A bientot, Abi. No pre-credit sequence for finale week. Too much “Previously on…” recapping to do. It’s Night 36 and it’s a silent night, indeed. “That’s like having a tumor removed,” Skupin quips, calling the ousting of Abi “the best feeling” since he’s been out there. “She was just full of fire,” Denise says, euphemistically. “The bad news is that she went out with a bang,” Malcolm laments, concerned that people keep blowing up at Tribal Council and praising him. Skupin reaffirms to Malcolm that they’re still aligned, but Skupin calls this ‘a ‘Survivor’ alliance.” Skupin, however, isn’t sure that Malcolm’s such a slam-dunk and he suggests he has a better story than the presumptive winner. The next morning, Tree-Mail promises something about a dragon, but doesn’t say whether it’s Immunity or Reward. Denise fears she may be the next target, so she’s ready for whatever comes next.
Chasing the Dragon. What comes next appears to be Reward, based on the CBS preferred hashtag. The challenge finds them racing through an assortment of obstacles and collecting three bags, then making a dragon puzzle. What to know what they’re playing for? They’re playing for an advantage in the final Immunity Challenge. “Big stakes,” Jeff Probst observes, but I wonder if any of them would rather be playing for “big steaks.” Denise has a lead to the first bag of puzzle pieces, while Skupin takes over by the second bag and holds onto the lead through the third bag. Lisa is lagging. But who will make the puzzle first? Skupin falls apart on the puzzle. Malcolm pushes into the lead and, for the second straight puzzle challenge, Malcolm comes from behind to win. Probst hands him a scroll.
Waffle House. Everybody is tired out after Reward. “He was already a huge threat to win just on his own,” Blair Warner says of Malcolm’s lily-gilding win. “At this point, I’ll take any advantage I can get,” Malcolm says, noting he still has a Final 3 deal with Blair Warner and Skupin, feeling bad for Denise, but still planning to let her go. Denise takes Malcolm aside and attempts to make her case for Final Three, or at least to let her make fire against Blair Warner. Malcolm won’t commit to Denise and she decides this is a sign that Malcolm has let her slide. This just isn’t a good season for people to be indecisive at the wrong moments. “I’m getting flashbacks to Penner,” Denise tells Blair Warner, as she approaches her about a new alliance. “Today’s been a good day!” Blair Warner laughs, after agreeing with Denise that they’d happily vote Malcolm out next. “I hugged her. Big hug. Didn’t shake her hand,” Blair Warner says of the new pairing. Denise goes and tells Skupin that she’s voting against Malcolm, though he doesn’t commit either. Skupin’s got some confidence that he can beat Malcolm in physical challenges and he remains sure that his story is good enough to beat Malcolm. “That’s the million dollar question right there,” Skupin says of the Final 3 choice he’s assuming he’s going to get to make.
When you say “Abi was right,” you’ve already lost. Skupin predicts Day 38 is going to be crazy. Blair Warner and Skupin are disagreeing over who they need to keep from winning. Blair Warner isn’t impressed with Skupin’s strategizing, saying that he’s not level-headed enough. Blair Warner’s actually finding herself agreeing with Abi about Skupin. “Lisa and I are not on the same page,” Skupin admits, knowing that he has to have Immunity in order to create the Final Three.
Mostly, I miss Angie. Time for the “Survivor” Necrology Walk/Rites of Passage. Farewell, Zane. You were wacky. Farewell, Roxy. You really disliked Angie. Farewell, Angie. You were smoking hot. “Poor girl. All she wanted was some cookies,” Malcolm says. [“I’m kinda well-rounded,” Angie says, before the editors cut to her cleavage.] Farewell, Russell. You were a great exit interview. Farewell, Dana. You were like Carter, only more interesting. Farewell, Dawson. You loved Jeff Probst a wee bit too much. Farewell, Katie. I don’t really remember you. Farewell, RC. You’ve said some unfortunate things in exit interviews. [Nobody called her “well-rounded,” but the editors used their “well-rounded” clips anyway.] Farewell, Jeff Kent. Someday, you’ll make the Hall of Fame, but not for “Survivor.” Farewell, Artis. You were surely, for good reason. Farewell, Pete. You overplayed the game for no good reason. Farewell, Penner. You’re welcome back on “Survivor” any time. Farewell, Carter. Whoever you were. Farewell, Abi. I think she’d play differently if she had another chance.
