Survivor Blog: Digging Deeper to Explain this Week’s Vote

Survivor Blogger, Sarah Freeman

The following is a Survivor Blog from Blogger, Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah)


So last week, I remarked that I was having a hard time figuring out the rationale for everybody’s moves.

Yeah, that’s nothing compared to this week, and I don’t care because this episode was amazing! As Jeff said in the Podcast, scrambling was still going on at Tribal Council, which means the online confessionals won’t clear up much and even his interview can only give us part of the story. So brace yourself, we’re in for a lot of speculation this week.

Pick a side; there’s at least five of them

When last we left our band of intrepid schemers, they had joined forces to flush Jonathan’s idol sending RC home in the process. The majority voting bloc appeared to be a think-tank of alpha males each with their own subgroup, but it wasn’t entirely clear which of the sub-alliances were tight with each other.

This week, it emerged that Kalabaw and Matsing were indeed trying to join up with each other against Tandang, pulling over Lisa to boost their numbers. Or at least that was Jeff’s plan, as we saw him explain it to Lisa. Abi was concerned that Jeff was building an alliance with Lisa, so I’m guessing that Jeff spent a lot of time working on “the former teen star”. For the record, this alliance is comprised of Jeff, Carter, Lisa, Denise and Malcolm.

The unofficial story of last week’s vote was that Denise failed to flip Malcolm to Kalabaw, so she flipped to his side (Tandang). Carter and Jeff realized they weren’t going to have a strong majority by staying with Kalabaw, so they followed her. It seems that they did not so much flip to Tandang as to Matsing, so perhaps Malcolm and Denise achieved the fan-desired goal of putting together their own alliance with themselves in control.

That said, I wonder if this was Jeff (and/or Denise’s) idea rather than Malcolm’s. In every confessional Malcolm had as a Tandang, he was happier not picking sides just yet; he wanted to keep his options open. Obviously, come the merge, he chose Pete’s side rather than RC’s, but he’s now also got the option of Jeff’s side. He’s still friendly with Pete’s group: when explaining the good vs evil dynamic, it was clear he didn’t buy into it in a literal sense, and Artis was on intimate enough terms to laugh at his nervousness before Tribal Council.

In the podcast, Jeff referenced a moment where he tried to get Denise to go with him, Skupin and Penner. That’s actually his secret scene on the CBS site. (I’m going to have to take back what I said last week about Jeff not cultivating his alliance with Denise.) It takes place after Penner won immunity, so it represents a backup plan, but his confessional in that makes it clear that he’s been trying to urge his allies to go on the offensive for a while. He explains that they want to hold back, while he’s worried that somebody else will shoot first. During the clip, Denise acknowledges the truth of what he’s saying but warns him that she doesn’t think Malcolm will go along with it (she does not commit her own opinion).

From this, I’m guessing that Malcolm is still waiting to pick sides, drawing information from both Jeff and Pete and waiting through the easy votes of Penner and Skupin. It’s a good strategy; Kim Spradlin used it a few times on her path to victory in One World, never burning a bridge until she was sure she didn’t need it or absolutely had to. On the other hand, it’s a common regret from Survivor players that they kept waiting to make their move, only to lose the opportunity – or worse, be blindsided.

Then there’s original Tandang, which saw itself as having a core four alliance (as Abi repeatedly spelled out for the wrong people) of Pete, Abi, Artis and Lisa. It’s important to note that Lisa was consistently included as an equal member, although the other players and the editing tends to separate her from the trio, if only by virtue of being Not Evil. By way of disclaimer, due to the edit the Evil Trio are getting, I will inevitably attribute most of the strategy to Pete, but it’s likely they are all contributing: e.g. Abi’s concerns about Jeff and Lisa this episode, which might have been the reason Pete singled out Jeff as the first to go.

Abi told Carter that he and Jeff were part of their alliance, and in an online confessional which probably took place after the reward challenge, Carter strongly implies that Abi, Artis and Pete have offered him personally an alliance and possibly a finals deal. He observes that it could be a good way to come in fourth when he wants to be in the top three, but he certainly seems open to the idea.

It’s likely that Pete’s group meant it seriously. Pete casually said he would protect Jeff last week, but he’s thinking of the end-game now and who the biggest threats are. Penner’s number one, but he had changed his mind on Skupin, preferring to take out Jeff, Denise and Malcolm in that order if we take the hit-list he recited for Abi literally. Carter was not mentioned, so is at least fifth, possibly higher.

