Pre-credit sequence. Team Penner returns to camp. Suddenly, Katie has gone from a position of power atop an all-female alliance to “the bottom of the totem pole.” “Compared to these big strong men, I’m looking like the weakest link,” Katie says, vowing to work her magic. That magic begins with Katie telling Denise about the possibility of Penner having an Idol. She’s turning her powers against Penner in the hopes of getting one step closer to the Merge.
Pigeons eat raw rice. They explode. Off to Team Skupin. They’re running low on rice. How is that possible? “What have y’all been doing?” Malcolm asks. Apparently, Skupin has been eating the rice dry. “Mike makes horrible decisions. He’s the most useless player who’s ever been returned to ‘Survivor,'” Mike says. Artis agrees that with the addition of Malcolm, Skupin has become expendable.
Mud Bowl. Reward time. Want to know what they’re playing for? They’re going to a dry hut for a big ol’ picnic. They all agree it’s worth playing for. I haven’t eaten dinner tonight and I also agree that it’s worth playing for. For this challenge, Team Skupin has to set out two players and it has to be a man and a woman, meaning RC and Artis are sitting. The teams have to play in the mud, pushing around what appears to be a giant wicker ball. The bees! The bees! Nobody’s moving the ball, but everybody’s tackling everybody else. It’s a free-for-all with precious little strategy. “This is a ‘Survivor’ challenge,” Jeff says, astutely. But is it a GOOD “Survivor” challenge, Jeff? Things are getting aggressive. And then they’re getting disturbing. Penner goes between Skupin’s legs to try getting a grasp on the ball. Skupin responds by sitting on Penner’s head and squishing it into the mud. “This is like heaven,” Skupin says. “Well. Yeah. It’s like something,” Penner agrees. For a long editing montage of fades, nothing happens. In fact, it’s an hour later and nobody has moved. Finally it’s just Penner and Skupin standing on opposite sides of a ball. A trade his thrown out: Team Skupin’s hypothetical sandwiches for Team Penner’s very real rice. Artis wants no part of this trade. What sense does this make for Team Penner? Why not just play? Penner’s vowing he can catch fish. Skupin and Pete are in favor of the deal. Probst calls the challenge. “Y’all are just not seeing the big picture,” Artis says. Jeff Kent doesn’t seem like such a big fan of this trade either. I’m so confused by why this occurred. Why would you not ATTEMPT to play this game?
A real nice clambake. Picnic time! There are brownies. They look delicious. The sandwiches also look fantastic. “Hopefully this will give us some kind of advantage, some kind of momentum,” Man-Dana says. “The fact that we just don’t have rice is probably going to wear on us in a couple days. Off to the side are envelopes with each other their names. They’re letters from home. After only 13 days? This is all so strange. Everybody cries. Even Jeff Kent cries. Penner feels vindication for his bizarro decision.
Blair Warner picks up the rice in the church where the wedding has been. Back at Tandang, Artis is still shaking his head. “It feels brutal,” Artis says. Artis, it turns out, thinks that Penner made a brilliant move and he tells Malcolm as much. Artis is pissed off at the unilateral decision made by Skupin and abetted by RC. It turned out that Team Jeff Kent had no more rice than they had before, but at least they’ve doubled their meager supply. But is that enough? Abi says that it will go down as one of the dumbest moments in “Survivor,” complaining that Team Jeff Kent used psychology. Blair Warner suggests that this was a lose-lose situation. “We never come back from a challenge and are happy,” RC says, calling the situation at camp “nasty.” “There was no winning that challenge,” Skupin says. How would you know, Skupin? You just wanted more dry rice.
Jonathan Penner’s omakase. Jonathan Penner is prepared to fish. He begins by going after what is apparently a familiar stingray, which flees successfully. Yesterday, when he was enjoying his sandwiches, Man-Dana was overjoyed with his tribe’s trade, but he’s no longer pleased. “To me, it was a pretty risky deal,” Man-Dana says now. “I don’t know if my body can last through this game,” Man-Dana whines. Meanwhile, Penner is off with a spear and a mask. Will he return with fish? Apparently not. He comes back with a couple tiny guppies. “Good Lord,” says an unimpressed Katie, as Penner passes around slivers of quasi-sushi. The role of provider is weighing heavily on Penner, especially Man-Dana’s complaints. Remember that momentum that they were going to get from the sandwiches and brownies? Apparently it was not a long-term momentum, because Team Jeff Kent looks ready to quit.
Failure to launch. Immunity is back up for grabs. In the challenge, one player from each side will launch balls and everybody else will stand in the field catching. Skupin sits out and Abi also sits out, earning Probst’s perfunctory mockery. Blair Warner and Denise are ball-launching and Penner gets his tribe off to a quick 1-0 lead, but RC and Pete push Team Skupin into a fast lead. A bunch of stuff happens and it’s soon 4-4, with Malcolm proving particularly impressive. Malcolm makes the final catch, scoring on Jeff Kent. Team Skupin wins Immunity. Probst deifies Malcolm. And Team Jeff Kent returns to camp looking crushed.
