Survivor: Philippines Ep. 25.5 “Got My Swag Back”: Kalabaw takes a double whammy

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Survivor: Philippines Review, Season 25, Episode 5
“Got My Swag Back”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

The opening four episodes of this Survivor season have spent a majority of time with the Matsing tribe, who lost every challenge. The battle lines have been drawn for the Tandang and Kalabaw tribes, but the conflicts haven’t played out at Tribal Council. This pivotal episode finally changes that trend and dramatically alters each tribe’s place in the game. Kalabaw dominated most of the early challenges, but bad luck and a challenge loss knocks out two members this time. While neither was a major player on the show so far, it’s still quite a change. They’ll start next week in a tough position where they really need to turn it around. This quick shift into difficult circumstances is a new place for a group that has rolled through the competition so far. It shows how quickly fate can shift on this show and sets up a promising middle act for this season.

Just a few minutes into this episode, the Matsing tribe is history. Malcolm and Denise suffer one more rough night in the rain and are ready for anything positive to happen. They wisely use their final moments at camp to search for the immunity idol. Following a comic sequence where they come ridiculously close to finding it, Malcolm grabs the machete and locates the valuable prize. Although they discovered it together, he’s the sole beneficiary because of the events that follow. Jeff Probst finally puts Matsing out of its misery at the reward challenge and splits the pair randomly. Malcolm brings his strength to a jubilant Tandang tribe, while Denise immediately becomes one of the most interesting members of Kalabaw. Both could be the obvious boots since they’re the new arrivals, but these are far from united teams. While a full tribal swap would have created more chaos, the smaller change makes sense. The producers have built up the conflicts in each tribe since the beginning, so making a dramatic adjustment would kill that momentum. It’s refreshing to see different players having the chance to finally visit Tribal Council.

The reward challenge is a clever one-on-one battle that has players holding an idol on a small pedestal and trying to knock their opponent’s item to the ground. It’s a pretty simple task, but it takes more than just speed to win. Mike Skupin proves his smarts by brilliantly throwing his idol high in the air and then tackling his opponent to win a point. It comes down to a final showdown between Malcolm and Jeff Kent, and the former Matsing loser wins cookies and other goodies for his tribe. It’s clear right away that everyone wants Malcolm on their side at Tandang. RC tries flirting and gives him a random hug to draw his attention. Pete’s plan is to give away his secrets and reveal the idol, which just doesn’t seem wise. This is great news for Malcolm, who’s thrilled with all the attention. The situation’s a bit different at Kalabaw because their alliances are split by gender. Katie hopes that Denise will join their all-girl alliance and take out the guys. If it gets dull Carter off the screen, this has to be a good idea. Unfortunately, fate has other plans for Dana, who’s getting increasingly sick and might have to exit the game.

The boat of doom has arrived! It’s never a good sign to see production’s dreaded marine vessel heading towards the beach. Dana can barely move and keeps getting worse, so Probst brings the doctor to settle the issue. They give her a choice about staying, but it’s just too much at this point. The post-game verdict was severe dehydration, which is no joke. Even though Dana leaves, Kalabaw still has to compete in the immunity challenge. It’s another well-made obstacle course that ends with a five-word puzzle. Katie (who?) runs very slowly and hurts their chances, but they rebound well and have a shot to win. Despite that comeback, Tandang completes the puzzle and takes the victory. Denise’s strong play in the challenge takes her name off the table, especially once she gives her loyalty to Jeff’s alliance. It comes down to Katie and Dawson, and the former seems more likely to leave because of her bad performance in the challenge. The editors try to push that narrative and concentrate on Probst berating Katie for terrible play. Even so, it’s pretty clear that the Penner/Kent duo may have a different target in mind.

The downside of the three-tribe format is the inability to offer much screen time to possibly engaging players. Dawson’s giddy crush on Probst is silly and shows that she might be a fun character. She also enjoys taunting Jeff Kent about his baseball career since the others don’t know his secret. That knowledge may explain why the focus shifts to her. He doesn’t make a big deal about wanting her out, but that’s the most likely explanation for the exit. Dawson’s shocked reaction after the 5-1 vote makes it clear she had no idea it was possible. She does get the chance to have an awkward embrace from Probst as a going-away present, so it isn’t all bad news. The next immunity challenge will be huge for Kalabaw, who can’t fall any further back in the numbers. It’s remarkable that Tandang hasn’t even visited Tribal Council yet. There has to be some way for Abi-Maria to lose! Regardless of who exits, watching them squirm after a loss (whenever it happens) is sure to be great television.

Dan Heaton





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