Penner once said that Carter would be a dream finals opponent (alongside Katie). Pete has talked about both Abi and Artis as finals goats, but also said this week that he’d turn on Abi (and presumably Artis) if he had to. Does he consider Carter a backup goat? Or are Abi and/or Artis looking for weaker competition? It’s a risky move: jurors have a tendency to vote for the last member of their alliance standing, and Carter has the potential to go on an immunity run preventing a change of heart.

More likely, Pete’s group are recruiting Carter as a malleable vote to guard against the impending shoot-out. One of the pitches Jeff made to Malcolm in his secret scene was “We’re running out of pawns.” It’s a good point. There is an unusually high proportion of strategic players at this stage of the game, which makes the so-called pawns dramatically more valuable. Especially when one of them just made it to the end of the chessboard.

The pawn is dead. Long live the Queen!

On the podcast, Jeff talked about how Lisa had been a non-player, always on the fence in their strategy discussions. One interpretation of this is that Lisa fooled them all with her cunning act; the other (which I think is probably more accurate) is that Lisa has been nervous about actually playing but finally worked herself up to it this week. It’s fascinating, because she could so easily have been voted off early on, and none of us would ever have known what a loss to this game that would have been.

Lisa has been described as “The church lady” by Malcolm, and “soft, naïve and nice” by Jeff. They had her down as that Survivor stereotype, the gentle mother hen who isn’t cut out for the treacherous side of the game. But Lisa has an amazing confessional this week where she explains situational ethics. She also points out that she signed up for a game that she respects too much to do anything but try to win. As far as I am concerned, this is the final word on the whole “Honor and Integrity” in Survivor bit.

At any rate, the whole time that Lisa was flying under the radar, she was making social connections and taking notes on the tribal dynamics. Perhaps influenced by Jeff’s desire to vote Pete out after Penner, she realized that final nine was the first solid opportunity any sub-alliance had to seize control of the game. In fact, perhaps Jeff’s intentions were the catalyst for her own actions. She talked about securing Skupin’s alliance before anybody else could, and she could easily have been thinking of Jeff there.

At the same time, Lisa decided to go with the Tandang group, because they were easier to beat than the so-called good guys. The obvious problem with this is that there are three of them, her own voting bloc is two-strong, and it seems absurd to think that any of them would want to take her (or Skupin) to the finals over each other.

Since Lisa proved this episode that she knows how to run the numbers, I am assuming she must have a plan beyond final five. Either she’ll blindside one of the three in advance of that, or she believes she can get one of them to flip to her side. Abi would seem ripe for manipulation thanks to her paranoia, and she and Lisa are often seen together suggesting a closeness between the two women. Of course, the other possibility is that one or more of the three has already made a finals deal with her and she believes it.

Despite her loyalty to the group, she ruthlessly played up their arrogant bullying natures while on the reward challenge. She was not the only one. Denise brought the subject up, and Malcolm all but put air quotes around “good” and “evil” in his confessional relating the conversation, while worrying that Penner was pushing that narrative in order to unite people against them.

Carter apparently hasn’t paid attention to the ongoing story because he loves everybody on the merged tribe. He’s excited to have two “dudes” his own age to hang out with and makes reference to “a fun, outgoing girl” which, by process of elimination, must be Abi. (He thinks Skupin’s a great guy, so he’s not taking sides either.) I also wonder if Malcolm, on a personal level, just gets on better with Pete and Co, and that’s why he’s been so reluctant to commit himself. Hell, even Penner gets on well enough with Pete for the two of them to have a meta-moment at Tribal Council enthusing about the insanity.

I’m not going to say that the Axis of Evil are misunderstood paragons of virtue. They’re clearly a mess when it comes to teamwork and morale-boosting, and RC’s interviews and Michael’s Twitter feed show that the two Tandang outsiders are still bitter against the ruling clique. Yet most of the players who are pushing the moral high ground are doing so to advance their own game. Lisa’s words to her fellow reward-goers were considerably more aggressive than her confessional in which she described them making “hot-headed decisions.” With the exception of RC and Michael, everybody else has displayed the “They’re evil!” attitude in conversation rather than confessional.

