Wow, what a season! You know it’s been a wild ride when by the Survivor finale you’ve completely forgotten what happened in the first half of the season. Sunday night’s episode stayed true to the season and was unpredictable. I honestly didn’t know who was going to win, and my prediction after the final Tribal Council was wrong. So, let’s get talkin’.
My poor mom. She made it to the finals once again, and could not pull off the office pool win. This is an ongoing thing. Her chances with Skupin were low, though Skupin himself wasn’t aware of that. At the beginning of the episode he said he thought he had a better story than Malcolm, and could maybe beat Malcolm in the finals. I think we all knew that wasn’t true, but it ended up that Malcolm wasn’t the one he needed to worry about.
I don’t want to skip ahead, but I will say that I think Denise’s win was well earned. She fought hard, she was physically admirable, she played an excellent social game and made the right strategic moves. She’s a very deserving winner, and I think it’s pretty cool that she’s the only person who’s ever gone to every single Tribal Council.
Stop Dragon Your Feet
The Reward Challenge in this episode was particularly interesting because the reward was so much more valuable than a pizza party or a car. It was an advantage in the final Immunity Challenge, which raised the stakes exponentially. The four remaining players had to race through an obstacle course and then assemble a cool dragon puzzle.
Sidenote: Why was poor Lisa competing in jeans? Denim is not the best for super physical challenges in hot climates.
I think we can all agree that Michael Skupin was pretty darn impressive in this game. The guy is fifty years old and kept up with guys half his age. He’s incredibly swift, at least physically, and he actually beat Malcolm through the obstacle course. But the guy couldn’t solve a puzzle if the pieces were already laid out in order. He quickly fell behind in the challenge, while Denise and Malcolm vied for the win. Malcolm came out on top, and it really looked like he would need the challenge advantage to stay in the game.
Malcolm winning the advantage meant that Lisa’s plan might not work out – despite the alliance she’d made with him and Skupin, Lisa had no intention of letting Malcolm get into the finals if she could help it. Lisa’s game play came a long way in the final weeks of this season, and she knew that Malcolm would likely beat her in the finals.
Malcolm’s mistake came before the Immunity Challenge, when Denise asked him if he would commit to her for the best vote. He made the patented Penner screw-up of not committing. Malcolm couldn’t be completely honest with Denise and say no, but he didn’t want to lie and give her a verbal commitment either. Malcolm was too secure in his alliance with Lisa and Skupin. Had he agreed to force a tie to try and save Denise while under the assumption that he’d have Immunity, perhaps Denise would have done him that same favor post-Challenge.
Of course, Lisa and Skupin were in the best position. They had final three deals with both Malcolm and Denise, which meant they were both practically guaranteed to be in the finals without any need to win individual immunity.
Fallen (Comrades) Asleep
Ugh, I hate when they do the fallen comrades. It’s just filler! Cut that and give me more drama at camp! The most hilarious comment was from Zane, the first person voted out, who said “My whole tribe folded after I left.” Oh, buddy. They did…but I doubt the two things were connected. The second most hilarious comment was from Angie, whose comment of “I’m kind of well-rounded” was accompanied by an image of her rather buxom bikini bod.
Later, at the live reunion show, Malcolm said he knew he was toast when they arrived at the Immunity Challenge. As a Survivor fan, he’s familiar with the different types of challenges and he knew balancing ones weren’t his jam. Even with a major advantage – a second chance in the challenge – he knew he wasn’t going to win it.
The players had to balance a ball in a groove on a cylinder, as more and more pieces were added. You had to keep the tension on the cylinders and keep the ball from falling off. Skupin won an earlier balancing challenge, so I knew he had a good shot here. Personally, I was disappointed that it wasn’t a more basic endurance test. I like when people have to stand on small pegs for seven hours.
Malcolm blew his advantage pretty quickly – WTF was that move, anyway? He moved his arms and the thing fell. Then he dropped it again, and was the first person out despite the advantage. Denise fell out next, which meant that Lisa and Skupin were shockingly the remaining two for the final individual immunity. Despite my mom having Skup in the office pool, I was kind of rooting for Lisa to finally win one. Skupin won, and the tradition of at least one returning player always making the finals continued. (Stephanie LaGrossa in Guatemala, Amanda and Parvati in Fans vs. Favorites Micronesia, Boston Rob in Redemption Island, Coach in South Pacific.)
