Anything is Possible on Survivor Philippines

I sat down to watch this week’s Survivor feeling very positive about one thing. It was the final seven, and I was absolutely certain that Abi was going home, therefore Penner was going to make it to final six, beating his personal best.

Have I ever mentioned that I suck at predictions?

Suffice to say, I’ve plunged straight back into mourning this week. It’s made all the more frustrating by the reception Penner got at Ponderosa, where everybody is friendly and RC (apparently still stinging from Skupin’s part in her blindside) tells him that he’s the one person she wanted to vote for. Penner then proceeds to take the dysfunctional crew of Ponderosa and make them into a happy family through the power of cocktails and Monopoly. Never again let it be said that Penner is a poor social player!

Penner wrapped up his podcast interview by saying his story was that he played his ass off. Considering he was the biggest, best-respected target all game, I can honestly say that his was one of the best ass-playings I’ve seen. To berate him for the mistake that killed his game is to miss the fact that he battled his way through three Tribal Councils where he was the number one target, and went from Dead Man Walking to earning that opportunity to lock up the final four. The question now that he’s gone: is anybody else playing that hard?

The New Penner

Somewhat worryingly, there is somebody out there who is following in Penner’s footsteps. Somebody else who played an idol to save themselves from a split vote, went on to win immunity and has been scrambling like crazy. Crazy being the operative word.

I think I fell a little bit in love with Abi-Maria this week. She’s still terrible at this game, but good lord she is playing. She’s had the sense to drop the scorched earth policy of last episode and seems to be trying to connect with people more, in her own way (and Penner and Malcolm at least are willing to meet a juror halfway).

Imagine if she manages to hang in there and get to the end now. Would people actually vote for her? Will her overall story arc be “The annoying bitch who learns a hard lesson, becomes a better person and wins everybody over?” I’d be vastly entertained, but I’m saying “Not a chance in hell!” Of course, that’s what I said about her winning immunity…

The most frustrating moment of the episode by far was when Abi bid for the game advantage at the auction. She bid $500 and, as Penner too casually observed in an online confessional, she could probably have only bid about $300 and nobody would have been able to outbid her. Why the hell not?

Abi knew there was likely to be a game-advantage up for grabs. I’m not sure how long Abi’s been watching the show, but we know she was a late cut from Tocantins, so we can assume she would have seen the Samoa auction and most likely the Gabon one as well, both of which had game-advantages up for bid (Tocantins’ auction was the exception).

Malcolm, Denise, Lisa and Michael have all been watching since the start, so they should have been just as aware as Abi. Jonathan actually attended an auction in Cook Islands which had “the power to change the game” up for bid. Yet nobody showed any inclination to hold off for this item – nor indeed, any concern when Abi won it!

It might be that they assumed no advantage was going to carry Abi to an immunity win. Even Abi assumed that, since she decided to push forward with a bluff that the note was actually a clue to an immunity idol. Webclips from Lisa and Carter prove that she told everybody there were two parts to her note long before the immunity challenge – she also appears to have told everybody that she found it, not just Malcolm.

So in this idol charade, Abi was the very opposite of subtle. It was an absolutely terrible performance. Yet here’s the involuntary beauty of it: Abi is so unsubtle about everything she does that the other players couldn’t write off the possibility that she was telling the truth. Lisa was calmly confident that she did not have an idol, but reflected that she could be wrong. Carter and Penner were definitely keeping it open as a possibility. Will that be enough to spare her next week as well? We’ll see.

At any rate, to the surprise of everybody, Abi needed no hypothetical idols, because she won the immunity necklace. The final stage of the immunity challenge was actually a little tame compared to the previous legs, but Abi had the good sense to bid for that advantage over the others, so she won it fair and square.

But ultimately, has that win made so much difference to the game? I doubt anybody will take her to the end, just in case her tenacity does earn votes, and I doubt she’ll get another four immunity challenges’ worth of miracles. As for Penner, his fate was sealed last week when he declined the chance to make a deal with Lisa and Skupin.

Sliding Doors

Generally speaking, it’s pretty unusual for a single incident to be the whole reason that a player lost instead of won. However, had Penner agreed to Lisa’s proposal, it’s almost certain that he would be crowned Sole Survivor come December 16th. He explained on the podcast that his planned final three had been Skupin and Carter, with Lisa in fourth. After being honest to Lisa the whole game, he wasn’t ready to lie to her yet.