Is everybody under-rating the villains’ social game? On the reward, it was agreed that the rest of the tribe would be ripping Michael apart for his screw-up in the challenge. Instead, all we saw was Abi sighing that everything happens for a reason. I know that we’re restricted to what the editors show us, but considering the storyline, why would they omit any bullying at this point?

Casting Pete’s group as the enemy is great for the psychological “us vs them” tactic, but I don’t think any of the Kalabaw/Matsing alliance subscribe to the idea of taking the noble players to the end, and there’s no suggestion that they are personally bitter against the Tandang clique. In theory, this could mean that Pete, Abi and Artis aren’t the finals goats that they appear – well, OK, Abi probably has no hope in hell. They’ll never get RC and Michael’s votes, but could Pete or Artis actually earn the jurors’ respect for their dominance of the game and pull out a win against one of the so-called good guys?

Honestly, I think it’s unlikely, especially since if they get to the end with a good guy, then they’ll have lost their grip on the game anyway. But I would appreciate the irony.

Stepping out of the game to stay in it

Oddly enough, the only Kalabaw who might be reluctant to see the bad guys win is Penner, who experienced being on the outside of Raro’s clique in Cook Islands. Certainly he never seemed to entertain the option of flipping on his former allies to work with Tandang instead, and he can let his emotions get the better of him, although that’s usually frustration due to his competitive nature.

This week, we saw his bitterness spill over against his Kalabaw subgroup, immediately post-Tribal Council, which he acknowledged in confessional to be a childish reaction. He slept it off and went back to his easy-going, funny, likeable guy persona in the morning.

Obviously, he’s playing up that role for his game purposes, but he’s a big enough person to be able to handle the game frankly. Take note of how often people candidly told him that he was not part of their gameplan, such as Denise’s explanation of her previous vote or when he interrupted Lisa’s chat with Michael. Lisa’s excuse that “We’re having a heated discussion, and it’s all about you,” wasn’t even accurate! They were actually talking about their plans in a post-Penner game, and Lisa misdirected him by focusing on the impending vote.

It’s bizarre, but it works. Penner was not best pleased with Denise at the time, but he respected her for her honesty more than he would have done if she’d tried false appeasement. He laughed it up with Lisa and Skupin, declaring that he would win immunity and Skupin would go home.

It’s hard luck on Penner that he’s competing against equally candid players, because it made his job of redirecting the vote much harder. He talked about hitting somebody else with the “stinky stick” while playing up what a nice guy he himself was, but nobody is interested in voting off a player because they’re annoying – which is, in itself, a testament to the gameplay of each and every person out there. It’s rare, at this point in the game, for nobody to be saying: “Oh, we’ve got the majority and we can vote off the threat anytime. Can we just get rid of X now so I don’t have to listen to them anymore?” (I suppose the RC vote could have been argued that way, but the general Tandang consensus seemed to be that Skupin was more annoying and RC more of a threat.)

And the disadvantage Penner has that nobody else does is that he is a proven strategic threat. It wasn’t talked about much in the episode, but I’m fairly sure that nobody bought his “I can’t win, so let me help you,” sales pitch. On the plus side, I think he’d garner a fair few votes if he reached the end. Jeff’s been complimentary to him, and Pete explained that he had a lot of respect for him in the webclip where he called him his biggest threat. People like Penner, and if he can salvage his current situation to make the end, he’s going to have an underdog story to rival Malcolm and Denise.

He couldn’t do it this episode. OK, so it’s always possible that there was another plan afoot that we don’t know about where Penner would have been saved (perhaps he and Artis are secretly controlling the entire game!) and that was cut for dramatic purposes. But I doubt it. Every scrap of information I can find supports the theory that up until the immunity challenge, everybody in that fragmented tribe was united in voting Penner off.

Bollocks to that

I normally prefer players to save themselves strategically rather than through a challenge, but I will give Penner a pass for the sheer drama this caused (and because he’s Jonathan Penner damnit). Malcolm ruefully called it Murphy’s Law, which reminds us that while Malcolm has experienced what it’s like to be scrambling at final three, he has never had to deal with the wrench in the works that is individual immunity.

