Recap: ‘Survivor: Philippines’ – ‘Little Miss Perfect’

Pre-credit sequence. I still don’t understand Jonathan Penner’s vote from last week’s wacky finale. Let’s see if we get an explanation as Dangrayne returns from booting Jeff Kent. Mike Skupin is the first to speak, calling it Tribal Council History, raving at Blair Warner stepping in to rescue him. Abi, though, is pissed off at everybody, sarcastically thanking Skupin for voting against her. He didn’t. Penner, if you’ll recall, did vote against Abi, and he doesn’t deny it, saying he doesn’t like to be kept in the dark on Plan Bs. Penner is, in fact, still trying to make sense of the overall vote. HAHA. We spent all that time last week trying to make sense of Penner’s potentially passive aggressive vote to get Jeff Kent out? Nope. It turns out that he just didn’t know the play. “So I’m the one who blew it by not voting for Pete?” Penner asks Man-Dana. He genuinely has no clue if he made a horrible mistake. That’s really hilarious and I guess I appreciate his candor. Meanwhile, Blair Warner and Malcolm make bygones, though Blair Warner is feeling like in lying and betraying and breaking promises, she did herself a disservice. “You’re just amazing,” Blair tells Malcolm, thanking him for being magnanimous. “It’s bigger than me,” Blair Warner says of “Survivor.” 
When the world never seems to be living up to your dreams  it’s time you started finding out what everything is all about.  Penner looks at the lay of the island and he knows that if the five original Tandangs stick together, he’s out next. He knows that his choices are winning Immunity, or continuing to exploit the Tandang cracks. He quickly IDs the two parents trying to play “an almost Christian game” and puts them in opposition to the other three who are playing “the bully game.” So, naturally, he goes to the Christian side first, trying to reassure and coddle Blair Warner, letting her know that she did nothing wrong at Tribal Council. Penner shows understanding for Blair Warner’s upbringing and her psychology, bringing her to tears. Who said Denise was the only therapist out here? Penner’s like a topless Dr. Phil. Blair Warner has spent too long performing and too long trying to please people, trying to be liked. Sniffle. It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault! SOB!!! “My whole life has been based on public perception,” Blair Warner says. She just wants to be loved, y’all. “If I do the wrong thing, will I still be OK?” she muses. 
Dig your own hole. From tears to Reward Challenge. For the challenge, they’ll be divided in two teams. Four players have to go through two muddy trenches, crawl through rice and collect balls. When the calls are collected, they have to be tossed into a basket. Want to know what they’re playing for? The winning team goes to a local village, where they’ll serve as “Survivor” ambassadors, bringing toys and school supplies from Target’s discount rack to the locals. In return, they’ll get a feast. Score! It’s Skupin/Artis/Pete/Blair against Penner/Malcolm/Denise/Man-Dana. “But wait…” you’re saying, “There are NINE players left, right?” Well, the players picked teams and Abi wasn’t picked. I’d say, “Poor Abi,” but screw that. That’s hilarious, actually. Probst is practically giddy at Abi’s ostracism. Penner has an interesting strategy in which he digs up all of the bags of balls for his team, sacrificing time on his own leg, but presumably setting things up for a comeback. Indeed, seconds later, Man-Dana zips ahead of Blair Warner and gives his team a lead. Suddenly, it’s a rout and Probst hails Penner as a hero, repeated. Team Penner has a big lead at ball-tossing, but will it be enough? Team Penner is up 6-0 by the time Team Skupin starts tossing. Team Skupin as a bit of a comeback, but Team Penner wins reward. They get to be philanthropic and well-fed. Plus, they get the biggest Reward of all: Extra time away from Abi.
In which we learn that service to the global community can be more nourishing than tending bar. The ambassadors arrive at what is actually a relatively nice village, where they natives are nicely dressed, have colorful votes and a cadre of cute children. Many of them speak English and those who don’t speak English are happy to learn basic words from Penner. “It seems to be the happiest community I’ve ever walked into,” says Penner, who plays a pinata game to the great joy of the children. Also performing spectacularly with the kids with Malcolm, who you may recall spent a year teaching kids in Micronesia. Malcolm finds making children happy to be far more fulfilling than working as a bartender and he begins to doubt his life-path. As well he should. And the buffet spread is spectacular, with shrimp and chicken and pork and shellfish. I’m assuming that “Survivor” chipped in the food as well. The quartet bonds over mistreatment of Skupin and Blair Warner, as they plot their ongoing strategy.
In which Abi exhibits drawbacks to her social game. Back at camp, Pete and Artis are pissed off. Pete correctly understands that it’s ironic that he now has to make nice with Skupin and Blair Warner. Pete and Abi agree that Penner goes out next, but Abi has to make sure that she says mean things to Blair Warner, just because Abi doesn’t understand how to treat anybody like a human. “I think you’re just gullible. I think you’re just naive,” Abi tells Blair Warner. “She just thinks she knows so much about the game and so much about people in general. I don’t know who told her that, but she just needs to shut up,” says Artis, suddenly likable for the first time in weeks. Blair Warner had been hoping that at least she’d get to reteam with her Tandang chums, but she’s not feeling very loving towards Abi and she’s split between her desire to go elsewhere and her previous speech about loyalty. Once again, Blair Warner is worried about how everything looks from the outside. Think about yourself, Blair!
