Archive | November, 2012

Blunt Woman’s Bluff: Survivor Philippines Episode 11

28 Nov

The food auction has become a Survivor standby, and past seasons have proven that playing it correctly can be a key moment for winning the entire game (Danni in Guatemala), while misplaying it can even lead to your immediate ouster (John the rocket scientist in Samoa). One of the auction lots is always an unspecified advantage in the next immunity challenge, and the only way to be sure of getting that lot is to avoid bidding on any of the yummy food, and then bidding your entire budget on the “advantage” lot as fast as you can shout it out. (Admittedly, this is easier to do when you’ve had two enormous chili dogs right before watching the show, as I did, than for someone who has eaten mostly rice for a month.)

Only one savvy player made the right move this time, and that person was… Abi? No, it wasn’t Penner, who bid $100 on a food item. If not quite John-like in its stupidity, that was a mistake. Presumably Penner assumed there was no way Abi could win immunity later in the episode, advantage or not, given her abysmal performance in every previous challenge. The probabilities were on his side…  but you know, each time you get on a plane it probably won’t crash, yet every now and then one does. I was also somewhat surprised Skupin felt safe enough to bid on food. Meanwhile, Carter was unlucky enough to win a food item that came with the opportunity to trade it in return for more rice and beans for the whole tribe (the producers love these no-win situations). He wisely made the swap, eliminating any chance that he’d join Abi in the “people the tribe is irked at” list.

It turns out that what Abi won was the opportunity to jump right to the final round of the upcoming challenge. But she decides to tell Malcolm that her auction score was an additional immunity idol. Does Malcolm buy it? That’s not clear, but what is clear is that he has an amazing library of non-sequiturs to use when he doesn’t want to commit to any answer. Earlier in the season he simply said “sick.” In this situation, his comment was “fancy fancy.”

Then at tribal council when asked to read out the advantage written on her scroll, Abi goes for a great bluff by saying it’s a 2-parter and she’s only supposed to read out the first advantage, namely the power to jump ahead in the challenge. She then tears up the note, and Jeff Probst remains deadpan. It was a risk worth taking, since Probst is well-known to love anytime something happens that has never happened before, so it was fair to assume he would let this play out. And as paranoid as Survivor players get, maybe the idol part of the bluff will work!

The immunity challenge is one of the usual rope courses with lots of knot-untying, but an additional twist is that before each round the contestants are asked trivia questions about the Philippines and loaded up with more weight if they get them wrong. These geography quizzes were much more common in the early seasons of Survivor but have been largely phased out, presumably because the show has re-used locations a couple of times and didn’t want to call undue attention to that fact. Here, the second and third questions provided so little drama that they weren’t even shown, but we’re told Penner gets all of the trivia right. Alas, he still finishes third, and Abi wins immunity.

The result of this is that Malcolm and Denise target Penner, and alliance-mates Skupin and Lisa go along with it. Lisa is conflicted enough to tell Penner about this, and though she won’t change her vote, she encourages him to “Go do your magic that you do.” He puts on his hat at a jaunty angle and seeks out Skupin for a very entertaining conversation. Jonathan says, “Unfortunately for you, my brilliant, wise old chum, you’ve put yourself in the driver’s seat.” Skupin thinks he could beat Penner in the final three (he says this to the camera, not to Jonathan).

At tribal council, as the jury including a skeptical Jeff (“I’m a decimillionaire but will die unhappy because of my obsession with Penner”) Kent look on, Penner delivers a brilliant closing argument that voting him out would be handing the million dollars to either Malcolm or Denise. And you know what, I think he’s right! Alas, Lisa and Skupin both vote for Penner, and he’s out, as only Abi and Carter joined him in voting for Denise. Oddly, Penner announced out loud that he was voting for Denise, apparently dismissing the possibility that Malcolm might give his idol to her.

All of this means that things look pretty grim for Carter, who suddenly has no alliance, and I doubt it went unnoticed by other players that Carter now has two good pals on the jury, and is not someone you’d want to take to the finals.

Finally, in the preview of next week we see that it will be one of my least favorite Survivor standbys, the “loved ones” episode. On the bright side, we are shown a glimpse of a buddy of Malcolm’s who might have the potential to be the most knuckleheaded loved one since Jonny Fairplay’s pal with his unforgettable line “She died, dude.” I can’t wait for next week.

Dumb move: (from the previous episode, with consequences in this one) Penner turns down an alliance with Lisa.