So let’s get this straight. Right before the immunity challenge the acknowledged boot order was Penner then Skupin, with final eight becoming the free for all. However, three players (at least) wanted to keep Skupin around and vote for somebody else at final nine:

  • Jeff targeting Pete (using votes of Carter, Malcolm, Denise and Lisa)
  • Pete targeting Jeff (using votes of Abi, Artis, Lisa, Carter, Malcolm, Denise and probably Skupin as well)
  • Lisa targeting Malcolm (using votes of Abi, Artis, Pete and Skupin)

Technically, I suppose I should include Skupin in that list, since he was also leaning towards keeping himself around. After Tribal Council, he even tried to rally Jonathan to his side, although when Jonathan asked for a plan, all he said was to sit tight and wait for somebody to screw up. So Skupin lacked the target and voting bloc of the other players, although in this instance his plan of inaction was right.

Jeff and Pete on the other hand were right that a move was needed, and were also spot on in identifying their biggest threats. Both moved their plans forward once Penner won immunity. Jeff incorporated Penner and Skupin into his voting pool to get a majority, but going by his secret scene, Malcolm and Denise weren’t having it.

To be fair to Jeff, I’m guessing that they also wouldn’t have liked Pete’s plan either, but so far as I can tell, Pete didn’t get a chance to float the Jeff vote before he had a certain chat with Lisa.

Lisa was technically wrong in her assessment of Malcolm as the biggest threat. He wasn’t keen on rocking the boat so early. On the other hand, her plan was more about saving Skupin than voting off Malcolm; she just had the dirt on Malcolm needed to get the target shifted to him. Ironically, if she’d taken Skupin’s advice to Penner, Pete had reached the same conclusion on keeping Skupin around, and she would have had her desired result without getting her hands dirty.

But I am not going to fault Lisa for making that move. Aside from needing some evidence of her own outwitting and outplaying for a finals argument, she forged a solid alliance with Skupin that nobody else has. It’s the first time, that we know of, that she’s taken the initiative in an alliance, and she is now a bona fide strategist with a pawn in her pocket. She’s advanced her player rank tremendously.

She also caused about three episodes worth of scrambling in what might otherwise have been a straightforward blindside.

Blind Spot

Lisa’s problem was in assuming that Pete would believe her. After all, why wouldn’t he? She was the honest, Christian mother, presenting an entirely logical scenario that was, in fact, completely true.

But Pete is playing Survivor hardcore. Trust no one! Since Lisa’s announcement came completely out of left field for him, he didn’t want to take her word for it. In absence of anybody else who he respected and trusted enough to get their opinion on the issue, he confronted Malcolm himself.

I’m probably the only person who appreciated the parallels between Pete’s conversation with Malcolm this week and Malcolm’s conversation with Lisa last week. Malcolm related in confessional that he just looked at Lisa to let her do the talking. Pete reported to Lisa that he had stared at Malcolm and let him keep going. Both understood the role of silence in interrogation, and I remain certain that they are gameplay doppelgangers.

Pete wasn’t entirely silent. Clearly he had to open the conversation with the accusation of having the idol, and then when Malcolm started asking who had told him, Pete chose to be honest rather than evasive and readily coughed up Lisa’s name. It makes sense; Pete doesn’t lose anything by selling her out, and he might have been wary of doing the dirty work while she stayed clean. Likewise, he assured Lisa that he had not mentioned her name, and since either way, Malcolm would have suspected her, she had no reason to think Pete had been disloyal. Except of course for him spilling the entire story to Malcolm and ruining her prospective blindside.

The other parallel between the two confrontations is that both Pete and Malcolm came away with misplaced trust in their conversation partners. Pete came to the conclusion that freaked out Malcolm was telling the truth and the sweet church lady was lying. The best I can say about that is that Pete is the only person out there not under-estimating Lisa.

Let this be a lesson to future Survivor players: you are not as good at reading people as you think you are (and eyes make really crappy windows). Pete unwittingly explained his own problem here: he “kind of trusted” Malcolm. He also thought that the Matsing idol was no longer in play, so in order to believe Lisa, he had to get past his preconception that Malcolm was a loyal, if intelligent, ally with nothing to hide.

Participate in any Survivor discussion, and you’ll soon realize that one of the hardest things to let go is a pet theory. This is why fellow guest blogger Andy Baker and I are engaged in a season-long feud over who is better: Pete or Malcolm? We are, of course, at a stalemate because they are the exact same player, but we each picked a favorite when the cast was first announced and have been unmoved by the other’s arguments ever since (for the record, no, I’m not trading Pete in for some rice).

