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Survivor: Philippines Ep. 25.9 “Little Miss Perfect”:

Survivor: Philippines Ep. 25.9 “Little Miss Perfect”:

Survivor: Philippines Review, Season 25, Episode 9
“Little Miss Perfect”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

After two crazy episodes, Survivor pulls back this week and delivers a more slow-paced affair. The final outcome is surprising, but it lacks the dramatic chaos of past weeks. This episode is all about Lisa Whelchel and her moral dilemma about back-stabbing her tribe. She clearly has a stronger bond with Penner but worries about being disloyal. This is a common theme on this show, but it’s rarely been diagnosed to this degree. Penner gives several long monologues to Lisa that show his understanding for her character. The first is a pretty detailed (and slightly uncomfortable) psychoanalysis of the reasons why she’s struggling. He’s clearly on the hot seat, so it’s wise play by Penner to gain her trust. It’s also fascinating television that shows how much this experience brings down players’ barriers. The stunning part of all this attention is the fact that Lisa doesn’t flip and still casts her vote for Penner. It’s a serious example of misdirection from the editors that induces more confusion than thrills from viewers. Why spend so much time on someone who’s staying put? Thankfully, it’s still intriguing because it reveals plenty about Lisa’s character and Penner’s understanding of it. His framing of the decision as a “good versus evil” situation is brilliant yet still isn’t enough to change her mind.

The decisive vote actually comes from Skupin, who sends Artis packing by a 5-4 count. The question hanging over this choice is why he would flip now after sticking with his alliance last week. Skupin seems most concerned with removing formidable competition and feels he has room to maneuver. Is this actually true, though? There’s a chance that Skupin is playing brilliantly, but he also could be using a wild-card strategy and inventing it as he goes along. This seems like the most likely scenario. Penner’s choice to vote for Abi-Maria last week also felt brilliant, but it turns out he just screwed up. The moment when Carter explains the votes to him this week is a classic. Penner sits down and pretty much shrugs his shoulders about the gaffe. It wasn’t the worst thing for him to lose Jeff Kent, especially now that Skupin has flipped. They’re in control and should be able to pick off the remaining Tandang leaders easily. Even so, nothing’s certain with this group. Skupin could easily change his tune and go after Penner without breaking a sweat. Despite the limited fireworks this time, the result still creates many interesting possibilities for the upcoming weeks.

The reward challenge splits the groups into two teams to compete in another physically demanding contest. An unseen schoolyard pick splits the group among their alliances; it’s hilarious that Abi-Maria isn’t picked and has no chance to win. Each player must crawl through muddy water and a pit of rice to retrieve bags of balls. Jeff Probst brings out plenty of unintentional humor with his narration. The hero for his team is Penner, who realizes he can locate all the bags up front and make it easy for the other players. They gain a huge lead and easily throw the 12 balls into the basket for the win. Their reward sends them to a local village to enjoy a huge feast. Malcolm, Denise, Penner, and Carter also bring school supplies to the kids in that town. Their gifts don’t seem that substantial, but they have a great experience. Malcolm is so moved by it that he’s ready to go teach again like he did in Micronesia. Back at camp, Abi-Maria continues her awful play by trying to alienate Lisa. She’s a pivotal ally for the Tandang three but is treated horribly. Abi-Maria also provides the highlight of the night when she accidentally nails Skupin in the head while breaking a coconut. That guy has no luck!

The immunity challenge is simple and involves rolling balls on a large paddle into six spots. The trick is maneuvering each one without knocking off the balls already in place. Pete grabs an early lead and appears destined to win, but one slip-up knocks him out of contention. This opens the door for Skupin to finish the task and take the easy victory. Having the confidence from this win almost certainly plays a role in his choice to vote for Artis. The editing doesn’t make it clear why he makes the move, however. It paints Lisa and Skupin as an unbreakable pair due to their Christian faith. Penner makes a quick effort to sway his fellow returning player, but it’s a quick scene and shows very little. The question that remains is whether Lisa will finally see the light and escape the sinking ship. Sticking with Pete and Abi-Maria puts her on the path towards an impending exit.

The decision to vote out Artis seems wise because it avoids concerns about the immunity idol. It’s interesting to note who really makes the decision about the target. Malcolm and Denise have found a way to control the game on the Kalabaw side and remain the best players on the island. They’ve continued to deflect attention towards Penner and others while they determine strategies behind the scenes. If everyone sticks with the plan, next week promises a more standard exit. Pete is the most likely target, and they could split the votes to avoid the idol. If this occurs, it sets up an intriguing situation at the final seven. Malcolm and Denise are clearly working together and are liked by everyone. If either of them makes the end, they’re going to win the million. Will Skupin, Penner, and Carter turn on their allies and keep Abi-Maria around? Looking that far ahead may be silly, but it’s that complexity that makes this such a great outing. Probst claims the next installment is even better, which means it will have to be incredible to top this wonderful season.

Dan Heaton