But then Pete tests out his theory on flighty Skupin, who the editors reminded us earlier thinks Malcolm is a “gamer” despite aligning with him. Skupin proves a man of his reputation, wavering on his chances of winning against Malcolm and thinking about the potential to take Malcolm’s idol out of the game. It’s the snake in the grass for the otherwise completely predictable tribal council, as they make the walk with a clear game plan that could be totally upended at any moment if the editors are to be trusted.

Tribal Council.
At Tribal Council, Jeff seriously suggests that Abi’s smile at Artis is jury management, as though Abi is capable of thinking about her interaction with other humans on any strategic level. The conversation quickly turns to navigation: jury management, the idols floating around the game, and the general craziness of it all. Pete is blatantly scrambling, outright throwing the Malcolm card into play, but Abi—who is sticking around another week regardless—does seem to be playing a game. She apologizes to Lisa, and Jeff even helps her along by giving her an out: it turns out that this is a question about cultural confusion, as English is her second language. RC’s eyebrow raise properly sells the ridiculousness of this claim, which is effectively arguing that she’s only perceived as mean because she’s from another culture. Denise, measured as always, lays out the ridiculousness of this remark—as anyone who has ever interacted with ESL students, or people from other countries, would—but Abi isn’t backing down. She’s fighting back her “tears of being alone,” but no one’s having any of it, and no one truly believes that she is beloved among her friends and coworkers for her “feistiness.”

It’s an interesting conversation, because it reveals full stop that Abi’s “edit” is not just an edit. They’re not searching for eyebrow raises or eyerolls here: they are real, honest responses to someone the castaways genuinely dislike, a fact that seems to shock Abi, who never pictured herself as the unlikeable one. Jeff then interjects, suggesting it has to be cultural: Abi’s inability to read other people’s laughter and derision as negative couldn’t possibly be her delusional, self-centered personality, but must rather be that she doesn’t understand basic cultural codes. Right, Jeff. Absolutely. That makes perfect sense.

It only flames what is a completely ridiculous “argument”: Denise is plainly stating that taking Abi to the end would be seen as weak, leeching off the hatred of another play to win by default, and Abi decides that this is Denise spewing “hatred” of her own. Denise goes into full therapist mode explaining the gloating after the reward challenge and her “quitting” the kitchen duty, and Abi doesn’t want anything to do with her words and arguments and reason. She just chalks it up to “cultural codes” like someone who learned a new word for the first time (which, okay, is maybe not the nicest simile here—sorry, Abi), and Jeff sends us to the vote with a stock claim that with people on the bottom of the totem pole anything can happen.

The Vote. Nothing happens. Abi might hope Malcolm is going home, and she might play her idol as we anticipated, but the rest of the votes go exactly as we’d expect: three votes for Abi are tossed out, four votes are split between Pete and Malcolm, and then Pete is unceremoniously sent home in the exact result everyone presumed would happen when the episode began.

Bottom Line. This doesn’t mean that the episode was without drama, of course, but it was zero sum drama. It’s not exactly news that Abi is actively ostracizing herself at every turn, and the strategizing between the other castaways isn’t anything that can’t be undone next week. “Survivor” could have just aired a clip show of Abi being insensitive to the human beings around her and the other castaways making various strategy decisions with potential implications that never entirely materialized, and then included a title card at the end informing us that Pete was voted out at this week’s tribal council. It would have roughly had the same effect.

And yet this season has been strong enough that even a filler episode works better than it has in past seasons. We might have already had our fill of Abi’s battle with everyone else on the island, but it remains a sign of good casting: not only do they have the crazy person who creates conflict, but they have people like Denise who are able to engage with them intelligently and become exasperated, or people like Lisa who respond in measured yet emotional ways that diversify the conversation. “Whiners are Wieners” is an episode you could easily skip—which may be why you’re reading this recap over your Thanksgiving break—but it’s nonetheless part of a season that remains the best in recent memory.

Other thoughts on this week’s episode:

*** It’s easy to forget that Carter is even part of this game until we get to the challenges. Even as the episode goes out of its way to try to suggest some kind of drama among the dominant alliance, Carter is completely shut out from the narrative. I look forward to Dan’s exit interview, if only to hear what Carter spent his days doing. I bet he skips a lot of rocks.

*** One could say that Abi is a piece of great casting, but in truth it’s the people around her who made it work: Pete’s willingness to support her madness, and Lisa’s honesty about her frustration with it, were far more important to her longevity and engagement in the game.  It’s a really well-cast season on the whole, and in a weaker season I could see Abi completely derailing the game instead of proving a valuable piece of the puzzle.

*** I remain most invested in Malcolm and Denise, so their choice to make an alliance at this point is concerning to me. I understand why they made the choice they did: Penner and Carter are both greater threats (See: Immunity Challenge) and Lisa is the very model of a fourth-place finisher based on her struggles with more physical challenges. I do just worry that being the person to make that decision and push it does place you in a risky position, and I would hate to see either of them leave any time soon.

*** Dan will be back next week, but thanks to him for letting me fill in. I really can’t emphasize enough how transformative this season has been for my appreciation for the series, as I’m finally excited about it again. Hopefully the rest of the season lives up to the expectation.

Did you feel any degree of sympathy for Abi's cultural confusion? And does Pete's uneventful exit match his quality of gameplay?

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