Malcolm Freberg may not have won “Survivor: Philippines.” That crown went to his alliance-mate Denise.
He also may not have won the audience-voted Player of the Game prize with its cash award. That went to Lisa Whelchel, the former child star who flipped on Malcolm at the Final 4, knowing she couldn’t beat him.
Malcolm did, however, win something far less valuable, at least in the short term: The 25-year-old bartender from Hermosa Beach ended the “Survivor: Philippines” season as probably the installment’s most respected and best liked player.
In his “Survivor” run, Malcolm proved to be physically capable, strategically adroit and excelled at puzzles. All the ladies wanted to flirt with him, all of the alpha males wanted to hang out with him and the “Survivor” producers knew that Malcolm was good for a quotable confessional whenever the camera was pointed in his direction. This is the sort of winning-but-not-winning combination that has led to extended open contracts in the “Survivor” family, as one could easily compare Malcolm to such three-time players as Colby or Ozzy.
The Colby comparisons came up in my recaps this season as Malcolm made an early bond with Denise, who seemed destined to become his Tina as they went deeper and deeper into the game. It’s a concern that Malcolm admits that he felt as well.
In his exit interview, Malcolm talks about overcoming his horrible original tribe, his frustrations on the jury and his certainty that regardless of what people said at the Reunion show, he’d have beaten Denise if they’d been in the finals together. Oh and, like me, Malcolm remains unhappy with the ball-balancing final Immunity.
Click through for the full conversation…
HitFix: So I wrote this as I was watching the finale and I’m still thinking it: That ball challenge is a horrible task to determine who’s going to get a chance at a million dollars. Do you have any ranting you want to do on the subject?
Malcolm Freberg: [Laughing] Yeah, how much time you got? I hope you don’t have any other questions, because I can go for hours.
HitFix: Go nuts. Give me the pocket-sized edition…
Malcolm: I’m a huge fan of the show and that was final challenge from “Micronesia: Fans vs Favorites” and I remember watching at the time and being like, “If that comes up, I’m toast.” I honestly just don’t have steady hands. I shake when I’m shaving in the morning. Really. I walk up, I immediately know what we’re doing and I’m like, “It’s a carnival game.” And it’s the worst carnival game ever for me. I kinda had to a laugh-pity moment for myself when we walked up to that challenge. I never had a chance and what I said was absolutely true. You give me a hundred chances at that thing, I don’t win it. Skupin’s the King of Carnival Games and that’s the absolute worst carnival game for me.
HitFix: It just seems like such a strange last challenge in a “Survivor” season… For that to be what a season cumulatively comes down to…
Malcolm: I’m with you, brother. Don’t worry. But that’s the game. We’ve seen past seasons. You know that it could come down to that. You’re not always gonna get an epic race and a huge puzzle at the end. Sometimes it comes down to something you pay five dollars to do at the state fair. That just happens. And you have to know that going into it. It’s the breaks in the game. You don’t know what’s coming. Sometimes the breaks go your way and sometimes they don’t. And that one just was the absolute, absolute worst break possible for me and it cost me an awful lot of money.
HitFix: A lot of people were already wondering at that point why you were putting such faith in your ability to trust Lisa and Skupin. Why were you in that position?
Malcolm: There’s a couple things. Primarily, I don’t know what they’re saying behind my back. I had no idea that Lisa was so dead-set ready to get rid of me. I had no idea that she was that adamant about me getting out of the game. And it’s probably the right move and I wasn’t happy about it, but I had no idea that was going on. And secondary to that was the fact that… They’re telling a story for TV, so they have to make it look suspenseful… Lisa and Skupin never had a shot to win that game. Really. I was shocked that they took two votes away from Denise last night. I’ve been impressed with them watching on TV and the thoughts they were actually having, but while we were out there, it’s all about perception and no one was perceiving Skupin and Lisa as playing a good game. Lisa was like this Christian lady who was crying every day and Skupin… They called him “Stupin.” His name was “Stupin” amongst all of us. He was just this bumbling guy with no head for strategy. So they never had a chance. So if I get to the end with those guys, Denise won… what? 6-1-1? I think I’d probably lose RC’s vote, but 7-1 probably?
