Skupin goes on a soda binge as we move one step closer to the finale. Plus: Where does this season rank when compared to all the others?

By Dalton Ross
Updated February 27, 2015 at 11:26 PM EST
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I always feel sorry for the person who gets booted in the penultimate Survivor episode of the season. I remember all the crazy hoopla surrounding the final four — Richard, Kelly, Sue, and Rudy — from the original season and everyone wondering before the finale which person would win. They were on magazine covers, and we here at EW even came up with solo winner covers for each so we were ready to go to the printers seconds after the finale ended. (I still have the Kelly, Sue and Rudy winning covers in a drawer. Collectors items!) But nobody remembers who came in fifth place, just missing the finale. (In case you’re curious, it was Dr. Sean Kenniff, the guy with the goofy alphabetical voting strategy.)

So I usually feel bad for the person who gets the boot right before the big finale blow-out extravaganza. Usually. This would not be one of those times. It seems the rest of the tribe finally realized that how you solve a problem like Abi-Mara is to vote her ass out. It took a little while longer than we anticipated, but… Uh, oh. Oh crap, here comes my houseguest again. Give me just a minute.

“Hey man are you done yet because I ate all those chips you put out and they were really good but they were also really salty and salty things make you thirsty so I could use something else to drink and I was thinking that having a beverage would probably hit the spot and gee I was wondering if you have a rope because I sure would like to jump rope for a half hour or so if you do but if you don’t that is totally fine as well and I can just run in place for a while which is almost as good as jumping rope even though you don’t go quite as high in the air but you do get a good workout so I could do that and be totally fine after I drink another beverage of course because those chips were just so salty.”

Skupin, did you break into the soda cabinet again? And why are you wearing a lampshade on your head?

“Oh is that a lampshade I thought it was one of those Chinese bamboo hats that protect your skin from the sun and make you look wise at the same time but I did not realize it was a lampshade and of course I did not break into your pop cabinet and what would make you say such a preposterous thing because that is totally preposterous?”

Well, you’re talking a little fast and not really breathing in between words, there’s that fresh soda stain on your “Jolt Cola 4-Eva!” t-shirt, and you keep dancing around my house with a big torch. Plus, and I didn’t want to get into this, but I also noticed you direct messaging Mountain Dew on Twitter and that’s just kinda creepy.

“I’m sorry I just decided to celebrate a little because I get really excited when the next to last episode comes because I know that is when you present your updated Survivor season rankings and I can’t wait to find out where you will put Survivor: Philippines so I may have had just a few pops to mark the occasion and when I say a few I actually mean 8.”

Okay, I hear ya. But before I can get to the updated rankings, we have to jam through the episode recap — then I will reveal where this season ranks. So go detox while we take it from the top. Now, back to our regularly scheduled column.

It’s night 33 and the Dangrayne tribe has just returned from Tribal Council where they voted off Carter instead of Abi. “I don’t even know how to thank you guys,” says Abi. It should be pointed out that she is not saying this as a figure of speech but rather a literal acknowledgment that she has never thanked anyone in her life before so has no idea how to do it. It’s kind of like the Fonz trying to say “sorry.” It may not be physically possible, people.

NEXT: Should Skupin have thrown the Reward Challenge?

One thing Abi is physically able to do is lie really badly about her imaginary hidden immunity idol, announcing for all to hear that she is going off into the woods by herself. See, if this was a horror movie, a young woman announcing she was going off alone into the woods would mean she was approximately three minutes away from having a cleaver plunged into her neck from some of deranged serial killer. Here, however, it merely makes her the victim of a snarky comment from Malcolm that they all know she’s lying. (However, I suppose she will be dead in the game soon enough.)

But what is Abi really doing in the woods while pretending to hide her non-existent idol? I have a few theories. 1) Making a RC voodoo doll. 2) Summoning a vampire to go bite Denise’s neck in the middle of the night. 3) Practicing her Tribal Council put-downs of Mike Skupin. 4) Tearing up her RC voodoo doll because she cannot bear to look at her face. When Abi does finally emerge from the thicket, she begins to work on Lisa to vote out Denise, telling her, “In this alliance of four, you are totally on the bottom.” Allow me to point out that in between this and all the references to her “Brazilian ass” this lady talks a lot of bottom!

