'Survivor: Philippines' finale: And the winner is ...
Was it Lisa, Skupin or Denise who took the title of sole Survivor?
And in the end, there were four.
As the 39-day challenge of “Survivor: Philippines” finally came to an end, the alliance between Denise, Malcolm, Skupin and Lisa took the happy quartet all the way to the final four – thanks to the ousting of crankypant Abi-Maria last week.
They were all strong, strategic, well-liked. So who would take grand title of sole “Survivor”? It could be anyone’s game. But the reward challenge this week would really help one of these strong players go right to the end.
The prize: an advantage in the final immunity challenge. And that advantage frequently translated to an immunity idol earned.
This week’s reward challenge was another obstacle course in which the players collected puzzle pieces, followed by the piecing together of the puzzle.
Skupin made it down first, followed by Denise and Malcolm, with Lisa bringing up the rear. The puzzle was a dragon – and Denise was quickly picking up the lead as Skupin struggled with the pieces. Eventually, it became a race to the finish between pals Malcolm and Denise – and Malcolm took the prize. No doubt that sealed his fate and earned him a spot in the final three.
“We did not need Malcolm winning an immunity advantage,” Lisa said, exhausted. “He was already a huge threat on his own. Battling Malcolm with an advantage? Forget it.”
His final three deal with Lisa and Skupin gave him another advantage – once Denise was out of the picture. But things could shift in a minute. And Denise was really making a pitch to stay. “Are you willing to commit?” she asked Malcolm, but she understood his hesitation. “Knowing he worked so hard to make sure we had a six, and worked so hard to make sure he had a four, makes me very leary of his plans for me.”
So then she turned around and worked Lisa. “Today’s been a good day,” Lisa said. “I just found out Denise is willing to turn on Malcolm and go to the final three with me and Skupin.”
But Lisa noted that she gave her a big hug. “Didn’t shake her hand,” she said. “I don’t know what Skupin is going to think about this.”
And Skupin thought the idea of a deal with Denise was great. But the whole deal lay in the immunity challenge. He also didn’t buy the idea of Malcolm pulling a clean sweep. “I think I can beat Malcolm,” Skupin said. “And I think I can tell a pretty good story at the end. I just have to keep my cool and figure out who I want to sit next to – because that’s the million dollar question, right there.”
Lisa and Skupin did know this – they were in it together. As they discussed their options, though, they realized they weren’t on the same page about the final three. Skupin was bent on winning immunity, so he could mold the final three. “You need to be pretty level-headed to be able to make some strategic moves, and sometimes Skupin isn’t very level-headed,” Lisa said.
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But before they went to the next challenge, they did the classic Fallen Comrades walk. Their memories of everyone on that walk were far fonder than some of the interactions they’d actually had in person, of course. Memories of “sleeping buddy” Angie, “leader” Russell, “great athlete” Jeff, “entertainment-on-steroids” Penner, and “the little Brazilian firecracker” Abi. Together, the final four lit the bonfire. Soon they would be three.
Immunity Challenge Time! The winner of this challenge would earn a spot in the final three – and help decide the top spots for the other two.
This week’s challenge was all about balance – and it was one of the most difficult the players had faced. They were required to balance a little silver ball on a piece of wood for an extended period of time – and adding extenders every few minutes. Malcolm’s reward advantage. Should he drop the ball – he wasn’t automatically out. He’d get one second chance at the prize.
Jeff Probst noted: “A simple little backyard game could be worth a million bucks.”
Everyone survived the first round. In round two, Skupin was a bit wobbly in round two, Lisa rock solid. Malcolm lost his ball in round two – but got another shot. Without the advantage anymore, it was anyone’s game. Round three: Malcolm was still shaky. “Flirting with disaster, but still alive,” Probst noted. “Calm your body.” But he couldn’t. In round three, Malcolm was out of the challenge. No shot at immunity. The other three hung tight. And as Probst said Denise was holding steady, he jinxed her. Two seconds later, she was out. Round four: BFFs Skupin and Lisa faced off – and either of them could take it. With 30 seconds left, Lisa was wobbly. But she managed to hang on. Round five: Skupin and Lisa continued their face off. As Probst pointed out: “You want to be the one in charge at tonight’s tribal. Don’t think about anything. Nothing, nothing, nothing but this. This is it.” But Lisa lost it – and guaranteed Skupin a spot in the final three. “Skupin will get a chance to finish what he started 12 years ago.”
