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"Survivor: Philippines" Episode 9 Recap

Jeremy Fuster |
November 15, 2012 | 2:08 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Penner talks with Lisa about her life as a child TV star.(CBS)
Penner talks with Lisa about her life as a child TV star.(CBS)

There's no doubt about it now - "Survivor" is back, and it is thanks, in large part, to the  former child star/ sweetheart  that lies at the center of this incredible 25th season.

As Jonathan Penner brilliantly explained to her in tonight's episode, Lisa Whelchel has known life in the public sphere since she was seven years old.  Her life has been defined by the adulation and fame she has gained for her public performances. Yet here she is now, on "Survivor", a cutthroat game in which being nice might win you fans, but it won't necessarily win you the million dollars that you are on the show to compete for.  

But as last week's episode proved, Lisa isn't afraid to play the game of "Survivor". She revealed to the entire tribe the information she gained when she accidentally discovered Malcolm's hidden immunity idol in his bag while drying clothes. By exposing Malcolm's secret, she created chaos within the dominating alliance in the game, causing its leader Pete, to change his plans and vote out Kent instead of Skupin. And as a shocking bonus, she got both Malcolm and Abi to reveal to the entire tribe that they have the immunity idols, changing the structure of the game for good in one of the best Tribal Councils in the history of the show.

Lisa has turned the entire game on its head and has the power to do it whenever she wants, but the amazing thing about this is that while she isn't afraid of big moves, she is afraid of their consequences. She is afraid that if she backstabs and betrays, she will become a reality TV villain. The best players in 'Survivor' history have been those that detach themselves from the rest of their lives and play the game in a vacuum. They play without emotional attachment and make every move necessary to get to the end.  Lisa recognizes this, but she also admits that she is completely unable to do this because of her past.

Make no mistake, right now the castaway playing the best game is Jonathan Penner. He has gone from Dead Man Walking to the leader of his own alliance, and it is thanks to his challenge prowess and his ability to sway others away from their original plans and over to his side. But Lisa is the most intriguing player, because her inner struggle goes to the core of what "Survivor" is all about: social manipulation and the willingness to do whatever it takes to win.

On Wednesday night's episode, the majority of the footage at camp centered around Penner and Lisa. Penner knows that he can't rely on his challenge skills forever, so he needs to keep exploiting the cracks in the Tandang alliance and try to get them to swing over to his side. He already has the non-Tandangs, Carter, Malcolm, and Denise, in his pocket because of the revelation that Abi has an idol. Now he needs to work Skupin and Lisa away from the Tandang alliance to create the majority vote.

It is from this alliance deal-making that the Penner's conversation with Lisa about her personal feelings towards the game comes from.  Lisa is still loyal to the Tandangs. That is why she revealed Malcolm's idol to everyone. Ultimately, she wants to stay true to her original tribe and get everyone to the end, and even though RC fell along the way, she still wants the five remaining Tandang members, including Skupin, to make it to the end. But now, Penner is trying to tell Lisa that she and Skupin are on the outs, and staying with Pete, Abi, and Artis will only lead to her downfall.

At the Reward Challenge, the tribe is divided into two teams by schoolyard pick. The teams must navigate through a mud obstacle course one at a time. At the end of a course is a mud pit with four bags of balls inside.  Each player must grab one bag and take it to the end of the course with them. Once all four players get their bags, they must throw the balls inside into a tall basket.  First team to get all twelve balls in will travel to a local school where they will deliver school supplies and enjoy a feast hosted by the school.

The players divide themselves into Tandangs vs. Matsings and Kalabaws. Abi, unsurprisingly, is not picked on a team and is not allowed to compete for reward. When the challenge starts, Penner, in another display of brilliance, goes first and takes the time to pull out all four bags from the mud pit so his teammates don't have to waste time searching for them. Though his team fell behind at first because of this, Malcolm, Denise, and Carter quickly caught up and helped the non-Tandangs win the challenge easily.

While Penner entertained the school kids and Malcolm played sports with them, the Tandangs remained at camp sulking over the defeat.  Lisa tried to get back on the same page with the rest of her tribe and reaffirm her loyalty to their alliance.  Instead, she got another paranoid rant from Abi, who called Lisa "gullible and naive."  Yeah, I know.  Pot meet kettle, right?

Artis and Pete were none too pleased by Abi's little incident. In a confessional, Artis said what we are all thinking: Abi thinks she knows the game and has good judgement of people but in truth is the biggest fool in the game. The only reason she's made it this far is because of Pete's scheming and her hidden immunity idol. Fortunately, her rude awakening is coming soon.

Time for the immunity challenge. In this game, the players must balance a large paddle with six spots on it. They must then roll six balls down the paddle and get them to stay in those six spots. First person to do so gets immunity.  Everyone struggles with this challenge except for Pete and Skupin. It is neck-and-neck between them until Pete struggles and knocks two balls off his paddle. Skupin drops his balls onto the six spots in quick succession and wins immunity.

Now this is where things get really good.  Back at camp, Artis feels confident that Penner will be going home since he didn't win immunity, but he is severely underestimating the veteran player. Penner quickly rallies Malcolm, Denise, and Carter together and they all agree that Pete's alliance needs to be broken up.  They know Abi has the idol and that she is very loyal to Pete, so they can't vote for either of them for fear that Abi might play her idol and nullify their votes. Therefore, they all decide to vote for Artis. That leaves Skupin and Lisa as the swing votes.  

Penner goes up to Skupin and talks about turning on the other Tandangs, especially considering the fact that Pete has been gunning for him for days. Skupin seems on board with Penner's plan, but just to gain some insurance, Penner goes back to Lisa to try and build a stronger bond with her. In a very meta moment, he tries to convince her that by turning on Abi and Pete, she will become a hero in the eyes of the viewers, because Pete and Abi will be seen as bullies and everyone will want them voted out. Gee, I guess playing the game helps you incorporate reality TV editing into your strategy, considering the fact that Penner was edited as the villain when he first played the game twelve seasons ago.

At Tribal Council, the focus is all on Lisa. Lisa talks about how, strangely enough, she has received more grace from the people she screwed over at the last Tribal Council than the people in her own alliance. As if to prove her point, Abi starts shooting daggers at Lisa and even says straight up that Lisa should be worried about getting voted out tonight. In response, Lisa states one more time that she is loyal to the tribe that she has been a part of from the beginning of the game, and all of her votes have reflected this loyalty.

And as it turns out, Lisa was telling the truth. Despite the connection she feels to Penner, she voted for him at this Tribal Council. Unfortunately for Pete and Abi, Skupin decided to flip his vote and target the man that has wanted him out since the beginning. Artis was booted in a 5-4 vote, leaving a stunned Abi and Pete to figure out what just happened.

On the next episode, Lisa will once again be forced to make a tough decision. Up to this point, she has shown complete loyalty to Abi despite the fact that it has all been thrown back in her face with insults.  Now a choice has to be made.  Will she join the others in targeting Pete and Abi, or will she stick to her promises.  

This game can really be tough, and Lisa Whelchel's attempts to come to terms with that fact has made 'Survivor:Philippines' a joy to watch.  Next week should be no different.

Reach Staff Reporter Jeremy Fuster here or follow him on Twitter here.



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