Abi-Maria Gomes (left) and Lisa Whelchel
Monty Brinton/CBS (2)
Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on
Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about
Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach
"You need to pick one side or the other. You can't keep flipping."
– Amanda Kimmel, Survivor: Micronesia
Hey guys – I have a secret. It's a really, really big secret. You'll never discover it. Not even if you follow me around all day. Look – just follow me a little. Please? For your sake. This secret is frickin' huge. It's going to change everything.
Okay, here's a hint. Starts I. Ends with DOL.
It's an immunity idol, alright?! And I have this secret paper here, which proves it. But I'm going to rip it up into little pieces. Because it's soooo secret.
Poor Abi. Is there anything more heartbreaking in this broken world than someone pretending that they have a secret? The dreamy Malcolm said it best on Survivor
: she's like a wounded ex-girlfriend.
As much as Abi is playing at strategy, she really craves attention. Everyone wants to feel wanted. Who hasn't done the whole "I have a secret immunity idol in my pocket, so you'd better be my friend" trick?
Abi's "hints" reminded me of Heroes vs. Villains
, when Amanda "hinted" to Parvati about 18 times that she was a target. At the time, I said that Amanda "clobbered Parvati with the Amanda bat."
Okay, so she has the subtlety of a wounded walrus. Nevertheless, Abi wins her first Fishy Award for showing impressive discipline at the food auction. While Denise and Skupin blow their cash on cheap carbs, Abi saves up for that special something. She buys a valuable advantage in the immunity challenge, and wins three more days on the island. In Survivor
, three days can change everything.
On Wednesday's episode, Abi also lost her title as the season's most annoying player. Lisa Whelchel turned in another weepy, woe-is-me performance
– and let me be the first to say, "Enough!" I threw up a little in my mouth when Lisa went sobbing to Penner ... that she had to vote out Penner. Tears might win you Emmys, Lisa, but on Survivor
they only win you enemies.
She's even starting to repeat the same lines. Did you notice she trotted out her old remark about how "Survivor
is bigger than I am?" I get that she was a sitcom star, but that doesn't mean she needs a catch phrase. Moreover, the remark basically makes no sense, since Survivor
is an abstract concept and Lisa is a physical being. It's just a lazy excuse for not having the will to play the game.
The real victim of Lisa's hemming and hawing is poor Jonathan Penner
. With only a couple episodes left, I already miss the lovable goon. What makes Penner such a great player is that, at every moment, he's willing to do whatever it takes to advance himself.
He makes mistakes; he misjudges people's motivations; he fails to make alliances when he needs to most. But he is always scheming, always evaluating. He is always ready to completely rewrite the rulebook of the entire game, so long as it advances Jonathan Penner one space further on the board.
And he always engages his fellow contestants. I loved Penner's brief conversation with Abi after the auction. Abi was feeling petulant and abused. Penner didn't placate her, but by simply representing his intentions, he managed to foster a bond with the outcast Brazilian.
I can't think of many contestants who are better talkers than Penner. Even when he's making mistakes and uttering nonsense, he sounds brilliant.
And is there any more perfect summation of the experience of Survivor
than Penner's closing remarks? "It's been fun – and extremely painful," he says. I'm sorry for his pain, but watching him has been a real pleasure.