Oh, Lisa. We completely understand that there's a huge difference between imagining yourself voting out your allies left and right like you see on TV, and actually having to write the name down that ends a friend's chances at the million dollars in person. We do, really.
But this is Episode 11 of your season, you've now attended five Tribal Councils, and you're nine days away from somebody getting that million. Gather up your courage, varnish it with whatever moral equivalence you can muster, and just play Survivor for once. We felt for you the first time you went to your "Maybe I'm not cut out for this game" refrain. We cheered for you when everything finally seemed to click for you in Jeff Kent's boot episode. But since then? The recurrent downpour of tears and self-doubt has been almost as tough to withstand as the rain that waterlogged this season for the first five episodes.
As a longtime fan, you had to have thought through the voting-out-allies moral conundrum at least once or twice when you decided you wanted to play, right? You did sign up for this, after all. Maybe we're being cold and heartless, but we see very little difference between someone weeping about how voting out people is hard on day 30, and someone moaning that they're hungry, cold, or exhasted on day 16. Except, obviously, that you're two weeks further into the game.
Other people have complained at length that maybe they're not cut out for this game. People like Janet Koth, Osten Taylor, and Janu Tornell. Some are remembered solely as trivia answers in Survivor Jeopardy. Others, hardly at all. They all quit, or asked to be voted out. But you're clearly in this for the long haul, Lisa. So please, just play. Think back to when you wore the triathlon t-shirt you bought online during the flight out, the one you wore to make people think you could hold your own in the challenges, despite your age. Think back to that Lisa, and just play. Please.
With only seven players left, it's difficult even for Survivor's editors to overlook anyone now, unless you're hoping for some insight into the long-term strategies of Carter (come on, he might have one) or Denise (who instead got to lay out the episode's vote tactics in the opening segment, spoiling the entire episode three minutes in).
So instead, this week we'll turn our attention to the Ponderosa videos, which have suddenly gotten a whole lot more watchable with the addition of one Jonathan Penner. Previously, the videos had provided all the excitement of watching prisoners languishing in solitary confinement, as the open hostility between RC and her Tandang nemeses (Pete and Artis) had led to hour upon hour of the newly minted jurors glowering at each other from separate tables. Scintillating! (Although it did provide a confessional platform for a Pete, who's been refreshingly rational outside the game.)
Still, Penner's arrival (and an intervention by the crew psychologist, apparently) has whipped up a new sense of excitement at Ponderosa. Or if not excitement, at least copious quantities of rum-based blended beverages. Now everyone is mending fences... by crushing each other's dreams in Monopoly. Hooray! Everyone that is, except poor Jeff Kent, who doesn't appear to have been invited to their frankfurter roasts.
Joking! He's there, of course, he's just nowhere to be seen, not among all this reality TV riff-raff, anyway. Which is odd, because... you know, Stunt Casting, star power, former National MVP, and all that. Odd, at least, until he's actually shown. In his rare sightings in the Ponderosa field, Kent's comments are terse and surly, as if Ponderosa were a locker room, and the Ponderosa crew were third-string baseball reporters. To which we say: it's so refreshing to see someone who doesn't offer the trite "life-changing experience" mantra to sum up his or her Survivor time. Hooray for "piss off, wankers"!
Who would have thought that it would now be a valid argument that everyone needs to vote out Abi-Maria because she's a threat to win immunity? Who? Besides Jeff Probst, obviously. And need we mention that she was able to win, while also enjoying her traditional role of sitting out, in the same exact challenge? Those are some special Beast skills right there.
Awarding strategy trophies this season has been surprisingly difficult, and not because of an excess of brilliant gameplay. Instead, it's been more of an effort in trying to overlook egregiously awful missteps. And yet despite that, the twists and turns the season have taken have been enjoyable to watch. Not this week, though, where the outcome was obvious. So let's go through the prospects of the remaining players, shall we?
Abi-Maria: Penner took pains in his exit interview with Gordon Holmes to claim that Abi has a strong chance of winning, should she reach the finals. That seems a bit far-fetched, unless the unthinkable happens, and she gets there by winning three or four more immunities. Being dragged there as a goat will not get her the million (unless she's up against Skupin and Lisa). So to that end, she improved her chances slightly this week.
Lisa: Where to begin? If Lisa suddenly decides "Yes, I can play this game after all," and engineers one or two big moves, the game is hers. Blindsiding Malcolm and/or Denise would get her there, and she could win over skeptics like Pete by doing so. In an F3 with Skupin and Carter, she might have a shot. Otherwise, she may get there, but she'll need to give the performance of her life at the final Tribal Council to convince someone to vote for her. Oh wait, she was an actor? *sigh*
Skupin: For all his talk last week about making moves, this is the second straight episode in which Skupin's been presented with one that would save the booted player, only to decide, "Nah, I'd rather not." It's difficult to imagine people like Pete and Penner viewing Skupin's repeated following along with the majority's plan (to their specific detriment) as a winning game. But in taking out Penner and Pete, Skupin has rid himself of people who could beat him in the final three. So even though they weren't "moves" per se, they worked in his favor. Prospects rising?
Carter: Carter has one shot at winning: He has to win every single remaining immunity challenge, just like Abi-Maria. And as the last Kalabaw standing, he's in extreme danger of being voted out the next time he fails. Can he do it? Maybe. Will he do it? The odds seem unfavorable. He came close this time, but fell just short (to Abi, of all people). And even if he does pull off a miraculous IC streak, past juries have often looked askance at challenge beasts, at least those with little social game. Prospects... dim (sorry).
Malcolm: Like Carter, Malcolm is perceived as a challenge threat, even though (as we pointed out last week) he's never advanced to the final stage of any immunity challenge. Furthermore, apart from his weekly "to play or not to play" hidden idol internal monologue, he hasn't really made any moves this game. Editing gave him sole credit for the alliance with Skupin and Lisa, even though Denise was probably involved, and she seems to be making the day-to-day boot decisions. Even if he continues to wield his idol shield, it will expire before the final four vote. And if his alliancemates are all still playing at that time, he's far and away the obvious boot, since everyone likes him, and it would be suicide for Skupin or Lisa, or even Denise, to face the jury against him. His idol is keeping him alive for now, but his only remaining path to the end at this point seems to be scooping up Carter and Abi, and taking them instead. (Please do.)
Denise: Another of of our pre-game favorites, Denise is still solidly in this, although Penner explicitly labeled her and Malcolm as threats to win at this week's Tribal Council. Unlike Malcolm, she's an actual immunity threat, and as someone who's attended every Tribal Council this season, her fingerprints are all over just about every boot. So she should be the favorite to win, right? Not really. Her pre-jury Matsing tribemates (albeit after their boots aired) to a person described her as "sneaky," which generally doesn't bode well for votes to win. Unfortunately, that's also been a common refrain among the jurors, except for Pete, who admitted he wasn't aware she was even doing anything. And Abi stuck her tongue out at Denise as she walked past to vote. Could Denise get Sashed or Fishbached? Maybe. But in taking out someone who could could probably have out-talked her against the jury, she at least gets this week's Slitty.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Jonathan Penner