Survivor: Philippines – Winner Results
In a bit of a departure, I’m doing this recap live-blog style, or at least as a series of live reactions to what’s happening, as I’m not entirely sure Survivor lends itself to live commentary in the traditional sense. Tonight’s season finale, “Million Dollar Question”, gets rolling right off the bat, so let’s get to it!
-After tribal, Skupin celebrates the elimination of Abi-Maria, equating it with having a tumor removed. Malcolm, meanwhile, hates having to continually do damage control after someone leaves the game in a big huff, as eliminated parties tend to throw him under the bus with compliments (i.e., “Malcolm is clearly going to win this game”, etc.). Malcolm recognizes that being seen in such a positive light paints a target on his back. Thus, he has to work harder than the average castaway to keep his ass off a jury bench.
-Skupin acknowledges that although he has an alliance with Malcolm, he has to think of who he can actually beat at the final tribal council (Too bad you just gave a surefire goat her walking papers not two hours earlier, Mike). Skupin believes he has a better “story”, and that he might actually have a chance at winning this thing if he can just get in front of the jury. Yet against Malcolm, that’s a tall order. Denise recognizes Malcolm’s obvious challenge potential, and rationalizes that she needs to win the next immunity challenge, as she believes she’s the next to go.
-I can’t remember if they’ve ever done a reward challenge at final four before. If they have, I don’t think it ever had a reward with these kinds of stakes, as the winner of this challenge will get an advantage in the final immunity challenge (guess we’re getting a final three after all. With only one elimination over the course of two hours, this finale could end up plodding a bit, unless there’s some crazy strategizing in store…or a really explosive final tribal. Please be the latter.).
-The reward challenge involves (what else?) an obstacle course in which the castaways untie a series of bags with puzzle pieces, culminating in the castaways, of course, having to solve the puzzle at the end. The challenge is closer than you might think, although Malcolm still wins handily. He gets an advantage in the final immunity challenge that, given his prior challenge acumen, he probably doesn’t even need. However, he’s at least his odds of getting in front of the jury are better than they were when the target was painted on his back in neon watercolors.
Final Three Double-Deals
-Lisa despairs of any chance of getting rid of Malcolm, now that he has an advantage. Malcolm, meanwhile, is more confident than ever, resolving to take Lisa and Skupin to the final three, as he feels he can beat them. That said, he also feels he can beat Denise, although it would be harder, given the similarities in their stories (as the last tribesmen standing from the ravaged Matsing). Denise wants to secure a final three plan with Malcolm, asking Malcolm to at least let she and Lisa tie in the vote at tribal council so that they can do a fire-making challenge to decide who leaves. It’s kind of amusing how everyone is talking about Malcolm as if he’s already won immunity.
-Malcolm politely refuses to commit just now, which makes Denise leery. She approaches Lisa about going to the final three with she and Skupin. It’s funny, in a way, that Denise equates Malcolm with Penner, in her pitch to Lisa. As much as I adore Penner, Malcolm is playing a much more sophisticated game, deftly managing his alliances and nimbly avoiding breaking his deals outright (or making any deals he’ll be honor-bound to keep. His deal with Denise, and similar deals with Lisa and Skupin, only carried until final four. I honestly believe he could probably break freely from any deals he’s made without suffering much in the way of repercussions, given how remarkably he’s negotiated his alliance to this point, in many ways).
-Lisa tells Skupin about the potential final three deal with Denise. He feels that having conflicting final three deals is great, as it opens up his options. However, he’s not as sold on the invincibility of Malcolm in front of the jury as the women seem to be. He genuinely believes he has a better story than Malcolm (a lot of talk about stories, providing a kind of callback to Penner’s talk with Lisa earlier this season about what the narrative of this season is going to be, and how certain castaways will allow themselves to be portrayed). Skupin feels, should he be sitting in front of the jury with Malcolm, that Malcolm’s victory is far from certain. Lisa, meanwhile, believes that she and Skupin should do everything in their power to make certain Denise wins immunity, as Denise is someone they can beat, since Lisa feels that Denise hasn’t really played the game, she’s simply allowed Malcolm to play it for her.
