Jonathan Penner the 50 year old, actor, producer and writer from Los Angeles, California became the 5th member of the jury on Survivor Philippines this week. Penner is a three time veteran on Survivor. On previous seasons he was the 6th jury member on Survivor Cook Islands and was medically evacuated from Survivor Micronesia due to a knee infection.
Jonathan’s ability to tell a story, his emotional intelligence, wit and ability to read people make him a Survivor fan favorite. We had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan to get his thoughts on his experience in the Philippines.
Q: Going into the food auction do you think everyone dropped their guard with Abi? How do you see it now?
Penner: I guess we did, obviously we did. I thought I was in a better position than I was and everyone else knew they were in the position they were in because we had all agreed to vote out Abi. Quite honestly I didn’t think about there being some kind of specific advantage that Abi might afford herself. The last food auction I’d been in, there was a disadvantage that you could buy. So drop our guard, yeah I guess we did, we all assumed she’d be going home which is a dangerous thing to do.
Q: What is your take on the bias that other Survivors have with returning players?
Penner: I think it’s a little simplistic and I think that people are going to the game with an assumption which can be very dangerous. Certainly you can go very far with hitching your wagon to a returning player. We know a lot. We have a lot of experience and can go far and because there are targets on our backs we need to have strong allies. Going into a final four, five or six situation with a returning player and then trying to cut them loose can really catapult you into a final situation. Cutting us off just because we are returning players is a lot of energy that could be spent in a positive way instead of a negative way and certainly led to Jeff Kent’s demise.
Yak: Did you think that Jeff Kent’s obsession with getting you out is the reason he left so quickly?
Penner: No. I think it’s an easy story to tell, I don’t doubt that it’s true. That he walked into the ‘not being the idiot that let a returning player last longer than him’. I think that we were in a terrible position going into the merge. The Kalabaw players, Denise was more tightly aligned with Malcolm and his idol than she was with us and mine. He found himself in a very very tough spot and that’s why he went home.
Yak: From what we saw you and Skupin were the only ones that knew Lisa’s secret and who she was. Did you ever consider using that or giving her away in an attempt to save yourself?
Penner: Hmmm. We weren’t the only ones that knew. Denise also knew. In fact Denise told me. I didn’t know. I certainly let Lisa believe that I did know. By the time I met her I did know but when we first got to the beach I didn’t recognize her. I had never seen an episode of the Facts of Life. Just like I didn’t know Jeff Kent was a baseball player. No, I honestly didn’t consider using that against her, nor did I consider betraying some of the other stuff she told me in confidence. You know it’s one of those funny things, well, I guess if I thought that I needed to do that, (pauses) um… I’m not allowed to talk about what happens further on in the game, such a look. (referring to the look he got from the CBS publicity person who is monitoring the interview.) That’s all I’ll say about that.
Yak: What has surprised you the most watching so far this season?
Penner: Yeah, It surprised me that Jeff Kent had poisoned the well against me so early and so effectively. I could not figure out why I was getting no traction with any of the Kalabaw players, to align with me. He and I got along very, very well. Unfortunately that is not shown. I do believe that we would have gone far. Before I won that immunity challenge and thought I was going home that night, I told him that I thought he would go all the way and I certainly believed he had a great shot at winning and that I would probably vote for him, you know? So that was surprising. I can’t say disappointing, just surprising. Surprising that last night Skupin was so clearly ready to vote me off. I never quite figured out why they were so determined to vote for me instead of Carter. Immediately when Abi did not lose, they determined that I was too big a threat or something. Or too big an asshole, (laughs) I don’t know. They wanted to get me out of there. I was very, very angry about that. I knew the family visit was coming up you know and asked them “My wife is on a plane right now to the Philippines, boy I’ll be pissed if I don’t get to see her and she’s gonna be pissed too.” Maybe they were afraid that she’d kick all their asses, which she probably could have done!
Yak: I want to thank you for not hugging Abi when you left.
Penner: (Laughs) yeah, that would have been just too much!
Q: Referring to the conversation with Lisa about crafting her own story. How much of that conversation from your standpoint was genuine? Was that a game play move, or was it just Lisa connecting with someone because she basically couldn’t seem to connect with anyone else out there?
Penner: It was all those things. Survivor is complicated, life is complicated. Just like I’m talking to you honestly and openly. She and I really had a wonderful connection, have a wonderful connection and we’re talking openly and honestly and I needed to sway her. We talked about a lot of things. I was actually surprised very pleasantly surprised that they left that in. That’s what reality TV is about . Taking three days of life and editing it into a story. I was just hoping that she could understand and I know that she did, she’s a very smart woman. If she made this flip the audience was gonna be cheering and if she didn’t the audience was going to be disappointed. Was that manipulative? Of course. Was it true? Of course.
Q: How did this exit from the game compare to your previous exit at having been medically evacuated?
Penner: (Laughs) Being medically evacuated was much tougher and unbelievably frustrating. It was excruciatingly painful I must say and actually rather frightening. It lead to a whole adventure in and of itself of surgery in Palau and rehab and lots of back channel bullshit we don’t have to go into. It was quite mortifying and a terrible way to leave the game. This was much less mortifying. I basically played the game I wanted to play. Clearly I made a mistake in not lying to Lisa when she needed me to shake her hand and say I would make a commitment to her. Should have done that, could have done that. How it would have shaken out differently I’m not sure. Clearly Malcolm and Denise saw me as a big threat and were prepared to take me out. I think Skupin did too really.
Q: You mentioned in your day after interview that you’ve played Survivor for 80 days and that the show has squeezed everything it can out of you. Now having some time past, do you feel the same way, or would you play again if asked?
Penner: I would certainly consider it if I was available and physically able. I would never say never at this point. Survivor is an extraordinary thing. It’s a peak experience you might call it. It’s a highly adrenalized almost addictive kind of thing like vacation or sex or reading good books, whatever turns you on. You get to do something that really puts you in a heightened state takes you out of your day to day life and is a whole experience of it from soup to nuts. From training to doing it to watching it with my friends and family even to now getting to talk to you is kind of fascinating and fabulous.
So, if they made that call again; I can barely conceive of getting a fourth chance to play the game. I would of course consider it very very seriously.
Thanks Jonathan Penner for taking the time to talk to us at the Yak!
Were you unhappy to see Penner leave? What do you think of what he had to say? Let us know below!