Balls drop. This is it. Final Immunity Challenge. Immunity is back up for grabs. The have to balance a ball on the centerpiece of an increasingly long series of wood cylinders. What a horrible final Immunity Challenge. Blech. Malcolm’s prize is that he gets a second chance at the challenge. If he drops his ball, he can replace it once. That’s a good advantage for an awful Immunity Challenge. Oh. There’s a groove in the wood bar. That makes this easier, but no less dumb. Malcolm goes out first, but he’s got a second shot. This isn’t a good task for Malcolm, who returns jittery and unsteady. You can almost see the look in his eyes. He knows he can’t do this. Out he goes for a second times and, I fear, he’s doomed. He knows it, too. Down goes Denise and now it’s down to Skupin and Blair Warner. After Denise goes out, this becomes really dull, but it keeps going and going and going and going. Blair Warner goes out. Skupin wins Final Immunity. He’s relieved and giddy. Everybody else? Not-so-much.
Warrior Code. MONKEY! It’s back to DangRayne. Everybody’s congratulating Skupin. MONKEY! “The advantage would have had to have been ‘Malcolm, you automatically win,'” says Malcolm, who says he’s prone to shaking whenever he gets nervous, even with girls. “I can’t believe I did it,” Skupin says. “It turns out it was not even close,” says the cocky Skupin. Malcolm seeks reassurance from Blair Warner and Skupin. Their reassurances are tepid. Denise also seeks reassurances from Blair Warner and Skupin. “I am so mad,” Denise says of not staying tight with Malcolm and of being stuck depending on Skupin. “There’s a weird, instinctive, primitive side of me that says ‘Go against the best,'” Skupin admits to Denise, saying that he wonders if there’s more honor in beating Malcolm. “Would there be honor in beating him? Yeah. But my fear is that none of us will,” Denise tells Skupin, who tells us some nonsense about a warrior’s code and the value of going against Malcolm to the end. When Skupin votes Malcolm out, I look forward to mocking him in his exit interview when he wins or mocking him even more if Denise wins. Apparently Skupin’s wife told him to make the family proud and he thinks keeping Malcolm would be honorable. “Right now, I think it’s Malcolm in the Finals,” Skupin tells Blair Warner, who calls her ally “a wild card.” Blair Warner says it would be “stupid” to keep Malcolm in the Final 3 and she vows to do anything to keep that from happening.
The Jury. Abi looks angry and gives everybody the stink-eye. For a while, nobody says anything interesting. Stuff about “strategy” and “loyalty.” Malcolm admits that the storylines have become “intertwined.” He says something about how he’s having to think of voting Denise out, which causes some twinges. Denise says that she and Malcolm are “separated at birth.” Blair Warner refers to her alliance with Skupin as “an open relationship.” “I can’t figure out what goes on with those two,” Malcolm says. This really isn’t interesting, this Tribal Council. Will “favors” play a role in the vote? “That would have to be a million dollar favor,” Blair Warner says. Malcolm tries making the argument that his hands are dirtier than Denise’s and that as the only Kalabaw, Denise is a bigger threat than he is. It’s a good plea. Probst asks Blair Warner if there’s a reason to take Malcolm to the end. “There’s not a reason for me to take him to the end,” she says, conveniently ignoring that she made a Final 3 alliance with him. “Keeping your word” seems like a fine reason.