Clearly, the final moral of Penner’s story is to always say ‘yes’ to an alliance, whether you mean it or not. But suppose he’d given her a different answer?

The obvious fly in the ointment then would be Malcolm’s idol, but at final six, they would have the numbers to split their votes two-two-two for Malcolm-Denise-Penner. Whichever of Malcolm and Denise played the idol, everybody else would vote for the other on the revote. Then the last Matsing could be voted off at final five. Barring awkward immunity wins, Penner was pretty set for his Tandang/Kalabaw final four.

The danger at final four would have been if Carter decided to turn on Penner and go to the end with Lisa and Skupin – my guess is that this is the best way Carter could win, since he has a decent challenge-based case for winning, and neither of those two is likely to present a strong enough strategy-based argument to top it. However, it would not surprise me if Carter felt that going to the end with two returning players was the best way to garner votes.

Skupin might be more reluctant to turn on Lisa, but he said in’s deleted scene that he’d love to go to the end with Penner, so he would not have been too motivated to force the issue, especially if the best he could hope for was a tie. It might be different if he won the final four immunity and knew that he’d get to three no matter what happened, but based on his gameplay thus far, he’d go along with Penner’s plan.

Even if Skupin and Lisa dug their heels in, they’ve already demonstrated their loyalty. Their target would be Carter not Penner, so Penner had a clear path to final three. If it then turns out that there’s a final two, either Carter or Skupin would probably take him over each other; if he’s in final three with Skupin and Lisa, he’d likely have to win immunity, but he’d have a decent shot at that.

If Penner got to the end, he would have won. If RC would have voted for him over Skupin, then the only way I can’t see Penner sweeping the vote is if Jeff votes for Carter or Lisa/Skupin vote for each other. It would have made the endgame predictable, perhaps, but it would still have been a deeply satisfying end to a great season.

But enough of pining over what could have been. If Penner lost the game last week, who lost it this week?

Lisa’s Big Secret

When Gordon Holmes talked to Rob on the podcast last week, he rated every player’s chances to win should they make the end. He put Lisa squarely in the middle, able to beat Abi, Carter and Skupin but losing to Malcolm, Denise and Penner. After this week’s episode, he needs to demote her.

I can’t stop liking Lisa, whose emotional post-divorce journey makes for fascinating television (with the slight guilt of voyeurism, since I’m not really accustomed to getting reality in my reality TV). We have this dichotomy of a woman who has great insights into the game and an accurate read on her fellow players, yet can’t bring herself to actually play.

Jeff Probst is making a late campaign for bully of the season, pressing Lisa at Tribal Council to reveal what was too personal for her to talk about, despite her tears. She held her peace, leaving everybody to roll their eyes in frustration. Lisa’s been given a lot of sympathy in this game, but you can’t expect sympathy over how hard the game has been for you from the people who have been voted out.

From a game point of view, Lisa should explain her divorce to the other players, tell them that that’s why she’s having a crisis with breaking her word and separating the game from her own personal identity. It gives her a worrying underdog story, but at least they’ll have some understanding of where she’s coming from. As it stands, they’re either going to be suspicious of what she won’t talk about or dismiss her as a drama queen.

Of course, while telling all might be the best thing for Lisa’s chances of victory, it’s probably not the best thing for her emotional well-being. I don’t think she will do it, and I won’t blame her for not making her current personal issues part of her gameplan. Nonetheless it’s frustrating to see her so overwhelmed by this when she’s obviously got such an intelligent understanding of the game. If Lisa can move past this stage of her life and feels she would be capable of a less apologetic game, I’d love to see her back. This season, I’m writing her off as an actual player.

That said, the current crop of players still have to contend with her and they’re not doing a great job. One of things that baffled me most about Lisa’s confession to Penner was that Malcolm and Denise let her do it! When they confirmed the vote, Lisa started sighing again about how difficult this was for her which should have sent up giant red flags right there. At that point, Malcolm and Denise should have made a decision not to leave Lisa alone for a moment. Instead, Lisa not only gets some free time to talk to Penner, but they are able to leave the camp alone together to talk.

It’s possible that Malcolm and Denise were rightly confident that Lisa would not break her word, and perhaps they even felt that they needed to leave her alone so she wouldn’t feel oppressed and mistrusted. But still! How could they not at least find an excuse to stay in earshot?

