A Smoker, a Lunatic and a Beauty Queen: ‘Survivor Philippines’ mid-season check-in

Allison Lasher, Blogger

I believe there are two types of people in the world: people who love “Survivor” and people who have never seen it. In the 12 years the show’s been on the air, I have never missed a season. I dressed up as a castaway for Halloween, I own buffs and I even played “Survivor” at recess. But as I grew, so did the show and the fan base surrounding it. In past seasons, I listened to podcasts and  read blogs while watching. But for this season, I wanted to try and get back to “Survivor” at its purest, away from the spoilers, host Jeff Probst’s live tweeting and all of the predictions. And although I make my own predictions all the time, the closest I’ve ever come to being right about the way a season played out was never. But that’s what I love about the show: It gets me every time.

Now let’s get into this season.

In the five episodes that have aired in the 25th season, we’ve moved from three tribes to two, lost a castaway to medical evacuation and have seen one returning player get the boot. Only a third of the way in, there are already four aspects unique to this season that are reminding me why I love “Survivor” and making me proud that I never lost faith in the show.

Three-tribe format

This season, the castaways were divided into three tribes, which has been done before, but not often. I love the three-tribe format. In past seasons, it is easy to identify pre-merge who will be ahead in the numbers game in the end. This season, I still do not know which tribe or alliance will be dominant and that keeps the episodes exciting. The three-tribe divide also forces everyone to pull their weight. With only six tribe members, castaways really can’t coast or hide behind their tribe. Each tribe has maybe two or three strong physical competitors and this has resulted in a much less strategic elimination than usual, leading to more merit-based voting. Focusing on keeping a physically strong tribe surfaced at all of Matsing’s tribals and Kalabaw’s one. I can’t wait to see how this will play out post-merge when tribal immunity switches to individual challenges. This could be a very interesting season of shifts in power and I can’t wait to watch.

Matsing’s decimation

The decimation of Matsing had many obvious consequences, but it also had consequences for the winning two tribes. The time spent away from tribal worked for and against certain players. It revealed who had the mental fortitude and strategic mindset to use the time to their advantage, rather than letting it consume them.

Matsing’s constant losses left Tandang’s alliances to fester, unable to be tested by tribal council. This time spent inactive worked against investment banker RC. Abi, under the influence of what I can only assume was boredom combined with sun poisoning, began questioning RC and ultimately turned on her. Abi and RC’s alliance had great potential and I think not having time to prove loyalties in conjunction with Pete’s sabotage, destroyed RC’s place in the tribe where she once had a prime spot.

Though the same inactivity was forced upon Kalabaw, it had positive effects for three-time returning player Jonathan Penner. Although Penner would have been an easy choice in an early tribal, he used the time in the game to his advantage, finding the “hidden” immunity idol and using it to create the most likely unlikely alliance with former professional baseball player Jeff Kent. Does this partnership actually come as a surprise to anyone beside Kent? Either way, Penner used veteran status to play all of his options and secure him a better spot in the tribe.

Survival

Another amazing component of the 25th season has been a renewed focus on actual surviving. I don’t know if this was an intentional choice or if it was the only way to highlight the devastation at Matsing. I think this focus on survival will now start to die down, but the first four episodes showed “Survivor” at its best. On the ninth day, they were drenched, leaning on each other, starving and REALLY surviving. The fourth episode opened with Malcolm and I swear he was a mirror image of the “Migrant Mother.”  This desperation as a key feature of several episodes has been exciting to watch and made me nostalgic for “Survivor” seasons past. When all of the strategy and egos go away, “Survivor” boils down to braving the elements and true survival, and this season has thus far done that justice.

Casting

“Survivor” has been in the business of creating characters lately. All the proof I need for this claim is located a click away at Benjamin “Coach” Wade’s website. The coach, maestro and three-time “Survivor” contestant exemplifies the casting of the past few seasons. There is the lovable-older-slightly-off-his-rocker male, the hot chick, the villain and the list of stereotypes goes on. More often than not, I find that the number of characters on the island far outnumbers the amount of players with winning potential.

This season, however, has been very strong. There are a number of people I can see going all the way both socially and physically. There is a brilliant and athletic woman in the form of Denise. Malcolm is a young, attractive and strong male with a brain (a combo you almost never see). Even the celebrity on the island, Kent, is turning into a real player with presence and potential. There are many multifaceted and dynamic players in the game, and that can only lead to a more interesting outcome. The biggest sign that the casting has taken a turn for the better is that I find more players I like and for which I am rooting. I don’t know where this season is going, but for the first time I can remember, I am invested in more than one alliance and can’t wait to see who rises to the top as the game goes on.

— Allison Lasher