updated 04/25/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/25/2013 AT 11:00 AM ET
Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.
“There’s no reason to give people a reason to get rid of me.”
– Malcolm Freberg, Survivor: Philippines
Goodbye, bro. After 25 straight episodes of Survivor, we finally say farewell to Malcolm Freberg, one of the season’s most dynamic characters. Malcolm proved you don’t have to be crazy to make the show fun. He was strategic without being robotic; physical without being muscle-brained; charming without being smarmy.
He was the complete Survivor package. So why’s he going out in ninth place?
Malcolm never really got his feet under him this season. He started at the bottom of Stealth R Us, marginalized by the linked pairs of Phillip/Andrea and Cochran/Dawn. You have to wonder why he sided with two sets of pairs to begin with. Francesca, Brandon, Erik and Brenda were all solo; Malcolm and Corinne could have flipped the first vote.
Malcolm spent the rest of the game struggling to gain control. “I haven’t liked this passive, plodding-along game I’ve been playing with the Favorites,” he groused. After last season, where he went to Tribal Council every couple of hours, Malcolm succumbed to an ailment that often ravages a winning tribe: impatience.
At the swap, he created an alliance with Reynold and Eddie. Partly, he seemed to just want to do something. Moreover, like many of the Favorites, he was course-correcting. In the Philippines, he went to the end with three weaker players and couldn’t pull off the immunity wins he needed to make the end. Maybe with two bros, he could bro-down to the finals?
Malcolm’s counter-alliance never quite got going, however. Corinne blabbed one plan to Dawn; Eddie blabbed the next to Andrea. You could argue Malcolm was unlucky in his allies; you could also argue he did a poor job of managing them. Look how effectively Phillip locked down SRU.
Malcolm, Eddie and Reynold rallied as the Three Amigos – relying on their wits, their abs and their uncanny ability to find hidden idols. But who would be so stupid as to be the fourth person in an alliance called “the Three Amigos”? Sherri and Erik toyed with the idea, but Cochran’s immunity win punctured the balloon of Amigo invulnerability. Kudos to Cochran for buying that advantage – and eternal shame to Eddie and Reynold for failing to do so.
At least Malcolm spent his money wisely, buying an idol clue. Andrea wins the Fishy this week for preventing him from finding it. Andrea’s efforts reveal one of the secrets of Survivor strategy. You can effectively stop someone from working against you merely by never leaving them alone.
(That said, you have to wonder why Cochran didn’t return with SRU to dig up every inch of dirt around the well.)
Malcolm’s mistake may have been trying to find a stable place at all. He excelled in the Philippines by operating at the game’s margins. He never tried to bro-down with Russell Swan or with Pete. In some ways, his game last season resembles Erik Reichenbach’s this season; he stayed out of the crossfire while the big alliances tore each other apart.
Maybe Malcolm was exhausted from back-to-back seasons. And maybe he’s just not good at managing alliances. He’s a 26-year-old bartender. He doesn’t have the corporate experience that often helps strategists massage egos and build consensus.
Had he and Corinne just stuck with Stealth R Us, they could have made the final six; with an idol and some luck, they could have bulled their way into the finale.
But then, we viewers would have been denied last week’s epic Phillip blindside. Malcolm’s flaws as a player make him better TV.
I have no doubt we’ll see him again. I’m looking forward to it.