As this season of Survivor progresses and the show keeps delivering top-notch episodes, it becomes clearer that what was missing in previous, less successful seasons was that nebulous thing called casting chemistry. Survivor is consistently good at casting characters—as the wide array of returning players and the public’s continued interest in their return will attest—but getting a well-rounded, interesting cast is a much more difficult task. This season has gone through several different iterations, reorganizing itself each time into something more interesting than what came before. All of this comes down to characters and the way those characters interact.
The biggest character these past few episodes has been Lisa, a bit of celebrity stunt casting that honestly looked like a bust at first. But as the game has gone on, Lisa has become more confident and in turn is playing one of the more compelling games I’ve seen. Her game is different because once she decided to start playing, almost all of her actions have been carried out right out in the open. If Lisa has a feeling, she expresses it. If she has a plan, she tells people. It would seem like her big move—laid out in perfect detail at last week’s bananas Tribal Council—would have gotten her on someone’s chopping block. Instead, both sides recognize her as the swing vote she is, and both spend the entire episode attempting to get her on their side.
The problem with her as the swing vote is that Lisa is in the midst of a Survivor mid-game crisis: Does she stick with her original Tandang alliance and be loyal, or does she team up with Kalabaw to take them out? Kalabaw has a pretty decent argument in the fact that Abi is a horrible human being who doubts Lisa’s loyalty at every turn, and that the core of Tandang is actually Abi, Pete, and Artis, with her and Skupin far on the outside. Penner even goes after Lisa’s inner self to try to secure her vote, ingeniously using Lisa’s own insecurities and her knowledge of how Survivor viewers judge players to tell her that switching allegiances right now might be her best bet. When Lisa tries to make amends for her actions to Tandang and Abi straight-up treats her horribly, it seems even more likely that Lisa might flip and join the Kalabaw folks to vote out a Tandang member.
Which is why it’s so interesting that when Artis is in fact voted out—a safety vote because Kalabaw rightly figures Abi would never use her idol on him—it isn’t Lisa’s vote that seals his fate, but Skupin’s. Lisa was treated so much like the swing throughout the episode because although she and Skupin are supposedly playing together, she’s the one who appears to be making all the strategy calls. She’s the one who understands the game so well, and she’s the one who is in the middle of an interesting personal evolution as well as a game evolution. She’s a great character to watch, so Skupin almost gets pushed to the side, with the editing making it seem like he’ll vote however Lisa does. In fact, he went rogue, and potentially put the first nail in the coffin of the Abi, Pete, and Artis three.
If this truly is the beginning of the end for the Tandang three, I have a feeling Pete is going to look back at his time on the island and realize that his biggest mistake was hooking his wagon to the toxic Abi. Sure, she’s an easy bet to take to the final three, as no one would ever vote for her, but she’s such a raging idiot that she’ll take down her whole alliance before she ever gets to that point. Both Pete and Artis recognize Abi’s faults, with Artis nailing it when he says she thinks she’s so smart in the game when actually, she has no idea what’s going on at all. Abi’s issue seems to be toxic narcissism with a side order of paranoia, where the world revolves around her and everyone whom she deems not worthy is out to get her, whether they actually are or not. This paranoia (fueled by Pete) was the downfall of her relationship with RC, and it poisoned her relationship with Lisa as well. There’s no art to her game. She can’t scheme and be nice to someone’s face while stabbing them in the back; it’s all bullying and shunning to those that are less important than her. It’s unpleasant to watch, but it adds an interesting dynamic to the tribe nonetheless.
Making up for Abi’s horrible personality is the personality of, well, everyone else. This is exemplified by Kalabaw’s reaction to Lisa’s betrayal, with even Malcolm instantly forgiving her for exposing his idol, understanding it was all part of the game. Yes, Kalabaw has a strategic reason for doing this, but it also feels genuine; no one is badmouthing Lisa behind her back while attempting to get her vote to her face. Like Lisa said, it comes down to maturity, and that maturity in conjunction with a tribe of people who are interested in actually playing this game is making this season a pleasure to watch.
- The reward challenge was very nice, but couldn’t the producers have at least let the contestants wash the mud off themselves before going to see the people in the village? It’s only polite.
- Malcolm used to be an elementary school teacher in Micronesia? The world swoons.
- This is my first time seeing Penner play, and he is a joy to watch. His therapy session with Lisa was fantastic. Though his vote last week turned out to be a hate vote and not a strategy vote, which was kind of strange? He must have been very far out of the loop.
- No one picked Abi for the reward challenge. Justice.