[Warning: Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen Wednesday's episode.]
Who is this man that sits, blissed out as the Buddha, while everyone around him plays the action packed, strategy oriented, popularity contest that is Survivor? We’ve seen this mystery contestant for more than 30 days at this point, and his essence still continues to elude me. Is Carter really the kindhearted peacemaker that Skupin and Lisa make him out to be, or is he simply verbally disinclined and a little bit slow?
With the exit of Jonathan last week, Carter is now fully aware that he is tied down to the tracks with a speeding freight train heading his way. His life hangs in the balance and if he doesn't make a move now, he's doomed. With death at his door, Carter will certainly be spurred on, inspired to do something to save his own life, right? Eh, not really. When Abi, who’s also on the outs, broaches the subject of working together, he claims to not be thinking of alliances. He’s not thinking of alliances? It’s day 30 and we’re down to six contestants vying for a million dollars. What, exactly, is filling that precious brain space of yours, Carter? What could possibly be more pressing than formulating a plan to stay in the game right now?
Carter, please, for the love of God, do something! Blow something up! If all else fails, you can always take a play from Skupin’s book and catch yourself on fire. Come on, do it for the thousands of fans you beat out for a spot in this great game. At least Abi’s desperate and obvious lie that she has an idol demonstrates her desire to stay in this and finish what she started. I don’t think Carter even knows where he is or what he's doing. His happy oblivion has protected him up to this point, but won't be enough to save him now.
The issue of Lisa knowing that Malcolm will beat her in the end and also not wanting to betray trust plays out time and again throughout this game. Trust is such a fluid concept in Survivor. On one hand, you have to trust your alliance mates and, at the same time you must be aware that they can and will turn on you without a moment’s notice. If you are truly out to win, you have to hold your own self-interest over all moral notions of integrity and loyalty. Survivor is a dark game with twisted rules. The way a person plays Survivor is not the way he or she must function in everyday life. When you enter the game, you become a player, not a person. You do what you need to do to win and pray that the people you play with recognize that it is a game and are forgiving and rational enough to vote for the best player in the end.
When playing Survivor, a contestant can become so deeply entrenched in the game that it can be difficult to separate your real life self vs. your game self. The armor stays on all the time and self-preservation becomes the default setting. Showing vulnerability is simply not an option. For this reason, when the family visit occurs and a contestant shares that first hug with a loved one, we see such a heavy outpour of emotion. Having a spouse, best friend, parent or sibling who knows the true you, look into your eyes, breaks something in you. Love breaks that hard, outer shell a contestant has worked so hard to develop and viewers finally see a glimpse of the love that these warriors are capable of feeling and expressing. I bawled like a baby on my Dad when he came to see me in Cook Islands and Samoa. Sharing that experience with him remains one of the highlights of my life. Break out the Kleenex, kids. These episodes get me every time.
All of our contestants need this lift of love after a grueling 31 days. Skupin and his son, Denise and her man, Carter and his mom, and Lisa and her baby brother show real, raw emotions when facing their loved ones. Abi and Malcolm are less affected. A visit from a loved one and any reward, for that matter, can take attention and focus away from the intense task of winning the game. The more a player can maintain his game-face in the midst of these distractions, the more capable he is of keeping control and staying in it. Malcolm is in it to win it.
With his brother’s help, Malcolm wins the reward of taking his loved one back to camp for an overnight slumber party. At Jeff’s prompting, Malcolm asks to share the reward with another two players. Strategically, he chooses Lisa and Skupin, to thank them for sticking with their alliance and voting out Penner at the last tribal council. I understand his logic, but I don’t like it. He’s playing with fire not choosing his closest ally, Denise, to share the reward with. Even if she doesn’t show it, she’s pissed and when it comes down to a final four, if Malcolm doesn’t win immunity, Denise may be easily swayed to got the easy route with Skupin and Lisa and get rid of him.
Throughout the season, Lisa has been very upfront with her struggle between playing the game and maintaining her moral integrity. We get it. You’re a good person. Can we move on now? Praise sweet baby Jesus, Lisa’s brother comes to camp to talk some sense into her. Skupin and Lisa should have jumped at the chance to blindside Malcolm long ago, but they’re playing scared and blaming their high values and integrity for their failure to pull off a brilliant blindside. Now, after sharing a couple of days with family, Skupin and Lisa have enough outside perspective and permission to start making plays to win. After 31 days, Lisa is finally ready to play and with God’s help, they just can’t lose!
Malcolm has more social awareness than every player in this game combined. He realizes the danger of having Lisa in an emotionally strengthened state and knows that he is not exactly sitting pretty anymore. He watches Lisa and Skupin become even closer with each other as they bond over Jesus and family time, and he smells trouble. This guy is playing flawlessly and I truly hope he somehow manages to pull off the final immunity win so we can watch him clean sweep the jury in the end ... but, I get ahead of myself.
Coming into the immunity challenge, Carter and Abi, both at the bottom of the pecking order, need this win. Neither of them show that they care that much. Carter bumbles across the balance beam and Abi basically quits in the middle of the challenge. But, wait, all of a sudden, Carter's back in the game. It's a showdown between Malcolm and Carter, both using their self-erected “long, hard poles” to knock over the target. In the end, not surprisingly, Malcolm’s erect pole is a little longer and harder than Carter’s, making him the challenge winner.
With immunity securely around his neck and an idol in his pocket, Malcolm can sit back and relax at camp, knowing that he has an automatic in to the final four. Well done, old chap! Now Lisa and Skupin have some decisions to make. What to do, what to do? They can’t vote for Malcolm, which leaves Abi (who they all hate), Carter (Skupin’s prodigal son) and Denise (Malcolm’s No. 1 and the obvious choice). Do they rally and go for Denise? Of course not! With all her talk of being ready to play the game, Lisa doesn’t even entertain the idea of dumping Denise, a clear threat to win in the end and Malcolm’s closest alliance mate. Instead of joining forces with Carter and Abi, Skupin and making a move to vote off a true competitor, Lisa and Skupin dumbly decide to remain loyal and ditch one of the underlings. In their defense, the ants are really big in the Philippines and can become a serious distraction when strategizing.
Big ants are cool. Abi’s annoying and she has a fake idol. Let’s just vote Carter.
Game over Carter.
After tribal council and Carter’s exit, Malcolm’s the most athletic competitor left in the game and is in a secure position of power with his idol. Abi’s going to have to fight to stay alive and if Skupin and Lisa aren’t completely brain dead from singing too much kumbaya together, they will use her to vote out Denise next.
Parvati Shallow, three-time Survivor veteran, winner of Survivor: Micronesia and the official reigning Miss Survivor, will share her insight into Survivor: Philippines every week on THR.com. When she's not living on a deserted island, she can be found continent-hopping in search of the hottest spas and vacation destinations around the globe. She sometimes teaches yoga and meditation to an elite, in-the-know group of clients at ESP Wellness Center in Santa Monica. Follow her on Twitter at @parvatishallow or visit her newly launched website at www.parvatishallow.com. To catch her in Santa Monica, check out www.espwellnesscenter.com.