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.