-This opinion from Lisa kind of does a disservice to the subtle, under-the-radar game Denise has been playing. It’s akin, somewhat, to Natalie White’s winning performance on Survivor: Samoa, where she recognized what happens to aggressive players in the game, and so decided to sit back and allow Russell Hantz to take all the bullets. This allowed her to come off as a saint at the final tribal, which got her a majority of the votes for the million. Of course, for this plan to work, you’d need a Russell Hantz-type to burn the fields and salt the earth behind him, so to speak, and Malcolm hasn’t been that kind of player. He’s been level-headed, physically-powerful, and well-liked, to a fault. It’s part of why his game has been so remarkable. But no one should be counting out Denise just yet.
-Parade of the Fallen! I kind of hate this tradition, but it really is a Survivor staple, so it’s hard to complain about it, these days, especially given how much of the game has changed over the seasons, to where this has been as close to a “traditional” game of Survivor as we’ve had since maybe Vanuatu. The final four march past the torches of those that have been eliminated in the game, and then burn the torches in effigy, en route to the…
Final Immunity Challenge
-The challenge is a traditional (again with the tradition) balance/endurance test, as the remaining castaways must balance a small metal ball on a cylindrical planks of wood, utilizing two handles on either side to pick up the plank, with the size of the plank increasing with each round every several minutes. The challenge will continue until all but one castaway has dropped their ball.
-Malcolm cashes in his challenge advantage: If at any point he drops his ball, he gets one free reset. Skupin argues it’s an advantage he doesn’t need, and Malcolm amusingly gives Skupin a knock-knock on the skull. Even more amusingly, Malcolm does need the advantage. Almost immediately, in fact, as roughly a minute into the second round, Malcolm drops his ball. In a relative shocker, at the most crucial challenge of the series, Malcolm drops his ball, rendering his advantage moot. Malcolm is eliminated from the challenge.
-Denise looks like she can taste her first individual immunity, that it’s finally within her grasp. Until her grip weakens and her ball drops like it’s New Year’s Eve. Denise is eliminated from the challenge.
-For a moment, it looks like Lisa might actually pull it out, at least from the teasing music cues and editing tricks that make it seem like Skupin is only moments away from an unexpected slip-up. But it’s only a tease, as Lisa drops her planks, and the ball with it. Lisa is eliminated from the challenge.
SKUPIN wins final immunity and a guaranteed spot in front of the jury!
Back at Camp
-Malcolm blames his challenge loss on his nerves “around girls”, and I’m not entirely sure if he’s joking or not. That said, he’s pretty disconcerted with his prospects going forward. He needed to win the challenge, but he s*** the bed in the end. “This is the first time in the game where I’m not calling the shots,” Malcolm observes. “Hopefully I’ve strategized well enough that it doesn’t matter.” If Malcolm can actually get Lisa and Skupin to take him to the finals, his game will enter the pantheon of all-time Survivor games, especially if he wins. If not, I’d argue he still has a lot to recommend himself for future seasons as a returnee.
-Denise realizes that her head is on the chopping block, yet Skupin is so enamored of the idea that he can beat Malcolm in front of the jury that he’s actually considering taking him to the end to have it out, man-to-man. Denise argues to Skupin that she can see the honor in beating Malcolm one-on-one, but she fears none of them can. She actually gets teary-eyed when talking about what her friendship with Lisa and Skupin means, and the moment seems to affect Skupin.
-When Skupin touches base with Lisa, he tells her his plan to keep Malcolm around (rationalizing to the camera that, before leaving for the Philippines, his wife told him to make their family proud. Skupin believes that going head-to-head with the best opponent remaining, and coming out on top, is how he’ll do that. Hey Mike, I think your family would be prouder if you brought home a check for a million dollars).
-Lisa rightly thinks Skupin is insane to even be considering taking Malcolm to the end, though she doesn’t actually tell him that (from what we see, anyhow). Showing an uncommon bit of common sense, for her, Lisa states that she has no interest in handing the title of Sole Survivor to Malcolm on a silver platter. And so the line in the sand is drawn, as Lisa/Denise are likely to vote “Malcolm” while Skupin and Malcolm are probably writing “Denise.” Of course, that’s only an optimistic estimate. Given how heavily the editing is forecasting a tie vote/Denise elimination, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it was unanimous to send Malcolm packing.