Every fan does this kind of thing, so it’s not a total surprise that players do it too. Pete was lucky that he survived this error in judgment. The question is will he learn from it without turning into a hopeless paranoiac.

At any rate, having decided that Lisa was the person lying to him, Pete had the problem of figuring out her motivations (welcome to my Survivor), but he left that for later (procrastination – just like Malcolm!) and moved on with his own agenda.

An anxious Malcolm asked if he should scramble, and Pete magnanimously assured him: “I can save you.” He turned the situation into a springboard for the Jeff vote and trailed a discomfited Malcolm around camp spreading the word about Lisa’s duplicity and the new target. From his point of view, Lisa’s move had been nullified, he’d strengthened his alliance with Malcolm and he’d got his desired vote.

Malcolm’s point of view was slightly different. On the one hand, he had successfully convinced Pete he was innocent of all idol involvement, but on the other hand, everybody in camp had heard the rumor. As he said in his confessional, the more the rumor was around, the more likely it was that the truth would come out. Either way, people had started paying attention to the sleeve holding his ace.

I’m not sure if it was Pete or Malcolm that brought up Lisa’s story with Denise, Penner, Skupin and Carter. Pete might have wanted to flout it around and see how everybody else reacted; Malcolm might have wanted to control the information by presenting it in the context of a crazy rumor. The ever-cautious Penner simply replied that she hadn’t told him that (almost certainly the truth), Denise and Skupin (who knew) chimed in with non-committal noises, but guileless Carter directly asked Malcolm if he did have it, forcing him to deny it again.

Besides these soon-to-be-proven lies to his allies, he’s been forced to choose sides, since Pete proposed everybody voting for Jeff and everybody agreed. They had little choice with Skupin and Pete there and Jeff absent. Once that happened, the vote for Skupin was over, since Skupin and Penner (who was better served with a strategy that didn’t involve taking out returners) would, at the very least, join Pete’s trio in voting out Jeff, and it was unlikely that all the outliers would force a tie.

So Malcolm could either vote out Jeff or somebody else he didn’t want to vote out which would still mean choosing a side. My suspicion is that he was more worried about how to handle the new idol situation anyway and afraid that he might be the real target. Interestingly, he allowed everybody to see how nervous he was. Was that deliberate? If not, he needs to learn how to hide his consternation better. At least he should have drawn confidence from the way his allies reacted to him with good-humored reassurance. Nobody avoided him or went overboard with the “You’re safe!”

Then there was Lisa who was understandably dumbfounded that Pete had gone and told Malcolm all about her plot. She wasn’t getting her desired vote, her target had been tipped off and she was coming out of it looking like the bad guy. Actually, I think her thought process never got past: “Why in the world would you tell him?”

Pete at least fooled her into thinking it was unintentional. In her confessional afterwards, she was under the impression that Malcolm had pulled Pete aside and Pete hadn’t been able to convince him. Either she thinks somebody else spilled it to Malcolm, or Malcolm had seen them talking and formed his own suspicions. Regardless, nobody was talking about voting out Lisa or Skupin, so she wisely cut her losses and did not participate in the rest of the scrambling, so far as we saw.

Jeff on the other hand missed the breaking news (he was probably off filming his confessional about how Malcolm and Denise wouldn’t take the opportunity to vote out Pete). When he came back to the beach, and everybody stopped talking, he asked what was up. It’s to Jeff’s credit that Malcolm, at this point, decided he was unhappy enough with the Jeff-vote to tell him that both their names were being tossed around, giving Jeff his long-awaited opportunity to change things up.

Malcolm had to know that Jeff would respond by firing up his “Vote off Pete” campaign again, so this was the point when he chose his side. Possibly he felt that Kalabaw would be less bothered by his duplicity when the idol was revealed, or that a Tandang-heavy jury might at least vote for him as one of their own. Certainly his decision to vote off Jeff was unexpected enough that Denise doubted it when he told her six people were voting off Pete. She asked if she was one of the six, which I interpreted as her thinking another alliance altogether had come up with this plan and Malcolm was not committed to it yet.

Sidenote: I remain frustrated with the lack of game confessionals we’re getting from Denise. But I’m also concerned with how conservatively she’s playing at the moment. My best guess is that she’s waiting for the opportunity to make her move, but she’s letting other people make the decisions while she’s waiting – unless she’s controlling Malcolm’s vote, which is a possibility. I’d love to know what her preferred endgame path is if she has one in mind.

