'Survivor: Philippines' season in review
Here's everything you need to know about Season 25 before Sunday's finale
In its 25th season, the producers of "Survivor" thought it was time for something a little different. And so, they started things off with a bang by dividing the 15 unsuspecting newbie castaways into three teams -- instead of the traditional two.
But that wasn't all Jeff Probst and his merry gang had in mind. They also brought back three old-school players. But these were former castaways whose dreams of the glory -- and the $1 million prize -- were shattered when they were medevac'ed away from the island. The three returning players: Jonathan Penner (of "Cook Islands" and "Micronesia"), Russell Swan (of "Samoa"), and Michael Skupin (of "Australian Outback"). With one returning player added to each tribe, that made three tribes of six: Tandang, Kalabaw and Matsing. And among the 15 newbies, two boldfaced names: MLB MVP Jeff Kent and former "Facts of Life" star Lisa Whelchel, both of whom kept their star-status under wraps.
Right off the bat, things got sticky for Russell's Matsing tribe. They came in third at the first four challenges -- which meant a trip to tribal to vote out one of their members every week: Zane, then Roxy, Angie and finally Russell, who took it really hard. "Logically, I understand that it was just a game. It was just a TV show," he told MSN TV. "But it my heart and in my head, it was so much bigger than that. It was a chance at redemption."
He hoped his tribe mates Denise and Malcolm would go forth and prosper. And so they did, but they were split up. Kalabaw absorbed Denise, while Tandang got Malcolm.
And then there were eight -- and a newly merged tribe, Dangrayne. And that’s how everyone was feeling: “Dang that rain!” Again the numbers dwindled, with strategic dismissals of RC, then leader Jeff Kent, who himself was gunning for Penner. But at that crazy tribal, everyone's head seemed to be on the chopping block. And Kent was big-time blindsided. "We were all scrambling in the 15 minutes before tribal. And I still don’t know why it was me," Kent told MSN TV. "Up until that day, I felt pretty safe. I didn’t feel like there was a target on my back. But I guess that someone thought I might be dangerous when it came down to the final three. Or that I did too well in the challenges."
The rest of the group quickly realized that there was hierarchy in this new tribe -- a trifecta of meanies at the top who were the ones to watch for: Pete, Abi and Artis. But aligning with loudmouthed, cranky and often tactless Abi was taking its toll on Pete. He watched his pal Artis get voted out and then found himself, too, on the chopping block, because, as annoying as Abi was, he was a far bigger threat. Still, Pete told MSN TV, he wouldn't change much. "I got pretty far into the game with her, although obviously I could have gone further if I had just voted her off at the right time," he said. "That's the only regret, really -- that we didn't just vote her off when we had the chance."
Meanwhile, Jonathan Penner had more lives than a cat. A marked man from Day 1, Penner said he was still surprised to discover how big the target on his back was. He managed to win immunity and buy himself another day. But in the end, it was his good pal Lisa that hit the target when he failed to align with her and Skupin after Kent was sent packing. Instead, she and Skupin formed an alliance with Denise and Malcolm -- and voted Penner right on out of there. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time," Penner told MSN TV. "There were certainly no flashing lights when I didn't shake her hand, saying, 'Oh my God, you made a mistake!' But watching it on TV [later], it seemed so blatantly obvious that was a key moment."
And without Lisa's swing vote, his third shot at the $1 million prize was gone. "Malcolm and Denise knew, given that extra day I asked Lisa for, I would have turned her head again," he said. "It was the right move on their part, certainly, because I would have tried, and likely succeeded."
That left quiet, thoughtful Carter as the last Kalabaw man standing. And he knew he was fifth in that final six, with only Abi bringing up the rear. Still, as Abi became more and more annoying to her fellow players, Carter was confident she'd be going home. That's when she came up with what she thought was a genius plan: an imaginary immunity idol she reportedly found when she won the reward challenge. And she also managed to win the immunity challenge, confounding everyone and sealing Carter's fate.
Carter couldn’t fault the foursome for their decision, even if it hurt at the time. "Everyone talked about how they wanted to go to the end with people they admired, people that deserved it. I'm sitting there at the end, saying, 'Look, you said this all along. Take me to the end because I deserve it,'" Carter told MSN TV during his exit interview. "But then they turned around and said, 'If he's in the final five, he has a great chance of winning -- and a great chance at winning these immunity challenges.' So it would be dangerous. I can talk a big game about how they should have kept me and voted Abi, but in their shoes, I would have done the same thing. It was probably a smart decision.”
And that left five: Malcolm, Denise, Skupin, Lisa and Abi. Abi continued her “imaginary immunity idol” charade, but the rest were seeing right through her. Still, in the final week of the game, there were a few deliberations about whether the bitchy Brazilian should go home -- or whether taking Denise to the final four was too big a risk. In the end, loyalty won out. Or maybe Abi was just that unbearable, because she was sent packing. "Being a bitch was a strategy for me," Abi told MSN TV. "I was a crazy psychopath at times, but I made it to the fifth place. You can’t argue with the results there."
The "Survivor: Philippines" jury -- RC, Jeff Kent, Artis, Pete, Jonathan Penner, Carter and Abi-Maria -- all have votes up for grabs.
Which leaves us with a relatively upstanding final four: Denise, Malcolm, Michael Skupin and Lisa. And given the fact that these four were all well-liked and strong players, at this point, it really could be anyone’s game. Still, if you ask Penner (and MSN TV did), the odds are not even. "I said this to Lisa and Mike: I don't see them currying a lot of jury votes at this point," he said. "They can get to the final three, but they can't win. Not against Denise and Malcolm. They didn't want to hear that because they'd already made a commitment to Malcolm and Denise, which means they were hoisting themselves on their own sword. No one wants to believe that they can't win. But they simply won't have the jury votes to win."
Who will you be rooting for in this Sunday’s season finale?
"Survivor: Philippines" airs its two-hour special season finale and announce the Season 25 sole Survivor Sunday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.