In many ways this episode was a bit of an anticlimax, even if the vote finally went against the game’s most dominant alliance. After the previous couple of weeks when suballiances were being made and broken all over the place, we saw virtually no action this week, with Jonathan and Lisa hogging most of the camera time in a bid to flip her vote that ultimately failed. However, something happened this week that I’ve been waiting for since around episode three, the elimination of one of the Evil Trio, meaning we finally get their perspective on matters.
Just to make it absolutely clear, I’m arguing for the Evil Trio because I like to play Devil’s advocate. Part of it is because I picked Pete to win pre-season, but when I made that pick, I had my suspicions that I wouldn’t like Pete that much on the show, due to his intention of playing a Russell Hantz game. However, Pete didn’t get the Russell Hantz edit. Instead we were invited to see him as being deluded, terrible at the game that he thinks he is so good at, and a shooter of puppies. Immediately, my inner contrarian started rooting for him, even though the edit makes it clear he won’t win.
One of the things that bugs me about reality TV is the way that it portrays people as heroes or villains and willfully encourages fans to despise or adulate the characters created by the editing. Not so much because this is exploitation of the cast, but because it promotes a personal peeve of mine: a black and white view of morality.
A Certain Number of Shades of Grey
The edit of the show, as foretold by Jonathan Penner, has been that the bullies on Tandang made life a living hell for RC and Skupin (and Lisa to an extent), ruthlessly voting RC out before Skupin (and Lisa to an extent) was liberated by Kalabaw. The only reason we know of for the Tandang three to bully the two outsiders was that they did not trust RC and did not like Skupin.
On the podcast, Artis said that he had a very specific reason for despising Skupin which was between the two of them and he would not go behind his back to talk about it. I’m not going to speculate on that (if nothing else, that’s a libel case waiting to happen – stay responsible, kids!), but I do believe him (since somebody is bound not to) and I have plenty of respect for Artis for not needing to drag another person’s name through the mud.
At any rate, if Artis wasn’t interested in talking about it to us, it’s entirely possible that he didn’t talk about it to anybody in-game either (and, equally, that he’s not going to spread it around the jury). Early on, Lisa talked about Artis and Pete having “issues” with Michael, but she didn’t specify what they were and perhaps wasn’t sure.
Going by Jeff Varner’s podcast, there were plenty of reasons for anybody to dislike Skupin, one of the primary ones being that he was always complaining he was hungry and always eating. (Michael proves this in his online confessional where he enviously lists off how many times other players have had a reward meal.) Jeff added that annoying as it was, they benefited, because Michael was always out hunting for food and keeping them all fed. That reminded me of Pete’s online confessional after the sandwich deal, where he mentioned that whenever Michael went out fishing, he just came back wet. If Skupin hasn’t been able to offset his eating habits by providing, small wonder half his tribe hated him.
But equally, Skupin isn’t Hitler reincarnated either. (Well, maybe to Artis he is, but that’s a matter for the two of them to sort out.) He was a father figure to RC when she needed it, and he and Lisa bonded over their Christian activities. In the elements and deprivation of Survivor, he might incite loathing from his tribemates, but that’s a very extreme circumstance. Even Pete has tweeted that he likes Mike outside the game.
It’s inside the game where things get complicated, because everything, morals included, ultimately gets influenced by the game.
A Brief History of Tandang
I pointed out last week that although the dominant alliance was always edited as a trio, Pete, Artis and especially Abi were very consistent about referring to themselves as a foursome with Lisa. This week, in Artis’ secret scene, we learn that he had a sub-alliance with Lisa that he considered his original alliance. It makes sense, when you consider that on day one, RC and Abi formed an alliance with Pete and Skupin, leaving Artis and Lisa on the outside.
Abi and Pete turned on that and made a new four-strong alliance with the outsiders. In this group, Pete and Abi were an obvious pair (indeed, Malcolm confirms that they are cuddle-buddies at night and rarely more than five feet from each other), so it would be important for Lisa and Artis to be tight with each other in order to have some security against the other pair. Perhaps Artis’ invisibility this season has been due to the editors’ desire to keep Lisa separate from the Axis of Evil.