Tribal Council – bluffing with your cards on the table

Here’s something interesting. From all I can tell, as they left for Tribal Council the votes were targeted as follows:

  • Jeff (Pete, Abi, Artis, Lisa, Skupin)
  • Pete (Penner, Jeff, Carter, Malcolm, Denise)

So despite all the scrambling at Tribal Council itself, the actual votes didn’t change except for Penner’s (I’ll get to that later). There’s an outside possibility that Skupin changed his vote, but I think he was pretty solidly with Lisa. I certainly don’t think either of them went into Tribal Council intending to vote for Malcolm.

However, it was Malcolm and his insecurity that kicked off the whole, glorious insanity that followed. Not that I think any of the players felt completely secure; there had been too much running around and talking for that. But Malcolm was the one who decided to lay it out on the table, drawing Jeff Probst’s attention to him so he could put the spotlight on Lisa.

Lisa was ready for it, calmly acknowledging that she did betray him in order to support her original alliance, emphasizing her loyalty. Abi argued with her anyway, and Probst actually called out Lisa for screwing up her tribe’s plans, presumably by costing them Malcolm’s trust. Things should not have gone this badly for Lisa, yet they did, and I’m not sure what she could have done to avoid it unless she didn’t make a move at all (something easy to say in retrospect).

And then Malcolm decided to pull out his idol and give his whole Dirty Harry speech. I can’t decide if this was a good move or not, and I’m equally uncertain of his motivations. As things stood, Lisa was taking the heat and he could have sat back and let that happen. Perhaps he didn’t want to see Lisa browbeaten for something she didn’t do, but Malcolm doesn’t strike me as the white knight type, particularly at the cost of his own game. Perhaps this was just his way of controlling the flow of information… or perhaps he’d thought about doing this, was attracted by how cool a move it would be, and suddenly decided to go ahead with it while he had the chance.

Taken out of context, it was a great move. Pull out the idol, surprising everybody, and declare that you are playing it so that you don’t have to. Considering how Malcolm has been hesitating lately, I’m very glad he proved himself capable of doing something bold. It was also a very ostentatious move, done at Tribal Council where every eventual juror will see it.

But was it the right move for the situation he was in? Was it even executed right? After all, I don’t think Malcolm was going to get votes anyway. It could also be argued that he over-sold his bluff, which could have attracted votes to him in order to eliminate an idol unplayed. However, again, that’s easy to say in retrospect. Malcolm was nervous, and this bluff was a lot better than actually playing the idol. At least this way, he had the confidence to keep it.

So let’s look at the ramifications of his move instead. Lisa was officially exonerated (which does not help Malcolm, and it’s not clear if it’s even helped Lisa). The idol is now public knowledge, which completely devalues the information of who holds it. This wipes out Lisa’s advantage, but she doesn’t need it at this point anyway. It prevents the possibility of Denise betraying him too, but it also means Malcolm can’t use it to forge an alliance either. However, Malcolm’s got the truth out on his terms, and that was half the point.

Malcolm’s terms were very aggressive, of course. He didn’t necessarily need to apologize for keeping it secret, but did he really need to threaten everybody with it? His words were meant for everybody, but he was looking at Tandang as he said it and they should have been aware of that. Obviously, he was intending on abandoning the Tandang ship anyway, but this is no way to woo jury votes, and it gives his allies a ruthless perception of him that they didn’t hold before.

On balance, it might have been better for Malcolm to sit on the information, to quietly pull Pete aside after Tribal Council, show him the idol and apologize then. But that would have required Malcolm to be sure of a lot of information he didn’t have (like Pete surviving Tribal Council). On the upside, he’s still got his idol and he’s got a big move he can refer the jury to. On the downside, he’s lost the trust/goodwill of half the tribe and has made himself an even bigger target.

The final effect of Malcolm’s big reveal was that it induced Abi to pull out her idol. Again, I have no idea of Abi’s motivations, but in her pre-Tribal confessional she says she’s afraid of people coming after her because she has the Immunity Idol. The implication is that it’s public knowledge (or at least widely known) already. That might just be her paranoia talking, but it fits in with Pete casually revealing it to Malcolm and with his readiness last week to declare the Matsing idol gone without commenting on the Tandang idol.

