So two weeks ago I went ahead and declared how the endgame was destined to go. And then last week I said I might have been a little hasty. Well, this week, I am throwing them out of the window. It’s not like they’ve been proven wrong yet, but the dynamics have shifted radically.
My alternative prediction at the time was that Abi would get a million dollar redemption story. The million dollars didn’t come to pass, but there’s a level of redemption there. As with Christina Cha last season, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Abi’s resilience in the face of everybody hating her. In Abi’s case, it was a lot clearer why she inspired such dislike and she also dealt with it less gracefully, but she still kept going. In fact, that was the big difference between her and Christina, since Christina peacefully accepted her fourth place finish, while Abi went down spitting and clawing for a spot in the final three.
It’s to Abi’s credit that she understands how the game works. She knew that faking possession of an idol could help her, she knew that she should play up her goat status, she knew that she should advertise herself as a swing vote, and she knew that she needed to sow paranoia among the alliance of four. She wasn’t always great at the execution of it. Still, as Jeff put it in one of the Ponderosa videos: “You tried. In your own way.”
By the way, the Ponderosa videos continue to be an awesome twist on all the relationships and dynamics we saw in the game. Go watch them if you haven’t already!
The big game developments of this episode centered on the reward challenge, which Skupin won in a narrow victory over Malcolm. There’s been some debate in comment threads over whether or not Malcolm is sandbagging the challenges, and that’s certainly possible. Indeed, in an online confessional, he talks about how he has tried to avoid doing puzzles at any point, to hide how good at them he was. On the other hand, there’s also been a lot of debate over how it’s better to throw reward challenges so you don’t have to be in the position of picking somebody, yet Malcolm was neck and neck with Skupin by the end.
Skupin’s win worked out far better for Malcolm than his own, since Malcolm couldn’t have justified picking his final three alliance for two rewards straight! But the question now becomes why did Skupin pick those two? I am sure nobody was surprised that he picked Lisa, and he explained that he owed Malcolm for letting him spend time with his son – except Malcolm has been on every single reward. Not only that, Malcolm’s the big threat they (in theory) want to beat in immunity challenges. Why are you feeding him?
Perhaps Skupin was angling for this final three deal. It would seem odd considering he wanted to vote Malcolm out last week, but he explained this episode that Malcolm has an excellent chance of winning the final three immunity which will give him more influence over the final vote. I should note that I disagree with Skupin there. You can’t vote off the person who wins the final three immunity, but that doesn’t mean you have to go with their vote. At worst, you have nothing to lose in forcing a tie-breaker! However, plenty of players in seasons past have permitted the immunity holder to dictate the vote, so there’s a game precedent there, much as I might roll my eyes at it.
Alternatively, perhaps Skupin wanted to leave Denise with Abi because she was the last person to fall for Abi’s scrambling. Lisa herself talks about this in a webclip. This would have been an excellent strategy, but Lisa seemed to consider it serendipitous rather than intentional and we never saw Skupin comment on it. It’s something to bear in mind though.
Finally, I can’t help but wonder if Skupin pulled a Kat and chose the people he most wanted to spend time with. He’s closer to Lisa than anybody else, and it’s an acknowledged fact by now that Malcolm is charismatic. There’s no indication he’s ever spent much time with Denise, and for all we know, he might not care for her. She’s certainly been one of the people who has openly worried about returning players, and he’s kept his distance from those.
Whatever Skupin’s thinking was, his picks were straightforward enough. His big mistake was in telling Denise she was his fourth choice. I doubt that made Denise feel any better about it, but it could only have upset Abi. He effectively made a point of telling her that she was in last place. As she herself pointed out, that’s not going to get her vote.
At any rate, it provided the perfect opportunity for Malcolm to get an agreement out of them for final three. Clearly he took note of how successful a promise was back when Penner got voted out – in fact, I’m a little surprised he’s waited this long to cut the deal! He was saying last week that he wanted to go to the end with them, and Lisa guessed that was his intention all the way back at final eight. We know Lisa is not serious about the deal, though Skupin might be. On the podcast, Abi blamed him rather than Lisa for voting her off.
But what’s important to note is that this final three alliance did not invalidate the final four one. Denise, Malcolm and Lisa all had a webclip in which they stated that the important thing going into the challenge was to beat Abi. This seems particularly bizarre in light of the fact that Lisa and Skupin had a plan with Abi (and Carter) last episode to vote off Malcolm. The only explanation we have for it is Lisa’s reaction when Skupin tells her of Abi’s final three deal. She is startled that Abi wants to go to the end with Skupin.