Now this particular alliance resulted more or less entirely because of Abi’s mistrust of RC. This is Abi, and we know she’s paranoid, so I won’t speculate too hard on the exact reasons. We do know that RC (and Abi, but RC seemed to be calling the shots) were overtly playing the game early on, arranging the alliance and setting the target (Lisa). I’ve theorized before that Abi had not expected the girl who looked like a model to be so strategically dominant, and her own misread alarmed her.
Abi responded by changing up her own game to godfather mode. Pete had gravitated to Abi as the more malleable of the girls, but his own gameplan was to create chaos, thereby preventing anybody else from following their own gameplan. He fostered Abi’s paranoia and possibly also Artis’ dislike of Michael, and more or less gained control of the entire tribe.
What happened next was the point where it all went wrong. Lisa observed that the Tandang group led by fear, that that was their strategy. That was certainly Abi’s, and Pete and Artis were at least willing to go along with her and divide the group into the old strategy of Us vs Them. This season should prove once and for all that this is a strategy best focused on the opposite tribe, or left entirely to the post-merge game.
Had Tandang gone to a Tribal Council or two, it might never have been a problem. We know that Pete and Abi considered RC the smarter of the two and the bigger threat, Artis was more worried about Skupin flipping, and everybody was probably letting their personal feelings influence their choice of target. Had either gone pre-merge, it would probably have helped Tandang tremendously to let off some of that pressure.
Instead, Tandang became the first tribe in history to reach the merge intact. The dominant alliance had realized their mistake and changed up their social game with the battle cry of “Tandang strong!” They became more tolerant of their outsiders and largely stopped fighting with them. (Evidence A: the boat reward challenge that Michael screwed up, yet nobody called him to task for it.) But it was far too late, especially since the cracks in their alliance was so obvious, making it easy for Kalabaw and Matsing to prey on them.
Keeping it in the Family
Fast forward to last week when Lisa decided to make her move, wanting to save Skupin who she (incorrectly) assumed would be on the chopping block once Penner won immunity. Now that we know Lisa had a tight alliance with Artis, her decision to stay loyal to Tandang makes a lot more sense. She wasn’t necessarily fourth. Keeping Skupin around (and getting rid of Pete’s buddy, Malcolm) ensured that she would reach final five with two people who were loyal to her above anybody else. Provided she could persuade Artis to put his gameplan ahead of his dislike of Skupin, they could take out Pete or Abi, at which point Lisa would be practically guaranteed a spot in the finals.
In theory anyway, since I’m not sure if Artis would have been willing to take sweet, friendly Lisa to the end. But it was a good strategy for her to try. The sticking point here was that Lisa didn’t go to her closest ally, Artis, with her plan, but to Pete, presumably because Artis had always been keen on voting Skupin off rather than saving him. The rest is history.
So this week, the Evil Trio apparently switched to bullying Lisa. They were certainly angry with her. Artis’ secret scene shows Lisa trying to talk to him afterwards. She’s sat next to him, but he refuses to look at her, instead glaring at a piece of wood that he’s whittling furiously with the machete. This is what Artis meant when he said that if he wasn’t talking, he gave the impression of wanting to kill you.
So Lisa tries to clear the air and he gives her curt responses, up until she tremulously asks what she can do to prove she’s still loyal to their personal alliance. Immediately, he looks at her, breaks into a smile, turns utterly gentle and assures her she doesn’t have to do anything, they’re still good.
Either Artis is an amazing actor when he remembers to be, or it never occurred to him that Lisa would doubt her security. I’m thinking the latter. Lisa’s been edited as a swing vote, and between her accidental discovery of Malcolm’s idol and her coincidental attendance on the boat reward, the opposing alliance has had the opportunity to court her vote, but from Tandang’s point of view (and her own) she was tight with them. After all, she was the one who kept banging on about loyalty; she practically started the Tandang Strong movement.
I think Artis’ reaction was shared by most of Tandang. They were mad at Lisa for putting a strain on their alliance with Malcolm, and continuing to push him away at Tribal Council. Pete should come in for at least an equal share of the blame there, though I expect he had enough cognitive dissonance to convince himself that it was all Lisa’s fault. Still, I would not be at all surprised if Abi and Artis were mad with him. The confessionals this week frequently described Abi and Pete as an old married couple who bickered a lot, and Abi commented on how Pete hates being wrong (we figured that out last week) and gets frustrated when she calls him out on it.
