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Jonathan Penner took a different strategic approach to the game of Survivor in his third attempt to win the $1 million prize.
“You’re gonna see me kick a lot of ass this season, that’s the truth,” he promised of Survivor: Philippines, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Penner 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. He is one of three returning contestants for the show’s 25th season; the other two are Russell Swan and Michael Skupin.
Penner told The Hollywood Reporter that he played the game differently because he believed he would be an early target for elimination, having already been on the show twice.
“I knew that a lot of the newer players would be like, ‘Get this old guy out of here, he’s had two shots already …. he’s a big threat.’ That’s how I figured they would be looking at me,” he said. “So I went out of my way to engender as much trust as I could to make them value me as a team player but also like me as someone they wanted to hang out with.”
He likened his strategic game to being a server in a restaurant trying to please people at several different tables all at once.
“There were all these people I was dealing with and I had to figure out what each of them needed to have the best time that they could,” he added.
Penner also said he shared some of the insights he’s gleaned over two previous seasons with his fellow competitors in the hopes that they might keep him around longer to learn more from him.
Even before filming began, Penner began taking steps for his body to adjust to the little amount of food provided to contestants throughout the course of the show. He said he purposely gained a lot of weight before the season started, so that he wouldn’t immediately begin losing muscle while on the island.
“I came out a big fat old guy, which was intentional because like I said I put on a lot of weight, but I also wanted to be seen as, ‘Yeah he’s like my chubby Uncle Louie,’ and then I could actually do some stuff and stay out there,” he said.
Penner also hinted that some of his fellow competitors struggled with the grueling downpours on the island during filming.
“You’ll see a lot of really sad, miserable young people, and you’ll some older people who are like ‘Yeah, it’s raining, isn’t it fantastic?'” he added. “To me, the beautiful thing about Survivor is that you get to experience an adventure. …
“The fact is that sleeping in the dirt is fantastic, crapping in the woods, swimming every day, being in the sunshine — it’s the best thing for you. That’s how we were evolved to live. It’s only in the last couple hundred years that we live like we do, with flushed toilets and all this stuff. … You’re getting paid to get taken out of civilization and society as we know it? Who wouldn’t want to do it?”
The other 15 Survivor: Philippines contestants — who were split into three tribes for the first time in several seasons — include former Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel and former Major League Baseball star Jeff Kent.
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