Recap and review for Survivor: Philippines – Episode 13 – Gouge My Eyes Out
It’s rare that a personality is so off-putting that I find myself wanting the castaways to eschew good strategic gameplay and simply send the offending party packing. Tonight’s Survivor: Philippines offered just such a scenario, for me, as Abi-Maria Gomes actually made several salient points throughout “Gouge My Eyes Out”, yet her personality was so incendiary that I just didn’t want her to last another day in the competition, even if it meant that Lisa and Skupin were effectively handing the game to Malcolm and Denise. It’s strange, as I’m not entirely certain you could even call Abi an out-and-out bad person. She was certainly mean, undoubtedly insufferable, cloyingly self-righteous, and confrontational at every opportunity. Yet I don’t necessarily think that precludes her from being someone with real feelings, who hurts like anyone else when she finds out just how much she’s hated. But still, a little grace would go a long way towards selling whatever argument you’re trying to make. And Abi had a decent argument. She just framed it so poorly that she might well have been better served not even bothering.
Strangely enough, though the lion’s share of the narrative revolves around Abi’s determination to remain in the game, the episode is pretty evenly-divided in every other respect. We have Lisa looking for opportunities to enact her agency in the game, and that means considering voting out one of her final four pact-mates. She’s still working through the emotional change in her own game, catalyzed by the advice of her brother, Justice, who suggested she think about blindsiding Malcolm. Of course, that epiphany came too little, too late, as Malcolm won immunity, and was safe from tonight’s vote, even if he hadn’t won immunity, thanks to his hidden immunity idol. Yet Lisa still parrots the strategy that she would rather play against someone she can beat than against someone she respects. Being Lisa, her actions inevitably run counter to this strategy, since she can’t seem to go fifteen minutes without doing everything in her power not to change the status quo in any way that might benefit her game. But that’s a talk for later on.
As the episode progresses, we have Skupin winning the reward challenge and electing to take Malcolm and Lisa along with him, where the trio considers cutting Denise out of their final four pact. Malcolm recognizes how this would benefit him, observing that while he and Denise have been tight throughout the game, she’s his biggest threat in the race to a million dollars. She’s basically played a game that is devoid of any realistic flaw, managing to go through the game as an admirable physical adversary, while also playing a strategic and social game of such subtlety and grace that she doesn’t appear to have alienated anyone at all. Quite the opposite, as many of the people on the jury, particularly Penner, had nothing but nice things to say about Denise en route to being voted off by her. Nothing is set in stone while on the reward, though the editing team lets us believe that the trio is coming to a decision by tactfully cutting away from the strategizing before any decisions are finalized. But there’s also a bit of the viewers’ own assumptions that go into such a sequence, as we naturally want to assume that every castaway is playing to the best of their abilities, and if that’s the case, then it stands to reason that these people would take out a surefire threat. Yet the episode plays with those expectations, the closer we get to the end.
On the morning of the immunity challenge, Denise awakes to excruciating pain in her neck and left arm, thanks to a set of fang marks on her neck. She has no idea what bit her, or if the pain will pass, though she assumes that whatever is ailing her is the result of an allergic reaction to the creature that bit her, whether a spider, a scorpion, a lizard, a snake, or any of the sundry other animals lurking around in the wild around them. Abi tries hard to feign concern, but at the immunity challenge, when Jeff suggests to Abi that maybe Denise’s illness is a good thing for her, Abi agrees that it’s a boon for her to have one less challenge threat. This is one of those situations where the aforementioned grace would have gone on a long way in softening the other castaways’ perception towards Abi, as she could have easily said, “Well, Jeff, of course I want to stay in this game, but nobody wants to see another player hurting like this.” Even something that simple could have imbued Abi with some semblance of humanity. Instead, she claims she’s always looking for “opportunities” in this game, implying that Denise’s illness is just such an opportunity. Sure, Abi is parroting the classic reality show quote of “I didn’t come here to make friends”, but there’s nothing in that ideology that says you have to be a dick about it.
And even with a downed Denise, Abi doesn’t pose much of a threat at all, as Malcolm, even after having to start the rope bridge course all over again after falling off, still manages to make it to the end and finish his puzzle before anyone else. At this point, it became clear that the plot to oust Denise wasn’t going to come to fruition, since Malcolm had the perfect opportunity and excuse to throw the immunity challenge (in the sense that he legitimately did fall off the course), and he didn’t take it. As a savvy player, Malcolm would likely know better than anyone that if he planned on dumping Denise, he would have to lose immunity in order to use the hidden immunity idol for himself and not have to give it to Denise out of fidelity to their alliance. Of course, with how the challenge was going, Denise seemed to be en route to winning immunity if Malcolm hadn’t pulled out the come-from-behind victory. So this is all a moot point. Particularly after Malcolm tells Denise he isn’t going to give her the hidden immunity idol, since she isn’t going to need it. Abi is going home, no ifs, ands, or buts. Yet Abi still gives it the old college try, approaching Skupin with the inevitability of Denise or Malcolm winning the game, and suggesting that they bring Lisa into their scheme and vote Denise. Skupin and Lisa appear to give this some serious consideration, and as we go into tribal, there’s a genuine air of uncertainty as to how the vote will play out.
Well, at least until Abi opens her mouth. While she makes some astute points, in arguing that she’s the only person that Lisa and Skupin can beat in the finals, her presentation leaves a lot to be desired. As Skupin tries to explain his thought processes in the vote, Abi pipes up, calling him an “idiot” and a “moron” (TWICE!) with her passive-aggressive laugh, declaring that he’s obviously going to just hand either Malcolm or Denise a million dollars by voting her out. But it’s to the point where the castaways would rather just roll the dice and take their chances at final four than to deal with Abi for another three days. When you have two people, in Lisa and Skupin, who’d rather give up a near sure-thing, and their best chance at winning the game, simply because they can’t stand the force of your personality, then maybe some introspection would do you good. And now, Abi is going to be doing that from the jury, as she was unanimously voted out by the other four castaways. Skupin’s comical dance for joy while leaving tribal tells us everything we need to know about just what an incendiary presence Abi-Maria Gomes was in this game.
“Gouge My Eyes Out” sets the stage for a finale that, in theory, is up for grabs. However, I just don’t see how either Malcolm or Denise don’t win this game. A more shrewd style of gameplay from Lisa or Skupin could have meant a more substantial chance at giving the dynamic duo a run for their money, but as it stands now, they’re going to have to hope that neither Malcolm nor Denise win immunity. More than that, they have to hope that one will then be open to flipping on the other to avoid drawing purple rocks (and I’m not even sure they do the purple rock draw at four. I think they have a fire-making challenge if the votes are tied). I’m still not sure whether it’s going to be a final three or a final two this season, but if I had to guess, I would argue that it’s the latter, given that we’re heading into the finale with four instead of five, and one elimination over a two-hour episode would make for some pretty stagnant television. Either way, even if it’s an inevitable march towards victory for either Malcolm or Denise, I’m totally excited for the finale. It’s not nearly as prevalent, in modern Survivor, for uniformly-strong gameplay to be rewarded, much less for it to also be exciting in the process. This has been among the best seasons in recent memory, and I’ll be intrigued to see who gets named its champion.