Survivor: “Dead Man Walking”
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Survivor: “Dead Man Walking”

Last week when I declared that Jeff Kent was in control of this game, I rightfully took fair amount of heat in the comments. Being in control for one episode is far different from being in control of Survivor—where things can turn on a dime—and grand proclamations like the one I made are just asking to be disproved in the most embarrassing ways. Tonight’s episode, full of gloriously entertaining scheming and multiple twists and turns, was a prime example of how quickly one’s fortunes can change. And man, was it great.

The funny thing about Jeff’s fate tonight is how even when the show was snuffing his torch you could tell he wasn’t the only person who was blindsided. For almost the entire episode, everyone on Dangrayne knew exactly who was going home: Penner. It was such a foregone conclusion that even Penner, while attempting to talk people into keeping him around, knew it was lost cause.

But then came the immunity challenge. Penner still had everything stacked against him: He’s never won individual immunity before, he’s competing against younger and more athletic people, and the challenge itself was highly physical. That’s why his last-second dive to beat Skupin to the final round was so fun to watch, and his come-from-behind victory in the puzzle to take the idol was even better. It’s the ultimate underdog win-it-or-go-home scenario. Even Penner recognized the unlikelihood of his victory, dazedly exclaiming “I don’t even know what to say about that challenge; that was maybe the best thing I ever did in my life” in a post-challenge interview.

The best thing about his win was how it immediately created a strategic episode where one wasn’t necessary before at all, and this led to the emergence of Lisa as a Survivor scholar and legitimate player in this game. Lisa was already working on a strategy to stick with Tandang and create a 5-4 majority to take out Kalabaw one by one, and Penner’s victory gives her the exact ammunition she needs to put this plan in motion. She has one bargaining chip to play to get people on her side: the knowledge of Malcolm’s hidden immunity idol. She uses it to easily get Skupin in on her plan, and next goes to Pete to cement the deal.

This is when things go a little topsy turvy. Pete is a self-professed mastermind, but he obviously has more than a soft spot for Malcolm, and despite Lisa’s attestation that she knows Malcolm has the idol, he chooses to believe Malcolm’s lies. The new plan is for Malcolm to vote with the Tandang crew to get out Jeff, but this is when the last-minute scrambling starts so in earnest that it’s almost impossible to track of what is going on. Malcolm is going to vote with Pete’s gang to get out Jeff, then Jeff and Malcolm are going to work together to vote out Pete, and then the editors completely give up on trying to figure out what is going on and leave it up to Probst to sort out at Tribal. This is different from the obfuscation tactics the show used last week. This is legitimate, last-minute, whispers in the shadows scrambling, and it is an absolute blast. The only thing certain going into Tribal is that Penner isn’t going home.

Tribal itself is also a thing of glory: strangely honest, open, and confessional in nature, with whole strategies being laid out in front of the tribe for them to choose from. Both hidden idols are revealed, but neither is played. Alliances are revealed, and several players and even Probst comment on how amazing this all is. Especially amazing is that even after all that talk, before the vote is tallied, there is no way to tell who is about to go home. So when Jeff is voted out by only one vote, it takes until the vote reveal in the end credits to even attempt to piece together what happened. With Pete, Abi, Artis, Lisa, and Skupin all voting for Jeff (and Penner throwing a garbage vote Abi’s way to avoid a tie), there was obviously more last-minute scheming than we saw. 

My guess? Lisa and Pete shored up at least a temporary alliance to remove Jeff before Tribal began, and Penner used the opportunity to get the person out who wanted him out the most rather than force the tie without alienating the rest of Kalabaw. (That or he had no idea what was going on at all and just thought sentiment was against Abi, but this seems less likely.) Judging from the shocked looks on Malcolm and Carter’s faces (well, shocked from Carter is more like “mildly gassy”, but whatever) there is going to be even more scrambling next week as they figure out how to work without Jeff. Even if Jeff wasn’t in control of the game, he was definitely in control of a good portion of that side’s strategy, and someone is going to have to do some serious thinking to compete with the likes of the suddenly-savvy Lisa. 

Stray observations:

  • Malcolm did not play his idol. Very interesting.
  • Lisa was a mess at the beginning of the game, but she is great fun to watch now. She’s smart, nice, logical, and straightforward: all things that will likely spell her doom. But you all know I am terrible at Survivor prognostications. This has been proven.
  • The reward sequence was very pleasant to watch. It’s nice once in a while to see a group of players who are having fun and actually enjoying each other’s company, without letting the game get in the way.
  • Abi: Still the worst. Even Pete admits he’s just keeping her around so he can beat her in the final three.
  • I see you, editors, intercutting footage of Lisa backstabbing Malcolm with a spider stalking some prey. Well played.
  • Carter, to Jeff: “I thought they were sending you home tonight.” Oh, Carter.
  • Probst: “I’ve got to say, I can’t think of a more complicated or entertaining Tribal Council ever in my time of being at Tribal.”
  • Jeff’s charming exit message: “You know what pisses me off? Is I think I made about $60 million playing baseball, and I want this frickin' million dollars in this game, and it’s not even a million bucks! It’s 600 grand by the time Obama takes it. I’m a game seven World Series loser. I played in the biggest games in the world and the worst games in the world, but this just sucks.”

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