As if that is not reward enough, let’s head to the Reward Challenge. The object is to race up and over a slide and then retrieve two bundles of rings and toss the rings onto pegs. First one to get all five rings on wins. But should you even want to win? That’s because the victor will choose two people to join him/her on a helicopter ride to a boat feast complete with pizza and sodas while chillin’ with some whale sharks. But if you are selecting two people to join you, that means you are also selecting two people — and potential jury votes —to be pissed at you. I’ve gone back and forth on this. Is it better to try to win, thereby controlling who goes where so you can shore up alliances? Or is it better to throw the challenge so you don’t upset anyone, knowing you still have a 50% chance of going on the reward anyway? A tough call. Lots of possible positives and negatives on each side.

After watching Lisa wipe out multiple times off the slide (thanks to the wonders of the DVR rewind button) I sit back and enjoy a Malcolm vs. Skupin duel with Skupes pulling out the win. “Remember my last chopper ride?” he asks Probst, referencing his Australian Outback evacuation. But now comes the hard part, as Michael must decide which players to exclude from their big getaway. And those players would be Abi (shocker) and Denise, although he does promise to give Denise all of his food (but not the pop!).

Predictably, Abi is not happy. “I guess my vote doesn’t mean anything,” she says while also threatening to kill the boat-goers with a machete. For her part, Denise is more bummed about having to spend the day with Abi than anything else: “It’s like a first date with the kid who pulled your hair all the time in kindergarten or spit in your lunch, and suddenly you’re on a date.” My questions is, why would you go on a date with that person at all? That’s just poor dating management skills right there. What kind of sex therapist are you anyway, Denise? Apparently, the kind that recommends hair pulling and spitting during sex. Let’s hear it for sadomasochism!

NEXT: Taking a bite out of the competition

Meanwhile, out on the Michael Skupin Pleasure Cruise, it seems our host has to turn in his thirty years clean and sober coin after indulging in the ultimate vice: pop. That’s right, Party Time Skupin is living it up after downing a few sodas. He’s climbing poles, putting on wacky hats, and, as Malcolm says “acting like a drunk chick in a bar.” (No word on if Malcolm scored his digits or not.) Naturally, the drunken bar fight comes next, only this bar fight takes place underwater and is in between Skupin and a giant whale shark, who proceeds to “head butt” his human opponent. (Watch out — whale sharks fight dirty!)

Once back on the boat, Malcolm takes advantage of a clearly dazed and over-caffeinated Skupes to lock in a final three deal. Whether Malcolm will actually honor this or is just looking for backdoor protection should Mike or Lisa win the final challenge is unclear. Either way, a deal that perhaps nobody plans to honor is struck.

The lucky trio finally returns back to camp and all seems back to normal. At least, that is…UNTIL THE VAMPIRE ATTACK!!! That’s right, Denise wakes up and says the entire right side of her neck is stinging. Not only that, but the woman has two bite marks on her neck. I have long promoted the idea of Zombie Survivor, but it seems as if producers have decided to go in a different direction when it comes to integrating a supernatural presence onto the show. Clearly Survivor is trying to cash in on the Twilight craze, not only casting a Taylor Lautner lookalike in Pete, but now actually allowing sexy, pasty-faced bloodsuckers to roam freely around the camp biting contestants at will.

I know what you’re thinking: why Denise? Well, Lisa and Skupin no doubt sleep clutching their crosses and jugs of holy water, so they were out of the question. Malcolm kind of looks like a half man, half beast at this point, so was too risky (perhaps Pete already turned him into a werewolf?). And Abi? Even vampires are scared of Abi. That left Denise, who uses her new super vampire blood to jump out to a big lead in the Immunity Challenge.

Ah yes, the Immunity Challenge. Gotta say, a little bummed to see yet another out-of-water challenge. I know the rainy weather scuttled a lot of water challenges for this season, but it’s still been disappointing to finally have a location that allows for underwater competitions yet find ourselves stuck on land or in super shallow water in almost all of them. Oh well. In this one, the players must move on planks across a rope bridge while collecting maze pieces along the way. Once they make it across, they must then assemble the maze and use a ball to complete it.

Malcolm falls off his bridge and thereby way behind while the others all get to work on their maze. Her reaction time boosted to Nosferatuian levels, Denise opens up a big lead, but the transformation to the undead is also taking a toll on her body, and this allows Malcolm to make a huge comeback and win an immunity he did not even need thanks to his hidden idol.

NEXT: Penner gives Abi the finger

Back at camp, Abi gets to work on Skupin about how the best thing for Lisa and him to do is get rid of Denise and bring her to the final three instead. Skupin brings the proposal to Lisa. “This is actually fabulous,” replies Lisa, “because if you and I go to the end with Abi, she might get Pete and Artis, but that’s it.” Of course, on the other hand, as she points out later, they may need Denise to help beat Malcolm at the final four, because they view him as an even greater threat to get votes from the jury. Decisions, decisions.

