Recap and review of Survivor: Philippines – Episode 8 – Dead Man Walking
Tonight’s Survivor: Philippines has an engaging, if obvious, theme at its center. “Dead Man Walking” is an episode that is very concerned with the differences between real life and the game of Survivor, and the social politics of both. In one instance, Lisa Welchel confesses, while on reward, that it would be a noble thing to be able to duke it out at the end against four worthy competitors. But she understands that there’s a naivete at the center of that noble sentiment, since the best, most worthy competitors don’t always win Survivor. And, as Lisa states to the camera, she doesn’t want to just get to the end. She wants to win. And on that note, this was a hell of an episode for the former teen star, as she realizes that she needs to dissuade Skupin from switching alliances to people who will “promise him the world” by going out of her way to “promise him the universe.” She recognizes the inherent strength of a core alliance of five, and wants to organize a 5-4 dynamic predicated on the split between those who want to vote out the returning players, and those smart enough to utilize the returning castaways to their own ends. It’s a sound strategy, but for as solid as Lisa is in the early going, a late episode play nearly renders all her progress moot, creating a domino effect that leads to one of the most exciting tribal councils in recent memory.
Penner takes last week’s attempted blindside better than I expected him to, and certainly better than the previews led on. I had feared that Penner might go on a Troyzan-like tear of bitter, vindictive play. But Penner is a smarter player than that, so he calmly goes around and investigates to discover who voted for him and why. Denise is up front with him, which Penner appreciates, while Jeff tries to rationalize his need to make the move. Jeff doesn’t come across any smarter here than he did last week when he essentially blew his opportunity to be on top by choosing to vote with Tandang instead of sticking with Penner while also roping in RC, and perhaps Skupin. Jeff seems intent on sticking with Tandang, although he seems to recognize the risk he took, and the likelihood of its backfiring.
Meanwhile, Pete is looking to consolidate power by keeping Skupin and voting out Penner, which runs opposite to his initial desire to get rid of him. Of course, Pete is telling this all to Abi-Maria, who can’t stop being paranoid for two seconds, insisting that Pete probably doesn’t think much of her, even though he’s clearly coming to her with strategic discussion. Thank God Pete shut her down by saying how much that kind of talk pisses him off, because it’s one of the biggest reasons she’s such an exhausting presence from week-to-week. Pete understands this as well as anyone, and tells the camera that he intends to take Abi to the end, since she obviously wouldn’t get any votes. Their relationship continues to be weirdly unstable for how much they need one another, as Abi roots for Jeff at the immunity challenge instead of Pete. At tribal, this becomes a bigger issue when the vote comes down to her two prospective alliance mates. But more on that in a bit.
When Penner wins immunity, Lisa decides it’s time to spring into action. She spills the beans about Malcolm’s hidden immunity idol to everybody within earshot, forming a presumptive voting alliance with Penner and Skupin. However, she then goes to Pete with this information, and I can’t, for the life of me, fathom why she does this. She claims that she wants to blindside Malcolm while they have the chance, but she doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with Pete confronting Malcolm. Pete wants to know for himself whether what Lisa says is true or not. Malcolm is clearly shocked by the news that Lisa threw him under the bus, but Pete misinterprets this shock as fear that he’s going to be voted out over a lie – which isn’t the case, since Malcolm actually does have the idol. In a frantic bit of scrambling, Malcolm and Pete consolidate influence against Jeff, although Pete’s name gets thrown around as well.
This leads to tribal council, where Lisa admits that she threw one of her alliance mates under the bus, and this admission culminates in Malcolm unveiling his idol, saying that if anyone plans on voting with Lisa, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise, because he intends on playing the idol tonight. A seemingly sarcastic comment from Probst questioning if anyone else would like to play an idol leads to Abi-Maria revealing the idol she found with help from Pete, which she claims to have intended to use to save an alliance mate. This was nearly as surprising to me as it was to everyone else at tribal, since I’d completely forgotten she even had an idol. What’s strange is that, unlike Malcolm, she expresses no overt intention to use it, not that it would have made a difference anyway, since her head wasn’t really on the chopping block. However, with all the idols out in the open, there’s little left to do than to use what’s left of tribal council for some impromptu strategizing, with Penner making a case for a six-person voting bloc, while Lisa attempts to save face by trying to regroup her alliance. It’s a spectacular trainwreck of scrambling made all the more glorious after the vote, when neither Malcolm nor Abi-Maria play their idols. The vote comes down to Pete vs. Jeff, with one vote being the difference that sends Jeff Kent packing (the Cochrane comparison wound up being more apt than I thought it would be, since his flip-flopping led to him actually going out far earlier than he likely would have, and even earlier than I believe Cochrane did).
The exit video reveals several interesting tidbits. Penner was the lone, throwaway vote for Abi-Maria, which implies that his strategy was to not be involved in the decision, in order to have plausible deniability, regardless of who went home. But this is very un-Penner-like, since it’s a strategy that more or less passes the buck. It’s the same problem I had with Jeff’s “four-finger handshake.” If you’re going to make a decision, make a decision. With this in mind, I feel the choice to send the throwaway vote Abi’s way, instead of towards a more innocuous choice like, say, Denise, is a bit shortsighted since, if anybody, Abi-Maria is the most likely to go on a witch hunt over the throwaway vote, a la Lex in Survivor: Africa. The other thing the exit interview revealed is Jeff’s out-of-nowhere political invective, as the National League MVP states that despite the fact he’s made around $60 million in his lifetime, this million is something he really wanted, even though Obama is going to tax it down to $600,000, as if Obama was the president who invented the notion of taxing game show winnings. This outburst has no bearing on the game, but I felt it required commenting, since Jeff complains about how much it sucks to get voted out, but somehow neglects to mention the huge role he played in his own demise. His questions for whoever makes it to the Final Tribal Council should be amusing, to say the least.
“Dead Man Walking” is an explosive episode, though it leaves us with more questions concerning these players’ strategies than it answers. Pretty much the only person whose strategy seems set and measurable is Pete’s, and having it rely so much on Abi-Maria means that it’s only as stable at any one time as she is. This makes for fun television, but I wish there were better strategies at play than the fly-by-night ensemble of play styles that change from one week to the next, not out of some bigger necessity, but out of collective paranoia, and a seemingly compulsive desire to screw things up for oneself at every turn. Even Probst commented upon this, as his departing words for the survivors at the end of tribal is how this vote was one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of the show, which I can only assume means they were stupid for not seeing through Malcolm’s threats, since it was clear he was never going to play the thing. Who knows when, or if, another opportunity to blindside Malcolm will present itself? It was smart, in some ways, for Malcolm to reveal his idol, since so many already knew about it because of Lisa anyway. The act was reminiscent of Survivor: Cook Islands winner Yul Kwon, and how he used his hidden immunity idol to consolidate power and make sure no one ever voted against him (of course, Cook Island was a different game, with the hidden immunity idol holder being able to play it after votes were read). However, so much of his relatively bold gambit paying off was in the circus that surrounded the revelation, which led to Abi-Maria revealing hers, and culminated in that last-second burst of desperate strategizing that perhaps sealed Jeff’s fate, whereas Malcolm might have been forced to actually use it had he not shown it to the tribe. So, in that sense, it was a smart play for Malcolm, even though its success relied as much upon others stupidity and inertia.