Handicapping the Final 5 on Survivor

Survivor Philippines – the 25th season of one of my favorite shows – saw Carter get voted off last night, leaving 5 contestants vying for $1 million. It’s been another good season and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m convinced that I will always enjoy Survivor. The game is set up in such a way that it will never get boring, no matter who the cast is. I can barely remember who won each season but it was always really fun to watch. This season is no exception.

Malcolm – 2 to 1


Malcolm is playing an almost perfect game. He started the game on a tribe that couldn’t win anything, going to the first 4 tribal councils. Given there were three original tribes this season, it is pretty astounding that they lost the first 4 immunity challenges. He survived the initial string of bad luck thanks to his strength (his tribe couldn’t vote out its strongest member after losing challenge after challenge) and an alliance with Denise.

When Malcolm and Denise were all that was left of Masting, they were absolved by the other remaining tribes. Malcolm was welcomed by his new tribe Tandang, excelled in challenges and became extremely popular. He pretty much stayed on that course right through the merge and he remains aligned with Denise and seemingly in control of the game. Not to mention, the fact that he is the only player left with a hidden immunity idol. This upcoming week is the last week he can play that idol, so he is guaranteed a spot in the final 4.

Because of his likability, lack of burned bridges and strategic play, Malcolm should have no problem getting the necessary jury votes should he make it to the final three. The rest of the cast is figuring out that they can’t beat Malcolm in the final vote, but it might be too late. Like Kim was last season, Malcolm is in the driver’s seat and it’s his game to lose.

Denise – 6 to 1


Denise set Survivor history by attending the first seven tribal councils. After she was absolved by Kalabaw, they proceeded to lose the next three immunity challenges. By being a strong competitor, not ruffling any feathers and offering her services as a swing vote, Denise survived. At the merge she was reunited with Malcolm and as we have seen in the past – a pair in this game can take you far.

As a part of the four-person alliance (with Malcolm, Skupin and Lisa), she is in good position right now. Denise is strong and can win an immunity challenge to secure either Final 4 or Final 3. She’s also very smart (a professional sex therapist) and her only real enemy is Abi (but who isn’t Abi’s enemy?). She has a pretty convincing argument for the jury about how she survived all of that losing in the beginning and fought her way to the finals.

In this season the jury is not as clear cut as to would vote for who in the final. I can definitely see Denise getting votes and that makes her a threat to win it all. The only problem is that if she goes up against Malcolm, she has a hard time differentiating herself from him. They played a very similar game and Malcolm is simply more likable.

Lisa – 9 to 1


Lisa is a really interesting player for a couple of reasons. First, she is a former child star (Blair from The Facts of Life) but given that the cast skews young, only two players recognize her as the famous person she really is. She seemed to enjoy not being defined by her past and getting a fresh start on the island. As the season has progressed, she has begun to unravel and is torn about whether she is there to play the game (and do what comes with that – lie) or be true to herself and her religious morals. Her interviews about her internal struggle have been extremely confusing and a little comical. As of last night it seems like she has committed to playing the game and lying to advance her status.

The second confounding thing about Lisa is that a midst all of this personal exploration, she orchestrated arguably the biggest move in the game. After innocently finding Malcolm’s hidden immunity idol while taking his wet clothes out of his bag to dry them, she tried to blindside him. It was not successful and Malcolm was not vengeful at all – so much so that he is still aligned with Lisa. The fact that she was outed at tribal council for organizing this power move and then suffered no repercussions is pretty amazing. Her hand was exposed but no one turned on her; she kept the numbers and still has a chance to win the game.

She’s aligned Skupin (her closest ally), Malcom and Denise in that four-person alliance, which puts her in prime position for the Final 4. She also has not received a single vote against her throughout the whole game. Her overall strategy is kind of all over the place but she made the right alliances at the right times (and had Penner aligned with Lisa when she asked him to, he’d still be in the game and Malcolm and Denise would be on the outs). Her sweet and caring demeanor can also garner some jury votes. Despite a less than conventional road, she is likely to reach the finals but it would take some serious luck for Blair from The Facts of Life to add Survivor Champion to her resume.

Abi – 15 to 1


Abi has been the one cast member who has made me say “What the hell is going on?” the most this season. No one seems to like her and she has pulled some head-scratching moves. First, when she and her alliance of Pete, Artis and herself were in control of her tribe, she was a bully. Then when her alliance was picked off, she was roasted at Tribal Council and became a victim after she realized that everyone hated her. She also berated people she would eventually need help from and she inexplicably showed her hidden immunity idol (that no one except Pete knew about) at Tribal Council. To say her social game is terrible is an understatement.

Having said that, she has two major things going for going forward. First, she has played such a terrible game that the rest of the cast is realizing she is a prime candidate to take to the finals. Knowing this, if she is smart enough, she can try and break up that alliance of four and position herself to make it farther than anyone thought she would. People have wanted Abi gone for the past 4 episodes but somehow she has skated by.

Second, if she can make it to the finals, Pete and Artis will vote for her to win. That means she only has to convince a couple of other wild cards (possibly Carter, Jeff and whoever gets voted out next) to vote for her. It’s a tall order but crazier things have happened.

Skupin – 20 to 1


It’s a great story that Skupin was able to come back and play the game again after severely burning his hands on his first stint nearly 10 years ago. He has also not received any votes against him to this point but he is going to have a very hard time winning. Throughout the game, the cast has seemed adamant not to let a returning player win and I can’t see the jury giving Skupin $1 million. Jeff didn’t want a returning player to win so bad that he stirred the pot and got sent him home earlier than he deserved to.

Skupin’s place in the four-person alliance gives him a good chance to reach the finals but I can also see him getting voted off 4th to last. This may be a consequence of the editing but it seems like no one takes him seriously. He just bounced around like a pinball all season, constantly injuring himself and somehow he ended up in the Final 5.

His alliance throughout the game with Lisa has helped him get to this point but I don’t think he was directly responsible for any of the strategy involved in both of them advancing to this point. Skupin’s a nice guy but the other cast members have more compelling stories to tell the jury and unfortunately for him, he is a returning player. For those reasons, Skupin is my long shot to win Survivor Philippines.


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