Survivor: Philippines is still in its early goings, but it’s hard not to feel a sense of impatience with how the events are proceeding thus far. There are tons of fascinating developments on the Tandang and Kalabaw tribes, and all it takes is for one of these tribes to head to tribal for the game to potentially explode. Of course, for that to happen, Matsing would actually have to win an immunity challenge. As tonight illustrated in plain terms, that’s just not happening.
In another example of Matsing operating as a tribe of individuals as opposed to a cohesive unit, this week’s fetch puzzle challenge (because the producers clearly have a fetish for making the tribes retrieve puzzle pieces and then solve them) displayed the extent to which Angie and Russell hinder the tribe. The challenge called for the contestants to dive off a platform into the water to retrieve a series of wheel-shaped puzzle pieces, one at a time, with each successive puzzle piece being deeper below the surface. The water pressure rises as the contestants dive deeper, and fatigue starts to set in. This has a much more considerable effect on Russell than on any other contestant in the challenge, across tribes. Midway through the challenge, Russell fails to retrieve one of the pieces, necessitating his return back to the platform so that a different member of his tribe can take a stab at it, yet, in his most damaging challenge moment thus far, Russell is unable to climb the three foot ladder back to the platform, costing the tribe valuable time. The time lost proves to be the difference between Matsing finishing second, and finishing in last, as Tandang (their undefeated streak finally broken) finishes their puzzle just before Matsing can begin to sort out the letter pattern. It’s a stifling performance from Russell, who threw his tribe under the bus last week for their poor challenge performance, and it seems to portend his elimination, come tribal council. But Malcolm and Denise believe that Angie was even more of a liability, being unable to even swim for the puzzle piece at the shallowest depth. Thus, the conundrum: Who’s more useless? Russell or Angie?
Ultimately, it proved to be Angie. Russell put up the argument that Angie couldn’t hold a candle to him in the strength or experience department, and while it was a sound argument to make, from what we’ve seen he hasn’t backed up any of these assertions. Angie’s assertions, that she’ll never quit fighting for her tribe, is something more verifiable, but it’s hard to justify even keeping a fighter around when said fighter’s best is routinely not good enough. However, I was almost positive Russell would get the boot, not because his smug derisive takedown of Angie brought the pageant queen to tears, but because Malcolm actually came forward to stick up for his snuggle buddy. Earlier, Malcolm confessed to the camera that he hates being stuck out here with “the goon squad of tribes.” Outside of his low-key alliance partner, Denise (who gets more awesome each episode, between her challenge skills and her implicit understanding of how the strategic element of the game is played), Malcolm never seemed to hold anyone in the group in high regard. But he goes to bat for Angie, arguing that she’s been thrust into a “strength role” that no other “little girl” in the competition has had to serve in, and she deserves respect for giving it her all. From his tone, it felt like Malcolm was intoning that Angie wouldn’t have to serve in the “strength role” if Russell had stepped up a little more significantly than not at all. This is why I was ultimately surprised that, but for Angie’s “Russ” vote, the decision is unanimous to send Angie packing. Okay, I wasn’t that surprised. If anything surprised me, it’s that Probst’s parting words for Matsing weren’t “See you in three days.”
Matsing is in a really crummy position right now, and given that there’s an odd number of contestants remaining in the competition overall, there’s going to need to be at least one more immunity challenge before we reshuffle the tribes. That means another opportunity for Matsing to blow another challenge – or to another opportunity for an unlikely redemption. As for Angie, she’s off to a better place…a hotel, to have cookies. Farewell, Angie. Your aloofness will be missed, I suppose.