Michael Skupin: Man or Muppet?

Skupin was just as lax in his supervision of Lisa, but at least in his case, he didn’t stand to lose anything. He was still considering how to get to the end with Penner even in light of his deal with Malcolm and Denise, so giving Penner a chance to scramble out of peril was not necessarily a bad thing for Skupin.

The problem as usual is finding Skupin’s strategic motives. Technically, voting Penner out is in everybody’s best interests right now, so I could buy that he was focusing on the biggest threat… if we didn’t have that deleted scene where he specifically says he would like to go to the end with Penner. There’s part of me that agrees with my esteemed colleague Andy Baker (Pete’s gone; I can esteem Andy now) that Skupin knows on a subconscious level what is good for his game, but since Malcolm and Denise are just as likely to beat him as Penner is, going with them is no improvement. In fact, it’s even worse, since if it is a final three this season, one of them is going to win, just as Penner stated.

If, next week, Skupin and Lisa join up with Carter and Abi to blindside Malcolm or Denise, I will withdraw my objection. But my own belief is that they will stick by their word, even if it means putting themselves into an unwinnable situation. Not that I think Michael is deliberately setting himself up for a loss (Lisa, yes). I expect he thinks that if he gets to the end and states his case, he’s got just as much chance as everybody else. And maybe he’s right… but that’s not the impression I’m getting from the jurors. If anybody has a different take on his chances, feel free to say so in the comments!

Speaking of the comments, I want to give a shout out to everybody who does comment. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed debating various points with the readers here (and hope you feel likewise). Last week, there was a comment thread on Andy Baker’s blog about Skupin and Lisa and who was in charge, which helped crystallize my own thoughts on the issue.

It is, obviously, something that’s up for debate. They generally seem to vote the way Lisa wishes, with the major exception of when Skupin turned on Tandang to vote out Artis. Skupin was immune for that vote, and the following episode he made the odd remark that he would like to win immunity so he could make some moves. While wearing the immunity necklace must surely be a confidence booster, no player should be waiting for that in order to make a move!

In Lisa’s case, her current gameplay is not focused on what will help her win. But Skupin keeps asserting that he’s there to win. Penner said in the podcast that he couldn’t understand what game Skupin was playing. I’m not sure I do either, since unlike Lisa, we rarely see Skupin discuss his strategy in confessionals (his CBS webclip this week is entirely about his strategy for the auction), but it seems more and more that Skupin is trying to play with integrity, do his best in the challenges and is as oblivious as Abi when it comes to how the other players see him.

The other factor in his game is to stand by Lisa, but we’ve rarely seen him try to change her mind. She was the one who wanted to stick with Tandang for the first two Tribal Councils; she was the one who wanted to talk to Penner before committing to Malcolm and Denise; she was the one who burned their bridges with Penner however regretfully. We’ve seen Skupin talk through his options with people, but only once has he gone against Lisa, and that was to vote out the guy he liked least in the game. Was that strategy or emotion?

Basically, I can’t get past my interpretation of Skupin as a muppet of a Survivor player. I know plenty of people do believe he has an overall strategy, but I still can’t see that some secret strategic genius is a simpler explanation than luck and Lisa. Perhaps I’m as wrong about this as I was about Abi’s ability to win immunity; perhaps not.

Prediction time!

As I already said, I suck at predictions – in fact, I diligently prove that on a weekly basis. However, I tend to do a little better at the endgame predictions. (Final three placements for South Pacific? Final five for One World? Nailed them!) At Philippines’ final six, spoiler-free (but edit-influenced), I’m calling the rest of the season.

I’m still not entirely sure in what order Abi and Carter will go in. Carter now knows he’s in trouble, so he’s on the alert and he’s much more of a threat to win immunity (and, in fact, the game) than Abi. On the other hand, voting out unpopular Abi first would curry favor with Carter-the-juror – plus Malcolm and Denise could be concerned that Abi might yet talk Skupin and Lisa into going back to their original Tandang loyalties after all. Then again, they might decide to vote off Carter first just in case Abi does have an idol – that way she can play it at six and be voted off at five, without affecting their plans.