Back at camp, everyone was congratulatory. “I knew I needed to win that immunity challenge to guarantee that spot in the final three,” Malcolm said. “It’s a very disconcerting scenario. Because my fate now rests with Lisa and Skupin. I have oath with Lisa and Skupin – but I could be in for a nasty surprise tonight.”
Skupin knew he was in the key spot now. “They all said the same thing: Malcolm’s gonna win,” Skupin said. “And it turns out, it was not even close. Now, it’s a whole lot strategy. Who you keep, and who you vote out.”
He made no bones about his power player status when he chatted with Denise. “My head is clearly on the block tonight,” Denise said. “Skupin is kind of a dreamer guy, his mind is going in a thousand differnet directions. He might not understand the repercusions of taking the best of the best of the best to the end.”
And she was right on – being the therapist she is. “Is there honor in beating Malcolm over beating you or Lisa,” he asked her. “The obvious choice would be to take you and Lisa. But I would love to take Malcolm and beat his straight up, man to man.”
It was a pride thing. But he did go right up to Malcolm to chat about it. “My wife said to me as I walked out the door, ‘Make us proud of you,’” he said, even if that meant making a death wish.
“Skupin is a wild card here,” Lisa said. “Handing the titel of sole ‘Survivor’ to Malcolm on a platter is stupid. I did what I needed to do to get here. So I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure Malcolm is not in the final three.”
Tribal Council Time! Probst began with a riff on alliances and loyalty – and the fact that Lisa and Skupin came up together, as did Denise and Malcolm. How do these things play out in the end? When Malcolm mentioned that playing strategically meant maybe turning on Denise, she turned right back around and said the same about him. “There’s division here,” Probst said, “but with Lisa and Skupin it always seemed harmonious.”
But Lisa pointed out that they, too, had differences throughout the game – frequently voting different ways.
Then Probst brought up favors – that Malcolm had taken both Lisa and Skupin on the family reward. But Lisa said there were no $1 million favors.
Malcolm pointed out Denise was more dangerous than him – she’d been to every tribal, she’d never flipped and he had, blah, blah, blah.
When Probst asked if there was a reason to take Malcolm to the end, Lisa said there wasn’t a reason for her to take him. Which shook him.
And then it was time to vote. Denise voted for Malcolm, of course, and Malcolm voted for Denise. But who did the two power players cast against? Probst tallied the final four: First: Malcolm. Second: Denise. Third: Malcolm. Fourth: Malcolm. The 15th person voted out, and the 8th and final member of the jury: Malcolm.
The final three: Lisa, Skupin and Denise. “You have one more night under the stars in the Philippines. Try to enjoy it.”
Malcolm’s final words: “Maybe I pushed too hard, I leveraged to hard. They finally saw me as a threat. I’m dying to be at the end. Right now it’s painful for a lifelong fan.”
Dangrayne camp: The 38th night. “That was my most heartrenching one yet,” Skupin said, and everyone agreed that Malcolm was really shaken.
“As hard as that was, that still felt great,” Denise said.
And Skupin was still smarting, because Malcolm had given her a vote of confidence on the way out: “Malcolm had said, ‘Congratulations on your $1 million, Denise,’” Skupin said. “I’ll have a lot to say about that tomorrow.”
The next morning, the trio hiked up to the cliff to get a different perspective. “39 days of an adventure you will never, ever forget for the rest of your life,” Skupin said.
They returned to a feast: champagne, orange juice, bacon, sausage. “Your strength comes back from just knowing you’re going to eat,” Skupin said. As they enjoyed their hard-earned breakfast, they pondered their journeys.
“I knew I could make it to the end 23 years ago,” Skupin said. “I forgot that every time we went around the fire. But I know it now.”
Lisa was floored, too. “I didn’t really realize how much of your hard and your sould and your spirit and your body are involved in this game. Your head is just a very little part of it. I’m humbled that I get to experience something so incredible.
As evening fell, the trio set fire to their camp and bade it good-bye, and then it was time to go and face the jury: RC, Jeff Kent, Artis, Pete, Penner, Carter, Abi, and Malcolm – clean-shaven.