At the very least, it’s not a huge surprise that Lisa and Artis might already know about it, and possibly players like Jeff and Carter who have buddied up to the Tandang alliance too. Even if they don’t, all of Tandang knew the clue for the immunity idol, and Abi could be rightly concerned that the others had figured out where it had been and who had found it. Finally, Malcolm has just proven he’s deceptive, so they should suspect him of spreading the information.

In that respect, her big reveal was harmless enough, and unlike Malcolm, she was quick to explain that she was “selflessly” holding it for her alliance. Did Malcolm just get outplayed by Abi? Honestly, I don’t think anybody bought her line, but that would be the fault of her social game up to this point. I don’t have any problems with her move in and of itself, but it came off as copying Malcolm’s, which will give it significantly less impact in the future jury’s eyes.

Once all the idols had been revealed, the unspoken concern became who will play them. Nobody else went to the extent of Malcolm’s challenge, but Pete calmly observed that he expected to be a big target tonight. A bluff that he was going to play the idol, so nobody would vote for him? An indirect signal to Abi to give him the idol? Jeff rebutted by naming several other potential targets including Abi. Was this his bluff to make sure Pete couldn’t play the idol because Abi would play it for herself?

Time to vote!

Jeff Probst finally ended the idol palaver by bringing things to the vote, but not before Jonathan interceded to grant one of my longstanding Survivor wishes. He calmly addressed the unspecified six and urged them to vote against Tandang. Lisa promptly rebutted by urging her alliance to go with plan B (despite her terminology, Jeff really was plan A).

I have wanted to see this for a long time, where players directly address their alliance at Tribal Council and tell them which way to vote. We’ve seen people get close to it, but this is the only time I can think of where people were as specific as Penner and Lisa.

I doubt that anybody’s vote changed as a result of this, but after all the chaos, I think it was a smart move to remind everybody of their voting bloc and their target. We can’t be sure who Lisa was counting in the Tandang alliance, but it certainly put the signal out to Skupin that “Nothing’s changed; we’re still going Tandang.”

The other significant thing was that nobody played their idols or (in Pete’s case) asked for an idol to be played. Malcolm might have felt safe that he wasn’t being targeted after Lisa’s “Plan B” comment, and it will be interesting to see if that’s why the rest of the Tandang group will be angry with her (if the previews are to be trusted). Or he might just have felt confident that his side had the numbers.

It’s less clear why Abi’s idol wasn’t played. Was Abi simply taking her cue from Malcolm again? Or were they confident in their numbers? Even after Penner specifically talked about having six votes, perhaps Tandang assumed that players like Carter, Denise and Malcolm were still with them against Jeff. They might have figured one would panic and flip but not all. Or maybe Abi was confident that she was not the target and there was no way in hell she was giving it to Pete? Pete never asked for it either – perhaps he was afraid that if he did she would refuse, which would not help his puppetmaster image.

Regardless, both idol-holders made the right call though Pete must have been bracing himself for three days of RC’s revenge. Neither alliance had the numbers, but Penner of all people proved to be the tie-breaker with his mysterious vote for Abi.

This week, Twitter failed us a source for cast-explanations, and I wonder if CBS finally cracked down on them. Penner simply tweeted: “Guys i don’t want to discuss the abi vote as i might inadvertantly spoil stuff. Loved loved loved the episode though!”

So we’re left to speculate on why he voted for Abi when the rest of his alliance voted for Pete. The simplest explanation would be that he actually intended for everybody to vote Abi (perhaps thinking that Pete would play the idol) but they missed his intent and opted for Pete. I usually favor the simplest explanation, but this would require Penner to believe that, like Coach, he can give people directions just by using his eyes.

After that, it depends on whether he knew that Skupin voted with Tandang or not. Indeed, Michael (who does not seem to have received a CBS memo) tweeted: “Penner knew we had enough votes & wanted to make Abi feel the sting of a vote. More fun for him than strategy.”

If Penner was aware how Skupin was voting (they were sitting next to each other, so Skupin could have conceivably tipped him off at the last second, even if he didn’t know beforehand), then that leaves him with a few possible reasons for voting as he did.

