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Survivor: Philippines 2012 – And The Winner Is … Denise!

December 17th, 2012 10:37pm EST

Survivor After an exciting season, the Final Four prepare to become the Final Three. We begin with a flashback to the earlier episodes, and a reminder that the players survived 21 straight days of pouring rain.

Returning from Tribal Council, where the evil Abi was finally voted off the tribe, the remaining four cannot believe how relieved they feel. “That’s like having a tumor removed,” says Michael Skupin. “It sucked life out of you, having (Abi) here.”

While Malcolm worries that he’s been painted as the hands-on winner, Skupin believes that it’s his own turn to shine. “I believe I have a better story than (Malcolm) has.”

Day 37 dawns on Dangrayne. The Survivors are summoned to their next challenge, but the treemail has them wondering if they’ll be playing for reward or immunity. Denise is terrified that she’s next to go, so she’s determined to win the challenge.

Jeff Probst welcomes them to a complicated challenge, involving racing through a series of obstacles, collecting bags of puzzle pieces on the way. When they have all of their pieces, they must solve a dragon puzzle. The reward, Probst tells them, is the biggest reward of the game – an advantage in the final Immunity Challenge.

(I’d like to register a protest at this reward. An advantage in the final challenge is not fair, either to the losers, or the winner. Should the winner achieve immunity through the advantage, it will never be known if that person would have won ‘fair and square,’ casting doubts on the player’s ability.)

Denise takes an early lead, but Malcolm easily completes the puzzle for the win. And so it is Malcolm that receives a sealed scroll, containing the information on his advantage.

Denise approaches Malcolm, and asks him if he’ll take her to the Final Three. At least, she says, consider voting for Lisa, creating a tie. That way, she and Lisa will have to make fire to break the tie, giving Denise a fighting chance. But Malcolm refuses to be pinned down.

With his response, Denise realizes that Malcolm has no intention of keeping her in the alliance. She approaches first Lisa, and then Skupin, telling them that she’d like to help them get rid of triple-threat Malcolm. With everyone convinced that Malcolm will win the final jury vote, Lisa and Skupin are happy to agree, although Lisa awaits Skupin’s final approval of the deal.

The only fly in the ointment would be if Malcolm wins the final Immunity Challenge, especially since he’s won the advantage. Skupin brushes off that idea, saying he’s beat Malcolm before, and can do it again. So basically, they will ally with whoever is the winner of the Immunity Challenge. Between Skupin’s belief in his superiority over a man half his age, and Lisa’s belief that Denise has ridden Malcolm’s coattails through the game, Lisa and Skupin are comfortable in their positions. They believe they will be in the Final Three, no matter who wins immunity.

A new treemail directs the players to follow a path set out for them, where tributes to the players who’ve left the game are posted. They will collect a nametag from each post, finally burning the tags at the end, before heading to the final Immunity Challenge.

They walk the “Fallen Comrades path, and say a quick word at each of the posts. They pick up the tags of Zane, Roxy, Angie, Russell, Dana, Dawson, Katie, RC, Jeff, Artis, Pete, Jonathan Penner, Carter, and finally Abi. The tags are ceremoniously placed on the bamboo pagoda, and the structure is set alight.

The final Immunity Challenge is deceptively simple. They must balance a ball on a pole, which has been chopped into several pieces. They will begin with just one piece of the pole, and add two more pieces after each timed session is over. Malcolm’s advantage is a “second chance” at the challenge; should he drop the ball, he will be given an opportunity to try again.

They begin. The first round lasts for five minutes. Malcolm’s hands shake throughout. As round two begins, Malcolm seems even shakier. They now have three pieces of wood upon which to balance the ball. Malcolm’s ball is the first to drop. Probst reminds him that he has a second shot at the challenge, and Malcolm prepares to try again. But Malcolm’s hands are shaking so hard that he again drops the ball. Despite the “mulligan,” Malcolm is out of the challenge.

With 30 seconds left in the round, Denise fumbles, and drops her ball. Only Skupin and Lisa are left to play round three, where two more blocks of wood are added. They survive to move on the next round, where the pole now consists of seven segments, making the game even harder. The slightest movement will cause the ball to drop. Skupin is drenched in sweat, but steadfast. Lisa makes it through the first half, but finally loses concentration. Skupin wins Final Immunity!