-Lisa talks about the changing identity of their alliance and what it means, with Probst equating it with “unrequited love.” Probst then asks Skupin about his thoughts on Malcolm, as he’d stated that Malcolm had given he and his son a moment that will last a lifetime. Skupin says that Malcolm has “favors for life”, though Lisa argues that no favor is worth giving away a million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor. When Probst asks Lisa if there’s any advantage in taking Malcolm to the end, Lisa hesitates for an eternity. “Don’t hesitate that long!” Malcolm chides, half-jesting, but likely just as serious. Lisa ultimately says “There’s no reason for me to keep Malcolm.” Malcolm, seemingly sick of having to play tribe/jury management, rolls his eyes.
And it’s time to vote!
Of the votes we see, Malcolm and Denise each vote for the other. Probst gets the votes and does the final tally…
First vote: Malcolm
Second vote: Denise
Third vote: Malcolm
Fourth vote: Malcolm
MALCOLM becomes the fifteenth person voted out, and the ninth and final member of the jury!
Malcolm is clearly bummed (though he congratulates Denise on the way out, since she’s obviously winning this thing), and says as much in his exit video, saying that this is devastating for a lifelong fan, to come so close and fail to seal the deal. He believes he might have overplayed his hand, in some respects.
The Final Three
-Lisa, Skupin, and Denise return to camp, and fret over how mad Malcolm was to be eliminated. Denise feels that she’ll have to argue, in her final jury statement, that it was a move she had to do to outplay Malcolm. Skupin is struggling to see how Denise could turn on her alliance from day one, and yet still get Malcolm’s vote of confidence on the way out. Skupin says he’ll have a lot to say about that at the final tribal council.
-Final tree mail of the season, and it’s orange juice and champagne on ice, along with fruit, bacon, sausage, and all kinds of food rewards. “It’s not tree mail, it’s tree meal!” Lisa squeals, in her one adorable moment this season. Skupin is over-the-moon to be here, saying that he knew he had what it took to win this game twenty-three seasons ago, and that he’s always wanted to come back and try again. Lisa says that being on Survivor is remarkable, and nothing at all like being on The Facts of Life, as she doesn’t have a script out here, and the game requires much more of your heart, adding that, of the eighteen people in the game, only three ever get to experience Day 39.
Final Tribal Council
-The jury files in, and Malcolm looks like a completely different person without his facial hair.
-Denise kicks things off by saying she’s not going to make apologies for being a part of this final three. She makes the case that she’s bee to every single tribal council this season, and she’s outwit, outplayed, and outlasted the people on the jury. I’ve been wanting someone to make this kind of jury argument for countless seasons, stripping away the veneer of ass-kissing and tepid justifications, and just announcing “This was how I played the game. I refuse to apologize for it.” Yet I worry she might be coming across a smidge too aggressive, as opposed to simply assertive. But it’s still a strong statement for her agency in the game, a refutation of the notion that she was riding coattails.
-Lisa states that her game has changed over the course of the season, and it wasn’t until her brother gave her a figurative kick in the butt that she started to really get her game together. She suggests that she’s done a lot more to get to this endpoint than people are willing to recognize.
-Skupin argues that returning castaways get short shrift in a game like this, and that he believes he got here on merit. It’s a strong argument that doesn’t come across as combative and self-congratulatory as Denise’s, though I don’t know if he made enough of a concrete justification for how he got here, given how often his name was tossed around in the early stages of the game. But it’s still a solid opening for the returnee.
Time for Questions/Statements from the Jury
-Artis starts things off by berating the final three for playing a game contrary to the kind of game they say they wanted to play, basically calling them all hypocrites. He then sits down. Okay, then.
-Carter wants to know what the reaction was around camp to the necessity of his going home. Skupin talks about how he had to separate friendship from the game, and that there was no malice involved in eliminating Carter.