As for Team Matsing, since Malcolm now has an immunity necklace and an immunity idol, both of which are null and void after the next Trial Council, Denise asks Malcolm for his idol, to which he replies that he will only do so “if the situation called for it.” Amazingly, Denise doesn’t press him for it, reasoning that, “They wouldn’t keep Abi.” See, here’s the difference between Denise and me. I would not have asked Malcolm for the idol. I would have demanded it. We’ve been partners since day 1. We found the idol together. We have a pact until the end. It’s no good after tonight. SO GIVE ME THE DAMN IDOL OR I’LL SIC MY SEXY PASTY-FACED VAMPIRE POSSE ON YOU! AND IF YOU TRY TO PUT IT ON YOUR MOM’S SHELF I WILL DRAIN ALL THE BLOOD OUT OF YOUR STUPID MOTHER’S BODY AND SPIT IT BACK INTO YOUR STUPID FACE! AND THEN I WILL PULL YOUR HAIR BECAUSE THAT’S HOW WE DO IT VAMPIRE SEX THERAPIST STYLE!

But maybe that’s just me.

I suppose the highlight of Tribal Council would be this little chestnut from the lips of Jeff Probst to Abi: “With respect, which probably means without any, you’ve been detested, laughed at, and then be told you’re not likable, not a good person. It has nothing to do with your culture, you’re just not nice. No one here wants you around.” To this, RC nods in the affirmative vigorously.

Then a very interesting sequence takes place. After Probst notes over the negative head-nodding objections of Jonathan Penner that “You could make an argument that Abi has outwitted, outplayed and outlasted 13 people in this game,” Denise counters that Abi was lucky because Tandang never went to Tribal Council so there were less opportunities for her to be voted out. And then Lisa does something very, very smart. She says that no, that was not luck at all. Rather, the members of Tandang deserve credit for putting themselves in a position to not have to go to Tribal Council. For one thing, she’s right. For another, she’s brilliant, because what she is doing here is appealing to Tandang pride on the jury. If I’m Artis or Pete or (soon to be jury member) Abi, I’m thinking, damn straight! You are always playing current and future jury members when you are at Tribal Council, and Lisa does that brilliantly here. Mrs. Garrett done taught her good. (P.S. Mrs. Garrett was never a stickler for grammar.)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Abi, who resorts to cutting off Skupin every time he tries to talk with calls of “You’re an idiot,” and “You’re a moron.” Well, make up your mind, woman! Which one is it? Is he an idiot or a moron? Abi continues her scorched earth campaign by informing Denise while voting that “You’re just not a good person.” (Pot. Kettle. Black.) In the end, it’s even too much for Jonathan Penner to bear as he gives Abi the finger from his perch on the jury. Either that or he’s telling her she’s #1, but I’m pretty sure it is the former as opposed to the latter.

NEXT: The updated Survivor season rankings begin!

So Abi is indeed voted out, leading her to once again talk about her “big Brazilian ass” while Michael Skupin does his best (worst?) “Ding dong the witch is dead” dance out of Tribal Council. It’s probably the wrong strategic move, however, seeing as how he and Lisa would do much better in the end against Abi as opposed to Denise or Malcolm, but we’ll see how it plays out on Sunday’s finale. And what a finale it is shaping up to be. I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but I am totally cool with any of these final four winning. All four were on the outside looking in early in the game and have overcome serious obstacles to make it this far. All four are likable and gamers and could make a legitimate argument as to what makes them the most deserving of the money.

Of course, I’m pulling for Lisa because we all know I am mildly obsessed with her — and to see someone described as a “dog that needs to be put out of its misery” then go on such a run is super cool. But at this point I would not hate on Malcolm, Skupin, or Denise taking home the big prize either. It should also be noted that if Skupin does make it to the finals, that will keep alive the Survivor streak of at least one returning player making it all the way to the end every single time they have been brought back (Guatemala, Micronesia, Redemption Island, South Pacific, and now Philippines). Skupin was my episode 1 pick to win it all solely because I went all Nate Silver and decided to play the percentages. Jeff Probst can say that returning players have no advantage in the game, but the numbers don’t lie. It has happened. Every. Single. Time. (I am guessing, however, that Skupin is the least likely to win of those left due to the seeming insistence among jury members this time out like Jeff Kent and Artis that they are not ultimately bested by a returnee.)