“You made it to the end,” Probst said. “Tonight the power in this game shifts. Eight people that you had a hand in voting out decide your fate.”
Denise: “The one thing I’m not going to do tonight is make any apology for this final three – I’m not only proud to be here, but I believe I should be here.” She pointed out she survived in three tribes, made some power plays, survived every single tribal council. She outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted.
Lisa: “My strategy was not pretty. Run wide open, just fall down, get up and run again. One of the big mistakes I made was not following my heart. I had forgotten it was a game. I needed to play this game worthy of the game. In the end, I finally got it. I learned, I grew. And threw a punch that knocked out the heavyweight champion of this season. I’m proud of how I played this game.”
Skupin: “Everybody wanted returning players to not progress farther than they did. My back was up against the wall more than anyone else out here. I played my guts out. I can’t play this game any other way – I love this game too much.”
And then the jury got their chance to speak.
Artis: He wasn’t congratulating anyone. “The beauty of this game is, when it’s all said and done, karma is a bitch.”
Carter: “Lisa, people looked at you as an easy target – and yet you’re sitting there. I’m proud of you. Skupin, same for you. You played good games.” He asked Skupin about voting him out. And Skupin said it was all about who’d they’d be sitting next to in the final three – nobody could beat Carter.
Pete: “Lisa, it’s kind of like a Judah situation – you didn’t vote for us, but you knew we were going home.” But Lisa said she’d been oblivious. He then asked Denise why she thought she played better than Skupin and Lisa. She said it was all about the social. “There were fractures, and I worked with that.”
RC: “Lisa, you’re so sneaky and sweet, I knew this was going to happen. I’m very proud of you – congratulations.” And then she called out Skupin on not telling her she was going home on day 19. He said he voted Penner that day.
Malcolm: “Lisa was swinging for the fences – it was exactly what I wanted to hear from her.” “Denise, this appeasing everyone thing has to stop. Trying to play nice, to make friends though this process. How are you going to win?” She said she wasn’t appeasing – she was listening. “And I’m still here, and you’re sitting over there.”
Jeff Kent: “I’m a little bitter, too, but I can handle it really well.” He told Skupin there was three kinds of people: people that make things happen, people that watch things happen, and people that wonder what the hell just happened. Skupin said he made things happen – his name was on the block every single day. And he was still there.
Abi: “I was called the most unlikable person in the tribe by the three of you – my heart is broken.” She asked each of the players why she should vote for them. Lisa said she’d been absolutely true to her tribe. Michael said he outwitted and outlasted them all. Denise said hindsight was 20/20, and maybe there had been a different way for her to approach Abi’s attitude.
Penner: He congratulated them. “We’ve all given our heart and souls to this game. Smart people asking tough questions.” He said Denise confused him when she said she didn’t appease. She had said she didn’t want to come off as a bitch – but she showed that side tonight. He said Skupin never had a target on his back – he never had his name written down, not once. He asked Lisa to share with everyone how close they’d gotten – then he outed her as a TV star from “Facts of Life.” “You guys deserve to know that before you vote for her or against her. She kept that secret from you all. And I kept that secret for her.” Then he made a speech about how one of the players had ridden the other two into the final three like oxen – and that one was already standing in the chariot.
And then it was time to vote, one last time. RC voted Lisa: “I knew right from the beginning that you had it in you.” Penner voted for Denise: “You played a pretty flawless game. It hurt, but you did good.” Skupin got Carter’s vote: “You’re a good dude. I hope that others realize the type of game you played here.”
But the rest weren’t revealed till real-time in the CBS studios in Hollywood. Probst carried that little urn with those eight precious votes to the stage in front of a live audience. After a moment of silence for those lost in Newtown, CT, on Friday, Probst read the votes – with the final three holding hands as he announced the winner.
First: Lisa. Second: Denise. Third: Skupin. Fourth: Denise. Fifth: Denise. Sixth: Denise. And with that, she was already the winner of “Survivor: Philippines.”
Denise Stapley, a 41-year-old sex therapist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the season 25 sole “Survivor.”
Jeff Probst called her an underdog, and she agreed with it. “I am one stubborn, determined woman,” she had said, and in winning the title of sole “Survivor,” she proved it.