'Survivor: Philippines': Jonathan Penner on His Biggest Regret, Apologizing to Abi and Whether He'd Play Again
The three-time competitor was forced to scramble after the tribe's original target, the polarizing Abi, won immunity.
The third time wasn't the charm for returning Survivor player Jonathan Penner.
The Los Angeles-based writer, who was voted out in Wednesday night's episode of Survivor: Philippines, originally competed on Survivor: Cook Islands, season 13, but returned three seasons later for Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites, during which his knee became infected. Penner, 50, was one of three returning contestants for the show's 25th season (the other two were Russell Swan and Michael Skupin).
In last week's episode, he had an opportunity to align with Skupin and Lisa Whelchel in a final four alliance (along with Carter Williams), but he couldn't commit and the duo instead teamed up with Malcolm Freberg and Denise Stapley.
On Wednesday night's installment, the tribe's original target -- the polarizing Abi-Maria Gomes -- won immunity, making Penner, seen as a threat, the next logical player to eliminate. He scrambled to save himself before and during tribal council, trying to convince Skupin and Lisa to switch their vote for Denise, but they weren't swayed.
On Thursday, Penner -- now the fifth member of the jury -- talked to The Hollywood Reporter about his regrets, his feud with Abi and whether he'd play again.
The Hollywood Reporter: Did you think there was a chance you might be saved by Lisa and Skupin, or did you pretty much know you were going home?
Jonathan Penner: Unfortunately, I was resigned to it because they made it clear that as much as they loved me and put hearts and flowers around my name, they were voting me off that night.
THR: So you knew going into tribal?
Penner: Certainly, never say never and you gotta give it your best shot, but I had been giving it my best shot all day long.
THR: But you were still trying to convince them to switch their vote during tribal council.
Penner: I didn't believe it was going to work, but that didn't stop me from doing it. Every minute left on the island is a minute to fight or scramble.
THR: Why did you shout out Denise's name when you went up to cast your vote?
Penner: To be funny.
THR: Do you have any regrets?
Penner: Yeah, I regret of course that I didn't realize I needed to shake their hands when they said we want to go to the end with you at that moment. I had played essentially a noncommittal game, so I would have to -- offend is not the word -- but keep my options open. When I finally found some comfortable ground, I wanted to firm that up and didn't realize the time had already come for me to pick a side. I didn't realize the end game was upon us. I thought I had a least another day or another vote.
THR: Why did Abi single you out after the last tribal council in asking for an apology [several players criticized what they called her lack of social skills in last week's episode]?
Penner: She singled me out that day after tribal. I had, as had Denise, been asked our opinion about Abi. Jeff [Probst] asked me if I thought it was cultural, the problems we were having with Abi and the problems she was having with us. I said quite clearly that I did not believe it was cultural -- it was her personality and our personalities not meshing -- but they didn't show that, which is fine. The next day, it was like, come on, let's clear the air and have a conversion. She said she wanted to hear what I had to say and that I owed her an apology. I thought it was absurd. We had a much longer conversation than made it on TV. It ended with us ostensibly finding some common ground and hugging and my basically saying to her, "You're not being as friendly as you might be. We're all in this neighborhood together. While living here, let's find a way to be less self-involved, less self-important, less selfish. It will be a much easier, nicer place to be if one person isn't all 'me, me, me' or 'you guys suck, you guys suck, you guys suck.' " Whether she really did or not, she said she understood. Yes, we're playing for $1 million and yes it's hard, but it will be much easier if we treat each other with respect and less selfishness.
THR: Do you wish you or someone would have saved their money at the auction for any possible "advantage" in the game that might have come up? [Abi put her entire $500 down on a mystery item that wound up allowing her to win immunity.]
Penner: Certainly in hindsight, I guess it would have been good to do. I wasn't aware such an advantage would be on the table. People said in [previous season] One World that advantage was made available, but I hadn't seen that. I believed that Denise was going home next had Abi won immunity. It didn't dawn on me [that it would be me].
THR: You were seen comforting Lisa on several occasions. How much of that was strategy, and how much was you just being a caring human being?
Penner: The two are not mutually exclusive. She made herself available to me, and we really got along well. She and I opened up to each other; she was going through some stuff that is her business to talk about if she wants to. It is very, very, very hard out there, and honestly, I have been an actor on TV, married, with kids -- there is a lot of common ground we shared. And the fact that I needed her to work with me -- honestly, Pete [Yurkowski] didn't want to talk to me, he didn't have a lot to say; Artis [Silvester] didn't want to talk to me, we had maybe one conversation; and Abi was the same way. Had they been in distress and vulnerable and wanting to talk to me and use me as a sounding board, I might have had the same conversation with them. Whether that played out strategically, I don't know. I like to believe I'm a pretty empathetic person.
THR: What were you whistling as you left tribal council after being voted out?
Penner: I wish I could tell you. I wish I were smart enough to have whistled something specific. I did realize that if I whistled or sang any identifiable song, they would have to bleep it out [because of rights issues]. It was probably some version of "f--- you all rat bastard motherf---ers." Some tune in the back of my head [starts singing]: "Up yours, up yours, all die ..."
THR: You've played three times for a total of 80 days in the game. Would you do it again?
Penner: If I was fit enough, I would certainly consider it. I would love to play with other returning players again and not just newbies. But I'd have to assume I would have a big target on my back even with other returning players: "This dude has played three times, no way we're letting him win."
THR: Was it easier or harder the third time?
Penner: I think it was much easier because I knew what to expect. I put on a lot of weight knowing or hoping that I would last long enough to lose weight. That was my strategy, even though [at the end] I looked like a sack that had deflated or like somebody had let all the air out of a balloon -- it was grotesque. But I had a sense of how the challenges worked and how to organize camp and things like that. The only thing that made it a little bit harder was that I am a little bit older, but even so, I won individual immunity and helped my team win rewards. So I competed on a higher level.
Watch THR's pre-premiere interview with Penner below, in which he talks about his strategy.