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"Survivor: Philippines" Finale Preview and Predictions

Jeremy Fuster |
December 15, 2012 | 7:17 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Lisa, Skupin, Malcolm, and Denise - The Final Four (CBS)
Lisa, Skupin, Malcolm, and Denise - The Final Four (CBS)

After five weeks of incredible competition, "Survivor: Philippines" is down to its Final Four, and its more evenly-matched than its been in years.  Though some have a better chance than others, every single one of these four competitors has a solid chance to win the million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor, and every one of them has taken an incredible journey to get to this point.

On one side, we have Lisa Whelchel and Michael Skupin, two people for whom "Survivor: Philippines" isn't the first time they have appeared on television.  Eleven years ago, Skupin was a part of one of the most infamous moments in reality TV history. He burned his hands when he passed out and fell into the campfire on "Survivor: The Australian Outback", becoming the first person in the show's history to be medically evacuated.  Lisa was a TV star on the 1980s sitcom "The Facts Of Life", playing the spoiled rich girl, Blair Warner.

Being the oldest castaways in the game, Lisa and Skupin quickly formed an alliance.  Their tribe, Tandang, went undefeated in the immunity challenges and made it to the merge intact, but Lisa and Skupin knew that it would be impossible to make it to the end with the other members of Tandang.  Skupin and Lisa used a series of short-term deals to stay safely in the majority every time the votes were cast, but through it all, they remained loyal to each other.  

On the other side, we have Malcolm Freberg and Denise Stapley.  This duo found themselves in the dysfunctional Matsing tribe, where they were surrounded by four castaways that had no idea what they were doing, including returning player Russell Swan.  Matsing lost the first four immunity challenges, and by the time the tribe's decimation had been completed, only Malcolm and Denise were left standing.  This was no accident.  On the very first day, Malcolm and Denise impressed each other with their work ethic and determination and formed an alliance. Despite being separated when Matsing was dissolved, the two persevered through the tough times and made it to the merge, Malcolm with his challenge prowess and Denise with her strong deal-making skills.  After the merge, the two avoided the chopping block by using the same short-term deal strategy Lisa and Skupin used to go after other players.  Malcolm also used a hidden immunity idol to give himself more security and influence, and ultimately he was able to make it to the end without having to use it.  

The most important deal of the game came in episode 10, when Skupin, Lisa, Malcolm, and Denise all agreed to a final four alliance that gave them the majority.  Despite temptations to turn on each other, they all stuck to the deal, though they were sometimes forced to because plans to backstab Malcolm were foiled when he won immunity.  Nevertheless, these four are one vote away from a spot at the Final Tribal Council, where they will plead their case to the jury of eliminated castaways as to why they should win the million dollars.

So what does each castaway need to do to win "Survivor: Philippines"?  Let's take a look and analyze each finalist's game in depth.


MALCOLM:  Until this past episode, Malcolm has played a flawless game. He has won challenges, made deals, and has done his best to keep on everybody's good side.  When Lisa discovered his hidden immunity idol and revealed it to the rest of the tribe, Malcolm played it cool and worked Lisa into his deals to keep everyone from turning against him.  Even when he wins rewards, he takes his strategy into account when deciding who to share the reward with.  Malcolm is likable, smart, well-spoken, athletic, and handsome.  He's everything that you want in a "Survivor" player…but the irony is that there is still a very strong chance he won't win.

In the last episode, Malcolm came back from behind to win the Immunity Necklace.  The next Tribal Council vote would be the last opportunity to play his hidden idol, meaning that he could give it to someone else to protect them.  It would have been a risky move, but why didn't he give his idol to Abi-Maria?  My guess is that he felt that keeping her in the game would damage how people saw him because Abi was so hated, but the thing is that Abi is the perfect person to take to the end.  By giving Abi the idol, Malcolm could have eliminated Skupin or Denise, who would be tough people to beat at the final Tribal Council.  

Malcolm still has the strongest game of anyone left, so his entire game now comes down the next Immunity Challenge.  If he wins, he gets to Day 39 and gets the million.  If he loses, he will be voted out.  If Abi was still in the game, he would be a lock to win, since Abi's only challenge win came from an advantage she bought at an auction.  But now he must beat Skupin and Denise, two tough challenge competitors.  I just don't see Malcolm pulling out the victory.