But we can’t talk too much about the finale yet. Nor can we talk about my weekly Jeff Probst Q&A or exclusive deleted scene at the end of the recap, because it is finally time to reveal my updated Survivor season rankings. Now, for those of you new to this, these rankings always come with a disclaimer: It is possible for this season to move up or down a spot or two depending on what happens in the finale. Also, I sometimes move previous seasons up or down according to my bizarre whims, but they pretty much stay the same. Where will Survivor: Philippines fall? Let’s find out!

SURVIVOR SEASON RANKINGS

1. (Tie) Survivor: Borneo (Winner: Richard Hatch) and Survivor: Micronesia — Fans Vs. Favorites (Winner: Parvati Shallow)

I’ve gone back and forth with these two over the years. After Micronesia aired, I named it the best Survivor season ever. Upon reflection, while I still considered it the most enjoyable, I also worried I was understating the impact of the first season, which became a national phenomenon. (Yes, Borneo now seems dated and tame by comparison, but it’s the biggest game changer in the past 20 years of television.) So then I returned that to the #1 spot. If I wanted to watch one season again, it would be Micronesia. If you ask me which is the most important season, well, obviously it’s Borneo. So instead of constantly flipping them, they can simply share the top spot…until I change my mind again.

3. Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

The Russell vs. Boston Rob feud made for the best pre-merge run of episodes ever. And the greatness just kept on coming. Filled with huge memorable moments like Tyson voting himself off, J.T. giving Russell his immunity idol, and Parvati handing out two immunity idols at one Tribal Council. Loses a few points for having so many three-timers, though, including a few (Amanda, James) that we simply didn’t need to see again. I know many people would consider this #1, but it’s all returnees. For me, the fresh blood of Micronesia keeps that season higher.

4. Survivor: Amazon (Winner: Jenna Morasca)

Probably the most unpredictable season ever from week to week. Some people hate on Morasca as a winner, but she won challenges and played a great social game.

5. Survivor: Pearl Islands (Winner: Sandra Diaz-Twine)

Rupert stealing shoes. Fairplay getting drunk at Tribal Council. Osten sucking at everything. It was all delicious. Loses points, though, for the awful Outcasts twist, which also led to a disappointing final two (Lil? Seriously?).

NEXT: Numbers 6-15 (where will Survivor: Philippines land?)

6. Survivor: Palau (Winner: Tom Westman)

I loved watching one tribe decimate the other, culminating with Stephenie becoming a tribe of one. And the challenges may have been Survivor‘s best ever. What’s interesting about Palau is that we basically all knew Tom would win from episode 1, but it was still gripping nonetheless.

7. Survivor: Philippines (Winner: ???)

And here we are. This season is all about one thing: casting, casting, casting. When you look back on what happened, while there were a lot of shake-ups with the voting, there weren’t a whole lot of jaw-on-the-floor shocking moments. So why is it so high? Because the casting and storylines that developed gave us people to root for and against — something every great Survivor season needs. And how awesome is this final four? No matter who ends up winning, you have to feel pretty good about it. When’s the last time you could say that with four people left? Go Lisa! Go Skupin! Go Malcolm! Go Denise!

8. Survivor: Samoa (Winner: Natalie White)

Russell’s controlling of the game (especially post-merge when his side was down 8-4) was truly a work of art. Evil genius art. He was robbed in the end, though, in the most controversial jury decision ever.

9. Survivor: Marquesas (Winner: Vecepia Towery)

An underrated season that saw the first totem pole shake-up: where people on the bottom got together to overthrow those on the top. Yes, it was a weak final two, but it also had a woman peeing on a guy’s hand. Plus: Purple rock!!!

10. Survivor: Cook Islands (Winner: Yul Kwon)

What a difference a mutiny makes. It was listless until that fateful moment when Candice and Penner stepped off the mat. Then we finally had underdogs to root for. The Tribal Council fire-making tiebreaker between Sundra and Becky may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

11. Survivor: China (Winner: Todd Herzog)

Really good cast. Really bad location. Todd completely owned that final Tribal Council. That’s how you win a million dollars.

12. Survivor: Australian Outback (Winner: Tina Wesson)

An overrated season, and one that seems to keep moving down my list. Probst loves it. I didn’t. Solid but unspectacular. Pretty predictable boot order as well. Dude did burn his hands off, though.

