Survivor: Philippines Ep. 25.8 “Dead Man Walking”: Another wild finish leads to the best episode in a long time

Survivor: Philippines Review, Season 25, Episode 8
“Dead Man Walking”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

That was awesome. After last week’s remarkable Tribal Council, it did not seem possible that the follow-up could be even better. The chaotic build-up to the vote is stunning and ranks among the most unpredictable finishes in Survivor history. This is easily the season’s best episode and the strongest one going back to Heroes vs. Villains, if not farther. There are so many possibilities once Penner wins immunity. It’s his first individual win ever, and he beams with pride while everyone else scrambles. The logical next choice is Skupin since he’s a returning player with few allies. Thankfully, Lisa decides to play and gets the ball rolling towards all-out mayhem. When she tells Pete about Malcolm’s immunity idol, it starts a chain reaction that incites mass confusion. It’s the perfect time to blindside Malcolm, but he’s off the table once Pete spills the beans. This puts Jeff Kent in the crosshairs because he’s a threat, but he flips it back and builds a group to take out Pete. The results are brilliant because no one is blindly going to their defeat. Tribal alliances mean nothing, and there is no such thing as an inevitable exit. The ultimate victim is Jeff in a 5-4 vote, and that head-scratching outcome raises even more questions.

There are two pivotal votes to determine whether Jeff or Pete leaves the game. Skupin and Penner seem to be with Jeff, so this should deliver a 6-4 result once Malcolm and Denise join them. Strangely, Skupin sticks with his former Tandang members that hate him and votes for Jeff. To avoid a tie, Penner throws his vote to Abi-Maria and ultimately boots his former ally. On the surface, this seems like a mistake that keeps the dominant trio in control. On the other hand, it also could be a brilliant way to remove a serious threat. Regardless of how Skupin votes, Penner avoids the tie and sends home a big-time player. Removing Jeff gets him closer to the end and keeps around an unlikable guy instead. Penner also puts himself in a place where he can join whichever group has control after the vote. He’s a free agent who’s willing to jump anywhere to move forward. Despite fans’ irritation with Abi and Pete, players like that are perfect companions in the end. Jeff is smarter and more likable than they are, so finding a subtle way to get rid of him could save Penner’s game.

So many things happen at Tribal Council that it’s impossible to cover them all. Malcolm takes a gamble and reveals his idol to everyone. He dares them to vote for him and then doesn’t play it, which is brilliant. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Abi, who reveals her idol for absolutely no reason. It’s honesty week! This is what happens when you ally with a wild card, Pete. This revelation makes little sense for her and puts a bigger target on her back for a blind side. Strategies are openly discussed at Tribal Council, which almost never occurs. Lisa admits to working behind Malcolm’s back, and Penner makes a plea for everyone to take out the Tandang leaders. There is so much coming out that even Jeff Probst has a hard time following everything. He loves the honest interactions and big reveals, which rarely happen because the votes are usually certain.

The episode begins with a reward challenge that splits Dangrayne into two groups. Each player swims a long way to retrieve fish traps. Their teammates then pull them back to shore. Once everyone makes it back, one player digs through sand to find a key to a puzzle. This is complicated! It’s a close battle with several lead changes, and Skupin’s poor swimming is too much to overcome. The happy winners of barbecue ribs, potato salad, and more are Penner, Jeff, Lisa, Malcolm, and Denise. This would be a great final five in theory. Back at camp, there’s a ridiculous moment where Abi and Carter talk “strategy”. Meanwhile, Pete rolls his eyes and wonders about his choices. At the immunity challenge, the focus is solely on Penner. Everyone is pulling against him winning, which would complicate the vote. The first stage is untying bags of puzzle pieces and traversing obstacles; the first three make the final round. Penner barely dives into third and joins Jeff and Pete in the finals. They both seem to gain a lead, but the underdog rebounds to win.

So much must happen to deliver an unpredictable Tribal Council. The producers can manipulate the game, but recent seasons have fallen into standard patterns. Why is this different? The three-tribe structure is a factor, but that only works with the right cast. They did an excellent job with this group, which has a lot of interesting personalities. Even the returning players and celebrities have meshed well with the newbies. Looking forward, there are still many possibilities for where the season will go. On One World, it was clear that Kim would probably win by this point. This time, there are at least five possible winners remaining: Malcolm, Denise, Penner, Pete, and Lisa. Skupin and Artis are long shots, but it all depends on who’s next to them. The numbers point to a final two, and that could throw a major wrench into everyone’s plans. For example, if Pete sits with Abi and Artis in the finals, he probably wins. However, both would vote him out if there’s a final two. While that fact is total speculation, it raises even more intriguing possibilities for this thrilling season.

Dan Heaton

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