Contender rankings: 1. Denise, 2. Malcolm, 3. Carter, 4. Skupin

No-chance list: Abi-Maria, Lisa

Jury and who I think they’ll vote for: R.C. (Skupin), Jeff (Carter), Artis (?), Pete (?), Penner (Carter)

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The Pete(r) Principle: Survivor Philippines Episode 10

21 Nov

Laurence Peter’s business bestseller The Peter Principle held that in a hierarchy, an employee rises to his level of incompetence. For Pete on Survivor, that level proved to be the final eight. Pete did bring athletic ability and a Russell Hantz-ian tendency toward mischief to the table, but was doomed by a couple of things, foremost among them being aligned with Abi. Also Pete overrated his own greatness (which is perhaps also Russell-like).

Surprisingly this was not a clip show but an all-new episode… I could have sworn they previously did clip shows Thanksgiving week even after the show moved from Thursday to Wednesday, but if I had “sworn”  it would have been about as binding as Malcolm swearing “on his family” to go to the final four with Denise, Lisa, and Skupin, as he did in this episode.

The show began with Penner and Skupin lying almost as close together as Malcolm and Angie lay in the first couple of episodes! What the heck? But apparently this was just so they could murmur without being overheard. By the way Skupin was looking positively Malkovich-ian. As opposed to Machiavellian… it remains to be seen if he’s that as well.

After daybreak we see Lisa and Abi chatting, and Abi says “It’s clear that you’re already aligned with them,” though that’s not the way Lisa actually voted at the last tribal council! Abi’s go-to-hell attitude here may well have been the last straw for Lisa. Abi tells her allies to go to hell on a fairly regular basis, which is why she doesn’t have many of them.

Cut to the reward challenge, and as we see the players stroll in, I had to think, my gosh, all of them have really well-defined abs! I think the secret to great abs has been found: just spend 26 days eating nothing but a cup of rice and some pieces of coconut every day! Who knew it was that simple?

The reward challenge involved flipping over discs that looked like huge hockey pucks, and the proper strategy was not at all clear at the start. It certainly wasn’t clear to Abi, who flipped an unflipped disc from the other team to accidentally give her opponent the victory in that round, and shortly thereafter Skupin on the other team did the same thing! So the youngster team of Abi, Pete, Malcolm, and Carter got the reward, a trip to a spa with lots of food to eat.

Abi and Pete didn’t use the opportunity to strategize, but upon returning Abi took every opportunity to tell everyone how full her stomach was and how delicious every single piece of food was. Comically, the producers lingered on the pained expressions of Skupin, Penner, Denise, and Lisa as they listened to all of this. Finally Penner mustered a diplomatic “Yeah, the rewards are cool.”

Time to start making alliances for the end, at least in Malcolm’s book, and he proposes to Lisa that the two of them and their pals Denise and Skupin go all the way to the end. Skupin and Lisa confer, and Mike asks “Who do you trust more, Penner or Malcolm?” Lisa replies: “Oddly enough, Penner.” So we then see Lisa telling Skupin and Penner that she wants to go all the way with them (in the game, for any dirty minds out there). Pretty smart on Lisa’s part: she would be in pret-ty good shape in the finals with two returning players, particularly with returning-player-haters Jeff and Artis already on the jury.

One problem: Penner says it’s too early and “I’m not that interested in committing anything to anybody.” This is actually quite extraordinary, as you seldom see a proposed alliance turned down on this show. Penner’s thinking is obviously a) he’s not in immediate danger this week, and b) those two couldn’t say later that he backstabbed them if he never said yes to a pact in the first place.

Skupin seems to have just as many doubts, but takes the opposite approach: when Malcolm proposes the alliance of four I mentioned above, he commits to it even though he doesn’t really buy it, because he’s scared he’d be on the outs if he didn’t. So is anyone in this four-person alliance serious? Any of the other three would be fools to take Lisa to the finals. I guess the only person I semi-believe to be serious is Denise, based on a speech later at tribal council when she says she wouldn’t want to go to the finals with people everybody hates.

A plan is hatched to split votes 3-3 for Abi and Pete so it wouldn’t matter if Abi played the idol. Pete rightly tells everyone this would be the perfect time to blindside Malcolm, but the problem is that anyone who went along with that at this point would essentially find himself on the bottom of a 3-person alliance with Pete and Abi, so there are no takers. At tribal council, Abi gets some insults thrown her way in a reversal of roles, and is in tears. Even Denise can’t hold back her critiques any longer. Oddly enough, when Abi says something to the effect of “you know the effect of your words, you’re a psychologist,” Denise seems mortally offended by the “psychologist” part and clarifies that she’s a therapist. Do therapists not have psychology degrees? I had no idea.

An interesting sidelight of Pete being voted out is that I doubt he and Artis will feel any loyalty to Abi if she makes the final three, so two of the four jury votes would seem to be up for grabs.

