Exclusive: Jonathan Penner talks about 'Survivor: Micronesia'
By Christopher Rocchio, 03/17/2008
Jonathan Penner didn't want to quit, but the possibility of losing his leg or life convinced him otherwise.
The former Survivor: Cook Islands castaway was medically evacuated from Palau and became the sixth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites during Thursday night's broadcast of the long-running CBS reality show's sixteenth season.
On Friday, Jonathan talked to Reality TV World about his injury, what he thinks caused it to become infected and what happened once he was evacuated. In addition, Jonathan also discussed why he thinks he had the game "well in hand" before he left; the origins of a beef another castaway had with him; and how his strategy heading into the game differed from the first time he was on Survivor.
Jonathan: When it occurred? No. It was a puncture. In fact, I didn't even know I'd been injured until after the challenge was over. The injury was really exacerbated I think by the stitching. It was a puncture wound that probably -- in hindsight I learned -- should have been left open. I don't know what would have happened had they left it open, but from what I've heard the stitching of it almost guaranteed that I was going to get an infection in there.
Reality TV World: Did the stitching occur the first time the Survivormedics looked at it?
Jonathan: They looked at it at the challenge site, and then they were going to address it on the beach. I asked them to wait to address it so we could get back to the beach while there was still daylight so that my tribe could enjoy the reward that we had won. I was afraid that if they took care of me medically right then and there, we would lose too much light. [The medics] looked at each other and they decided that they could do that -- that was their decision by my request.
Reality TV World: Were the medics optimistic you'd be able to remain in the competition after the injury happened?
Jonathan: I can't speak for them. I don't know.
Reality TV World: Were you optimistic?
Jonathan: I had an injury a couple days before. I already had some stitches. I had a gash on my leg that they stitched up and it was fine. The problem was -- as I said -- that this was a puncture. That's why it got infected once they stitched it.
Reality TV World: How much pain were you in during Thursday night's Reward Challenge -- you were limping pretty badly and took that nasty spill. Were you in a lot of pain?
Jonathan: Yes I was. It was rather excruciating, actually. They had wanted to take a look at me before the challenge and I asked them if I could get through the challenge because I believed that I could contribute to the challenge.
Reality TV World: What was going through your mind when you met with Dr. Jessica Sartini following the Reward Challenge?
Jonathan: Well I've got to tell you what happened because it didn't get on camera. She unwrapped my leg -- which she had wrapped two days before -- and puss just poured out of my leg.
Reality TV World: Geez...
Jonathan: She just said, "Nope. That's it. You're done."
Reality TV World: So there was no scenario where you might have been able to remain in the game at that point?
Jonathan: No. I certainly fought them on it until she just said -- and this is what they did show on camera -- I said, "Look, I'm not quitting the game. I don't want to leave the game."
She said, "Jonathan, you are going to go to the hospital. You can either go on your own two legs now, or you can wait about 12 to 24 hours and this will go into your bloodstream -- it will be sepsis -- and we will take you out of here on a stretcher because that's the only way you're going to be able to get out of here. Then you will really be in serious, serious trouble."
That was the deciding factor.
Reality TV World: What happened once you were evacuated? Did you immediately go to the hospital? How long did your recovery take?
Jonathan: I was immediately taken to the hospital, operated on the next day. I was put on IV antibiotics for a week. Then I was operated on again later. The whole thing took about... Oh gosh I don't know. Probably 20, 21 days. Then I came home and I've been under a doctor's care since then. My leg is feeling better.
Reality TV World: You and Eliza Orlins discussed teaming up with Airai's Fans to boot James Clement or Parvati Shallow. Are you confident that plan could have come to fruition if you would have stayed in the game?
Jonathan: Knowing what little I know, yes I am. Certainly watching next week's episode, I could learn that [Alexis Jones] is going to go right back to Parvati and James and say, "[Evil laugh]... I've got him right where I want him!" But from where I was sitting, it certainly looked like I had the game well in hand because we certainly had [Jason Siska] and/or [Kathleen Sleckman] to bring in as well.
We were going to get rid of Parvati. We were then going to get rid of either Kathy, Jason or James -- depending on how the game progressed and who we needed to have in. I was actually really enjoying myself with James. I believe that he and I could have worked well together.
So yes! I am confident that I had the game well in hand.
Reality TV World: Do you think Eliza's going to be in trouble now that you're not there?
Jonathan: I can only assume that she has a difficult situation. But the truth is, if she is able to pull Alexis and [Natalie Bolton] and Jason and/or Kathy -- I mean there's a lot of players out there -- and we were able to accurately portray James and Parvati as an unbreakable lock, and we were able to tell everyone -- correctly -- that they were in a very tight alliance with [Ozzy Lusth and Amanda Kimmel] and [Cirie Fields] had really locked herself into working with this foursome.
That's why I felt I was actually in a pretty strong position, because I was really only locked into -- or felt allied, specifically -- to Eliza and to [Ami Cusack]. Whereas Cirie is now aligned to five people.
Jonathan: What happened was -- and this I only learned after the game -- I couldn't figure out what Cirie's problem was with me either. I mean as we're talking, you're having your own opinion of what kind of a person I am or how I come across.
But Cirie and Yau-Man had a secret alliance after she came back from Exile Island. She told him the four clues [to the whereabouts of the Hidden Immunity Idol] that she had learned and their agreement was that he was going to try and go to Exile Island, get a huge head start on whoever was out there with him, find the idol, and the two of them would then share the idol and could march forward quite confidently.