-Pete accuses Lisa of being a Judas, saying that while she claimed never to have voted for them, she clearly knew that he and Artis were going home. Lisa argues that she didn’t know about Artis. Denise, meanwhile, states that if she’d come into a solid Tandang seven, she never would have been able to make it to the end. There were fissures in the alliance, and she exploited them.
-RC basically congratulates Lisa for making it this far, stating that she wanted her gone the minute she came off the raft. I didn’t really expect RC’s Q&A to amount to a pro-Lisa parade, but that’s what it is, and damned if she doesn’t look amazing while doing it.
-Malcolm is unexpectedly full of vitriolic bitterness, telling Denise not to dare nod her head at him, and demanding she quit “appeasing” everybody with her therapist nonsense. He also applauds Lisa for really swinging for the fences in her opening statement. He asks Denise why she thinks she deserves to win more than Lisa and Skupin. Malcolm isn’t satisfied with her first answer (that she’s sitting in front of the jury while Malcolm is on it), and so Denise adjusts and says that she doesn’t think Lisa and Skupin really played the game, strategically, at all.
-Jeff asks Skupin about his game, and he responds by talking about how he had to shift his game when his name started to come up as a potential evictee. Lisa is given the same question, and she makes a truly remarkable defense of her play style, talking about how she tried to organize a blindside on Malcolm when she discovered he had the idol, and that she was continually fighting to advance in the game.
-Abi asks Lisa and Skupin why they deserves her vote. Both parties pretty much reiterate what they said to Jeff Kent, arguing that their play styles merit reward. Meanwhile, Abi wants justification from Denise. Denise makes an argument about the exigencies of the game, and apologizes for hurting Abi’s feelings.
-Penner congratulates the final three, then laces into each castaway: He tells Denise that her fear of coming across as a bitch has finally been realized. He then tells Lisa that her name has never been written down once in the game, and that she’ll likely continue that perfect record tonight. He goes on to finally reveal Lisa’s secret to the world, that from the ages of 12-21, she was “America’s sweetheart” on The Facts of Life. Lisa defuses this moment beautifully, asking Penner if he talked about what he did in his youth when he played the game, or if he instead talked about the person he was now, and what he brought to the game as an individual. Penner, devoid of an adequate retort, simply argues that he could talk about his past if he wanted, and regale everyone with stories of going to the bathroom, but he doesn’t want to waste anyone’s time. And like that, the questioning ends. I’m kind of underwhelmed, actually.
-That said, is anyone else feeling a potential Lisa win? She’s getting a very Tina Wesson (Survivor: The Australian Outback winner) edit, and she’s given one of the most unexpectedly remarkable jury performances in recent memory. I seriously had no idea she had any of that in her. It could still easily go either way, but if you told me that Denise would go to the end with Lisa and Skupin, and wind up looking like she’s en route to getting absolutely zero votes, I’d have called you a liar and asked for a sample of whatever drugs you happened to be on, as she played the game just about as well as anyone possibly could have. I also wouldn’t have pegged Malcolm as being the massive hypocrite he ultimately turned out to be, as it was all well and good for him to write down Denise’s name out of do-or-die necessity, but it apparently is dirty pool for her to do the same thing. I figured Malcolm, of all people, would understand.
Time to vote!
Of the votes we see, RC votes Lisa (arguing that she was one of the smartest people in the game), Penner votes Denise (adding that she played a pretty flawless game, as I’m relieved that someone finally acknowledged the subtlety and strength of Denise’s game), and Carter votes Skupin (adorably misspelled “Skoopin”). So all three are on the board! This is pretty exciting after all.
It’s time to read the results, LIVE! But first, Probst asks for a moment of silence for the victims of the Newtown, CT tragedy.
First vote: Lisa
Second vote: Denise
Third vote: Skupin
Fourth vote: Denise
Fifth vote: Denise
Sixth vote: Denise
Seventh vote: Denise
The winner of Survivor: Philippines: DENISE!
