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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: “Hell Hath Frozen Over”

Illustration for article titled Survivor: “Hell Hath Frozen Over”

Just like that, the twists keep coming.

Survivor is having the kind of season that is the exact right mixture of skill and serendipity, with the skill being the great casting, and the serendipity being things beyond the producer’s control, like who wins the immunity challenge. The former is more important to the makeup of the season as a whole, but you can’t have a truly great season without a large dose of the insanity of the latter, and dead-woman-walking Abi’s unexpected immunity win was certainly the kind of insanity the show needed.

Not to give too much credit to the fates for Abi’s win, though, because it was certainly set up a bit by the goodwill (and good smarts) of the producers. There has never been a more obvious choice for the next elimination, so the only way this was going to be even a little bit interesting would be for Abi to win. The catch being Abi is absolutely horrible at challenges, so enter the one thing the producers could do for a semi-hopeless player, the true Survivor equalizer: the auction.

So while everyone else—everyone else who is sitting pretty, game-wise—was bidding hundreds of dollars for cheese, doughnuts, sandwiches, cold fried chicken, and Flintstones-sized veal shanks, Abi was doing the smart thing for once and biding her time. So much so that she blurted “$500!” before Probst even managed to finish telling the group they were bidding on an advantage in the game. The advantage turns out to be legitimately useful for once, allowing her to skip the grueling early rounds of the immunity challenge and sail right to the final three, rested and ready to go.

The funny thing about Abi, though, is that she truly thinks she’s a smart player, so she’s not satisfied with just having an advantage. Instead, she tries to use the advantage as leverage, spinning tales to Malcolm about how she has an additional immunity idol now so everyone needs to be careful if they are all considering voting her out. She even attempts to carry on the charade at the immunity challenge, alluding to secondary messages and dramatically ripping up the advantage message to attempt to put some air of mystery to the whole proceedings. From the look on Probst’s face, it’s clear he had to try very hard to stifle his natural shaming instinct and allow Abi to play out her own little Machiavellian fantasy.

Turns out all of Abi’s attempted schemes didn’t even matter, because Survivor managed to find the one challenge she could actually compete in: Untying Very Small Knots. With the entire tribe openly rooting against her, Abi managed to focus, win, and stay in this game for at least two more days. It seems impossible now to imagine a scenario where she stays beyond that, but that she won an immunity challenge at all is a lesson in how you can never count your chickens in this game, because weird-ass shit is bound to hatch all over the place.


The best part of the episode, however, isn’t Abi’s unlikely victory in the face of certain defeat, but what happens after she wins. With the alliance of six now forced to turn on each other, the foursome of Malcolm, Denise, Lisa, and Skupin solidified last week now becomes the most powerful and important alliance created in the game thus far. Malcolm is secretly happy Abi is staying, because now he can get rid of his biggest threat to winning the cash: Penner. Lisa and her epic conscience simply cannot bear voting Penner out without first telling him all about how she is voting him out, even though she doesn’t want to, and it sends Penner into a highly entertaining whirlwind of disgust and last-minute scheming. He decides to target Skupin and appeal to his more malleable sense of loyalty, and smartly recognizes that his biggest mistake in the game was refusing Lisa and Skupin’s final four deal.

As much as the show tries, it’s pretty obvious once Tribal begins that Penner is toast. Although Penner keeps harping on Malcolm and Denise’s ability to win the game, Skupin has to know if he’s in a head-to-head battle with Penner there’s no way he comes out on top, and he votes accordingly. Probst closes the episode with the declaration that the game is “up for grabs,” but really for the first time that doesn’t feel right. The Malcolm foursome has the clear majority, and if Lisa can’t be convinced to vote off her biggest “heart connection” in the game, it’s hard to see her wavering on someone like Abi or Carter. Still, I’m sure there are plenty of unexpected things to come on the path to the million dollars. This season has been far too good to expect anything else.


Stray observations:

  • Abi stuck her tongue out at Denise behind her back like a 5-year-old. She’s definitely making her case for being a misunderstood person, there.
  • The editing of the immunity challenge was just strange. I understand no one wants to see trivia questions each round, but just quickly recapping who had weight on them was disorienting and pointless, especially since the weight didn’t seem to affect them very much.
  • Every week, Lisa says she is terrible at this game. Which she is, but she’s still got a great chance to make the final three. Way to fail upward, Lisa! Lane Kiffin would be proud.
  • Penner: “Keep your sunny side up, and suck it.”