Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“I’m trying to choose my battles carefully. I’m trying to stay one step ahead of the competition.”
– Jonathan Penner, Survivor: Cook Islands
I hate to say it, but I was bored. After two explosive episodes of backstabs and blindsides, Wednesday’s Survivor hit a wall. We spent 44 minutes watching Lisa Whelchel – who now has West Nile virus – wring her hands and moan about loyalty and trust. Hey CBS, Lifetime called. They want their original movie back!
Even worse, in what should have been the climax of One Woman’s Emotional Journey from Outcast to Outlaw, Lisa sticks with the Tandang Alliance anyway! It’s Skupin who switches sides and casts the deciding vote against Artis. Does anybody else feel like we missed something big?
Thank God we had Jonathan Penner on hand to puncture the melodrama. Okay, Penner admits he basically had no idea what was going on at last week’s tribal council. But this week, he redefines what it means to scramble as he goes scuba-diving in the depths of Lisa’s psyche in an effort to switch her vote. He addresses Lisa’s lifelong need to please and, in one brilliant maneuver, asks her what she thinks viewers back home will want her to do. What a perfect question to put to a former TV star.
Too bad it doesn’t work. You have to wonder if part of Lisa’s fear of switching is because she wants to look good to the viewers.
“I made this grand stand at tribal council for loyalty to Tandang to keep Skupin,” she says. “So to flip over to Kalabaw looks on the outside really awful.”
Survivor contestants are always trying to gauge how their actions will look on television – at least the self-aware ones are. It’s what makes someone like Russell so theatrical. You can imagine how it might inhibit a former child star with a need to please.
And what else might be keeping Lisa in line? I was planning on awarding Abi an anti-Fishy for the way in which she berates and belittles Lisa. “I think you’re just gullible. I think you’re just naïve,” Abi says. What 49-year-old wants to hear a 32-year-old call her naïve? Well, Lisa Whelchel, apparently. Based on Lisa’s vote, Abi’s strategy is working. Who am I to argue with results?
So Penner wins this week’s Fishy for convincing Skupin to finally flip on Tandang. Penner’s been up for elimination since the season began. Somehow, he’s still standing.
Special commendation also goes to Denise, who wisely chooses to target Artis, the third in the Tandang Alliance, rather than Pete or Abi. People get so focused on cutting the head off the snake. But what if Boston Rob’s alliance had voted for Danielle instead of Parvati on Heroes vs. Villains? Or if Galu had targeted Mick instead of Russell Hantz on Samoa?
Malcolm also deserves props for how he assuages Lisa after tribal council. “You were playing the game. I was playing the game. It wasn’t personal,” he says. By making her feel better about betraying him, he shows real emotional generosity – and makes himself more appealing than the petulant Tandangers.
And as long as I’m throwing around commendations, Artis also deserves big ups for his gracious final words. Kudos to Carter for always knowing what’s going on. And heck, let’s give the producers credit too for the lovely reward, in which the winning team brought needed supplies to a local village.
It was a great reminder that Survivor isn’t just about 18 cash-hungry people stabbing each other in the back. It’s also a show about adventure, loyalty, personal discovery and many of the best qualities in human nature.
They should have that reward every season. It sure beats shilling for the latest Jack Black movie.