We know from Abi’s webclip that she despises Skupin and Denise, so perhaps Lisa assumed that once Carter was gone, an alliance with both Abi and Skupin was an impossibility. When that option was on the table, she was willing to reconsider. Skupin might not have been, although he did Lisa the courtesy of getting her thoughts on it.
The thing about Skupin is that I don’t believe he’s too concerned about who he can beat or not beat. He’s more the type of player who feels that if he can plead his case to the jury, he’s got as good a chance as anybody. I’m sure he wants to stay loyal to Lisa, but otherwise, he’s probably happy to go to the end with Malcolm or Denise, if it means he gets there.
Lisa is not that type of player, and she acknowledged that Abi would be the most desirable finals opponent. Yet, prior to the immunity challenge, she was fine with the prospect of voting her off. At the start of the episode, she talked about how part of taking control of her destiny was waiting for the right time to make her big move and that sent up huge alarm bells for me, because inertia can take hold of players and they simply never find the right time.
That said, there was a big difference in Lisa this week. For perhaps the first time this season, she didn’t cry once.
Born Again Survivor
This simple omission of tears is what has made me throw out my predictions of two weeks ago. I’m still not certain that Lisa will have the nerve to make her move when she needs to, but she’s stopped quavering about the game and her personal issues, and the calm, clinical attitude she’d formerly reserved for confessionals has spilled over to the rest of her game. Better yet, she’s stopped talking about what is good for other players and started focusing on what is good for her.
So if Lisa is now ready to fight to win, why did she vote off Abi, thus ensuring she goes to final three with either Malcolm or Denise (or, worst case scenario, both). We still aren’t hearing anybody discuss a final two, and even if she is taking one into account, banking on that is a very risky strategy!
She and Skupin were wary of blindsiding Malcolm with the vote against Denise, in case it invalidated their final four agreement. But Malcolm had already told them he wanted to vote Denise off; why not just float the idea to him of voting off Denise now, explaining that she’s a greater risk to win immunity at final four compared to Abi? Malcolm might be afraid that they had a second deal with Abi, but as a united pair they’re in a strong enough position to test those waters.
The more revealing excuse came in confessional, when Lisa discussed how Abi was less likely to beat Malcolm in an immunity challenge than Denise. The obvious response here is what does it matter if Denise beats him, if you can’t beat her at the end? Yet I’m remembering that when Malcolm won immunity last week, Denise’s name was never raised as an alternative vote, and Lisa was telling her alliance that Carter was too big a threat to take to the end.
Penner said that neither Malcolm nor Denise can be beaten at the final vote. Abi said it. Lisa has only ever worried about Malcolm. It’s not a big jump to the conclusion that Lisa believes she can beat Denise.
The Fall of Denise
I talked briefly about why Denise might seem less of a threat last week and wondered a few weeks into the merge why Denise wasn’t being talked about as a danger to win, considering she’d proven herself to be a strategic player at the outset of the game. Of course, we’ve not seen a huge amount of strategy from her since. She’s still in the dominant alliance, she’s clearly still a big part of the strategic discussions, and obviously there’s not a lot of point in shaking things up unnecessarily. Her plan before the game started was to keep it simple, after all!
But suddenly I am reminded of Taj from Tocantins. Taj played hard early on, plotting with Brendan, finding an idol and bring Stephen into the Exile Alliance. After the merge she faded, allowing Brendan to be voted out and effectively ceding control to Stephen who ultimately turned on her.
Similarly, Denise seemed to be engineering a lot of the vote order on Matsing, but after the merge, she went with Malcolm’s side and let one of her own strategic partners, Jeff, be voted out. Is she simply getting burned out on that level? Or has she been trying to keep a backseat, aware of how visible her underdog status is?
If so, the operative question might become “What have you done for me lately?” Denise does have a great underdog story, and she can take a lot of credit for how things went on Matsing, except none of the current jurors cares about Matsing. She might well have influenced the game up to this point, but she can’t take individual credit for anything, except maybe for pulling Jeff and Carter over to Tandang immediately after the merge. Going to every Tribal Council is an impressive statistic, but it’s not a reason for winning the game.
Beyond that, there’s her ongoing statement that she wants to go to the end with the most deserving. A frustrated Abi talks about this online, unable to understand why Denise doesn’t consider her to be a good player. She thinks perhaps Denise is just saying it for manipulation. It’s a lack of self-awareness on Abi’s part, but she won’t be the only juror who feels that way. Very few players think they deserved to go when they did; even fewer think they did not deserve to make it to the end.
If Denise maintains this stance at Final Tribal Council, she’s going to offend a lot of jurors. She’d better be preparing herself for a lot of “Why do they deserve to be next to you instead of me?” questions. Her case will not be helped by the fact that she’ll almost certainly be sitting next to Lisa and/or Skupin (excepting an implausible Malcolm/Denise F2). Lisa herself stated weeks ago that she and Skupin were two of the least liked players out there.