Abi’s webclip (No Family is Perfect) is worth viewing if only to hear her talking calmly and analytically about the game and about how she’s keeping others in check. She breaks down her view of their alliance as a family who bicker a lot. I have my suspicions that this is not how Michael or Lisa see a family unit, but Abi at least seems to genuinely feel that the constant squabbling is no indicator of weak bonds between them. I think for her, Artis and Pete, that is just part of Tandang’s dynamic and no reason to start panicking.
Skupin is included in that family now too. Even Artis was the first to congratulate Skupin after his immunity win, noting in confessional that Skupin had needed that morale boost, and Pete said he was ‘kinda proud’ of him.
Meanwhile, Lisa is in an emotionally fragile state, after her failed backstabbing. (It’s probably a good time to remember that she came out to the island days after getting a divorce so not the best time to play Survivor anyway; at least One World’s Kim waited a few months, if I recall correctly.) She dissolved into tears just because Malcolm was nice to her. To Tandang, she presented a hangdog front whenever they were talking, and they responded by lecturing her almost automatically. Rewatching the moment when Abi explained to Lisa that she was gullible and naïve, her tone is actually quite calm (compare to her conversations with RC). Abi probably thought she was just having a frank discussion rather than berating Lisa. Poor social play all round. Except from Malcolm.
The most glaring omission from last week’s episode was Tandang’s reaction to Malcolm after his idol reveal. Yet we saw nothing; nobody even talked about it. The same goes for the online scenes: Malcolm talks about his idol being known now and how that changes up his plans, but the others don’t comment on it. At first I drew the conclusion that Malcolm and Tandang had simply ignored each other, but there’s one small problem with that: Tandang are still counting Malcolm as one of their number.
As has been established, Pete doesn’t like being wrong. Taking that to the next level, he doesn’t let a change of facts change his plans. If Malcolm has an idol, that just means there are two in his alliance! In an online confessional, Pete lists off his current alliance of six on his fingers and names Malcolm twice. Skupin gets forgotten, but Malcolm is his first and last… it must be love.
In Pete’s other confessional he talks about following a pecking order, and how he shouldn’t need to scramble again until final six. Since he claims not to know or care how Carter and Denise are voting, we can assume that that pecking order is Penner, Denise, Carter (or possibly Carter before Denise, though either is a threat to win immunity).
At no point does Pete suggest that Malcolm’s idol changes his gameplan. Assuming that the idol is valid through final five as it has been in recent seasons, a viable plan for Pete would be to vote off Skupin at six. If Malcolm has got nervous enough to play his idol before then (always possible), he could be voted off at five. Otherwise, Lisa’s been nice to everybody, so there’s no point keeping her around.
The big danger here is if Malcolm wins the final immunity, but even then, if Pete gets to the end alongside Malcolm, he’s going to have a much better case than his opponent. He’s still got the difficulty that RC and Skupin might never vote for him and Denise is going to be a tough vote to sway away from Malcolm, but on objective gameplay, in that scenario, you’d have to hand it to Pete.
Obviously, for that very reason, Malcolm, Artis and Abi might all decide to vote Pete out at final four, but it’s a moot point. In Malcolm’s online confessional, filmed after the previous Tribal Council, he says that the safest scenario now would be to go with Jonathan Penner to final five, preceding that statement with: “I can’t believe I’m saying this.” He had wanted to stick with Tandang, but events have forced him towards Kalabaw.
That’s more or less what I thought last episode, so what have we learned about Malcolm’s original plans this week? He said his plans had been long term, thinking about who to take to the end, while keeping his idol in case they tried to betray him. Now he feels that his goats are smart enough not to go to the end with him. Malcolm does not say who his goats were, but he was aware of how Pete, Abi and Artis had been cast as villains by Penner’s group.
Honestly, with these two, you’d have to be surprised if Malcolm and Pete hadn’t made a final three deal with each other. The only question is whether Malcolm would have tried to save Denise – he’d probably be better served with her on the jury than sitting next to him in the finals, after all.