Contender rankings: 1. Denise, 2. Malcolm, 3. Carter, 4. Skupin, 5. Penner

No-chance list: Abi-Maria, Lisa

Jury and who I think they’ll vote for: R.C. (Skupin), Jeff (Carter), Artis (?), Pete (?)

Downturn Abi: Survivor Philippines Episode 9

15 Nov

Penner begins the episode by telling Abi that he’s the one who voted for her. Probably not a bad strategy: it might well have come to light anyway, and it seems that the more Abi gets riled up the more she self-destructs. Not that Penner is too clear on what happened at the last tribal council. “So I’m the one who blew it by not voting for Pete?” he asks Carter. Yep.

Penner’s no fool, and he knows that Lisa and Skupin are the keys to his having a chance to stick around. We cut to a very odd conversation with Lisa. He begins by saying a bunch of things that don’t make much sense, but hey guys, all of us have been there when talking to a hot chick, right? I certainly wouldn’t be able to express a coherent thought if face-to-face with Blair from Facts of Life. Anyway, Penner quickly segues into psychoanalyzing Lisa, and closes by saying “I love you.” Wow, he covered some serious ground!

For the reward challenge, teams are picked playground-style, and Abi gets to sit out yet another challenge, this time because she’s the only person not chosen. While Penner, Carter. Malcolm and Denise are off enjoying the reward they win, we see Pete back at camp telling the camera that the key for himself, Artis and Abi is to make Lisa and Skupin feel as comfortable as possible. Abi’s way of making Lisa feel comfortable is not to let her get a word in, saying she already knows everything Lisa will say before she says it, and following up with “You’re just gullible, you’re just naive.”

Cut to tribal council, where Abi comes out with some more gems, to the great chagrin of Artis and Pete. Meanwhile R.C. (this time in a different va-va-voom dress than last week) gets a good laugh out of Abi’s ineptititude, so much so that she has to put her head on the shoulder of fellow juror Jeff Kent, who’s sporting a mustache befitting a baseball player… a 1970s baseball player that is!

The red team’s thinking is that Abi will probably keep the immunity idol for herself but she could possibly give it to Pete, so they all vote for Artis instead. It comes down to the last vote and Artis is indeed voted off over Penner, and we see that Skupin joined the red alliance but Lisa didn’t.

Skupin’s move seems to be the better one, as he must sense that Pete wants to get rid of him so he helps himself by weakening Pete’s alliance. Lisa might be betting that her showing loyalty to the end will pay off, but whose votes would that get her? That would only really cut ice with Artis, Abi, and Pete, and it seems fairly likely that Abi won’t be in the jury, because who wouldn’t love to take her to the final three?

Contender rankings: 1. Denise, 2. Malcolm, 3. Carter, 4. Skupin, 5. Penner

No-chance list: Abi-Maria, Lisa, Pete

Jury and who I think they’ll vote for: R.C. (Skupin), Jeff (Carter), Artis (Pete)

One of the best episodes ever: Survivor Philippines Episode 8

7 Nov

Watching this episode was such a great feeling. It was akin to finding true love after a series of heartbreaks: Survivor fans who have persevered through several lousy seasons just got another taste of how good the show can be when it’s at its best.

Boy did this one deliver. It was the best show at least since the Heroes vs. Villains season (#20, and we’re on #24 now). But let’s get right to the action.

We begin with Penner coming to grips with the fact that he’d have been voted out if he hadn’t played his idol. Even a seasoned veteran such as he takes a little bit of offense, and since he has no allies left, he declares to the camera, “Everybody’s equal. They are all ready to die.” At least his fellow vet Skupin consoles him by saying there are cracks in the game’s alliances that can be exploited.

Meanwhile we find out that Lisa no longer sees herself as allied with Pete, Abi, and Artis, something that was not made clear previously. Speaking of Abi, as she strategizes with Pete we see that she gets just as bitchy with him as she was with RC back when they were allies. Pete astutely observes to the camera, “If she’s in the final three she’s not getting any votes.” Malcolm sees the game as a “good-versus-evil dynamic” (Abi and her two guy pals being the evil). I was tempted to move Artis onto my no-chance list, except for one thing: what if he’s in a final three with Pete and Abi?

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Penner will be the next to be voted out (including Skupin who’s just glad it isn’t him). And Penner mentions that he has never won an individual immunity… but he wins this one! It’s a fist-pumping moment (though the challenge itself was generic), and everyone else has a pained expression because they know they’ll have to find an alternative when they get back to camp.

I think the main reason this season is going so well is that there are not a bunch of coattail-riders who aren’t really playing the game (last season this applied to at least three out of the final ten, arguably more). In fact other than possibly Artis, every single player is playing, playing hard, and for the most part playing well!