Finally, there have been her smackdowns of Abi at Tribal Council. Did Abi bring it on herself? Absolutely. Does the jury understand that she’s hell to live with? Definitely. But she got a very sympathetic reception at Ponderosa (barring RC obviously) and it was clear that every juror felt she had had a rough time out there.
It’s not like Denise has said anything particularly vicious to Abi. Malcolm mimicked her accent behind her back which was far crueler than anything we’ve seen Denise do. But the jury didn’t see Malcolm do that. They have seen Denise repeatedly declare Abi to be a worthless player at Jeff Probst’s incitement. It’s Denise who’s going to take any blame come the end.
Of course, Denise still has to get to the end, which means overcoming that final three deal that puts her in fourth place.
I’ve been contending that Denise will not turn on Malcolm at the end, that she likely has Skupin pegged in fourth (unless Abi is right about Lisa being in fourth, but Abi’s not exactly proven her judgment on what’s happening out there.) There is still no evidence that she wants to vote Malcolm off, and if she wants to retain any credibility with her “Win against the best!” standpoint, she needs to bring him to the end.
However, that doesn’t mean she’s blindly trusting him. She has an online confessional filmed during the reward where she worries that Malcolm, Lisa and Skupin might make a final three deal, and that she might not be able to pick up on that when they get back. Frustratingly, we don’t hear any follow up on this, so we don’t know if she felt reassured or not upon their return.
What might raise her suspicions was Malcolm’s decision not to give her his idol. After all, if he was 100% committed to her, why wouldn’t he? In fact, why didn’t he, considering he’s setting her up for a blindside next vote? If nothing else, it would ensure that Abi didn’t sideline him out of his final three deal.
Obviously, Denise survived the vote, but she should take note of the fact that Malcolm would rather keep the idol as a souvenir than guarantee her place in final four, let alone final three. That should be reason enough for her to investigate a backup alliance with Lisa and Skupin. We’ll have to see.
Even if Denise does not suspect Malcolm nor turns on him for her own benefit, there’s now a good chance that Lisa will tip her off. I didn’t believe she would before, and she still isn’t reliable about spilling other players’ secrets to her own advantage. But if Lisa is now trying to win, that means she’s got to get Malcolm out and that means bringing Denise on board.
If none of the above happens, Denise could still win immunity and force the issue. If she does, I’d say there’s an outside chance that Skupin or Lisa goes home, but my prediction is that fourth place belongs to a Matsing. The only other way I see Malcolm and Denise sticking together is if they see a final two coming and have the sense to eliminate a Tandang in order to keep the numbers.
Originally, I predicted that Denise would be going out fourth. Now I’m thinking it might be Malcolm (unless he wins immunity). Next Tribal Council could be the ultimate test of his charisma.
I was expecting a lot of webclips with the jury this week, giving insights into what they were basing their votes on, but these have not emerged this season. I will still give a brief rundown of the jury, based on what we know via Ponderosa and their in-game play.
- RC – Of all the jurors, RC’s finding it the hardest to let go. She’ll be wanting the finalists to pay respect to her thwarted game, and will probably give Skupin a hard time about betraying her, but I think she’s more likely to vote for him or Lisa over Malcolm and Denise who she knows less.
- Jeff – Challenges should hold some weight with Jeff, but I think he’ll be looking for somebody who can demonstrate they shook up the game or tried to.
- Artis – Huge on challenges, had sympathy for Abi, hates Skupin and has a close bond with Lisa.
- Pete – Another person who will look for aggressive gameplay, but Pete could probably be swayed by a calm, logical argument. He also had sympathy for the way Abi was treated in her last few days and is one of the biggest Malcolm fans out there.
- Penner – Penner played his ass off, he’ll want the finalists to prove they did likewise. He’ll probably also be looking for intelligence. Was very close with Lisa, but also stands to be the most frustrated with her.
- Carter – The most challenge-oriented of the jurors, I suspect Carter will also be looking for honesty since he was frustrated with the hypocrisy behind his own vote off.
- Abi – Another aggressive player, we can be sure Abi will not vote for Skupin or Denise (unless she’s given that final two).
- Final Juror – Malcolm and Denise will certainly vote for each other, as will Skupin and Lisa. In event of a final two precluding that, Malcolm and Denise will vote for strategy; Skupin and Lisa will vote for Malcolm.
