by Ian Walker
After Heroes vs. Villains, Survivor was in a bit of slump. Having experienced one of the highest highs in its history, the show struggled with how to follow up a season of that magnitude, and it showed.
The next four seasons are regarded as some of the weakest ever, afflicted with questionable twists (Medallion of Power, Redemption Island) and many castaways whose presence on the show left a lot to be desired. Then came Survivor: Philippines, which righted the Survivor ship in a much more encouraging direction.
The show took one of the trends that came out of that 21-24 stretch, throwing in a handful of returning players amongst a majority of newbies, but instead of going with familiar faces that the fanbase was tired of seeing, the show selected some more deep-cut returnees and threw them in there with an exciting group of new players. Add in the revival of the three tribe format, and the result is a truly resurgent season of Survivor. While the season had already been pretty good at this point, this episode kicked it up into its highest, craziest gear.
Then Penner won immunity, and all hell broke loose.
What followed after Penner’s immunity victory was one of the most electric, and head-spinning sequences of pre-vote scrambling of any episode ever. Penner was the locked boot of the episode, and him becoming untouchable for the vote sent all of the other nine players posturing for their position. What was remarkable was how many times the target changed in the span of six or seven minutes of showtime, as a new voting majority was seemingly formed with every new conversation.
At first, it seemed like the crosshairs were on the only other returning player in the game, Mike Skupin. However, sweet, unassuming Lisa Whelchel had other plans. Viewing Skupin as one of her closest allies, Lisa tried to shift the target onto Malcolm Freberg. She had innocently discovered Malcolm’s hidden idol in the previous episode, but now, armed with that knowledge, she saw Malcolm as the biggest threat in the game.
So Lisa went to Pete Yurkowski with this intel, and this is where things started to go into hyper speed. Pete then decided to confront his best buddy Malcolm to get to the bottom of this idol matter. Malcolm, consumed by nervous energy, vigorously denied ownership of said idol and reaffirmed their bromance, which apparently was good enough for Pete. Struck with panic by the fact that Lisa was gunning for him, Malcolm quickly locked down a plan to vote out Jeff Kent, somebody not a part of the Tandang alliance he had been rolling with the last couple of votes.
Except that Jeff overheard the scheming going on against him, which prompted him to go on the offensive. He quickly pulled together a majority of his own, consisting of himself and his best friend Carter Williams, Malcolm and his closest ally Denise Stapley, Penner, and Skupin, with the intention of taking out Pete (despite what Carter thought). Malcolm, caught in the middle of both sides, decided to seize the opportunity to strike at Tandang and sided with Jeff and his group. Grabbing his idol before heading to tribal, he told us, “this has been the most crazy, last-minute thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.” Perfectly describing all of the break-neck strategizing that just went down.
All of the action continued that night at tribal council. First, Lisa admitted to playing both sides, expressing her desire to keep her original Tandang alliance strong and to get out a big threat like Malcolm. Malcolm then flashed his idol to the entire tribe, threatening to pull the trigger if anybody even attempted to make a move on him. Abi-Maria Gomes, who had somehow stayed out of all of the game talk during the afternoon, was coaxed into revealing her idol for inexplicably no reason. Jeff Kent declared how much fun he was having, as Jeff Probst looked on with awe at how fast the game was being played right at tribal council.
Right before the vote, Penner attempted to corral the votes one last time, making sure everybody was one the same page. But apparently, Penner himself didn’t get the right memo. He cast his vote for Abi, while Jeff, Carter, Denise and Malcolm vote for Pete, thus giving the other five players, all original Tandang, the majority to send Jeff home. Jeff Kent may have walked out of the game feeling pissed off (his famous final words are proof of that) but the viewers were left feeling elated, having just watched one of the most thrilling episodes of the modern Survivor era, and that’s something Obama can’t take away.