Once Abi is gone, after a short celebration, the machinations start up again. Skupin and Malcolm apparently have an alliance? Does anyone NOT have an alliance with each of the other three at this point?
A surprise Reward Challenge offers the winner an advantage in the final Immunity Challenge. It's your typical obstacle course/collect puzzle pieces/solve puzzle challenge. They all stay very close throughout the obstacle course, with Skupin slightly ahead and Lisa slightly behind, but it really all comes down to who can solve the puzzle first. Skupin is terrible at puzzles, so he's out. Denise and Malcolm are neck and neck, and then Malcolm pulls ahead. The person who probably needed the advantage the least won it, but he earned it. What happened to Lisa's awesome puzzle-solving ability? She was good earlier in the season, right? Maybe she's not great at the jigsaw-type puzzles and is better at the patterns/word puzzles.
Denise presses Malcolm to commit to taking her to the final three, and he won't commit. This is because Malcolm intends to go to the final three with Skupin and Lisa, who he thinks he can beat. So Denise goes to Lisa and suggests that they vote out Malcolm if they can, if he doesn't win immunity. Lisa's on board.
After the always-boring March of the Fallen Survivors, it's time for the final Immunity Challenge. And boy, does this challenge look impossible. They have to balance a ball on a piece of wood, with the wood piece lengthened at intervals. Malcolm's advantage is that he gets a second chance – if he drops the ball, he gets to try again instead of getting eliminated immediately. There is a slight indentation in the wood for the ball to rest in, but it is SLIGHT. In the second round, Malcolm tries to lift his arms for an adjustment and drops his ball, so he has to use his second chance to get back in. And then he gets the yips, and his hands start shaking so much that he loses it and drops the ball and becomes the first person out. Well, that's probably it for ol' Malcolm.
Denise goes out shortly thereafter so it's down to Lisa and Skupin. After a few more rounds, Lisa seems to lose hand strength as she drops her ball and Skupin wins. So then Denise and Malcolm have to scramble to convince Lisa and Skupin to take them. Skupin wants to beat Malcolm because he's a dude, and Skupin feels there's no honor in beating two ladies. He doesn't say that, but that's the gross subtext.
At the final Tribal Council, Malcolm makes the case that he may be a threat, but Denise is a bigger threat. Malcolm seems to see the writing on the wall when Probst asks Lisa for a reason to keep Malcolm and she can't think of one. Ouch. Malcolm votes for Denise and actually starts crying. Very touching. Unfortunately, he's the only one who voted for Denise and he gets sent home after being voted out 3-1. Damn. He played an almost perfect game except for losing immunity in that last challenge. I think he would've won if he had.
Ugh, my least favorite part is the jury questions because I just cringe at how ridiculous and bitter they usually are. Denise's argument is that she adapted to being in three tribes and made alliances and sub-alliances, and she was valuable in camp and in challenges. And she went to every single Tribal Council and survived. Lisa's argument is that her strategy was to play her own game, but for a while she forgot to trust her gut. After her brother's visit, she realized that she had to play the game, and she did, and she made it. Skupin reminds them that he's the only returning player who made the finals, and he played as hard as he could.
Artis starts out very bitter and doesn't even ask a question. Malcolm is REALLY pissed at Denise. Abi basically tells everyone, "You were really mean to me." Penner might be drunk, but he's CRAZY mean and bitter. He calls Denise a bitch, and he calls Skupin a backstabber, and he tells everyone that Lisa was on Facts of Life.
During the voting, we only see three votes for they're for three different people, so we know it won't be a landslide or unanimous. Before Probst reads the votes, he offers up a moment of silence for the victims in Newtown, CT. I appreciate it, but that makes it even harder now to be like, "WOOOO, SURVIVOR!" Anyway, Denise totally wins and I think even Malcolm voted for her, despite his bitterness. On to the reunion.
It really bothers me that they didn't hyphenate million-dollar in the episode title. It's an adjectival phrase, so it should be hyphenated, right? Annoying.
Anyway, the finale opens, as usual, with a loooooong recap of the season thus far. Remember when Lisa only had one set of eyebrows? It covers the returning players, as well as the two famous people secretly planted on the cast. Then it rained for twenty-one days straight. Matsing went to the first four Tribal Councils and then the only remaining members, Malcolm and Denise, were split up. Tandang was the strongest tribe and went into the merge with numbers, and the reunited Malcolm and Denise made a final-four alliance with Skupin and Lisa. Denise and Malcolm were able to exploit the cracks in Tandang and stick around against all odds, and their final-four alliance became the actual final four. And now you're all caught up.
Dangrayne. Night 36. The final four return to camp and breathe a huge sigh of relief that Abi and her negativity are finally gone. Skupin and Denise actually do a little dance. Malcolm is not so happy; after Abi opined at Tribal Council that none of them could beat Malcolm and Malcolm would definitely win, Malcolm interviews that he has to do "damage control" to convince the others he's not that big of a threat.
Early the next morning (I guess, based on the dim light), Malcolm and Skupin find themselves alone in camp and confirm that they still have an alliance to go to the finals together. Skupin interviews that many people have said that Malcolm will win in a landslide if he makes it to the finals, but Skupin thinks he could beat him because he thinks he has a better story. Skupin plans to mull this over the next few days. Skupin clearly doesn't understand what motivates jurors. First, are they pissed at you for screwing them over? Then you won't get their vote, with a few exceptions. Second, would they feel okay saying that you beat them? Skupin flip-flopped a few times so there are a lot of people on the jury pissed at him; they aren't going to care about his inspirational returning player story.
As the sun rises, Denise retrieves Tree Mail. They are all confused because they didn't think there would be another Reward Challenge. Denise interviews that she's pretty sure she's on the bottom of the remaining four people, and she is scrambling to figure out how to stick around.
The four players report for the Reward Challenge. Probst explains that they will have to traverse an obstacle course, retrieving bags of puzzle pieces, and then assemble a puzzle to win. I'm a little tired of these challenges. Whatever happened to the maze with the big spider web in the middle done blindfolded? There haven't been nearly enough blindfolded challenges this season. Anyway, the puzzle is in the shape of a dragon, and the winner will get some sort of advantage in the final immunity challenge. Probst cannot talk enough about how awesome this advantage is. Is it better than the advantage they gave Abi? It had better be.