The Vote, I. Denise writes Malcolm’s name, calling him “Sunshine.” Malcolm lets out a deep sigh and writes Denise’s name. Probst tallies: Malcolm. Denise. Malcolm. MALCOLM. That was inevitable. Poor Malcolm. “Congratulations, Denise,” Malcolm says. “Maybe I pushed too hard. I leveraged too much,” Malcolm says, calling it “painful for a life-long fan.” Poor Malcolm. But so it goes…
Three to get ready. “He was mad,” Denise says, but she explains that she merely Outwitted him. Skupin remembers Malcolm’s parting “congratulations” to Denise and says it will come down to whoever can plead their case the best. Well, DUH. The next morning, the sun rises gloriously. Blair Warner is proud of the changes she’s made. Denise is proud of her strategy. And… Champagne Breakfast. “This isn’t Tree-Mail. This is Tree-Meal,” Blair Warner says. Skupin says he always wondered if he could play this game strategically enough to make the end. “Every time I got around a campfire, I thought ‘Don’t fall in this sucker,'” Skupin jokes. They all enjoy breakfast and agree that the vote could go any direction. Blair Warner notes that “heart and spirit and body” are heavily involved in making it to the end. They burn their shelter to the ground. I do agree with the sentiment that there’s no clear-cut winner. One thing I think: All three finalists will get votes. I don’t expect this to be the usual two-person race.
Final Tribal Council – Opening Statements. The Jury enters. Tonight, the power in this game shifts to them, in case you didn’t know. Denise is up first. She vows not to apologize for being in the Final 3. She’s been able to adapt and assimilate in three tribes, which let her build many alliances and many chances to prove her value. Denise offers the reminder that she’s survived every Tribal Council. It’s a solidly crafted intro. Blair Warner says that her strategy wasn’t pretty. “It was basically run wide-open and just fall down,” she says, admitting that she made a mistake early on by not following her heart and not trusting her gut. “I needed to play this game worthy of the game,” Blair Warner says. “By the end, I finally got it. I learned. I grew,” she says, taking credit for knocking Malcolm out. That was also a good intro. Skupin begins by noting being a returning player was a problem for him, or could have been. “I think I played my guts out,” Skupin says. “I can’t play this game any other way. I love this game too much and I know you guys do too,” Skupin closes. Also fine. Nobody knocked themselves out there. I don’t remember the last time a finale was this wide open. But let’s see if bitter Jurors will change things…
Final Tribal Council – Jury Questions. Artis is up first. He tells them that he can’t congratulate them, specifically criticizing them for starting by talking about loyalty and then abandoning it. Artis is proud he held true to his alliances. “Karma is a bitch,” he tells them. No question from Artis. “Sup guys,” Carter says. He praises both Skupin and Blair Warner for surviving with targets on them. Carter asks Skupin what he thought about voting him out. “Friendship and the game at some point have to be separated,” Skupin says, with a good answer that probably secured Carter’s vote. Pete calls Blair Warner a Judas, saying she didn’t vote for several of them, but she knew. Blair Warner insists she knew nothing. Pete asks why Denise’s game was better. Denise talks about the difficulties of going from tribe to tribe, reminding them that she worked the fractures after the Merge. RC tells Blair Warner that she wanted her out from Day One because she knew she was a threat, before asking Skupin if he knew she was going home. Skupin says he didn’t know. If you ask *me* the fact that Blair Warner and Mike Skupin knew nothing about the biggest votes in the game means something. Malcolm compliments Blair Warner. And then he takes Denise down, telling her not to nod, not to appease. Denise agrees that appeasing was an important part of her strategy. “It may seem appeasing, but I was playing the game every step of the way,” Denise says, but then she gets fancy and tells Malcolm that her strategy is why she’s sitting there and he’s on the Jury. He’s displeased. Jeff Kent promises to handle his bitterness. Jeff Kent gives Skupin the chance to talk about what he did in the game. Blair Warner swears to Jeff Kent that she didn’t float in the middle and she celebrates the big move against Malcolm that didn’t work. It’s notable that Blair Warner’s biggest move in the game was one that failed. She reminds Jeff Kent of “Plan