HitFix: And what did you make of the straw poll of the jury last night that suggested that Denise might have beaten you if you’d gone to the end with her?
Malcolm: Yeah, I’ve gotta keep explaining this to people. [Laughs.] If you’re ever gonna go back and watch a live finale, this would be the one to go back and watch. Obviously Dawson had a great moment and there was some other stuff, too. But watch Pete, Penner and Carter. They’re just up there clowning around the entire time. They had told me before. We all knew this question was going to come up. Jeff does it every time. It’s no secret. He’s gonna make the person who goes out fourth feel bad about going out fourth. So we’re all laughing about this in the Green Room beforehand. Pete, Carter and Penner all agree not to raise their hand when he asks that question, just to screw with Probst. It was nothing again me. They just wanted to mess with the host of the show. But no. Pete, Penner and Carter all would have raised their hand. I looked back and I’m cracking up because I know what they’re doing. They didn’t raise their hands just to have some fun with Probst. If I get to the end with Denise, it’s very close. It’s a lot closer than if I go to the end with Lisa and Skupin, but I think I still have it.
HitFix: Talk to me about your own feelings sitting on the Jury and having just been voted out. You came after Denise fairly aggressively. What was going through your mind — or going through your gut — at that point?
Malcolm: I’m a competitive guy. I was pissed off. You play games to win games, in my opinion, and to this day I’m angry about it. Hell, I came that close and I didn’t pull it off? I’m not angry at the people, but I’m angry about the situation. So I was not in a pleasant mood when I showed up that night. The whole idea behind what I said to Denise was that Denise was gonna win at that point and everyone was taking it very easy on her. The Jury was either ignoring her or tossing these questions she could just knock out of the park. So I was like, “Somebody needs to be mean to Denise and if nobody else’s gonna do it, I’m gonna do it.” Denise was never not getting my vote, but I wanted to see her get fired up. It’s prefect for “Survivor,” but she always gives the most perfect, calculating, politically correct responses to questions at Tribal and when people ask her things around camp. So I was trying to get her fired up and to say something incendiary towards Lisa. She still didn’t do it. I came off much meaner than I wanted to, but I was trying to be the one person who got in Denise’s face.
HitFix: If Penner had gone before you and said to Denise what he said to her, would you have approached things in a different way, knowing that she’d already been put on the spot?
Malcolm: Penner was just basically saying, “Skupin and Lisa, you guys are idiots and Denise just made fools of you and Denise is gonna win this game.” Penner’s thing was absolutely telegraphing what was about to happen and we all knew that at the time, so I probably would have come out the same way. And, just for the record, Penner’s final speech was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s the greatest speaker ever and there was more to it than actually got shown on TV. Penner was telegraphing that we were all voting for Denise and it was about to be a blowout, so I would have still done what I did.
HitFix: Going back to your competitive nature, how frustrating were those first couple weeks when you guys kept losing everything and the rain kept pouring down and you kept voting people out…
Malcolm: Man, I got emotional. Really. I’ve been wanting to do this — it’s not a joke — since I was 13 or 14 years old, I’ve been thinking about being on “Survivor.” And you finally get out there and you’re on the worst tribe in history? We’re such a joke of a group of human beings that it’s not even funny. I was sad. I won’t even say I was angry. I was just like, “I don’t have a chance in this thing. This going horribly.” Before I got out there, it never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t win the game. Like, “It’s destiny,” or whatever. And then… What? We’re on Day 8 and we’ve already lost three challenges and we’re already half the size of the other tribes and I’m just thinking, “This is so embarrassing. I’m gonna have to face my family after this?” It was absolutely rough for me those first few days?
HitFix: Well, why did you guys suck so much?
Malcolm: [Laughing] That’s the best question anybody’s asked me today. I think it’s a combination of Russell being a terrible leader, first of all. Really. He was just making executive decisions that were not good decisions and we all knew it at the time. And then it was going down very quickly in the numbers. We fell behind and we didn’t have the option to sit out our weak players. Like Dawson never did a challenge or Lisa never did a pre-Merge challenge. Stuff like that. We could never sit our weak links. Everybody had to play. After losing that first challenge, among these small tribes, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide. I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s what happened on the original “All-Stars.” One tribe just gets knocked out, because when you’re on a small tribe and you go down in numbers very quickly, you’re behind the eight-ball in a bad way very quickly. And I think after losing that first challenge, and we lost that first challenge absolutely because of Russell, we were toast.
