'Survivor' - 'Shot Into Smithereens' recap: Did Malcolm just hand Lisa Whelchel a million bucks?

lisa-whelchel-malcolm-freberg-survivor-philippines.jpgIndividual rewards are usually more curse than blessing on "Survivor," and tonight's (Dec. 5) episode was no exception.

With Lisa Whelchel at a psychological breaking point, Malcolm had the opportunity boost his ally's spirits and strengthen her resolve. But at what cost?

Post-Tribal

Malcolm once again consoles Lisa, but on her own later she acknowledges that going to the end with him and Denise is not a great strategy. But a betrayal, she says, opposes who she is as a person. That all changes when someone reminds her that the game really is different from real life.

Reward Challenge

Cue the soaring symphony, because it's family reunion time! And it's about to get more emotional than the "Dr. Phil" show. Skupin bursts into maniacal giggling when his son, Michael -- aka his "No. 1" -- emerges from the jungle. Even surfer dude Carter breaks down at the appearance of his mom, while both Malcolm and his "knucklehead (in a nice way)" brother, Miles, share a tearful hug. Denise drips snot all over her admiring husband Brad, and Abi translates for her mother Vera, who made the trek all the way from Brazil.

But Lisa wins the ugly cry award, sobbing at the arrival of her younger (by 20 years) brother Justice.

All the loved ones perform well in the challenge (basically tossing and pitching muddy bags), but Team Malcolm wins the reward: an overnight visit to camp. Of course, Jeff directs Malcolm to pick two more Castaways to share the prize. Ignoring the pleas of his closest ally, Denise, he selects Lisa and Skupin -- to reward them for sticking to their alliance and voting out Penner.

Back at Camp

Mike's No. 1 bloodies himself trying to scale a palm tree ("That's my boy!"), while Justice immediately starts strategizing with Lisa. Reminding his sister that deception is part of the game, they discuss -- with Skupin -- blindsiding Malcolm, who has only two more opportunities to use his Immunity Idol. Justice even points out that Mal might "respect" Lisa for outwitting him again.

Lisa's desperation turns to elation, and she channels Sally Field ("You like me, you really like me")" "I can play this game," she says with giddy glee. "I can play it well!"

Her come to Jesus moment is followed by a "your will be done" prayer with Skupin and their loved ones. Finally, a Christian who believes that God might have better things to do than decide football games! Although she'd like her savior's blessing, Lisa accepts that "He's a win-win God."

Immunity Challenge

Given how comfortable he feels in his alliance (and unlikely to play his Idol), Malcolm's survival depends on winning this challenge: retrieving bags of sticks in an obstacle course, then using them to build a pole long and strong enough to knock a target. The highlight is Jeff loudly berating Abi for her pathetic performance. (Is this another strategy to convince her tribemates her Idol "fantasy" is real?)

But Malcolm wins his first immunity and is guaranteed a spot in the Final 5. (Really, the Final 4 as long as he plays his Immunity Idol ... and why wouldn't he?)

Just like that, says Lisa: "Poof! Lisa's plan is shot into smithereens!" While she accepts this as God's will, closing the door on their plan, Skupin marvels at a large ant. There's a metaphor here, but Skupin does not (or can't?) make the connection.

Carter knows he's on the chopping block, and argues that the group should continue to keep people who deserve to be in this game. (Although Penner surely deserved it more than Carter.)

And Abi is so unpleasant that the others want to get rid of her. "I'm considering making a really bad strategic decision just for my morale -- that's how terrible a human being Abi is," says Malcolm, who compares her to Harry Potter's soul-consuming Dementors.

"She's every psychological condition all packed in one," he adds, while Denise says her "histrionic, passive- aggressive, martyr" complex has nothing to with her Brazilian heritage: "It's not culture -- it's the culture of Abi."

Tribal Council

Proving the soundness of Lisa's original strategy, Malcolm declares that he felt safe even before winning immunity. Lisa, now that she has her game face back on, crushes Carter by admitting she'd rather sit next to someone she could beat. Abi insists she's got an Immunity Idol and plans to use it, and is bewildered by the notion that she causes tension at camp.

After the vote, Abi doesn't attempt to play her nonexistent idol, and she only got one vote anyway -- from Carter, who received the rest of the votes.

Next time, on "Survivor": Abi tries her convince Lisa to break her alliance and bring her to the end instead. Can Lisa ever quit Abi?
Photo/Video credit: CBS