However, Pete made a colossal mistake when he tipped Malcolm off as to Lisa’s move. Pete probably felt it was a huge display of trust on his part (and going by this episode, Malcolm could have admitted it to him and it wouldn’t have changed anything), but Malcolm panicked and made the call to reveal his idol at Tribal Council. Now that it’s public knowledge, putting a target on his back, he feels he has to play a safer game and go with the group that can get him further, even if they might be harder to beat at the end. Big mistakes from both men then.
At least Malcolm was able to take control of his mistake, and find himself a backup plan – and a lot of that is due to a well-played social game where he’s got a lot of friends and no (known) enemies. Pete let himself be blinded by his feelings… mostly. He did say that the greatest threat to voting off Penner that night would be if Malcolm gave him his idol, so he was aware that Malcolm was no longer completely secure.
Presumably, Pete felt that numbers would keep Malcolm on board, since it would require two people to flip for Tandang to lose the vote. Malcolm himself went from saying he’d have to go with Penner the morning after his idol reveal, to saying, “If I end up going with Penner,” before this week’s Tribal Council. My conclusion is that both guys would still like to work with each other, but neither is as sure of the other as before.
And because of that, I think they have to have talked about the idol at some point. Why did the edit see fit to omit it? Perhaps Pete was entirely too gracious for his villainous edit. Perhaps he and Malcolm did some bitching about Lisa which didn’t fit in with Malcolm’s heroic edit. Perhaps they were just too buddy-buddy for the edit that wants to separate Malcolm from Tandang. Or maybe it’s the fact that the editors were forcing a storyline where Lisa was the swing vote, not Malcolm.
Except it wasn’t really either of them.
Will the Real Fulcrum Vote Please Stand Up?
Pete observed in confessional that both of the votes so far have gone the way he wanted. His primary target was RC for the first one and Jeff for the second. He considers this proves that he is in control of the game, even though it seemed clear to us last week that Skupin only voted with Tandang because Lisa told him to. However, Pete had decided to keep Skupin around independently of Lisa, so we should probably assume that at some point he told Skupin he was saving him and secured some agreement from the returning player.
We also know that Pete had little respect for Skupin’s ability to play the game, so it’s not entirely surprising that he was convinced Skupin wouldn’t make a move off his own bat. However, Artis has a confessional in which he says that Skupin knows he can’t win with Tandang because they’ve basically told him so. Tandang really don’t think Skupin is capable of pulling off a move, do they?
Abi was worried about Skupin and Lisa, but Artis, watching the scrambling around camp, was concerned that Skupin would bring Malcolm over to Kalabaw. Obviously, Artis has his alliance with Lisa giving him extra confidence in her, but it’s still surprising he felt it would be Skupin leading Malcolm and not the other way around. In episode, we saw Malcolm standing silently to one side when Penner was persuading Skupin. Was Malcolm co-persuader or co-persuadee?
However, that was the only moment that we saw anybody working on Skupin, although when he was discussing the vote with Lisa in the water, it was clear that he wanted to go with Kalabaw. This seems almost as glaring an omission as the Malcolm/Pete reconciliation.
In Skupin’s case though, I’m more willing to think that there was nothing to film. My theory is that he simply came to the decision that he was ready to make a move without fully being aware of the factors that had brought him to this point. Skupin is the kind of guy who goes with his gut feelings. This, of course, does not stop me speculating on what triggered his sudden burst of activity.
Skupin said at the start of the episode that Pete and Jeff were the most vocal against returning players, so he had been happy for either to go home. He was already primed to vote Pete off if given the opportunity. Voting Artis off would be a step towards that goal, plus I have to believe Michael was aware of how Artis felt about him.
And then he won immunity. Artis believed that Skupin had needed that on a personal level, and indeed we have a radiant confessional from Skupin afterwards where he says that winning individual immunity was one of the experiences he had wanted from his second time around, and that he feels he’s got a break from the emotional toll of the game.
