‘Survivor’ Castaway Jonathan Penner: ‘I Made a Game-Changing Mistake’


Jonathan Penner (CBS)

Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where someone’s game goes wrong. In Jonathan Penner’s case it’s pretty easy. One second he’s deciding against officially aligning with Skupin and Lisa, the next they’re sending him to the jury.

I spoke to Jonathan the morning after his elimination and had a chance to learn about what he was thinking when he turned down what seemed like a sure trip to the final four, why nobody tried to outbid Abi at the auction, and how his time in the Philippines will affect his “Survivor” legacy.

Set Your DVR to Record “Survivor: Philippines”

Gordon Holmes: I’m sure you’re going to hear this a lot today, but it seems like the moment that cost you the game was when you chose not to align with Michael and Lisa. If you’d made that move, do you think that alliance would have stuck together?
Jonathan Penner: Mm…yeah, I guess I do. But, I certainly don’t trust Malcolm and Denise to not do everything in their power to stay in the game. I mean, Malcolm at this point does have an idol. Obviously the mistake I made was not being prepared to lie to Lisa and say I was prepared to commit to her and Skupin. I’d never lied to her, or either of them and I wasn’t prepared to lie to them…yet. They showed a little of this where I said, “I think the six of us can have a good time playing at a final six level,” and I honestly wasn’t thinking that Skupin or Lisa had any reason to stop working with me. I didn’t know that they needed my word. It made sense at the time, but they had other people waiting in the woods. But, I don’t know why they didn’t say, “Let’s take out Carter.”  I guess because they saw me as a big enough threat. I’m still not sure why.
Holmes: Well, with all of these exit interviews, I think across the board everyone was impressed with how you played the game and managed to stay alive with a target on your back. So, it wasn’t a shock to me that they went with you over Carter.

Holmes: I was trying to figure out what was behind your decision not to align with Skup and Lisa and I thought maybe you were trying to find a way to get to the end with Abi.
Penner: No. If Abi gets to the end it’d take fantastic play on her part and she’d really deserve the win.
Holmes: I just picture her snapping and cursing out the jury over some perceived slight.
Penner:  There’s a huge argument to be made if Abi makes it to the end that she’d be the player of the game.

Holmes: Last night you said that Skup and Lisa couldn’t beat Malcolm and Denise. Did you mean that or was that strategy?
Penner: Well, I did mean it. The lie that I did tell them was that I thought they might have a chance of beating me. I don’t think they could beat me. My way of thinking was, “You guys have screwed yourself with the jury.  You can get to the end, but who the hell is going to vote for you?” They never thought about that. I told them straight to their faces that I didn’t think they could win and they get to make the choice of who does. As I walked out I said, “You have just given a million dollars to an unemployed bartender or a sex therapist. I hope that’s what you wanted to do.” Now, obviously it might play out differently, but that’s what I believed. And I was cross with them for not giving me the million dollars. But that’s the choice they made based on me not making a commitment to them.

Holmes: Before the auction, was there any talk of someone holding back their money to outbid Abi for the advantage?
Penner: I’ve heard that there’s usually an advantage. In “One World” there was an identical advantage, but we were on the island when that was on the air. I never saw that.

Holmes: Just to rewind a little bit, you voted for Abi in the vote that sent Jeff Kent home. If you’d voted for Pete, it would have forced a tie. What was your reasoning behind that vote?
Penner: A couple of reasons; I was playing for the jury. I knew that I was walking home with either Jeff or Pete. This way I could walk home with them and say, “I didn’t vote for you.” And then look at someone on the jury and say, “I didn’t vote for you.” Both would have been true. I was happy to stir the pot with Abi. I was supposed to be in a short-term alliance with them because I thought I was going home until that day. I was willing to work with anybody. When Abi and Pete said, “Let’s get rid of Jeff” I thought I’d do that if it keeps me alive. I didn’t want to vote for Jeff. Also, I thought Skupin was with us, so I thought we had the votes to get Pete and my vote would be extraneous. Unfortunately, Skupin did not vote the way he’d indicated that he was going to vote.

Holmes: Alright, let’s do some word association. We’ll start with Carter…
Penner: A headless Thompson gunner.
Holmes: Abi?
Penner: Marie Gomes.
Holmes: Skupin?
Penner: Ice Cream.
Holmes: Malcolm?
Penner: McDowell.
Holmes: Denise?
Penner: Denies.
Holmes: And Lisa?
Penner: Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam!
Holmes: You’re killing me, Penner.

Holmes: As a returning player, you have to come in with different expectations. You hope your stock rises. On one hand you have “Boston” Rob Mariano who barely makes it to “All-Stars” then turns that into an impressive run. On the other, you’re Russell Swan who just had a disastrous turn this season. How do you think this season will impact your legacy?
Penner: Well…I hope it’s good. I can’t really say I think much about my legacy. How does it affect my legacy? I played a good game, I played a much better game than I had played before. I played a lot nicer. People aren’t coming out saying I’m an (expletive deleted). (Laughing) Not that I’m concerned about that. It’s hard making a mistake and knowing that ten million people are seeing it to. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. With the cold light of a TV blaring, it’s clear that it wasn’t the right thing to do. But, my legacy? What do you think?
Holmes:  I think people have short memories when it comes to “Survivor.” I think there were people who saw you as more of a personality than a player. I think this was a great reminder for them. I think there are people who were brought to the show during the Hantz era who might not even know who you are. I think this season was a great introduction to them of what you’re capable of in the game. Your neck was on the line since day one and they couldn’t kill you.
Penner: Well thanks, I love to play it. I did things that I’d dreamed of doing. I won individual immunity, I found an idol, I played it correctly. I talked my way out of some jams, I solved some cool puzzles. And, I laughed my ass off a lot of the time, we really had fun out there.  I have no regrets other than that I made a game-changing mistake. I can’t tell you what would have happened. Could I have won? I think I would have had a very good chance against any of the final six.

Holmes: During the launch on day one, you swam quite a distance and managed to coax a chicken off of the boat. Were you bummed out that that didn’t make the episode?
Penner: Yeah it bummed me out! I worked my ass off to get that chicken!

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

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