You may recall in our first Survivor:Filippines recap that we related a story about a friend asking us if and how Survivor can possibly still be entertaining after so many seasons, and we noted that despite over a decade of challenges and Tribal Councils and blindsides, the show manages to somehow, incredibly, keep offering something we’ve never seen before. And this week’s episode was yet another example of that, and it kind of left our jaw on the ground (just COVERED in mud).
It all unfolds at the Reward Challenge (and boy are we happy that, with the three tribes whittled down to two, we’ve narrowed the focus and returned to separate Reward and Immunity Challenges). The challenge begins promisingly enough, first with our first glimpse Jeff Probst, always a delight, and second with the introduction of the challenge course, which is essentially a single-ball version of American Gladiators’ Atlasphere. However, unlike his namesake, Michael “Two Skupes” Skupin, is not as successful in navigating the field as legendary Gladiator champion Wesley “Two Scooops” Berry. Pretty soon, it just turns into a mud stalemate.
And here’s where things get interesting. First, Penner punches Skupin in the nuts. Then, after an hour and still not a single goal scored (in a best of three no less) Penner continues to make things uncomfortable by lawyering up and offering a plea bargain. His Kabbalah Tribe will trade Skupes and the Lt. Dan Tribe all of their remaining rice for the victory and the spoils, a catered lunch. To Skupes, who has been eating his tribe’s rice dry – with no regard for the fact that if there’s a live bird in his stomach that eats that dry rice then his whole midsection is liable to explode – this sounds like a fair deal: give a man a turkey, bacon, avocado hoagie, he eats for an afternoon; give a man the rest of your rice, he eats for like two days. And thus, the negotiation begins. And this was really, really weird. And it only got weirder when Howie Mandel showed up to broker the talks.
(and then he got all handsy and things got even weirder)
There were certainly arguments on both sides to make this deal. For Kabbalah, they had just lost Dana and Dawson, and Aaron Carter was starting to wither away from starvation, so a good meal and the good vibes that come with it could be just what a lethargic tribe needs. On the other hand, Lt. Dan was out of rice, and with their numbers advantage it makes more sense to think about long-term nourishment versus short-term satisfaction, so they could go home, save their energy, and come back and kick-ass in the more important Immunity Challenge. If they chose to turn down the deal and then proceeded to lose the challenge, they could go home with nothing, so why not guarantee yourself some kind of victory, especially after an hour in the mud?
So, after weighing those options, both tribes agree to the deal (although it didn’t seem to pass with a majority vote, perhaps not even a plurality, judging from the number of players who seemed to disown the bargain afterwards). And it’s a win-win, everybody goes home with something and no one has to suffer the indignity of a defeat or risk even greater physical exhaustion. But here’s the thing: it’s really a lose-lose. Because in this game, with all its emotional, all its momentum shifts, anytime you don’t play to the final whistle, and anytime your make a compromise, there’s always some kind of hidden cost. For the Lt. Dan tribe it’s finding out that they’ve inherited only a rather pitiful amount of rice from Kabbalah, not much more than they had, and probably not enough to sustain them for any great length. For Kabbalah, it’s the starvation that will kick in once the physical and psychological fuel provided by the sandwiches wear off. And for both teams, perhaps most critically, it’s the social discord that this kind of deal engenders. When you lose, you can still feel that you gave it all, that you didn’t settle. But neither tribe feels that way here, and now there’s distrust and resentment among the tribemates. What was a decision that Skupin made in hopes of helping his team, of being a provider, may turn out to divide the tribe, to tear them apart socially while keeping them intact physically. So remember, in Survivor, as in life, you never get anything for free.
[And we have to commend Probst on the absolutely flawless way he handled this turn of events. The guy is not just excelling in the role of reality show host, he’s redefining it. Once day, if there’s any justice in the world, they’ll be handing out the Jeff Probst Award for Excellence in Hosting and Wearing Denim.]
Another reason why you don’t make deals is that you never know what twists may await, you may get more (or less) than you bargained for. In this case, Kabbalah not only gets a free lunch and a shower, but they also receive a welcome surprise: letters from home. One has to wonder if Lt. Dan knew that correspondence from their loved ones was also up for grabs, would they have made that same deal. Sometimes players just need something to play for, and often it’s a message from home that gives them that. Inspiration and motivation can be infinitely more valuable in this game then nutrition. For example, Jeff receives a letter from his family, former San Francisco Giants first baseman JT Snow, reminding him to stay strong and check his mustache for ticks. Penner’s family, however, ruins everything and sends him some loan applications to review.