He’s quick to explain the obvious to us, that just having immunity doesn’t mean you don’t stop scrambling, and then describes how he’s “babysitting” his alliance. I have not been a subscriber to the theory that Skupin has been playing some deeper, subtler game than has been shown, so I was completely taken aback by Skupin’s sudden dive into strategy.
To be honest, I’m still very skeptical. Among Skupin’s babysitting duties is making sure Carter doesn’t take a break and Denise is still on board. Do these two have an alternative? Pete made it clear that Tandang wasn’t working with them, so if they’re not with Skupin’s group, they’re not with anybody.
While we’re on the topic, Carter and Denise were practically invisible this episode, even though Denise apparently decided on the voting target. Unfortunately, there’s very little I can say about them, especially Denise. She was with Malcolm, talking to Lisa after the vote, and I like to think that it was her idea for him to go and make peace with her. But I just don’t know. Certainly, every time she does say something, she seems to be spot on with her assessment, and I’m sure she’s a vocal participant in strategy discussions.
The most reliable assumption we can make for Denise this week is that she played a significant part in keeping Malcolm with the Kalabaw group instead of Tandang. This way, he’s connected to their alliance through her rather than vice versa, and she can view him as a sub-alliance beyond any bonds she’s made with Carter and Penner.
Carter, on the other hand, just lost his closest ally in the game, one Jeff Kent. This should have made him a free agent, and I think Tandang erred by not reaching out to him. Instead, after the Tribal Council, he fell in with Penner. In an odd reversal of how the rest of the players perceive them, it was Carter who was explaining what had happened, laying out the numbers for Penner. Here Carter’s laconic gameplay came in handy, as he was able to refrain from smacking Penner upside the head for his Abi vote.
One bit of information that we do have for Carter is that he was one of the captains doing the schoolyard pick for the reward challenge (according to the Jeff Probst Q&A at EW). Skupin was the other, and we have to guess about the order in which everybody else was picked. My own theory is that Skupin picked Lisa who proved her loyalty by picking another Tandang (or telling Skupin to do so), but I’d love to know who Carter picked first since that’s likely to be a clear indicator of his Jeff replacement.
I’m inclined to think that Carter has gone with Penner. Penner’s talked about going to the end with Carter before, and the two obviously have a pact dating from episode four. Carter always agreed with Jeff that he did not want a returning player to win, but perhaps he’s now decided that going to the end with a returner (or two!) would be a great way of getting votes.
Of course, it’s equally possible that he and Denise have grown close, or that he and Malcolm have got a rebound bromance going on. It’s not like the edit will ever tell us!
The Lord and Skupin work in mysterious ways
I am more forgiving of Skupin’s claim that he has to make sure Penner is not cooking something else up. This is Jonathan Penner he’s talking about, so he’s got a point; the real question is, how does he expect to stop him? In Malcolm’s case, Skupin was ensuring he was still with Kalabaw, which at least supports my theory of Malcolm wanting to stick with Tandang (or, depending on your view of Skupin, contraindicates it).
But if Skupin is a far savvier player than I have given him credit for, what’s his strategy? Artis said that it would be stupid for Skupin to flip to Kalabaw, because he’d still end up voted off in fifth place. (In that scenario, he might as well flip and give the advantage to the group he’d rather see win.) Is he simply playing in the short term, focusing on getting out the people most likely to vote him off? Possible, but I’ve not seen him suggest a name for the vote either. He says his goal is winning, but does he have a plan for that?
Considering how friendly he is with Penner, I would expect the two of them to have made some sort of returners pact, most likely a finals deal. He’s also very tight with Lisa, so if she follows him now that Tandang have lost their majority, they’ve got a three-strong sub-alliance in an alliance of six (or a majority of four, if Carter has hooked up with Penner). That’s not a bad position at all and certainly stronger than he had in Tandang, where only Lisa was willing to take him further than final five.
One comment that RC made in the Ponderosa videos was that Michael finally flipped once he had immunity. She could have a point. Skupin himself said that he was able to scramble without pressure now. Is that what encouraged him to make moves instead of (as with last week) sitting tight and waiting for somebody else to screw up?
