Survivor: Confusion Edition gives us a wild(ly entertaining) scramble, Tribal Council

What the hell was that? Survivor Philippines continues to surprise, this time with nearly 15 minutes of chaos perhaps unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Jeff Probst called it “the most entertaining tribal council ever,” and I’d add “confusing,” “confounding,” “bewildering.”

When it was all over, Jeff Kent was taking the walk of shame after a vote of 5-4-1, and used his final words to turn himself into an entirely different person than we’d known on the island (though one we knew existed), bragging about his $60 million and complaining that had he won $1 million, it’s only “600 grand by the time Obama takes it.” Oh yes, there were never taxes before 2008. Moron.

Survivor viewers, including me, sometimes complain that the editing over-simplifies what’s happening, either creating mystery where there was none in real life, or over-simplifying to make it easier to watch on television but depriving us of the more interesting story.

As the scrambling at the beach unfolded, I was wondering if that’s what happens every episode, but after the clusterfuck that was Tribal Council, I’m thinking it was more of an aberration.

The episode started with Lisa Whelchel filling the role of Survivor explainer: Her summaries of how to play the game are more succinct, clear, and accurate than anyone in recent memory. And I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but it seems that–in her interviews, at least–she seems to have a better understanding of the dynamics of the game than most who’ve played it.

At first, it seemed like Jonathan Penner was going to be voted out by everyone, because as Lisa said, no one wants returnees to have a second chance. But Michael Skupin told him, “there’s cracks,” and he wasn’t talking about in his bleeding body. (This week, it seemed as though Skupin’s shoulder had fallen off.) And Skupin turned out to be right, if by cracks he meant “people who can’t keep secrets,” “people who will switch alliances every three seconds,” and “utter chaos.”

That began when Lisa Whelchel decided that it was the perfect time to blindside Malcolm, who confessed to her that he had an idol. This was impressive strategizing and a smart move on her part, and in her Lisa way, told us that, “I’m discovering that … I’m trying to win,” noting that the people she has to keep around are those who “aren’t going to get as many votes as me.” Blair for sole survivor.

Perhaps less smart, though, was telling Pete in order to recruit him to her voting agenda, because he turned around and told Malcolm, who basically shit himself and lied. Yet Pete believed him, and told Malcolm that Lisa was the source of his information. Perhaps because of this, Pete became a target, at least of conversation, perhaps because of his membership in the evil three that also includes Artis and Abi.

And that was nothing compared to Tribal Council, where Malcolm took out his idol and waved it around, and then Abi revealed she had one, too. It was basically a game of Let’s Admit Everything, which was fascinating and confusing.

Here are the things I picked up on: Malcolm outing Lisa for outing his idol;Lisa admitting “I was playing both sides, but my allegiance was to my original alliance,”; “Abi saying Malcolm is on the outside of the alliance; Penner making a case for a new alliance to make a move; and Lisa pleading with the people she trusts to go with mysterious plan B, which she later says is plan D or E.

After all that, the vote ends up being for Jeff Kent. Wait, what? Pete received votes, too, and Abi received one, from Penner. Again, what? And how everyone actually voted just added to the confusion, but I think that by the time their votes were revealed I needed a CNN-style touchscreen to explain everything to me, because I have completely lost track of all the alliances and tribes.

Still, this is a vastly more entertaining and awesome Tribal Council than the ones where everyone knows what’s going to happen and bullshits their way through answers to Probst’s questions.

To cap off the confusion, Jeff Probst’s increasingly inane final words at Tribal Council were that the “vote may go down as one of the biggest blown opportunities in the history of this game.” What the hell does that mean? Because they didn’t flush out an idol? Jeff explained it to EW, saying, he meant “Penner and his lack of commitment to his alliance.”

Maybe next week Jeff will just write out everyone’s votes for them, and it’ll be easier for us–and them–to understand.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.