What we have here is a jury who’s looking for a dominant game, a visible player who played hard. In most cases, they’re looking to reward the player who beat them. Despite Malcolm’s early procrastination, he’s been the obvious ringleader and target since Penner left. In fact, being the guy who got out Penner, previously the biggest target in the game, is a winning case in itself. Plus he has charm and challenge-strength. Malcolm wins if he gets to the end, no question.
We already knew that. What about Skupin, my projected winner from two weeks ago? Well, two weeks ago I was convinced there would be a final two (fan consensus seems to be drifting back to final three, thank goodness!), and he would be there against Lisa. I also predicted that she would be submissive and tearful before the jurors, while he would be clearly fighting for the win. Now Lisa’s stopped crying and is fighting too, so he no longer wins by default.
Which isn’t to say he couldn’t make a good argument, but I believe we have a preview of that in this week’s online confessional. Yes, we finally get Skupin talking strategy! He explains how he’s taken the returning player target off his back, by dialing it down and letting other people have their say. He thinks it’s worked, not just because he’s still here while Russell and Penner are gone, but because he’s not heard anybody describe him as a returning player in weeks.
Everything he says is totally sound and is probably an accurate reflection of his efforts. Unfortunately for Skupin, it doesn’t jibe with what everybody else has been saying about him. He was immediately singled out as annoying, useless and an idiot on Tandang (to be fair to Skupin, most of his tribe have said they love him outside the game), and while he’s not been a target for several Tribal Councils now, it’s been because he became a goat rather than a threat. If he tries to make this case in front of the jurors, they’re going to dismiss it out of hand.
Skupin’s greatest problem is this lack of awareness of how people see him. Unless somebody else (well, two other people) screw things up really badly, really soon it’s going to be virtually impossible for him to win votes from this jury.
One Shall Stand; One Shall Fall
So Malcolm beats everybody and everybody beats Skupin…. where do Lisa and Denise fall? If you ask me, Denise should beat Lisa. She stood stronger than anybody when Matsing was annihilated, she wormed her way into both alliances on Kalabaw and she’s been in with the majority ever since the merge. She’s not just an underdog, she’s a strong player. Lisa’s smart and has kept her finger on the pulse of the game throughout, but she’s waited far too long to actually start playing. Besides, Denise is the last of my pre-season picks for who had what it takes to win. My credibility is at stake here!
However, it’s not up to me, it’s up to the jury and I’ve already talked about why the jury might be against Denise. Lisa, on the other hand, looks like she’s going to bring Confessionals Lisa to Final Tribal Council, and talk to the jury candidly and intelligently about how she’s played the game. The jury is used to weepy Lisa. They’re potentially in for a big surprise.
Denise is also going to be caught out by how she reaches the end. If she turns on Malcolm, then she’s betrayed her principle of going to the end with the most worthy players. If Lisa tips her off to Malcolm’s own treachery, then Lisa’s the one who made the strategic move. Denise becomes either a hypocrite or a sheep.
Now, clearly Lisa is going to get hassled for going along with Malcolm, for voting Penner off, for not voting Denise off. However, she can point out that she first targeted Malcolm back at final ten, and that most of the players she voted off were legitimate threats to her alliance at the time. As for voting out Abi instead of Denise? If she’s got any sense, she will assure the jury she can beat Denise. You never imply your opponent has better odds than you.
Perhaps our best illustration of Lisa vs Denise came this episode when Lisa called Denise out on Tandang being “lucky”. This was an utterly shameless performance for the jury, recalling the “Tandang Strong!” narrative for the benefit of Pete and Artis (and, to a lesser extent, RC). I loved it. Denise realized her mistake and quickly agreed with her, but she should have replied that Abi had got lucky since she certainly wasn’t responsible for Tandang’s challenge strength! Instead, Denise backed down on her point and mildly ticked off a few jurors. It’s now going to be harder for Denise (or Malcolm!) to claim that she was unlucky in Matsing’s complete failure at challenges.
Round one with the jury goes to Lisa. My money is on her for round two. Denise is a therapist and should know how to handle upset people, but Lisa has made social connections with everybody on there except for Jeff. I fully expect her to know exactly what to say to them; if she’s smart, she’ll also be tailoring her case to conflict with Denise’s.
Sometimes how you get to the end isn’t as important as how you play the jury when you get there. JT said in Heroes vs Villains that every finalist had played a good enough game to get to the end. His vote was going to the person who played the jury the best. That ended up being Sandra. This season, I think it’s going to be Lisa.
So there we go. Come Sunday night, either Malcolm or Lisa will become Sole Survivor, and I’ll be perfectly happy with that. I’ll also be perfectly happy if Denise wants to prove me wrong, and considering how I’ve been changing my mind these last few episodes, perhaps we should be betting on Denise! Either way, it’s been a great season and I’m very much looking forward to Sunday night!