Since Skupin had Immunity around his neck, it meant he and Lisa had to actually make a decision about who should sit next to them in the finals. It was interesting to watch them deliberate over that with two different levels of perception. Skupin was under the impression that he could beat anyone, and wondered if there was more honor in going up against Malcolm, the perceived larger threat. Lisa seemed to know that it would be a tough battle either way, but that if Malcolm was the perceived bigger threat then he should be the one eliminated.
Denise, for her part, was mad. She would have rather stuck with Malcolm and forced a tie – Lisa, and whoever Lisa and Skupin decided to vote for, would have to make a fire. That would have been exciting, but Malcolm didn’t commit to the plan when he thought he was on top and once he was in trouble it was too late. It would be either Malcolm or Denise.
The really interesting thing was that Lisa knew her vote wasn’t absolutely tied to Skupin’s. If Skupin decided he wanted to take Malcolm to the finals, Lisa could still vote for him and force a tie. Then Malcolm and Denise would have had to make fire to stay in the game, and that could have been really interesting. But Skupin did vote out Malcolm.
Poor Malcolm. He came so close, but by the time he got to the end he’d become such a threat that his only way into the finals was through winning individual immunity. He left, angry, and said “Congratulations, Denise.” I thought he’d vote for her, but the final Tribal Council always brings surprises.
Final Tribal Council
Oh hai, Malcolm. He shaved overnight, and looked quite good-looking.
As far as opening statements went, I thought Denise said the best things but came off a tad too rehearsed. Lisa seemed genuine, but focusing on how much you’ve learned rather than how well you played all along is usually a risk. Skupin’s statement was the least memorable, and I felt he could have said more about being an underdog within his own tribe.
Only two votes felt really obvious to me – RC, who’d had Lisa pegged as a threat from day one, and Carter, who loves Skupin like a father. The others were all pretty big mysteries. Artis, no surprise here, just seemed angry. Pete asked Denise why she deserves to win, which is the most generic question one can ask at a final tribal council. Malcolm was so hard on Denise, telling her “don’t nod” and criticizing her habit of always appeasing people, that I was sure he planned to vote for Lisa instead. Jeff’s questions pretty much confirmed that he isn’t very smart, since I don’t at all think Lisa played the middle in the game. She was always quite clearly on this side or that – she was never playing both sides. And Abi, well, considering she hated all three finalists I really had no idea how she’d vote.
And then there was Penner. I liked Penner’s questions, but I was surprised by how angry he still was. I thought he’d more easily admit that he’d been outplayed. Why did he call Denise a bitch? I didn’t understand that. I think he was well within his rights to out Lisa as a child star, since he’d kept the secret all along. I don’t have a problem with him doing that. What surprises me is that Skupin never revealed it. I would have let that gem slip out in the previous tribal council. Despite Penner’s eloquent analogy about one person riding the chariot and the other two being the oxen, I had no idea who he was voting for. Was Denise in the chariot, or Lisa? I knew it wasn’t Skupin.
When all was said and done, I was unsure about how the votes would go but thought the majority would go to Lisa. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the two votes we saw, RC voting for Lisa and Carter voting for “Skoopin” – were the only two votes those players received. Everyone else voted Denise. I’d correctly guessed with Artis and Pete, but I had thought Jeff and Abi would vote Lisa – and I really just had no idea what the hell Malcolm and Penner would do.
I may have been wrong, but I’m not unhappy. I was rooting for Malcolm and Denise from the first episode, and I’m totally satisfied with Denise as a winner. I also would have been happy with Lisa winning, because of how vastly her game improved and because she tried to make several big moves – some working, others not. What did you guys think of the episode? Was it a good way to end the season? Are you glad Denise won? Tell me in the comments.
Stay tuned for a short post on the live reunion show, and another post on where I think this season fits into the all-time rankings.