Skupin is astounded and delighted that he’s made it to the very end. He’s now deciding on a strategy for the end game. Malcolm hopes that his strategy, and his alliance with Skupin and Lisa, will assure his staying in the Final Three.

Skupin and Lisa decide to ally with Denise. Malcolm will be going home. Denise wishes it wasn’t that way, but it’s either him or her. Skupin’s qualms are hubris – is there more honor is going head to head against Malcolm at the finish? Or should he take the easy way out, bringing Lisa and Denise as his handmaidens?

We head now to Tribal Council. Probst pokes the Survivors, wondering if alliances have remained firm. Clearly, someone will be voted out. Malcolm admits that people grow and change during the 39 days on the island. Denise agrees with Malcolm’s assessment. Malcolm points out that Denise is actually in a better position that he. Denise has been to every single Tribal Council, and lived in each of the three original tribes. His hands are dirty, but she’s managed to get along with everyone throughout the season. His point, of course, is that Denise is a bigger threat than he is, in the final Tribal Council.

They vote. And Malcolm becomes the 15th person voted out, and the 8th and final member of the jury. Malcolm is clearly devastated, as he rises and wishes Denise congratulations.

Probst shoos Lisa, Skupin and Denise out for their last night under the Philippine stars, and they leave.

Malcolm’s exit interview: “Maybe I pushed too hard, I leveraged too much. I had them so driven to finally play the game and see threats, they finally saw me as a threat. It’s just, I’m pissed off that I’m not gonna be at the end. It’s painful, for a lifelong fan.”

The final three gather in the gloom of camp. The Council was brutal and heart wrenching, and they are aware that Malcolm was angry with them. “This is that part of the game when I can say, “Malcolm, you were a great ally, you played a great game, but this is the part when I outwit you,” interviews Denise. “You can be angry, but that’s the game.”

Skupin’s angrier that Malcolm congratulated Denise on his way out. He’ll have something to say about that at the last Council. Skupin believes the winner will be the one who can plead their case the best.

Day 39, dawn. The Final Three hike up a hill and watch the morning begin. Back at camp, treemail brings three large buckets of ice, champagne, butter, bacon, sausage. “This isn’t treemail, it’s treemeal!” squeals Lisa.

They toast with mimosas, and eat a hearty breakfast before tidying up the camp, and preparing for the evening’s Tribal Council. Lisa reminisces about her days on “The Facts of Life,” and marvels at how much she’s grown up since being on Survivor. She’s proud and humbled to have been part of the game.

They wish each other good luck as the jury files in for the final Tribal Council. Probst advises them that they’ll each have a chance to make an opening statement, followed by the jury addressing their own concerns.

Denise begins by saying that she won’t apologize for being in the Final Three, as she feels she deserves her place, after being in all three tribes at one time or another, surviving every Tribal Council of the season, and working hard at camp and at the challenges.

Lisa feels that each of them has fulfilled the mandate to “Outwit, Outplay and Outlast.” She says her own strategy wasn’t pretty, but she played her own worthy game. Her last punch even threw out the heavyweight champion of the season.

Skupin notes that returning players in the game have a target on their backs, but he’s played his game full out and with fire throughout.

The jury begins their questions and comments. First up, Artis. He feels he can’t congratulate the players for making it to the end, because of their ‘holier than thou’ attitude. He feels they did not hold true to their alliances, and when all is said and done, “karma is a bitch.”

Carter is next, and stays true to form, mumbling his thoughts. He congratulates Lisa and Skupin for being there despite being targeted from the beginning. He feels they played a good game, but wonders what Skupin has to say about sending him home. Skupin says that Carter was so good at the game, and so selfless, that he had to be sent home.

Pete says that he feels like Lisa has been hiding behind other people’s decisions. She says that she never wrote down her tribe’s names, and stayed true to her tribe. He asks Denise why she feels she deserves the million dollars. Denise says she feels she played a more social, strategic game, having been in each tribe at some point in the game.

The giggly RC still can’t believe that Lisa, who was targeted from Day One, is in the Final Three. She asks Skupin why he didn’t warn her about the blindside, and Skupin says he was a blindsided as she was.

Malcolm is still clearly angry, He admits that Lisa slipped under his radar, and for the first time, he’s considered writing her name down for the win. When speaking to Denise, he warns her not to nod and try to appease him, as it’s what she’s done from the beginning. He wants to know why she deserves to win, and asks her to do it without playing nice.

