Lisa and Skupin stayed loyal, she would eventually have done something that Pete did not anticipate and likely cost him the game. In Survivor, an unpredictable ally is the same thing as an uncontrollable one.

Don’t ask me who is Romeo and who is Juliet

One other thing that Pete had learned from his experience was that it’s hard to tell when people are lying to you. Yes, Pete. Yes, it is.

This episode, Pete finally turned on Malcolm, and their alliance-crossed bromance reached its tragic conclusion with the two of them both up for the vote. It could be argued that this face-off provides the definitive answer to my feud with Andy Baker this season. So to Andy may I say: my guy had the courage of his convictions; your guy can’t even commit to a haircut.

Actually, Malcolm impressed me this episode. After an entire season of sitting on the fence and keeping his options open until they were forcibly taken away from him, he actually decided to pick his final four a full two Tribal Councils before he needed to.

Lisa is clearly angling for her own guest blogger spot on RHAW for she has an online confessional where she analyzes that move in far greater depth than Malcolm probably did. She explained that although she had betrayed his trust on the idol, they’d never officially broken their alliance (personally, I’d say that Lisa trying to get him out would mark an end to it) so this was his way of getting her back on side. She also observed that because they sealed the deal before the immunity challenge, it locked up their votes before Pete could target Malcolm.

I’m reluctant to believe that Malcolm saw Pete’s plan coming, but it certainly was a great time to actually make his move. The secondary moral of the episode was that you can’t hesitate in Survivor with both Pete and Penner suffering from procrastination in deal-making. Pete should have pushed for Malcolm’s vote off before immunity, although it’s possible that he wanted to hold off in case either Malcolm or he won the challenge.

It was a pretty good plan, and it’s possible that had Pete made more of an effort to bond with the other Dangrayne members (instead of ignoring Denise and Carter as he had done the previous vote) he might have pulled it off. However, as Lisa pointed out, anybody who flipped to Pete’s side at that point would have still been joining a three against four minority for the next vote. Lisa might have counseled Skupin against the move, but Skupin’s already said that Pete was one of the most vocal against returning players, so it’s unlikely he would have seriously considered it, despite the edit.

According to Pete’s secret scene, there was a secondary goal to his plan, and that was to stop Abi playing her idol. Even if nobody flipped, were Abi to believe two players had joined them, she could have held onto her idol one more time. In that scenario, the vote would have been tied between Pete and Abi, and the plan for that was for all of Dangrayne to write down Abi’s name on the revote.

Pete was still plugging Malcolm as the target at Tribal Council, which makes little sense in a blindside, so I think both he and Abi were well aware that nobody was flipping. At that point, his best hope was for Abi to break down from the battering she’d received and suicide by playing her idol for Pete instead. At least he had the good grace not to suggest that move to her.

Deal or No Deal

And at least Pete was making moves, unlike Penner, who seems to be have adopted Pete’s previous episode philosophy of taking a vacation for the next few ‘easy’ votes. Of all people, to see Penner deferring strategy-talk just beggars belief.

Perhaps that’s why he did it. He has such a reputation and such a target on his back, that he wants to take this opportunity to coast for a bit and get off the radar. He also has a (not entirely fair) reputation for being disloyal, so perhaps he’s trying to avoid making promises that he’ll end up breaking. Besides, there’s an advantage to calming everybody down and letting the next few votes go automatically; if his allies aren’t talking strategy, then they’re not strategizing against him.

That might have been his theory anyway, but in practice, it didn’t work. Lisa and Skupin have now made a promise to another alliance and that pair are inclined to stick to their word once given. I was surprised that this even came up, since last week I theorized that Skupin and Penner had already made a returners’ pact. Clearly, I was wrong, and I can only assume that Penner does not want to go to the end with Lisa or Skupin. With the way he’s befriended them, he might well reason that they would be better placed on the jury voting for him (which would almost certainly guarantee him RC’s vote as well).

Of course, even if he didn’t want to go to the end with Lisa and Skupin, if he’d made a deal with them, that would have forestalled their pact with Malcolm and Denise, leaving the Matsing pair no option but to turn to him and Carter (assuming Malcolm and Denise haven’t already made a pact with Penner to deter him from dealing with Skupin and Lisa). As it is, the last surviving Kalabaw have just found themselves fifth and sixth. Have a care for Carter who not only gets no say in the episodes but also no say in his eventual fate!

One of the things I missed last week was a webclip where Carter explained that he had a deal with Malcolm and Denise to work with the returners for now and then vote them off at the end. So it seems that Carter’s intention is to go to the end with Malcolm and Denise, contrary to my assumptions that he was working with Penner. The majority alliance is not a group of three pairs, but rather two pairs and two unwitting outsiders. Penner named Carter as a good finals opponent very early on, so he might still be planning his endgame with that in mind, but Carter isn’t going in that direction.

And Carter could be in trouble as early as next episode. With Pete and her idol gone, Abi is not a threat. It’s highly unlikely she’ll win immunity, but Carter’s won individual immunity twice and his competition is dwindling. Penner is also a risk to win immunity at the wrong time, as he’s already proven. The Matsing and Tandang unit might give serious thought to voting them out now, rather than risk a problem at final five.

I’m not expecting it though, partly because Abi is winding them up so much and because, as she’s a wild card, she’s always at risk of doing something crazy. Also, if Malcolm and Denise let her get to final five, they risk Skupin and Lisa using her vote to turn on them. Seems a long shot, but not all of that final four are going to last the full thirty-nine days, and if either Skupin or Lisa feels they’re in fourth place, they could decide to change things up.

This brings us to what exactly Malcolm and Denise’s plan is for the finals. From our point of view, there’s a strong possibility we’re heading for a final two, just based on the number of episodes left. As I’ve not heard any players consider a final two, I’m only going to speculate on final three scenarios this week.