HitFix: I need you to put on your Hypothetical Cap here.
Malcolm: I hate my Hypothetical Cap! In my Hypothetical Cap, I’m swimming in money right now. I’m gonna do it, but I’m just letting you know…
HitFix: I appreciate the warning. So it’s down to you and Denise at Matsing. You know your tribe is about to be absorbed and you and and Denise are scurrying around trying to find the Idol. In the game, you find the Idol. How does the game play out differently if Denise finds the Idol instead and she’s the one who has the Idol in her pocket for the rest of the game?
Malcolm: Oooh. I think it gets played a lot earlier. I think Denise plays much more conservatively than I do and the first time she heard her name — And I think Denise is awesome at strategy and she’s absolutely the most deserving person to win this game — I think she would have played it unnecessarily very early after the Merge. The target wouldn’t be on my back, but I would go home somewhere mid-Merge probably? Just from being a threat and me not having any leverage on a situation. I think Denise, if she had it, she would probably have played it unnecessarily.
HitFix: How important was the alliance that you had specifically with Denise, or could you have manufactured a similar alliance with anybody else from your original tribe?
Malcolm: Me and Denise don’t make it to the end of this game like we did if we didn’t stick together for as long as we did. Now obviously we turned on ourselves in the 11th hour, and I did it first, but part of the reason we clicked was because we both approached the game very strategically and we knew that our best chance to win would be to go to the end with Skupin and Lisa. Off my original tribe? Angie can’t spell “Survivor,” Zane can’t spell “Zane,” Roxy’s insane and Russell was intolerable. Really, Denise was the default choice and when we first made that deal in the woods, I don’t think we realized how similar we really were yet. She’s one of my very good friends to this day. We still talk all the time. We have the same sense of humor, same personality, same approach to the game. So I kinda stumbled bass-ackwards into this really perfect alliance partner. She’s so good with people. That’s what she does for a living. She sits there and listens. She’s so good with people that she would sit there and she would deal with the older ones after the Merge and then I would go and bond with the hyper-aggressive young ones and then we would compare notes at the end of the day and make decisions going forward. So neither of us make it that far if we don’t stick together.
HitFix: Almost immediately after you guys made that alliance, I started making Tina-Colby comparisons. Were you making that comparison in your mind? And were you thinking, “OK. I don’t want to be the Colby who finishes second to her Tina”?
Malcolm: I’m pretty sure those were the exact words that went through my head when I decided to turn on her. Honestly, that’s exactly what was going through my mind: “You’re the little sweet older woman who’s gonna beat me and I’m gonna look like the nice guy who just wasn’t smart enough to get rid of you.” It happened out there. I was trying to get rid of her and that almost is our relationship to a T. Both of our strategic acumen was higher than theirs and obviously that comes from watching a bazillion seasons of it since that happened. But that was absolutely going through my mind: I’m not gonna be the Colby to your Tina. I’m not gonna be the nice guy who wanted to take his momma to the end and it cost him nine-hundred grand, or whatever it is. So that was absolutely going through my mind, the exact words you just said were popping in my brain when I approached Lisa and Skupin for the Final 3 deal.
HitFix: As a last question: On the Tribal Visit Reward, you talked about how this was causing you to reevaluate the direction of your life. Where do you think you were headed before “Survivor” and where do you think you’re headed now?
Malcolm: Before “Survivor” — and let’s not get too high on our horse here, it’s still true — I work in a place where young girls come up and order alcohol from you and they want to talk to you all night. I’m perfectly fine living my life like that, but what I said on that Reward was absolutely sincere. I’m talking with a few people and starting at the beginning of next year, I’m hopefully going to be doing a tutoring program in Central L.A. working with under-privileged kids, without getting teaching credentials, getting back into working with kids. That was absolutely a sincere moment and absolutely true. A lot of people saw that and reached out to me and that’s how this has gotten going, but it’s absolutely going to be part of my life going forward.