This was a great, great season of Survivor. Not only did the right person win, but she actually had to really, truly fight for it in a way that few recent deserving winners have had to. Sure, Kim of Survivor: One World played an all-time great game, and Boston Rob pretty much blew every other winning game of the last ten seasons out of the water, but the moronic casting practices and tribal alignments meant that they didn’t have to truly fight for their victories the way that Denise had to. Which is not to slander their games, as Rob and Kim not having to fight all that hard for the victory could be construed as being the result of both players having engineered their games in such a way that they wouldn’t have to, which is the mark of an incredible player. But incredible players come in a variety of different flavors, and the Kim/Rob variety of winner, who shores up influence and assures that they’re rarely, if ever, in any real danger, is only one kind. Sometimes you have players like Denise, who make the most out of bad situations, and never relent in consolidating their own power bases, while employing skillful jury management, such that the people she votes out will still gladly vote for her at the end. Denise did just about everything right, even though I could rarely point to an instance where she wasn’t in at least some measure of danger. And that’s amazing. It really is. Between the amount of colorful personalities, and the sheer number of strategically-sound, game-savvy players in the game, along with volatile, wildcard elements like Russell Swan and Abi-Maria (even Jonathan Penner) really makes this one of the best seasons in the show’s pantheon.
Live Reunion Show
Not covering the whole thing, but I will continue to update this post with interesting tidbits from the reunion show, including the winner of Sprint’s Player of the Season!
-Interestingly, Probst asks the jury if any of them would have voted for Malcolm, had he made it to the end – and Malcolm gets only two votes. This is a case where I think there was a lot of footage left on the cutting room floor that showed how perceptions of Malcolm weren’t entirely what was represented in the edit, as it seems as though a lot more people disliked Malcolm than initially expected.
-Lisa talks about her faith, and how she didn’t want to make a show of praying while out there, as she doesn’t want to imply that God cares who wins Survivor, since God doesn’t play favorites. She talks a lot about discovering who she is, and she even quotes The Facts of Life theme song when stating that you take the good with the bad. As annoying as I occasionally found her this season, she is a remarkably likable person.
-Malcolm knew he was toast the minute he saw what the final immunity challenge was, as he states that he has the least steady hands in history, for reasons he still isn’t sure about. Revealing his superfan status, he recounts how that final immunity challenge was the one Parvati won in Micronesia, adding that he told his mother, before leaving for the game, that if that challenge was employed at any point in the game, he was done for. He says he could have had a hundred tries at that challenge and still wouldn’t have pulled it off. Malcolm states that his only purpose in playing was to win, and he was truly, unreservedly pissed to be voted out at Day 38. Yet, tellingly, he tells Probst he would be open to playing the game again.
-Abi shows a bit of a human side as she recognizes, watching the show back, that she needs to calm down a bit and “take a chill pill.”
-0.7 percent of the vote separated the winner and runner-up of Sprint’s Player of the Season, the closest margin ever, as Lisa and Malcolm went back and forth in the votes.
LISA WELCHEL is Sprint’s Player of the Season!
She gets $100,000, and Malcolm comes up just short, once again.
-We do a quick hit with each of the other castaways: Artis is actually a really even-keeled guy, but he states that he often looks like he’s going to take a person’s head-off if he isn’t smiling. Katie is happy that Denise won, even if she occasionally got annoyed at Probst’s running challenge commentary regarding her performance. Carter is apparently a really funny, lively guy, yet the edit never showed any of it. And Dawson…well, she takes the opportunity to finish what she started upon getting voted off, rushing the stage while Probst is in mid-sentence and giving him a huge kiss on the lips! The crowd goes wild while Probst covers up by saying that she doesn’t kiss anywhere near as well as his wife. At least he has a decent sense of humor about being side-swiped by a Serial Makeout Bandit.
-Probst announces the 26th Season of Survivor, which will originate from the Caramoan Islands (returning to the Philippines) for a second season of FANS VS. FAVORITES!
Probst doesn’t reveal the names of any of the ten returning castaways, but if you want to spoil yourself, Rickey posted the names last week. Click at your own risk!
-And with that, Probst presents Denise with her million dollar check, and that’s it for the 25th season of Survivor!
Thanks for watching this season with me! It’s been a blast!