In the first episode post-merge, Malcolm was worried about being in an alliance with Denise and Lisa because he believed they stood a strong chance of beating him, so I was stunned to see him willingly go with the older people in an alliance that will ensure he’s facing at least one of those women in the finals.

However, that was three episodes ago and all kinds of crap has happened since then. This week, Lisa calmly declared that she and Skupin were the least liked in the final six group and expected that was why Malcolm wanted to go with them. Speaking comparatively, she could be right, as Penner has been given a lot of respect by this whole cast whereas Carter is a nice young man with a good Christian upbringing, if we recall his pre-merge association with the lewd Katie and Dawson. Oh, and a chauvinist, but none of the women who he encouraged to sit out of Kalabaw’s challenges are on the jury, so that’s probably irrelevant.

Lisa on the other hand keeps breaking down in tears and as nice as everybody is being to her, that’s probably getting wearing. And Skupin is difficult to live with, or so we’re told. So perhaps both Malcolm and Denise think they’re both valid options to go to the finals.

Except of course, Denise said she wanted to take the worthy players to the end! Or at least, not Abi. There is a sliding scale of worthy after all. There’s been a lot of debate about her statement, including on the Thanksgiving Eve recap podcast. I’m not going to rehash all of that, but we’re looking at the possibility that Denise is being disingenuous, saying it for the benefit of the jury or the other players.

I actually tend to think that she’s being genuine, perhaps taking Kim Spradlin’s attitude that she’d like to sit at the finals with players she would not mind losing to. Besides, it’s easy to take that line when you have a solid case for winning.

On the Campaign Trail

A solid case is precisely what Denise does have. Back when Matsing were at their own personal final three, Russell said that Denise would be a shoo-in to win the million dollars if she reached the end, because she was so nice. Zane, in the first three days of the game, called her the nicest “chick” he’s ever met (yes, Zane is married), while Malcolm described her this week as the most level-headed woman he’s met. Denise’s social game is strong. So’s her physical: one immunity win under her belt and a solid contention in this week’s challenge, holding her own alongside the men.

Strategically, she’s been invisible since the merge, but whenever we do see her, she’s usually talking about the vote and how it’s going to go. She’s not a performer in the way that Penner and, to a lesser extent, Malcolm are, but she’s plugging away at the game and the other players are listening to her. Finally, she has one of the best underdog stories in Survivor history. She’ll have been to every single Tribal Council of the game if she gets to the end.

Theoretically, Denise should be a frontrunner to win, yet we’ve not seen anybody worry about that, except for Malcolm who seems to have got over it. This in itself makes me wonder if there’s a reason that nobody’s worried about Denise sweeping the votes. The same thing happened in South Pacific: solid strategic players were completely unworried about taking Coach to the end. Sure enough, they were right to be complacent. But in Coach’s case, I was able to figure out why he wasn’t a threat to win. I can’t see it with Denise.

So perhaps the reality here is that Denise’s allies have slated her for fourth. Or perhaps, everybody with their own self-centered view of the game sees their own case as being strong and has forgotten the diminutive and unobtrusive therapist, at least for now. After all, Penner’s got a good underdog story: target on his back since day one, who went from dead man walking to controlling an alliance twice. Skupin and Lisa have also overcome major targets, and Carter is probably banking on a strong physical performance with multiple immunity wins.

As for Malcolm, he shares Denise’s backstory, but has had a higher profile game since then thanks to the idol. Interestingly, in his webclip this week he describes how he’s had a target on his back since very early in the game, long before the merge. This is a confessional, so he’s not being disingenuous here, but it’s completely untrue.

Malcolm was never a target before the merge (except arguably at Matsing’s Final Tribal Council when Russell voted for him); even when he went to Tandang it was clear that had they gone to Tribal Council, he would have been safe. He was also off the radar after the merge; when Lisa tried to move against him, she was brushed aside as the two factions moved forward with their own plans. Malcolm still pulled his stunt with the idol, but he really needn’t have bothered… It seems he’s never realized this.

This week was the first time that a viable attack was mounted against him, and even now he’s received a grand total of three votes (from Russell, Pete and Abi). If Malcolm genuinely thinks he’s been in danger since early in the game, he’s as paranoid as Abi!

But Survivor is about perspective and controlling the narrative of the game. Possessing the idol always does put a target on your back, even if nobody takes aim at it. If Malcolm tells the jury that he’s been in danger since early on, will they believe him?

The one person who did want to vote Malcolm off before this is Lisa, and she describes him as unbeatable in an online confessional. She claims that everybody likes him, which is very possible. The jury’s going to be Tandang heavy, and Malcolm had time to befriend all of them. It’s also very telling that Lisa talks about why Malcolm would want to be aligned with her and Skupin; she doesn’t worry about Denise’s motivations.

Malcolm’s profile has risen dramatically among the players and at Tribal Council. Whether intended that way or not, Malcolm’s laughing refusal to say voting him off would be good strategy, is a great performance for the jurors. If South Pacific’s Sophie were there, she’d be planning to make Malcolm look like an idiot in front of the jury at every opportunity from now on.

Will any of this season’s crop follow the same tactics, or will they just take the option of voting him out at final four? I’m thinking the latter. If Malcolm can play his way through that, then Pete’s parting sally against his bromantic buddy might end up being a million dollar gift.

On paper though, it seems like we’re headed to a Denise, Skupin and Lisa final three, or a Skupin vs Lisa final two, but the pecking order’s been changing on a weekly basis. Right now, nearly everybody’s playing a very high-risk game. It’s going to be fun seeing whose gamble will pay off.

Become a patron of RHAP