Denise is surprised, but says that he is right that a certain amount of her social strategy involved appeasing. It’s part of what she does as a therapist, and it’s what is necessary in the game, along with just listening to what people say. He says he still wants to know how she beat him. She says it was her strategy, and how she played the game.

Jeff Kent admits to still being a little bitter at how the game went. In his life, he says, he’s learned that there are three types of people; those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that wonder, “what happened?” He asks Skupin which type he thinks he is.

Skupin says it’s their family motto to say, “are you gonna watch the news today, or make news?” He feels he’s the type that makes things happen. Neither Lisa’s nor Denise’s names were written down in Tribal Councils, but his name came up every time, and he had to work very hard not to be voted out.

Kent also wants to know how Lisa got to the end, after spending most of the game floating in the middle. She says she might have been smarter to do that, but she never felt like she was in the middle. She talks about her plan to send Malcolm home with his idol, and how that plan didn’t happen. Kent interrupts to say that she may have tried to make things happen, but couldn’t.

Abi makes it all about her, saying that being called the most unlikeable person in the tribe broke her heart. She wants to know why Lisa should get her vote. Lisa says that she was true to her alliance until it disintegrated. Skupin says he deserves her vote because he played by the game’s rules. She is pleased when he agrees that one of the core values of the game is not “out-disrespect.”

Abi tells Denise that she blames Denise for labeling her most unlikeable, and that she felt completely demoralized. Denise says she stands by her statements, but might have said it better. Nonetheless, she apologizes, and says that her intention was never to traumatize or demoralize Abi.

Saving the best for last, it’s Penner’s turn to speak. And like the actor he is, Penner unleashes his wrath on the three finalists. To Denise, he said, “You shared with me once that the one thing you were afraid of was being seen as was a bitch. You can rest assured that you have now shown the world that side.”

To Skupin: “You were able to avoid having your name written down even once. You may find that you have a perfect record even after tonight.” Another zinger!

But it was hardest to believe that he saved his most unkind and vicious words for Lisa. “Lisa was a television star who spent nine years on the television program The Facts of Life,” he told the jury. “From the age of 12 to the age of 21 she was America’s sweetheart. Still may be. You guys deserve to know that when you vote or don’t vote for her, that she has kept that all from you and I kept your secret safe until now.” Wow! I had wondered if Skupin might use that information to sway the jury to his side, but I cannot imagine why Penner, with no chance of financial gain, felt that he had to out Lisa at the end of her game. It was all about Penner making a big Penner splash in the pool, to make himself seem relevant. I lost all respect for the man at that moment.

Lisa counters by asking Penner if he shared his youth with the others, or if he spent more time talking about where he is today. Penner brushes off Lisa’s words, and then says, “I think that one of you has ridden the other two here like oxen. You have been yoked to a cart and have been ridden in and now you will be led to the slaughter. And you hear the cheering. You think the million dollars is yours. One of you is right. One of you is standing in the chariot. And the other two are actually just the oxen listening to the crowd cheering the person behind you. I’m done.”

Well! I’m still not sure what he meant, but I’d give him the part in Twelve Angry Men! Bravo Penner. Now go away for another decade or two.

Time to vote. The jury files up and cast their votes. We only see RC’s vote for Lisa, and Carter’s vote for “Skoopin” before Jeff gathers up the urn, and disappears into the night.

And we’re back, but now we’re in Hollywood, and everyone looks so clean! Jeff begins the show by calling for a moment of silence for the victims and family of the tragedy that occurred on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.

Without further ado – the winner is Denise Stapley, in an impressive 6-1-1 vote (all except RC and Carter voted for Lisa.)

Denise is teary eyed and very happy. She says that her biggest game move was finally ending her alliance with Malcolm at the Final Four. Probst asks the jury if they would have voted for her had it been Malcolm and Denise in the final. But it seems that everyone wanted Denise to win all along.

And with that, we end this season of Survivor. I hope you’ve had as much fun reading my recaps as I have had writing them. Hope to see you next spring, when Survivor: Caramoan hits the screen with another take on “Fans vs Favorites.” Here’s hoping the casting is as good as this season’s!

My (w)rap of the reunion show is here separately. I hope you’ll have a look at that as well.

See you in February 2013!

Related: Jeff Probst, Survivor: Philippines, Starpulse Exclusives, Recaps, Television, Reality, TV Networks, CBS

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Photo Credits: CBS

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