I can only hope either the Matsing losing streak comes to an end, or we can simply move on to the inevitable tribe shuffle, since things are getting very interesting on the other two tribes. Over at Tandang, Abi-Maria still doesn’t trust RC, and I’d wager she’s probably smart not to, yet her mistrust seems less a reaction to anything RC has done that’s actually shady, and more from some measure of paranoia on her part. Either way, it’s serving her well, as she employs the help of Pete in searching for the hidden immunity idol. Pete has been something of a cypher up to this point, and it’s such a breath of fresh air that we get to learn that there’s a brain underneath all that improbably moussed hair. When Abi finds the hidden immunity idol, she immediately shares it with Pete, who confesses to the camera that he plans to utilize this newfound alliance with Abi, along with the idol, to solidify his power base and neutralize RC by getting rid of Skupin. Pete becomes more proactive in his attempts to shore up numbers by smartly playing on Lisa’s sense of isolation by proposing an alliance to her. She jumps at Pete’s proposal, offering her vote to whichever name he tells her to write down, and while it’s a clever bit of play from Pete, it’s just as smart a move for Lisa. We’ve seen just how far “swing vote” contestants can usually get in the competition. Keep an open mind, and an open vote, and you’ll be useful all the way through the competition. Hell, the “anyone but me” swing vote strategy propelled Sandra Diaz-Twine to the win…twice. I’m not saying Lisa will join the Two-Time Winners Club, or even the One-Time Winners Club, but she’s certainly a lot better off now than she was a week ago.
However, the business at Tandang is hardly the only to involve the hidden immunity idol. Last week, I neglected to comment on just how conspicuous an idol this season’s hidden immunity idol happens to be. It’s probably the most conspicuous one since China, in the sense that once it’s discovered, it’s going to be really hard to keep the rest of the tribe from noticing it’s gone. This turns out to be the case on the Kalabaw tribe, as Dana and National League MVP Jeff immediately recognize that the bull head on the box of rice is missing, deduces that Penner has the idol, and starts discussing the possibility of blindsiding the veteran. Penner, for his part, seems to have learned from Yul Kwon (winner of Survivor: Cook Islands, Penner’s first season) how best to use a hidden immunity idol. Yul was able to use his idol to turn the tide by confronting an enemy (in his case, Penner) and turning him into an asset, appealing to reason by suggesting he would use the idol to tear Penner’s alliance asunder, and so it’s best to be on the right side of the fence when the proverbial storm hits. Penner takes a similar approach with Jeff, laying the facts out in the open, and then offering Jeff an opportunity to be on the right side of power. Jeff seems open to the idea, although we learn just how much he’s withholding when he confesses to the camera that his handshake deal with Penner was only a four-finger handshake on his end, which I guess is akin to having your fingers crossed behind your back. Seems kind of childish to me. If you’re going to lie to a guy, lie to a guy. Shake his hand full-on. Then maybe when you backstab him, he’ll at least respect you for not leaving yourself a rhetorical back door by claiming “Well, our alliance didn’t technically count.” That kind of double-talk isn’t smart play, it’s straight-up playground politic.
That said, with all the talk on Tandang and Kalabaw of blindsiding the returning castaways, I feared one of the tribes would attempt to throw the challenge to get their wish. Throwing a challenge is the stupidest thing any tribe can do, and I can’t think of one scenario where the tribe that threw a challenge didn’t wind up getting obliterated from the face of the competition, even if they were ahead on numbers going in. So I’m glad both tribes proved to have better sense. At least collectively. Skupin, on the other hand, seems to have some kind of death wish, throwing himself into the challenge with reckless abandon and getting his face busted open. This pisses off computer engineer Artis (ARTIS FINALLY SPEAKS!) back at camp, as he claims that without Skupin’s injury, they might have finished first instead of second. Finishing in the runner-up position netted them a smaller fishing kit, but cost them a pretty sweet canoe. Seems like Pete will have another recruit on the anti-Skupin bandwagon when the time comes.
Survivor: Philippines is entertaining so far, and is bursting at the seams with potential to become one of the show’s most explosive seasons. But the business with Matsing is keeping us from getting there. I can only hope the payoff is worth the tease. If the patterns of seasons past are any indication, it will be (last season started out explosively but quickly sputtered and died, even though it produced a winner who played one of the most immaculate games of Survivor I’ve ever seen). As for now, I’m fine watching all the pieces moving across the board, setting up for the massive game of chess ahead just a little farther up the road.