Or, if you prefer a more optimistic view of Skupin’s strategic ability, perhaps Jeff’s departure was the trigger. Post-merge Jeff made it clear to Skupin that he didn’t trust returning players, exacting a promise that Skupin wouldn’t work with Penner to take him out (a promise that Skupin did not, technically, break). Once Jeff was gone, Kalabaw was a much more attractive prospect to Skupin, particularly since Penner had taken strategic control.
The final possibility is that Lisa told him to flip so that he could do the dirty work of betrayal and hold open a spot for her in the rival alliance, while she kept her pristine record to present to the jury. I don’t see it, because Lisa’s not really an exploitative player anyway, and this week she was too much of a mess to dream up and execute such a coldly calculated plan.
In fact, I’m relieved that Lisa stuck to her guns and stayed with Tandang. I do think she’s got a better chance with them than going with the Kalabaw side, not least because Penner’s just as likely to put her on the jury as Pete, but with Pete she’s expecting it. However, she’s struggling with the failure of her move last week (which, honestly, was a very good plan) and I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that she’s unlikely to pull anything dramatic again. But that doesn’t mean she’s stopped making the small moves to win her game.
So the big question is did Skupin tell her how he was voting? She chose to stick with Tandang, but this was one instance where voting with the minority would be beneficial. As she said to Skupin in the water, she can’t preach loyalty and then flip back and forth between alliances. It’s reasonably common for players to rationalize their morals according to the moves they want to make, but it’s rare for the jury to agree with their logic (see Coach’s entire game in South Pacific). Lisa was absolutely right to continue to play loyal.
It’s possible that she was blindly loyal, unaware of Skupin’s flip, but I can’t see Skupin not telling Lisa. She’s his closest ally, she stuck her neck out to save his last week (something he would not do for her at the start of the game) and paid a price for it. He owes her that simple information and might well have wanted to get her blessing on his move. Then again, he helped blindside RC.
From their conversation in the water, it was obvious that Lisa wanted to stay with Tandang and Skupin wanted to flip, and I believe that scene concluded with the agreement that each would vote the way they felt was right, and they would rejoin forces after Tribal Council.
One final tip off in support of Lisa knowing: Skupin listed her in his alliance with Kalabaw and said he had to watch she did not “divulge.” He gave no specifics as to what, but that’s a good indicator she was aware of his activities.
The Pivotal Player
Penner coined the phrase “fulcrum vote” this week (swing vote is so last season), and applied it to several different people, yet for the majority of players, he’s the one who the game is revolving around. Artis said that he needed Penner to go so that he could make his move. Malcolm was convinced that aligning with him was a terrible idea. Even Pete gave full respect to his game. More importantly, I think he’s the only person left that none of the jurors have hard feelings against (Jeff might not like returning players, but he has even less respect for those who procrastinated on making their move)
Ironic, considering Penner was a series of strategic misfires this week. We all tried to figure out his big game plan with the Abi vote, only to learn that he had done it in a fit of pique, mistakenly thinking that Lisa’s “Plan B” was aimed at a group larger than the Tandang five. He then proceeded to spend all episode working on Lisa only for her to stick with the opposite alliance.
On the other hand, it was another strong challenge episode for Penner. Whether it was his strategy to dig up all the bags in one go, or somebody else’s (and I think it was his, improvised mid-challenge), it paid off in dividends. Tandang’s lot never had a chance, and they fully credited Penner with the genius in coming up with that plan.
Production must have been thrilled with that strategy, as they were saved the problem of how to edit their Axis of Evil playing with cute school-children. Instead, Malcolm gifted them a confessional for his Golden Boy edit as he wondered why he’d ever given up teaching Micronesian children in order to become a bartender. Never fear, ladies of LA, Malcolm has already answered himself. In an episode one confessional that was restricted to the internet instead of primetime, he said that he gave up teaching when he got “sick of the kids.” (I, for one, am in full empathy, despite my intent to return to pre-school teaching.)
Jonathan, of course, took it a step further than Malcolm and gifted production with their entire storyline: “Punish the bullies!” I think he was entirely sincere on this point, since that was his story arc in Cook Islands: he punished the Raro alliance that was so dismissive of him and obnoxious in general. Knowing that he would never win the game with them, he flipped to the Aitu four on Yul’s request. He did not improve his situation and was voted off in seventh place, but he was able to cast his vote for somebody he truly wanted to win.
