December 12, 2012 6:00am PT by Kimberly Nordyke
'Survivor: Philippines' Finalists Discuss Strategy, Hidden Immunity Idols and Jury Votes (Video)
A new Survivor champion will be crowned Sunday.
One of the remaining five players -- Lisa Whelchel, Abi-Maria Gomes, Michael Skupin, Denise Stapley and Malcolm Freberg -- will take home the $1 million prize on season 25 of CBS' reality competition. (But first, one of them will be voted out in Wednesday night's episode.)
For the first time in Survivor history, the final players were allowed to talk about their experiences on the show before the season finale aired. They recently sat down with host Jeff Probst to tape an episode of his daytime talker, The Jeff Probst Show, that airs Wednesday (check local listings for channel and airtime).
At the taping, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Probst as well as Lisa, Abi, Skupin and Malcolm (Denise had to catch a flight and was unavailable), who gave a sneak peek at what's ahead in the final two episodes of the season. (Click here to read what Probst had to say, and watch a clip from The Jeff Probst Show at the end of this post.)
At this point in the game, Malcolm has a not-so-hidden immunity idol, which guarantees him a spot in the final four -- if he chooses to use it on himself. He also can save somebody else -- and if he were to win the immunity challenge, he'd likely want to pick who else comes into the final four with him.
"At this point, I know that it's like, I'm safe if I play my cards right," he says. "But still, if you're going to get creative and take control of your own fate in the game, how do you leverage the situation you're in?"
Abi also came up with her own strategy to lie and say she had found her own immunity idol. While nobody believed her, she did put some doubt in everyone's minds, Malcolm says.
"It's always in the back of your mind, and it adds another layer of thought to every decision going forward," he says. "We know we hate her and she's a horrible actress and a terrible liar and we really want to get rid of her, but she might be telling the truth?"
Lisa -- who says the final few days are a blur -- had what she hesitates to call an "epiphany" in last week's episode after her brother came to visit. The former teen star had struggled with wanting to be loyal to her alliance while also making decisions to vote people out based on what was in her own best interests, but her brother put her head back in the strategic part of the game.
"It was not so much an epiphany," she says. "I think more in terms of a fresh thought. This was a thought I had going into it: I'm going to play this game, and I'm going to play hard. It's just it had gotten so covered up by all the conflict and emotion and actually liking these people. It was buried, so my brother just kind of took a shovel and dug through to get me to where I was when I went out there."
Lisa -- who played Blair Warner on the '80s hit sitcom The Facts of Life -- added that she wasn't surprised more people didn't recognize her, with only Skupin, Denise and Jonathan Penner realizing her true identity. She attributes it to the age of the other players, who wouldn't have grown up watching the show.
Abi has filled the role of the villain this season -- someone whom the other players might be wise to take to the end under the assumption that she won't receive any votes to win the $1 million prize. Once she realized she was being thought of in that light, Abi says, she decided to milk it.
"When I realized that I was the villain, I definitely played that up," she says. "Because I had a serious injury that hasn't been talked about ... and I couldn't really do well because of the injury, so I was trying to play on the fact that I was the bad girl." She adds that more about her injury will come out in the finale.
Abi -- who said she didn't think anyone believed her lie about the hidden idol but was hoping to put even just "1 percent of a doubt" in their minds -- also admitted that part of her strategy was trying to work the jury hard during tribal councils, flirting and making eye contact.
"You're sitting there and you're looking at the jury, and you're trying to work them," she says. "There's a lot of body language and eye contact, and you are trying to just see what they are paying attention to when Jeff is asking questions, and you're trying to save yourself and see a little glitch in their body language. Maybe somebody said something that upset them, and it's an opportunity to win a vote."
For his part, Skupin says at that point in the game, the "bull's-eye of the returning player" is gone.
"I got rid of the people that wanted the returning players gone," he says, naming Pete Yurkowski and Jeff Kent in particular. "At this point, I feel like I am just one of the players. In my head, I keep looking for evidence I'm the returning player, but it appears to be all but gone."
But still, those players are now on the jury, and he has to figure out how to get them to vote for him. He also points out that the jury can still be swayed at Ponderosa, where the players stay after they are voted out.
"One player told me, 'If you put my name down and are responsible for me going out tonight, I will go back to Ponderosa and make sure you don't get a single vote. I will lie; I will cheat; I will say anything I can to make sure everyone on that jury hates you,'" Skupin reveals. "At one point, I thought, if I keep that person here, I could potentially lose the game; if I put that person in Ponderosa, I could lose the game. It's a very, very different game when you factor in Ponderosa."
He also reveals that Carter Williams could have won the game but got targeted after winning two immunity challenges, thereby earning the label of a "threat."
"I won an immunity necklace when I didn't need to win it and I thought to myself, 'That was really dumb,' because I put myself in the 'Skupin can win immunity' so I had to just spend a lot of time diffusing it," he says.
Below, watch a clip of Wednesday's The Jeff Probst Show in which Skupin reveals more about his strategy in the final days of the game.