13. Survivor: South Pacific (Winner: Sophie Clarke)

Even I’m surprised by how high I’m putting this, especially considering how much it has in common with the season that aired directly before it, which I didn’t like: the same twist of two returning players, Redemption Island, the predictable vote-offs, no real water challenges, etc…. But there is one thing I really did dig about this season, and that is the cast. I was invested in the players and their fates — the ones I wanted to do well, and not so well. Plus, this season gave us three signature moments: Ozzy volunteering to go to Redemption, Cochran flipping, and Brandon giving away his immunity.

14. Survivor: Tocantins (Winner: J.T. Thomas)

Okay, you may roll your eyes at Coach 1.0. But imagine for a second this season without him. Bo-ring! His unintentional comedy single-handedly lifted this into the middle of the pack. Seriously, other than Tyson getting blindsided, were there any memorable moments that didn’t involve the Steven Seagal wannabe?

15. Survivor: All-Stars (Winner: Amber Brkich)

Overall, a bit of a letdown, but man, were there some hate-fueled fireworks at those final few Tribal Councils. Plus: Best. Reunion Show. Ever. (Remember Jerri getting literally booed off the stage?)

NEXT: The 10 worst Survivor seasons

16. Survivor: Panama — Exile Island (Winner: Aras Baskauskas)

Ah, just writing the word Panama gets me daydreaming about Survivor Sally and her intoxicating knee socks. Terry was robbed on a final challenge that may or may not have been completely fair. Another unmemorable final two. Shane Powers should have been brought back for Heroes vs. Villains.

17. Survivor: Gabon (Winner: Bob Crowley)

It got better near the end, but it was still a case of too little, too late. The fact that so many unworthy players went so far is simply too damning.

18. Survivor: Redemption Island (Winner: Boston Rob Mariano)

The first three episodes were dynamite, but then the fuse blew out. It certainly was entertaining at times watching Rob strategize (the most dominant showing ever) and Phillip philosophize (the craziest showing ever), just not very dramatic. Most of the vote-offs were clearly telegraphed and the Redemption Island twist sucked the life out of Survivor’s signature moment — the vote-off.

19. Survivor: Africa (Winner: Ethan Zohn)

Some great challenges. Not that much else was great.

20. Survivor: Guatemala (Winner: Danni Boatwright)

One of the more unlikable casts so far. (Remember Judd? Jamie? Stephenie’s evil twin?) Rafe was good for a few laughs, though. Especially on rope obstacles.

21. Survivor: Vanuatu (Winner: Chris Daugherty)

I don’t blame producers: The battle of the sexes worked well the first time around.

22. Survivor: One World (Winner: Kim Spradlin)

Look, I have total respect for Kim’s game. Like Tom in Palau and Rob in Redemption Island, she excelled strategically, socially, and physically. Unfortunately, that is really the only good thing I can say about this season. And that’s too bad, because I do think the “One World” concept was a solid one. But, man, what a thoroughly uninspiring cast. Colton was more a horrible human being than a classic villain, and the rest of the players were mostly either completely forgettable or people you wish you could forget. I worry I am being generous by putting it even this high, but out of respect for Kim, it will go here for now.

23. Survivor: Thailand (Winner: Brian Heidik)

The fake merge and brutal last challenge — where the final three had to hold coins between their fingers in a crazy painful pose — keep this dud out of the bottom spot. Barely.

24. Survivor: Fiji (Winner: Earl Cole)

With the exception of Yau-Man and Earl, a true bummer of a cast, and the ”Haves Vs. Have-Nots” twist was one of the worst creative decisions in Survivor history. Speaking of awful creative decisions…

25. Survivor: Nicaragua (Winner: Jud “Fabio” Birza)

It’s at the bottom for a few reasons. 1) Splitting the tribes up by age and the Medallion of Power were both enormous flops. 2.) Like One World, Thailand and Fiji, just too many unlikable players. 3) Two people quitting with only 11 days left. 4) No big memorable moments. Even Thailand had the fake merge and Fiji had the big Yau-Man/Dreamz free car deal gone bad, but what was Nicaragua‘s signature moment? Unfortunately, it was people quitting, and that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

So there you have it. Where do you rank Survivor: Philippines? What say you about the most recent episode? And who do you think should and will win on Sunday’s finale? Hit the message boards and let us know. Also make sure to check out my weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst where he shares the people in the final four he didn’t expect to be there. There’s also an exclusive deleted scene in the video player below, along with my pre-game interview with Abi-Maria. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. That’s it for now. I’ll see you on Sunday for a big three-hour Skupin of the crispy!

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