It seems like a good plan, I guess. Yau-Man unfortunately -- for all of us I think -- then put my name forward. I don't even remember this, but this is according to him, he put my name forward to try to blow some smoke and mirrors around his alliance with her. He said, "Let's send Jonathan to Exile Island," which even though we were at that point -- or certainly by the next vote -- drawing straws or matchsticks. There was no control over who was going to get to go.
She heard him say this and immediately felt betrayed [and felt] that he was going to tell me the clues she told him or that he was actually more tightly aligned with me than with her. That's why she flopped and was so determined to vote him off. This is what I've learned. According to him, he said to her, "That's not true! I haven't told Jonathan anything! We're still fine, we can still do this." And she said, "Nope. I don't believe you and I don't trust you and I certainly don't trust [Jonathan]."
Now when she flopped, I of course -- you saw this on TV -- was flabbergasted and actually quite hurt because she was saying, "I can't trust you because you're a big liar!" I could say, "I've never lied to you. I'm not lying to you now!" Of course she didn't believe me because she thought that I was covering for this secret thing that was in her brain between me and Yau-Man.
Reality TV World: Do you think you'd have had any chance of breaking up the couples alliance or repairing your relationship with Cirie if the tribal shuffle hadn't happened?
Jonathan: Yes, in the long run. Certainly that would have been a big twist in the game, but it's kind of a would of, could of, should of situation. The truth is, there was a tribal swap. The truth is, I had no real problem with Cirie. I knew that she had done something that didn't make any sense to me, and she was essentially accusing me of being the reason she behaved so irrationally.
That's why I really got into it with her, and that's why I wanted to paint her as blackly as I could so that people would understand that it was in fact her that was doing the betraying and acting irrationally and was to be an untrustworthy member of the team. What I had no idea of was that Yau-Man had made this terrible error in judgement.
Reality TV World: Why didn't your alliance just team up with the couples alliance and vote off Cirie? That's what usually happens to a Survivorfence-sitter like Cirie...
Jonathan: Nope. It never dawned on me. I never believed that I could work with [the couples alliance] for a long period of time. I would have been the fifth, sixth, seventh person in that alliance. Honestly from Day 2... I know Parvati thinks that I have something against her. I don't. I respect her game far too much to feel that I could have left her in the game. Within two days, she had James wrapped around her finger. Ozzy had said to me and other people that while they were not going out, that she was like a sister to him.
I said to my allies, "Look. We've got a girl out here who's got her brother and her lover on the island with her. Far too dangerous to keep around. I played with her [on Survivor: Cook Islands] and I know what she's capable of doing. She's going to play under the radar. She's an unbelievably charming and effective player, and I think we need to get rid of her."
Time will tell whether I was right or not -- but certainly at this point, she's sitting pretty in the game. She's there. I'm sitting here talking to you.
Reality TV World: How tight was your alliance with Yau-Man, Ami and Eliza and when did it take shape? Was it solely born as a response to the couples alliance? Were Yau-Man, Ami and Eliza just an alliance of necessity or convenience?
Jonathan: Yes and no. [The couples alliance] seemed to be gravitating towards each other pretty clearly very early on. As I say, Parvati and Ozzy knew each other from Cook Islands, respected each other. James and Amanda did. They seemed like a pretty tight foursome very quickly.
The four of us came together also. I think we were somewhat like-minded strategic players. We play with our brains a lot. I certainly felt comfortable with Yau-Man as an older guy. I felt comfortable with Eliza as a New York Jew law student. We knew and trusted Ami, who I like very much. It just seemed like a logical fit.
The two that did not seem to make as much sense was Cirie -- who honestly none of us trusted -- and [Jon "Jonny Fairplay" Dalton], who we really thought we could get at least one or two votes out of.
Reality TV World: What was your original strategy heading into the game? Jeff Probst has mentioned how some of the Favorites began talking about alliances and strategies before they even knew that they'd be coming back for sure. Had you had any of those types of talks? If so, with whom?
Jonathan: I certainly knew that I had a perception issue. Rightly or wrongly, I was seen as a villain or at the very least an antagonist in my season. I did have a problem with perception of whether I was trustworthy or not. As much as I could argue, 'Look, I did the best I could. I worked with [Candice Woodcock] for as long as I could and blah, blah, blah." The fact was that people didn't trust me.
That's what I wanted to do going into the game -- make a strong alliance with people that I could trust for the first two-thirds of the game. I was certainly prepared to make a move later in the game because somebody's got to win the damn thing. You've got to move or be moved upon. But in fact I did not flop over to Ozzy and James when they asked me to vote with them against Eliza because I needed to prove -- or show, I felt -- that I was prepared to stick with my allies. I think you have to do that to win the game. I don't think you can be a flip-flopper and ultimately win the game. I learned that on Cook Islands.
Reality TV World: Explain how you were cast for Survivor: Micronesia. What were you thinking when they asked if you'd be interested in coming back?
Jonathan: I was thrilled. They called and said, "We're thinking of doing something with some returning players. Are you available? Would you be interested?" I said, "I am and I would." It just progressed like that.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you?
Jonathan: I've written a book during the [Writers Guild of America strike] with a friend of mine -- Steven Schneider. It's a book called "Horror Cinema." It's going to be our from Taschen. I have a couple of TV and movie projects. I have two beautiful kids that I'm raising and a wife that I'm loving.