LISA:  Lisa has gained a lot of fans and haters over the course of this season.  On one hand, she has made important moves and decisions that have allowed her to reach this point in the game.  On the other hand, she has been incredibly wishy-washy throughout the game and her constant moaning about how hard the game is and how she can't bring herself to backstab people has gotten on the nerves of many fans of the show.  

It is that lack of commitment to her gameplay that leads me to believe that Lisa will make it to Day 39, but has the lowest chances to win.  She will need to have an incredible jury speech in order to beat out Denise or Skupin, but that will be a tall order considering how she's needed a lot of pep talk to convince her to make the big moves and then to get over the needless guilt she had after making them.  The other players are going to own their gameplay, and Lisa will flounder once they do so.


SKUPIN: OK, Scoop, what are we going to do with you?  You have cut yourself up with a machete multiple times, got your face busted open when you flopped into the water during a challenge and the mask you were wearing broke and lodged glass in your forehead, and in the last episode, you nearly caused history to repeat itself when you almost burned your feet in the fire.  Yet you have avoided confrontation, played it cool when present with situations in which you were the swing vote, and basically have been the dopey, lovable guy that everybody would love to have as their uncle.  Bringing you back for your second chance was the right decision.  

But the question remains: aside from beating Malcolm at the final immunity challenge, what do you need to do to win the money?  It's difficult to tell how the jury would feel about giving you the million, because while you are a returning player, you are not an All-Star player like Coach or Rob Mariano.  You didn't even make it to the merge in your previous season, so your second-half gameplay hasn't exactly come from previous experience.  It would be wrong for the jury to hold your past against you.  

I think at the final Tribal Council -- assuming he gets there and that Lisa and Denise don't target him if Malcolm wins Immunity -- Skupin needs to take the jury through his gameplay vote by vote.  He needs to explain the logic behind every decision he made in this game and emphasize how he has taken fate into his own hands every step of the way.  He also needs to bury Lisa and make it look like he has been the brains of their power couple alliance.  This could come down to a battle of persuasion between Skupin and Denise.


DENISE: And speaking of which, here is the woman that could become the first person to attend every single Tribal Council in a season of 'Survivor.'  After losing every Tribal Immunity challenge, Denise found a way to get through every vote, first by making an alliance with Malcolm and then by forming an alliance with the men of the Kalabaw tribe.  At the merge, she reunited with Malcolm and took advantage of the divides in the Tandang tribe.  Denise quickly became the worst enemy of Abi-Maria, when she mercilessly called out Abi for her spoiled brat behavior at Tribal Council.  

When I think of Denise and the possibilities of her winning, I think of what Russell Swan once said about her: she can not only convince a jury to give her the million, she could also convince them to give her more money out of their own wallets to help cover the prize taxes.  Swan was right on the money with that.  Denise has proven to be a very intelligent competitor, and she will know how to answer the jury's questions at the final Tribal Council.  Abi-Maria will do her best to make a speech as to why Denise doesn't deserve to win, but if that happens I think Denise will be ready with a strong rebuttal.

What could really help Denise's case is if she were to beat Malcolm in the final immunity challenge.  This would allow her to make the claim that she took out the biggest player in the game with a tough challenge victory, similar to how Sophie beat Ozzy at the final challenge two seasons ago.  Malcolm gets the game, so while he would be kicking himself for falling just short of the grand prize, he won't hold it against Denise and will probably vote for her.  

This will be a very close endgame that I think will see Malcolm being voted out while Lisa, Denise, and Skupin go on to face the jury.  From that point, it will be a battle of speeches between Skupin and Denise, and it will likely come down to whichever one can present their gameplay the best.  I predict that Denise will win the million dollars by a 5-3 vote, with Denise getting votes from RC, Kent, Malcolm, Penner, and Carter, while Skupin gets votes from Artis, Pete, and Abi-Maria.  

But I could easily get that prediction completely wrong, which is why this season of "Survivor" is reality TV at its finest.

Reach Staff Reporter Jeremy Fuster here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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