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Survivor Recap: The Charmer 



Sorry guys. This is how happy I look.

By Kerri Fleming

In order to excel in the game of Survivor, much like life, you've got to learn to play to your strengths. If you're Mike Skupin, that means showing resiliency after suffering any number of minor-but-bloody injuries caused by your own clumsiness. If you're Abi, it means glaring a hole into your opposition until they side with you out of pure fear. And if you're Jonathan Penner, it means charm and lots of it.

We saw plenty of that patented Jonathan Penner goodness this week, complete with amateur therapy sessions, peptalks and good, old-fashioned common sense. If ever someone was on like his (reality show) life depended on it, that someone was Jonathan Penner.

It began back at camp after last week's entertaining, if not thoroughly confusing Tribal Council. Mike is psyched that anti-returning-player Jeff is gone, giving new life to him and Jonathan. Abi is pissed that someone dared write her name down, until Jonathan wastes no time coming clean. "I was pissed!" is his reasoning, although I'm guessing "and you're a crazy and terrifying person to have to sleep next to" was probably the second part of his thought. Only after the fact does Jonathan realize he may have missed the boat in not voting for Pete. Sure, it would have ended in a tie, but he would have had a shot of breaking up the Anger Alliance of Pete, Artis and Abi (along with hangers-on Lisa and Mike).

A nice moment happens when Malcolm forgives Lisa for spilling the beans about his immunity idol. She's grateful and talks about her lone attempt at really playing Survivor the way politicians talk about collegiate drug use - she may have taken a hit, but she never inhaled and she never plans on doing it again. RIP, Cutthroat Lisa. It was fun while it lasted.

The next morning, Jonathan puts his new game plan into action by trying to create a wedge between the Anger Alliance and Mike and Lisa. His first course of action is to attack Lisa with an unplanned counseling session that delves into her childhood performing career and her feelings of inadequacy and needing to please and to be liked. It's a pretty thorough session considering I don't think Lisa spoke more than five words the entire time. Still, he struck a chord with the vulnerable Lisa, whose mind is officially mush when it comes to strategy.

Onto the Reward Challenge, where contestants are divided into two teams of four and each person has to go through a muddy obstacle course and dig up bags of balls before the whole gang has to get all the balls in an elevated basket. Because there's an odd number of teams, they are chosen gym-class dodgeball style that was sadly not televised, and Abi is hilariously the odd person out.

Jonathan - teamed with alliancemates Carter, Denise and Malcolm - goes first for his squad because the man has a plan in mind. Namely, he takes the time to dig up all four bags of balls, which puts him only slightly behind at the beginning and puts his team WAY AHEAD when Pete wastes several minutes finding the third bag for the other team. By the time Artis comes along with the team's last bag, Team Jonathan has already put most of their balls in the basket and ensured victory - in this case, the right to take school supplies and toys to a local village and then eat all of the villagers' food.

The reward created some cute moments and I'm glad of the group who won. All I can picture is Artis glowering at the children while Pete makes snarky comments under his breath and Abi starts yelling at all the women who pose any sort of threat. Actually, I take that back. I really wish the Anger Alliance HAD won that challenge - that sounds kind of awesome.

Anyway, Jonathan has fun joking with the kids, telling them his name is "Normal" and breaking up their version of a pinata. Like Ethan Zohn so many seasons ago, Malcolm has a epiphany that bartending to obnoxious drunk girls isn't nearly as fulfilling as his time teaching children in Micronesia. Wonders never cease. The group even squeezes in some time to strategize about converting Mike and/or Lisa to their side.

Over on Loser Beach, Pete is whiny about losing and whiny about the fact that he's stuck in an alliance with Mike and Lisa. Still, he recognizes that they should be nicer to their alliance outcasts in order to keep them happy, a strategy Abi embraces by angrily confronting Lisa about last week's Tribal Council fiasco and then calling her "gullible" and "naive." I kind of love that everyone who has had an alliance with Abi this season secretly hates her. RC went from gushing about how she and Abi were long-lost best friends to complaining about how Abi yells at her constantly in one episode. And now Pete and Artis react to everything Abi says like you would a racist elderly relative spouting off at the dinner table, with a lot of cringing and wondering how to stop the bleeding.

Onto the Immunity Challenge, where we have not a test of strength or endurance or intelligence or strategy, but rather a test of crap luck combined with some balance abilities. No specific skills required? Sounds like a job for Mike Skupin! Indeed, everyone's favorite bumbling uncle proved to be a savant at balancing six balls on a giant paddle, one of those transferable skills so valuable in today's job market. His victory prompted millions of living room reactions similar to Jonathan's laughing, "What the hell?!"

Back at camp, Abi drowns her sorrows in what looks like an entire bottle of wine, sputters about how much she doesn't like Mike, and then promptly clocks him on the head with a coconut. If one 30-second segment can better define two separate contestants at the same time, I haven't found it. Abi eventually admits that Jonathan is who really needs to go, and she's still worried that Mike or Lisa is going to switch sides.

They will if Jonathan has anything to say about it. First he confronts Lisa, playing into the Survivor storyline: will she want to be remembered as being on the "good" side or the "bad" side? Then, he and Malcolm talk much more plainly to Mike. Mike's first loyalty is to Lisa and the two have a bull session: Lisa wants to switch but she also doesn't want to be seen as disloyal. But how important is it to be loyal to terrible people?

Watching the jury members walk into Tribal Council is beginning to be my favorite part of the show. Between Jonathan ogling a cleaned-up RC for the second week in a row and Jeff looking like he's trying to set Lisa (and maybe President Obama) on fire with his eyes, it's always a barrel of fun. After last week, Tribal wasn't quite as adventurous but it did have its highlights. Like Lisa admitting that her own alliancemates (i.e. Abi) don't have nearly the grace as the folks in the other alliance. And Abi admitting that she's unsure about Lisa's loyalty. And Artis and Pete reacting to Abi's admission with groans while they physically try to restrain themselves from strangling her.

But the votes is where it gets interesting. We know Jonathan will get three, thanks to the Anger Alliance. We know Artis will get four - from Jonathan, Malcolm, Denise and Carter. While Mike and Lisa have been loyal to each other, here is when they separate who ELSE they're loyal to, as Lisa sticks to the Anger Alliance and Mike switches sides to get rid of Artis. In that split second, you see Artis' look of shock, Jonathan's extreme relief, Abi's look of murderous rage (which isn't all that different from how she looked 10 seconds before) and RC's huge grin from the jury.

As great as all that was, I still think the best part was Artis' reaction: not one ounce of anger, pure happiness about playing the game, even a "I couldn't be happier." Really? THIS is the happiest you get? My goodness, Artis, get a puppy or something.

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