How a Couple of Survivors are Living on a Prayer

One week after my bold predictions for the end of season, and I’m already thinking of revising them. It’s not like I’ve been proven wrong yet, but the edit was more in favor of Lisa than Skupin this week, and Lisa’s brother was a variable I never saw coming!

God: father, creator, Survivor fan

I know that religion on Survivor is not popular among most online fans, but I’ve become ever more fascinated by the role it plays in the game. I’m not hugely religious myself, being somewhere between Christian and agnostic, but I have a lot of respect for how people can draw strength from religion – and disdain for how they can use it to rationalize certain types of behavior. I’ve said before that when it comes to God and Survivor, I imagine he cares more about the experience than the million dollars, but considering the stresses integral to the game, I don’t believe that religious players should put aside their faith when it will probably be key to helping them through the tough times.

So while I can’t imagine ever participating in a group prayer, I enjoyed watching the effect it had on Lisa. We learn from Skupin’s online confessional that Justice is a pastor in LA, which really does make him the perfect person to help Lisa in her current place of zero morale. Better yet, he understands that she’s out here playing to win.

Justice has his own online confessional this week. Although he observes that Lisa is too transparent to play a devious game, he feels that she’s smart enough to play the game and makes it very clear that she should be playing without mercy at this point. He finishes with the wonderfully salient observation: “You’re not going to win unless you beat other people.” Exactly.

Post-Justice Lisa showed a brilliant return to form, a return to the Lisa of episode nine, totally gung-ho about blindsiding Malcolm and rallying the other players to her cause (somewhat more successfully than her previous attempt, as Carter confirmed in the podcast). We don’t know if it would have worked, if she and Skupin could have kept Malcolm in the dark all the way to Tribal Council, but they had the numbers.

Then Malcolm won immunity which Lisa interpreted as God’s will that he should stay in the game. I’m still facepalming over that one – whatever happened to God not taking sides? What really concerns me is if this means Lisa will make no further attempt to work against Malcolm, in which case we might as well write him the check now and not bother with the rest of the season!

If I’m wrong on that last point though, and Lisa is prepared to keep on fighting, then that undermines most of the predictions I made last time, where I assumed Lisa would take a more passive role. If nothing else, her increased confidence and dynamism makes me think she might have a chance of getting votes after all. She was much stronger when talking to the other players this week, so perhaps she could pull out a strong Tribal Council performance. I am still not sure it can get over the jury’s preconception of her as a crybaby, but stranger things have happened. If nothing else, she might be able to beat Skupin in the final two of my predictions.

While we’re on the subject, Jeff Probst’s weekly EW Q&A makes clear reference to a final three. I’m not sure that I’m going to take it as a guarantee it will be a final three (unless there really is something incredibly dramatic happening at final four that will take up the finale screentime), but I’m hopeful. I prefer final threes anyway (the only person on the internet who does so), and this season I can’t see a final two being anything other than an anticlimax.

The Second Biggest Threat in the Game

The biggest surprise after Malcolm won immunity was that nobody suggested Denise in his place. One would think that Carter, at least, would have a vested interest in putting her name forward, but he chose a different route, selling out Abi in his secret scene. It would have been more strategic for him to target Denise; Abi’s departure would only have delayed his by one Tribal Council. On the other hand, he has always been focused on the challenge aspect of the game, and perhaps he was counting on being able to win immunity at final five.

For Denise’s long term chances in the game, we need to look at why Lisa and Skupin didn’t turn on her. It might be because they get on very well with her and have a deeper friendship than we’ve seen. Or it might be that she’s not on their radar. Carter’s secret scene makes it clear that Lisa is concerned about the argument Carter will make to the jury, and we know she’s already worried about Malcolm.

So why isn’t Denise registering as more of a threat? Especially considering Malcolm is being held up as great in challenges, a charismatic guy and a strategic player. The exact same thing could be said about Denise, but it isn’t.

Perhaps it’s Abi that’s to blame. Denise really can’t stand Abi, much moreso than anybody left in the game. Abi does not have a good track record with the older women of the game – I suspect she’s automatically butting heads because she wants to be the Alpha Female. Carter’s secret scene shows the rest of Denise’s alliance reminding her to think strategically and put up with Abi for a bit longer. Meanwhile, come Tribal Council, Jeff keeps encouraging Denise to say negative things about Abi.

The upshot of this is that Abi’s friends / allies might think Denise stepped over a line in berating Abi at tribal, while Denise’s allies might remember Denise as the person who had to be told to put her emotions aside and play strategically. I still think she could beat most of the remaining players at Final Tribal Council, but I don’t think she can beat Malcolm.

I also don’t think she will turn on him. Part of it’s because I doubt she knows how I presume the other players perceive her. (I’m mostly making this up as I go along, while she’s probably sticking to a sound gameplan.) But most of it is because she’s presented herself as playing a game of taking the strong to the end, so she’s got to be able to defend that to the jury. She might be planning to say: “That was just a line to placate my allies; I’ve been all about strategy.” I’m not betting on it though.

Looking ahead to next week, I can’t imagine that Lisa or Skupin will try to get Malcolm out at the last council that he can use his idol. No doubt Abi will try and talk them into voting off Denise, which would make him easy pickings at final four. I am inclined to think that Lisa and Skupin would prefer to honor their agreement at this point, but if the “Have no Mercy!” Lisa makes a reappearance (especially if they feel that Denise is a bigger threat to win than Abi), I could be surprised.

As it stands, Malcolm beats anybody in final Tribal Council, and Denise probably beats everybody else. I’m a lot less certain about where Abi, Lisa and Skupin fall compared to last week, where I would have rated Abi as having the best chance of winning votes and Lisa the least. Next week, we usually get online videos from the jury about the upcoming vote, so that might clear things up. Otherwise, my overall predictions for players’ strategy stay the same. The final four agreement will hold. Skupin and Lisa will stand by each other until the end; Denise will go with the alliance forged between Malcolm, Lisa and herself on merge day; Malcolm will turn on Denise.

I’ll be aiming to produce a blog in between Wednesday’s episode and the finale, though I’ll have to keep it shorter than my usual preference! Then again, this week’s blog might well be the shortest I’ve ever done, as gameplay seems to be winding down rather than gearing up. Regardless of my writing constrictions, I’m hoping the next episode is more eventful. A season this good needs an appropriately dramatic end.

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