Not a good Immunity Challenge. Immunity is back up for grabs. For this challenge, they’ll each balance a paddle on a stand and they have to roll six balls to the end of the paddle and keep them in six dimples. This looks really, really hard. Just landing one ball is hard enough. Skupin gets out to the early lead and soon as four balls, with Pete joining him. Skupin wins Immunity, landing six balls when several of his rivals never got one. Artis is looking forward to getting Penner out and coming back to camp and taking a deep breath.
Fulcrum: It’s more than just a villainous espionage organization from “Chuck.” Skupin has a big smile as he returns. Abi wishes she could be voting Skupin out, because he’s really annoying. God, Abi’s just the worst person ever. She literally bashes a coconut into Skupin’s head by “accident.” Abi’s paranoid about Blair Warner and Skupin flipping. Will that happen? Denise, Man-Dana and Malcolm decide that Abi might do something wacky like give Immunity to Pete, so they decide that voting Artis out would be an easy play. The plan hinges on swaying Skupin and Blair Warner. So Penner sits down in the shallows with Blair Warner and he spins her a yarn about how “Survivor” is a story and how she has the choice of how she wants the story to play out. Everything he says is correct. “Man, my head is spinning. I still want to be loyal. But is that the Old Lisa?” Blair Warner wonders. “You might be the fulcrum character,” Penner tells Blair Warner about the season’s narrative. Then Penner goes to Skupin to try to sway his loyalties, telling him that he’s the fulcrum. Who knew that Penner’s luxury item — Remember luxury items? — was a Word-of-the-Day calendar? Skupin wants to play the game with Blair Warner and it’s important to him that she’s with him, so they go out to the water and chat. They waffle and hem and haw about their options and about perceptions of loyalty. 

Tribal Council. RC and Jeff Kent arrive in their Jury seats. Blair Warner says that the fallout from last week’s Tribal Council was all internal, but everybody showed grace to her. “Did you show grace to Lisa as well?” Probst asks Abi pointedly. “Did I show grace to you as well?” Human Slime Abi asks Lisa. Rather than saying, “Oh, Hell’s No,” Blair Warner says diplomatically that she received more grace from the people against her than her so-called allies. Abi makes a lemon face and only says, “It’s interesting.” “I felt like I had shown grace to her as well,” Abi grumbles cluelessly. Artis says that it’s supposed to play out as Tandang Against The World. Denise protests that the game is all about big moves. Artis acknowledges he isn’t feeling totally comfortable and safe. Penner says something else about “fulcrum votes.” Skupin loved Blair Warner’s move. “My life is bigger than this game and this game is bigger than me,” Blair Warner says, vowing that this game will change her forever. Penner and Denise hope the numbers have shifted. Abi questions Blair Warner’s loyalty. OK. If Blair Warner sticks with Tandang, I’m losing all respect for her and for the entire series run of “Facts of Life.”
The Vote. Pete writes Penner’s name down, with some respect. Denise writes  Artis’ name down. None of the Immunity Idols are played. Probst tallies: Artis. Penner. Artis. Penner. Penner. Penner. [Malcolm rolls his eyes.] Artis. Artis. [Penner gulps.] ARTIS. [Penner looks skyward. Skupin looks skyward. Abi sucks both of her lips deep inside her face. RC smiles. Denise smirks. This may be the most diverse set of reactions to any eviction in “Survivor” history.] “Well played to Penner,” says a gracious Artis. 
Bottom Line. Wow. So Skupin flipped and took out Artis solo, with Blair Warner voting Penner out. Blair Warner could have made the argument that her chances of winning are better if she sticks with the people everybody hates. But that’s not the argument she made. She just didn’t feel comfortable being disloyal to her original tribe, but since Skupin had jumped ship, that means she decided to be loyal to Artis, Pete and Abi. I’m afraid I can’t respect that as gameplay, no matter how fun and exciting Blair Warner made last week’s episode. Which of those people did Blair Warner think would take her to the end? Because it’s not like she was going to be winning Individual Immunities. No. This was just bad “Survivor” strategy from a bad “Survivor” player. But it made for yet another very solid episode of “Survivor: Philippines.” Penner was masterful, even if his being masterful didn’t sway Blair Warner. It definitely won Reward and it made things interesting. I liked the Reward challenge and the Reward a lot and I like the way the “Survivor” editors have decided to make Abi into possibly the most loathsome player in “Survivor” history. I’m not saying she’s the biggest villain in “Survivor” history, because that would be insane, but she may be the most repellent player who simultaneously contributed absolutely nothing by way of strategy or physicality. I’m watching episodes trying to think up the most backstabbing, embarrassing, humiliating ways for her to go home. I think it would involve Pete making a deal with the Kalabaws to convince Abi to give him the Idol. It wouldn’t be enough for her just to give him the Idol to save him, because that would be altruistic. Pete would have to turn on her as well. And then RC would have to be encouraged to do a happy dance.
Who’s got a better humiliation elimination for Abi? And what’d you think of this week’s episode? Where do you stand on Blair Warner?