That certainly includes Lisa. When everyone returns to camp, the instant consensus is that Skupin should be the one to go. In fact, everyone’s so comfortable with that choice that Lisa sees this as the perfect opportunity to blindside a presumably complacent Malcolm, so she reveals to Pete that Malcolm has the idol (which she discovered while hanging up wet clothes, remember?) and suggests the blindside plan. Here’s where Pete messes up: he asks Malcolm point-blank if he has the idol, which Malcolm smoothly denies, but then Pete tells him that Lisa is his source, and worse, that she suggested a plan to vote Malcolm out! Big mistake, though it’s comical to watch Malcolm’s eye bulge as he hears the news. Malcolm promptly freaks out and asks who else thinks he has the idol, and Peter sees this paranoia as proof positive…. that Malcolm doesn‘t have it (???), and therefore suggests voting out Jeff.

Then Pete denies to Lisa that he told Malcolm he found out from her. Lisa obviously has the sixth sense that all mothers have about BS, and she isn’t buying it.

Now, all of the preceding made for entertaining fare and an above-average episode at worst… but in the last 16 minutes things are kicked up another notch: as some players discuss the plan to vote out Jeff, someone warns Malcolm “watch out, Jeff’s behind you,” and he is… about two feet behind him! Jeff’s suspicious and asks what’s going on, and after some confusing exchanges there’s a realization they could have six people vote for Pete: Malcolm, Denise, Jeff, Skupin, Penner, and Carter. The plan is quickly communicated, but there are so many different plans, which will end up happening? Malcolm unearths his idol just in case.

At tribal council, we begin with the customary entrance of the jury, of which there’s only one member so far, namely R.C. This tradition is usually fairly uneventful, but not so when everyone sees the dress R.C. has been poured into (R.C. cleans up well, to say the least). Abi glares at her, Penner has an ear-to-ear grin, Skupin has a skeptical look and Pete offers an approving “right on.”

Well, in no time Malcolm has called out Lisa for “throwing him under the bus,” which she cops to. Then he pulls out the idol for all to see and says “this thing’s getting played.” After that drama, Jeff Probst half-jokingly asks if anyone else has an idol they want to show, and loose cannon Abi actually whips hers out! There’s more entertaining back and forth, and as Jeff Kent points out near the end of it, there are lots of people potentially in trouble: Jeff himself (according to Pete’s plan), Skupin (the original plan), Pete (by his own admission), Abi (since she announced the idol), Lisa (for her move against Malcolm) and Malcolm (because of his idol).

Everyone casts his or her vote, and when Probst asks if anyone wants to play an idol, neither Malcolm (despite what he just said) or Abi steps forward (I thought for a minute she might give hers to Pete, but i guess she’s not the type). Probst reads the votes: one for Abi, four for Pete, and five for Jeff Kent. Jeff Kent is voted out!

This is actually pretty delicious, because as noted last week, Jeff’s overriding and irrational obsession was to get Penner out at all costs, and last episode he made a stupid move (all in the name of ousting Penner) that considerably weakened Jeff’s own position. Now what do you know, this came back to bite Jeff and he’s voted out, and Penner is still there! In Jeff’s parting words, he mentions that he made $60 million playing baseball but really wanted this million even though “It’s $600 grand by the time Obama takes it.” I would say Jeff Kent should run for office now, as I like his position on taxes, but I’m sure his “Penner must not win Survivor, even though he’s never done anything to me” raison d’etre would handicap him.

As the players filed out, Probst’s last words were that this was one of the great missed opportunities in the history of Survivor. It wasn’t clear what he was talking about until the final votes were shown. What happened to the six votes for Pete that Jeff Kent thought he had? Well, Carter, Jeff, Malcolm, and Denise did vote for Pete, but Skupin voted for Jeff, and Penner voted for …. Abi??? If Penner had just voted for Pete it would have been a tie. Upon reflection I can understand Skupin’s thinking: his original yellow tribe likes him better than Jeff Kent does (here is yet another way Jeff’s “returning players must not win” credo came back to bite him). But Penner’s vote makes no sense. Why wouldn’t he vote Pete out after basically campaigning for this to happen during tribal council, and if he decided he’d rather have Pete around, why a vote against his ally Abi?

The last 15 minutes of this one were worth watching twice, and I may yet watch it a third time.

Memorable challenge: Penner wins immunity in an episode when he certainly would have been voted out otherwise.

Great tribal council: Two players reveal they have idols, among many other fireworks.

Contender rankings: 1. Denise, 2. Malcolm, 3. Carter, 4. Skupin, 5. Penner, 6. Artis

No-chance list: Abi-Maria, Lisa, Pete

Jury and who I think they’ll vote for: R.C. (Skupin), Jeff (Carter)