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It probably couldn’t have ended any other way. Survivor: Philippines has been a magical and fun season thanks in no small part to the awesome cast. The production team really gets a high five for finally working out the casting kinks that have plagued the last few seasons (exacerbated, in my opinion, by the increasingly ludicrous “twists” in the game – see: One World, Redemption Island, Medallion of Power). Each tribe had its own set of likable heroes, underdogs, and villains to root for. There were very few duds in the cast over all. The best reason to watch this season was the cast – and it’s been a long time since that’s happened. Survivor: Philippines is the best installment of the game since the Heroes Vs. Villains edition in the Spring of 2010.
Tonight’s finale started off with Malcolm doing what he does – winning yet another challenge. This time, the victory gives him a key clue to the final immunity challenge. The other three, Skupin, Lisa, and Denise, all wonder aloud how any of them can possibly beat Malcolm in that final challenge. So after the “fallen heroes” memorial (I think I’m the only one who enjoys this), the final four heads to the final immunity challenge, where it is revealed that Malcolm with get an automatic “do-over” should he falter, due to winning the earlier challenge. The other three are stunned, thinking there is no possible way Malcolm can lose this thing. Of course, Skupin wins the final challenge, with Malcolm’s loss stunning the other three.
Mike Skupin has been a Survivor legend for over a decade at this point. Known primarily as the man who fell in the fire, Skupin is remembered by fans for being a hard-worker, provider to the group, and a bit of a wildcard/loose-cannon in his initial season. In Survivor: Philippines, Skupin comes off as much more restrained and level-headed, in addition to be basically being the human version of a puppy-dog. Skupin got a lot of crap for his game from fan communities this season, but I personally think he played a good game. He made a big move (helping eliminate Artis and Pete) and won several immunity challenges. He was also a fun presence, and while smarmy players like Pete found him obnoxious, I can’t imagine many people in real life preferring the company of Pete over Skupin. If anything, Survivor: Philippines is proof that they should have brought Skupin back earlier.
With Skupin winning the challenge, the writing is on the wall for Malcolm – there’s no way he’ll be kept around to compete for the million as part of the final three. Skupin, Lisa, and Denise all vote against Malcolm, sending him out of the game. Malcolm, to his discredit, seems incredibly bitter (his jury speech confirms this), which is weird to me. He *had* to know he was going out of the game. If he had been in the final three, he would have easily won the million. Why he didn’t team up with Denise to split the vote is beyond me. This was Malcolm’s fatal flaw in the game – he spent the whole season paired up with Denise only to not utilize his biggest ally when he needed it most.
To her credit, Lisa is willing and able to vote out Malcolm without shedding unnecessary tears for the camera. Lisa’s biggest flaw is that she lets her emotions guide her in this game (and gets copious amounts of screen time for it). Lisa played a decent game but I’m not willing to give her as much credit as the other two in the final three. She’s also the type of player I hope to never see make a return to this game. I grew tired of Lisa’s act a few episodes ago when she announced that she was finally ready to play this game, after something like 33 days on the island. That just rang incredibly false to me. Up until that point, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Up against Denise, neither Skupin nor Lisa had a shot at winning. Denise took all the final votes except two, easily winning the game. Denise began to fall apart during the final stretch of the second half of this game. Her feuding with Abi-Maria could have possibly cost her the game, and she should have handled it better. She also failed to lock down a final three alliance, and was incredibly lucky that Malcolm did not win final immunity, or she would have gone home. But it’s difficult to criticize how she played this game. She was honest, hard-working, a challenge threat, and part of the game-defining alliance of the season. There’s also that little tidbit about her surviving every single tribal council. Denise rocked Survivor: Philippines and deserved the win.
Best Jury Speech – Jonathan Penner, who was more bitter than I expected him to be
Worst Jury Speech – Artis, who seems like a good man in real life but came across as a hot-head all season long
Most Blah Jury Speech – Carter, who is probably too good a dude for this game
Biggest Jury Non-Factor – RC, who not only didn’t vote for her ally Skupin, she didn’t even vote for the eventual winner
Most Bitter Jury Member – Tie: RC and Jeff, who were still fed up about things that happened weeks ago (and then, months ago if you count the reunion)
Cast Member with the Best Chance to Return in a Future Season – Malcolm, who is rumored to already be a part of the next season