Whatever happens, I don’t think Skupin and Lisa will go against Malcolm and Denise before final four, and the two Matsing can’t vote the Tandang pair off without losing their votes, after they voted off their good friend Penner for the sake of their word. Besides, after this week, Skupin and Lisa are probably lesser threats to win votes than Carter and Abi.

So at final four, we would have a Matsing day one alliance and a Tandang day one alliance, according to Skupin’s EW scene summary. However, there’s a third alliance in play, which is the Malcolm-Denise-Lisa alliance, forged upon Lisa’s discovery of the hidden immunity idol. I expect that between themselves, Malcolm and Denise have talked about honoring that one and voting off Skupin (who is, after all, a returning player) in fourth.

I expect Denise to stick to that pact. After her experience in Matsing’s final three, she probably feels comfortable that she can beat Malcolm at the end. I’m not so sure of this, since I don’t think Denise ever made the bonds with the Tandang jurors that she needed to – perhaps she is counting on Penner and Jeff to tell the other jurors about her strategic influence? However, she definitely has the better underdog story than Malcolm (every Tribal Council! That’s a record!), plus she’s outshone him in the challenges. She has a case.

That’s precisely what I think Malcolm is worried about. In his online confessional, he states that Skupin and Lisa are the two he wants to take to the end. So at the final four, Malcolm will be betraying Denise. (Possibly sooner, but if he votes her off earlier, he annuls the final four alliance, and Skupin and Lisa could turn on him.)

The problem here is that Lisa has already flagged up Malcolm as the biggest threat in the game, and only part of that is due to his idol. She would almost certainly prefer to vote off Malcolm rather than Denise. The obvious thing for her to do is to go to Denise and tell her: “Malcolm is trying to vote you off. I don’t want to. Would you join us in voting him off?”

Of course, it was just as obvious a move to tell Penner “Malcolm and Denise want to make a final four deal with us. I’d rather make a deal with you.” Lisa has not been big on giving away other people’s gameplans, probably because she’s not fighting to win in the same way the other players are. So while there’s an outside chance that she might tell Denise (though no guarantee Denise would believe her), it’s more likely that she’ll go along with Malcolm. After all, that way both she and Skupin get to the end.

So our final three is Malcolm, Skupin and Lisa, and this is where it gets tricky. If the game ends there, then Malcolm wins, end of story. However the episodes and number of days left suggest a final two, the first since Tocantins, and this is what the fandom has been speculating on.

Among the players, nobody’s breathed a word of final two. It’s entirely possible that somebody has talked about the possibility and it’s been edited out for the sake of surprising the viewer, but almost everybody has made reference to a final three when talking about the endgame. I’m thinking that, just as in Micronesia, the final two is going to take everybody by surprise.

Of course, Malcolm and Denise might figure it out. The big clues are the number of days left, the Fallen Comrades tribute and the “Final” immunity challenge, and unlike Micronesia, a final two wouldn’t mean an even numbered jury. Still, everybody’s getting tired and they’ve had their plans in their heads for so long now, that I would not be surprised if they just ignored the discrepancies to their view of the game.

If it’s a Malcolm-Skupin-Lisa final three, and there’s a final two, then Malcolm is clearly going home unless he wins immunity, and the jury will be left with two people they don’t want to vote for. It’s a direct repeat of Cirie’s fate in Micronesia except this time, you can’t even argue that Skupin and Lisa created and held together the alliance that carried them to the end.

Lisa would stand a great chance of carrying home the win if she talks to the jury like she does to the camera. If her Final Tribal Council words are done in the same calm, analytical tone that she uses for her confessionals, she would probably surprise most of the jurors and stand an excellent chance of swaying them. However, I expect she’ll act as she has when talking to another player this season: submissive and tearful.

My hypothetical final two consists of the two players who have not played Survivor the way the jury thinks it should be played. Given that choice of winner, I predict the jury will pick the clueless but eager-to-win Skupin over the woman who wept daily and needed to be cosseted before every Tribal Council.

Clearly, all it would take is the wrong person to win immunity to throw this prediction to the wins. Or for Malcolm and Denise to see the final two coming and take pains to make sure they’re both in the final three. But the edit’s made me pessimistic, so I’m calling Skupin as the anti-climactic winner of an otherwise fantastic season.

Survivor gods, feel free to prove me wrong with your “Million Dollar Redemption of Abi” story arc….

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