I know Jonathan made up with Candice at Ponderosa, but I don’t believe he ever changed his opinion of the other Raros. When Cook Islands aired, the Aitu Four were the underdogs that the audience was rooting for, and while Jonathan himself was a more controversial character, his flip back to Yul was well-received. It’s only to be expected that he sees the parallels between his situation and Lisa’s and Skupin’s, only in this situation, he gets be to Yul.
This, incidentally, does not bode particularly well for Lisa and Skupin, since Yul voted Jonathan out a mere two Tribal Councils after his flip, and Jonathan considered that move entirely reasonable.
This then was the background for Jonathan’s pitch to Lisa, which he analyzes himself in a webclip, saying he really enjoyed the conversation. Honestly, so did I. I’m a writer by hobby rather than trade, but I loved seeing him break the fourth wall, discussing the narrative of the story that they are living and how they can take control of that.
The Moral of the Story
Still, while it’s an interesting psychological approach to a negotiation, playing the edit is not playing Survivor. It’s not even the moral thing to do. I can’t recall the source any more, but I’m fairly sure that Yul said in one interview that one of the ways in which Survivor was not “just a game” was that your moves were going to affect how somebody would be edited on national television. Everybody who plays this game has to be prepared for a negative edit; somebody is going to get one. Jonathan is not the first person to try and make another player look the fool, but he might be the first to wield the edit as a punishment.
Obviously, the easy answer here is that the Evil Trio brought it on themselves with their mistreatment of RC, Skupin (and now, allegedly, Lisa). However, various psychological experiments have shown that anybody put in a dominant position tends to abuse it (the Stanford Prison Experiment being perhaps the most famous example), and neither we nor Jonathan have a full, unbiased account of what happened between the two factions on Tandang anyway. It’s fun to pick sides as a viewer, and it’s necessary as a player, but there’s nothing moral about it.
One thing takes this from an ethical dilemma to an uncomfortable situation, and that’s the fact that, two days earlier, Jonathan had an equally earnest conversation with Lisa about how she did not have to please anybody. This was a cathartic moment for Lisa as they talked about her past life and the pressures of being an actor, and it was interesting to see her “former teen star” status finally become relevant to the game. Yet in two days, Penner went from “Play for yourself,” to “Please the audience!”, taking advantage of the very weakness he had highlighted.
I’m not suggesting that Penner is a heartless manipulative individual, although that’s one explanation. His confessionals looking back on the conversations suggest that he was sincere and enthusiastic about his topic. Personally, I believe that had Penner and Lisa both been in Ponderosa at this point, they could have had the same two discussions. They’re genuinely fond of each other and are both huge fans of the game who like to analyze it.
The trouble is that they’re not in Ponderosa, and although Penner said in confessional that he didn’t know if he had changed her vote nor would he blame her if she chose not to flip, he still saw the conversations as a game move. However well-intentioned, he’s exploiting her insecurities for his own game.
It’s not just Penner who is doing this of course. Lisa said that she had received more grace from the people she had betrayed than from the alliance she had stayed loyal to, but part of that is because they need her vote. It still shows tremendous character on their part – last season, Troyzan showed us how easy it is to fall into the Scorched Earth strategy instead – and I was honestly surprised and impressed that Malcolm was able to be so gracious to Lisa as soon as they got to camp, whatever his motivation.
Nevertheless, the game of Survivor never stops, and every person who told Lisa not to worry about it had that thought somewhere in the back of their mind: “I’m in the minority now. I need you to like me.”
Taking the moral high ground on Survivor certainly does make for a good story, and no doubt that is why the editors manufactured this storyline for Lisa. But it leaves us with one of the worst edited episodes of the season (if not of all time). For the sake of letting Penner be co-author, we get a narrative that is full of plotholes. Malcolm and Skupin, the two people who were truly responsible for swinging the vote, had their motivations deliberately omitted or obfuscated, while Lisa and her past celebrity got exploited one more time in the name of pleasing the audience.
The reality is that morals don’t survive contact with Survivor; the moral of the story is that neither does reality.