Let’s check in with Jeff and his bum knee:
Meanwhile, Abi-Maria is terrible. We don’t have any video for this, so just trust us. She’s terrible.
Now that the show has moved back to a two-challenge per episode format you may be concerned that one or both of the challenges would suffer, that they’re spread too thin. Well, for one week at least, the challenge producers came through, delivering another excellent physical challenge that incorporates two of our favorite things: slingshots and modified lacrosse sticks. Blair, however, probably wasn’t so thrilled about the slingshot element:
On the other hand, this challenge is right up Jeff Kent’s alley, proving that although he was known for his offensive prowess he’s no slouch in the field either.
Throw it around the horn, Jeff!
But, in the end, Jeff Kent is too smart (and not that good of a fielder) to catch every ball and win the challenge for his tribe and in the process reveal that he’s obviously a former major league baseball player. So what does he do? E-4. That’s right, he misses the game winning ball and lets it fall into Malcolm’s net, handing a walk-off victory to the Lt. Dan tribe. It was just like he was a Met again.
But despite Kent reverting to his Mets days and snaring defeat from the jaws of victory, he can’t be held accountable for his tribe’s loss. That mantle goes either to Carter, who was useless in the challenge, getting smoked over and over again by Malcolm, or Katie, who has been useless for the whole competition (save for her pretty face). For us, though, it was Carter who was the greater offender, quitting over a tummy ache last week only to come back in this episode and complain incessantly about how hungry he is. Little Sandy Duncan look-alike needs to toughen up.
But wait! There’s another option: Penner. Yes, Jeff Kent considers that perhaps this would be an opportune time to get rid of that ol’ mensch who has somehow gotten ahold of a PowerBar (anyone else spot that? Was that his luxury item?). And, you know what, we have to admit that we don’t hate this idea, even though it came from Jeff Kent. Why do we begrudgingly agree with the Jeff Kent even though it means voting out a strong player on a depleted, reeling tribe? Because a) Penner has an idol and they’ll only get so many chances to blindside him, and b) he’s playing this game too free and easy, with too much confidence and too much success. Yes, if and when the Kabbalah tribe members make it to the merge they’ll want a strong core to see them through if they harbor any hopes of making it to the end. But we’re not sure Penner is that guy. The way he so easily negotiated a deal with Skupin at the Reward Challenge indicates to us that his is a guy who’s out there to wheel and deal and look over legal briefs and to whom loyalty will mean very little in the end. This is a guy who is now playing this game for the third time, and it shows. As we’ve mentioned before, you can’t underestimate how much that helps, how much of an advantage prior experience is. You think you want to keep around a veteran for just a little while, just to use him, just to keep the bullseye off your back, and the next thing you know CBS This Morning is handing Jonathan Penner a check.
And here we want to add something that we should have included when we were doing our player odds last week. What we say about Penner also goes for Skupin. Sure, Skupin has looked accident prone and clueless and less intimating than we remembered from the Outback. But it’s highly worth mentioning that in his two seasons of Survivor Skupes has only gone to two Tribal Councils. Just two. You can call it luck, and you can call it good fortune. And that certainly plays a part. But, at the same time, the numbers don’t lie.
Jeff Kent, however, also doesn’t lie and decides to maintain his alliance and tribe strength (and four-handed handshake) and casts his vote for Katie, telling Probst, “You know where I’m coming from, five-time all-star and all-time leader in home runs among second basemen…I mean, just a regular dude from Texas who’s not used to high pressure situations AT ALL. Like, if we had to vote someone out when I was on the San Francisco Giants Major League Baseball Club it would have been totally easy: Benito Santiago. But this game is HARD. See? I’m a totally regular dude.” We question the decision to not strike the Penner while the iron’s hot, but perhaps, learning from his experience with Barry Bonds, this is just an example of Jeff Kent keeping his friends close, and his enemies closer.
ALWAYS REMEMBER, KATIE, LOOSE FORMER MISS DELAWARES SINK SHIPS.
But don’t cry for Katie, she gets to return to the Promised Land:
And now the A-B-C of the week:
Always Be Competing
In effect, both tribes gave up in the Reward Challenge, both threw in the towel. If we learned anything from Rocky it’s that you never, ever quit, even if it means letting Apollo be murdered by Ivan Drago. There’s no telling if the deal made between Penner and Skupin will have any effect beyond this week. If the tribes merge and the rice becomes communal feed and the allegiances shift, then the Treaty of the Filippines has no longterm repercussions. But if both tribes continue to go hungry, that handshake deal, whether four-finger or five, may come back to haunt all of them.