As they said in “Signs” … Swing away! Misery at Camp Penner. Jeff Kent is pointing at least some of the blame at Man-Dana, who is putting the blame on Katie. But Jeff Kent’s concern is that taking Penner to the Merge might be a worse idea and Man-Dana has no spine whatsoever, so he’s willing to vote Penner. “I think we need to pull the Penner Punch,” Jeff Kent tells Man-Dana, who promptly turns around and asks Penner, “What do you want to do, Katie or Penner?” This guy is a huge waste of space on every imaginable level, Carter is. Penner wants Katie out, but without prompting, they tell Katie that the vote is against Denise. There’s a lot of really flimsy strategy going on and Katie isn’t fooled for a second and she’s happy as a clam to vote Penner out. “I’m so confused right now, dude,” Carter tells Jeff Kent. This is astoundingly pathetic. “Which way you wanna swing?” Jeff Kent asks Carter. “You don’t know if you’re going to strike out or hit a home run,” Jeff Kent adds. Yes. You played baseball, Jeff Kent.
Tribal Council. Denise and Katie both begin Tribal Council by saying they feel like they’re in trouble. Denise says it could be a “Last one hired, first one fired” situation. “Because I’m the other girl,” Katie says for why she’d be voted out. Katie speaks to her loyalty. Probst asks Penner why he isn’t concerned about a blindside, so Penner explains that he has to give the impression of confidence. “Everyone one of these votes going forward is gonna hurt,” Jeff Kent says, promising that there won’t be a vote that isn’t a blindside. This doesn’t tip Penner off to anything and he even says that he’d appreciate the gameplay of a blindside against him. “This game sucks, Jeff,” Jeff Kent tells Probst, who bargains him down to “complicated.” Katie vows to stick with her word, no matter what. “Nobody wants to betray anybody and nobody wants to feel betrayed,” Penner explains and he appreciates, for the second time, his admiration for any decision to blindside him again. “This is great drama,” Probst says, hopefully.
The vote. “Good-bye my cuddle-bear,” Katie says, writing down Penner’s name. Penner writes Katie’s name and doesn’t mention cuddling. The offer is made, but Penner doesn’t play his Idol. The tally: Katie. Penner. Katie. KATIE. That’s it for Katie. “I got blindsided. It’s not a good feeling,” says Katie, who tells us that the game is nothing like we think it is on TV.
Bottom Line. If your favorite part of “Survivor” is the “If I were in the same circumstances, how would I respond?” aspect of things, then Wednesday’s episode was probably your favorite of the season. Right? The episode was all hypotheticals and even if you happen to believe that everybody did the wrong thing and then responded to the decisions they’d made by making even stranger decisions, there was an awful lot of “Choose Your Own Adventure” fun. So I guess you have to answer the questions…
Bottom Line II – Would you have made the Reward Trade? Me? I don’t think I would. Would I give up my remaining rice for sandwiches and brownies? Yes, but only if I knew with absolutely, iron-clad, 100 percent certainty that somebody in my tribe was willing, able and capable of being a provider of regular protein. Like if I have Ozzy on my tribe? Yes. I made that deal in a second. Sure. Take my carbs. I’ll just eat the bounty-from-the-sea delivered by Aquaman. But it was obvious that despite the fishing gear, nobody at Team Jeff Kent had proven their ability to be a provider and so it was all just on faith that Jonathan Penner would be able to bring home the seafood-bacon. I’m not just gonna give up my reliable food source to say, “Catching fish looks easy on TV.” Not a chance. Because if it isn’t easy, what are you left with? In “Survivor,” rice is the sure thing. It’s what they gave players when it became clear that they were no fun to watch without it. So you don’t give up rice for Imaginary Food. However, on the other side, do I give up my chance for Reward for the other team’s rice? This may sound counter-intuitive after what I just wrote, but… No. Not a chance. Not without knowing EXACTLY how much rice I’m getting in return. Because if I were to volunteer to trade my rice for sandwiches, you know the only circumstance I’d do it in? If I had barely any rice. Team Jeff Kent *could* have had 10 grains of rice and Mike Skupin had no way of knowing that. The chance to get hosed is too great and if I’m Team Skupin, why don’t I put my faith in Pete and Malcolm as the two younger, strongest Alpha Males in the game and assume that in an endurance competition, we can win? I’d come far closer to taking Team Skupin’s side of the deal, mind you. They guaranteed eating for multiple days. Team Penner only guaranteed a sugar rush. I have no clue why Artis was so convinced Penner’s move was “brilliant,” unless he assumed that Penner wouldn’t do what he did without knowing he could catch fish.
Bottom Line III – Would you have blindsided Jonathan Penner? You’ve got a guy with an Idol. He’s astoundingly cocky that nobody’s going to vote him out. He practically begs you to blindside him. And instead you take Katie out? That’s… an interesting strategy. Man-Dana made an OK point that post-Merge Penner will have a big target on his back. But will he really? Yeah, nobody wants to reward a returning player, but Penner’s not a huge threat physically. He’s OK at stuff, but you’re never going to say, “If we don’t get Penner out now, we’re never going to get him out,” which allows him to coast with the Idol in his pocket. Voting Katie out protects a four-person alliance, which isn’t a bad idea, but why would you think a four-person alliance would have any value if you’re suddenly three-down with a Merge looming in the fairly near future? And you’re three down knowing that even if you get rid of Katie, you’ve still got Carter’s weakness keeping you down. I’m not saying I know what the right answer is, but I do think it was an interesting choice. They’re a stronger tribe with this choice, but a stronger tribe to what end?
Thoughts? Good episode? Good decisions? Etc?