B,” which is true. Abi reminds them how unlikeable they thought she was. She says her heart is broken and asks why they deserve the money. Blair Warner says she was true to her alliance until that alliance disintegrated, which is a weird argument. Skupin says he deserves her vote because of that whole “outwit, outplay, outlast” thing. Abi says that “out-disrespect” isn’t a key value. Denise tells Abi that she stands by some of what she said to her, but only some of it. “Our philosophies and our strategies just didn’t mesh,” Denise tells her. Penner is last, admitting that he has some “fury.” He congratulates the three of them. Penner tells Denise that she’s shown the world her “bitch” side. ZING. Penner pokes a hole in Skupin’s “My name was tossed around each time” claims, even though his name was never written down. “You may find you have a perfect record, even after tonight,” Penner says. ZING. Penner asks Blair Warner if she wants to share… “Lisa was a television star,” Penner tells the Jury. “You guys deserve to know that,” Penner tells them. “Did you reveal to any of us what you did as a teenager?” Blair Warner shoots back. “There’s a lot of things that I didn’t talk about either,” Penner responds. Penner makes some really, really weird analogy about chariots and oxen. Jonathan Penner should be invited to make closing statements at all future “Survivor” Juries. He was certainly kindest to Lisa, as he didn’t criticize aspects of her game or personality, just the secret she kept. It’s still funny how bitter than Jury was. I wouldn’t have thought the gameplay this season required those emotions. But I wasn’t there, now was I?
The Vote. RC writes Blair Warner’s name down, because her presence validated RC’s initial hunch. “You played a pretty flawless game,” Penner says, writing Denise’s name. Interesting. Carter votes for “Skoopin.” And, content in the knowledge that all three players will get votes… It’s off to the Reunion Show.
The Live Tally: Before reading the votes, Jeff Probst has a moment of silence for victims of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Good move, “Survivor.” The tally: Lisa. Denise. Skupin. Denise. Denise. DENISE. And DENISE STAPLEY is the winner of “Survivor: Philippines.” She runs down and gives her husband and daughter a big hug.
Bottom Line. Sorry, but I just want to laugh at Mike Skupin for a while. The realistic truth is that it didn’t matter who Skupin had taken to the Finals from Denise or Malcolm. They were guaranteed to beat him. I think Malcolm would have won with as much ease as Denise did. [On the Live Show, the Jury suggested that I’m wrong and that they still would have voted for Denise, if Denise and Malcolm had been in the Final Three together.] But Skupin babbled all of that nonsense about his honor and his code and he still took the person he thought he could beat to the Final 3. And he lost. The Tandang people on the Jury were BITTER and they hated Skupin from the beginning. I think there was a lot of Skupin’s personality we never got to see because “Survivor” was so invested in protecting Skupin’s heroic image. So he was screwed. I think Blair Warner could have won, but much of her argument to the jury accentuated “growth” and it turns out nobody wants to give a million dollars for “growth.” If she had won, I wouldn’t have been bitter about that. Blair Warner’s journey this season was, indeed, a very interesting journey. But that’s not the same as being the most deserving winner. To me, Denise’s argument was persuasive. She had a harder path than anybody else did. She was on one weak and losing tribe after another and she survived. She should have gone home after she came to Kalabaw. She should have been sent home after the Merge. She made the right alliances and was just tough enough in challenges to be respectable. I can’t really quibble with most of the plays tonight, nor with the final Jury verdict. Denise wasn’t the dominant player this season, but she did outwit, outplay and, particularly, outlast. She’s a good winner of what was a good season of “Survivor.” She wasn’t a great winner and this wasn’t a great season, but this was a season with many great moments and Denise navigated the waters well. [Note that I’ve heard rumors about next season and all of that. I just haven’t discussed them in this recap, because some people like to be surprised when “Survivor” announces these things. But that’s only my discretion. Yours may vary.]
What did you think of the finale? And do you have any key questions you want asked in my exit interviews tomorrow?