  • He wanted to avoid a tie but did not want to write down a name that he stood a chance of aligning with.
  • He wanted to throw a vote Abi’s way, just to take advantage of her paranoia (as Stephen Fishbach suggested on The Know-It-Alls Recap).
  • He simply doesn’t like Abi.

But what if Skupin’s wrong (and I admit that I don’t trust him to know what’s going on), and Jonathan believed that Skupin was voting with them? Obviously, he must have realized that Lisa felt Tandang had a majority, but it’s possible he thought she was addressing him, rather than Skupin. They have a connection too. Or he just thought that Skupin was tighter with him than with Lisa. If that was the case, Kalabaw/Matsing would have had an outright majority and his vote against Abi would not have mattered. The vote would have been 5-4-1 with Pete going home instead of Jeff.

Most of the above reasons would still hold true if that was the case; his Abi vote might just have been a whim. I can think of one other potential reason, based on something Jeff said in his Xfinity interview (he was totally holding out on us in the podcast):

When we were at Tribal Council, Penner and I were doing some hand signs and whispering to each other about if we should split the vote in case Pete plays the idol. I told Penner that we didn’t have the votes to split the vote. And, we couldn’t communicate across the board and I didn’t trust anyone who was on the right side of me. So, Penner and I did talk about it. I kind of think that Penner thought that we had the votes to keep me safe even if he voted another way, because Skupin agreed to vote with us. He agreed to vote with us when he was sitting there, but when we went to vote he didn’t.

I already suggested that Jeff threw out Abi’s name as a way to guard against Pete playing the idol. Was Penner’s vote for Abi his own safeguard? As Jeff said, they didn’t have the numbers to split a vote, so they had to just vote for Pete and hope he didn’t play the idol. However, there was one scenario where Pete playing an idol would not rebound on them: if Tandang voted for Malcolm and Malcolm played his idol. It was unlikely, but if Penner figured they had the majority anyway, why not throw a vote out for Abi just in case that scenario happened? It would, after all, have been one of the greatest moves in Survivor history if it had come off.

Instead, it didn’t come off, and although Penner didn’t vote himself out of the game the same way that Tyson did in Heroes vs. Villains, he cost Jeff the faint chance that a tie would have brought him.

The Show Must Go On

Nobody came out of that Tribal Council without their game taking a hit. Pete got his desired target out and he retains control of the game, but he did not have the numbers he thought he did. The only reason he even has a majority is due to Lisa securing Skupin’s vote. Considering how grateful that alliance should be to Lisa, I’ll be curious to see why they start bullying her (according to the previews, which are usually misleading). Thanks to cognitive dissonance, I’m sure they can find a way of pinning the blame on her… I just wonder how.

Matsing and Kalabaw have a much better excuse for holding a grudge against her though. Malcolm in particular has lost the majority he thought he was flipping to right after he burned his bridges with Tandang. He’s going to need to either rebuild some bridges, or find it in himself to forgive Lisa and woo her back onto his side. Denise is going to be tarred with his brush whether she likes it or not; will the Matsing two start making a move or retreat back under the radar? The fight for pawns will continue though, and Carter should very quickly find a home now that his closest ally has been lost.

Penner at least can’t be in any worse a position than he started the episode in. It’s possible that after the insanity of that Tribal Council everybody will have forgotten about him, particularly since his idol is gone. It’s also possible that after such a rough ride, everybody will give themselves a break and agree to vote out Penner next because that’s just easier. In this season, who can say?

And that’s why it’s so fantastic. We’re two episodes post-merge. At this point, we should know who the next three votes are, and the show should be going through the motions until around final six when the end-game begins in earnest. But we don’t know. While it’s clear who’s in the dominant position, it’s impossible to say who’s in a good position. And despite all the extra work it’s creating for me, I would love for this level of insanity to continue!

If you disagree with my crazy theories this week (and god knows, you probably should), feel free to tell me where I’ve gone wrong in the comments! What was Penner’s real reason in voting for Abi? Who’s better, Pete or Malcolm? (Trick question; if you say Malcolm, you’re just falling for the edit.) Is there any truth to the rumors that Skupin, Carter and Artis are the secret alliance in charge of the game?

Finally, I recently recorded a podcast over at Reality Rant with a few other Reality News Online alumni. If you want to hear me weigh in on the edit, make predictions and say what I really think of the cast – or if you want to hear me getting called out on my opinions by three Survivor-savvy guys, then check it out.

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