Exclusive: Michael Skupin talks about 'Survivor: Philippines' (Part 1)
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/19/2012
Michael Skupin was beaten by winner Denise Stapley during the live portion of Sunday night's finale broadcast of Survivor: Philippines on CBS from Los Angeles.
Michael, a former Survivor: Australia castaway, tied with fellow castaway Lisa Whelchel, a 49-year-old former actress from Dallas, TX, after they each received one vote. "RC" Roberta Saint-Amour voted for Lisa, while Carter Williams voted for Skupin to win. Denise had received the four other votes which were revealed by Survivor host Jeff Probst and therefore ended up claiming the $1 million grand prize.
In an exclusive interview on Monday, Michael talked to Reality TV World about his Survivor: Philippines experience.
Below is the first half of Michael's interview. Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion. To begin reading our interview with Denise, click here. For the initial portion of Lisa's interview, click here. To start on our interview with fourth-place finisher Malcolm Freberg, click here.
Reality TV World: Sorry things didn't work out for you.
Michael Skupin: Hey, I appreciate that and I appreciate that thought that it didn't work out, but it worked out in so many ways. Obviously you can't control people's votes. You can't control what people say behind your back. You can't control what people do. You can only control your game, what you do in challenges, what you do on the beach, and it was a great overall experience for me.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised that Denise won, or had you gone into the final Tribal Council already expecting that she was going to win?
Michael Skupin: You know what's interesting? I know this sounds crazy, [but] when you watch the edit of the show, which everything that they showed happening had happened, truly. But what I was looking at was I thought the vote would be between me and Lisa. I didn't think Denise would get a single vote. She played such an under the radar game. I guess she offended less people.
And on the first day out there, when I got to the beach and I looked at five of the Tandang members and I asked them, "Would you have voted for Russell Hantz?" Every single one of them said, "Absolutely." And so at that point, I knew that if they were telling me the truth at that time, they held to the moral compass of the game of outwit, outplay, outlast.
And so, I thought that I could play a very strategic, a very bold, a very offensive game, and that they would respect the principle or integrity of the game. I didn't think that the under the radar type of game was something that they would give a vote to.
And somehow, the sting of getting blindsided is part of the game that I never experience. My torch never got snuffed in two seasons, so I didn't experience that, but I watched the Ponderosa videos and I watch the things that people say on Twitter and on Facebook, and I realize that the sting of that -- there's not time to recover in that short period of time that this game is played.
Because I've already talked to people last night that potentially would've changed their vote. I'm not saying I would've won. I'm just saying that votes would be very different today than they were six months ago when we did the show.
Reality TV World: Who said they would've changed their vote, would you mind sharing?
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Michael Skupin: There was just overall a sense that -- in fact, we talked about how interesting it would be on the reunion show to actually cast another vote for any member of the game, or even for the Final 3, to see how much different it would be with everything being on the table. Because strategically, I mean, definitely, Denise played an under the radar game, definitely.
When I asked her strategically about what we should do in a certain situation, she would say, "Go talk to Malcolm." And I'm not really sure if her strategy was an under the table game or if she really just didn't want to participate. Because when you look at the game, I can't think of one thing really strategically that she did that earned her the million-dollar prize.
Certainly, she played a great game from the under the radar perspective -- not burning a bridge perspective. She didn't have a single -- and out there, even the guy she blindsided from a Day 1 alliance, less than 24 hours after she blindsides him, she still gets his vote.
So I mean, the game doesn't lie. It speaks for itself. She got more votes than Lisa and I, and she totally deserves to win this game because she got those votes and I didn't.
Reality TV World: Jonathan Penner had publicly proclaimed that Lisa and yourself were handing Malcolm or Denise a million dollars when you two decided to vote him off and go to the Final 4 with Malcolm and Denise instead. So it seemed like Penner at least had a pretty good idea of what was going on out there. Is it safe to say then that the issue was you didn't believe him -- that he wasn't telling the truth at the time or why did you dismiss that?
Michael Skupin: No, he had said publicly also afterwards in his interviews that that was purely strategy. Remember, everything that Penner does is pre-calculated. So that was Penner's way to save himself, because [Abi-Maria Gomes] is in a clumsy sort of way, in her Final 5 speech at Tribal Council, also said...
Reality TV World: Well I was going to say you had Penner say it, you had Abi say it, and you had Malcolm say it when he got voted off. So it seemed like you had several different people all insisting that you guys weren't going to be able to beat Malcolm or Denise, and you and Lisa had kind of dismissed it repeatedly. So I'm just trying to understand that.
Michael Skupin: Well first of all, we wanted to get rid of -- we wanted to break up that alliance at six. But it became more difficult because Malcolm won immunity at number six and number five. Malcolm won three Individual [Immunity] Challenges; I won three Individual Challenges.
But Malcolm won the key one that interrupted a path to the Final 3 that Lisa and I were going to take to bring Carter with us instead of Malcolm and Denise. But when I looked at their reasoning for saying that, their reasons for Penner and Abi not to take Denise to the Final 3 was because she had been at every single Tribal Council.
And I thought, "It doesn't matter how many Tribal Councils she's been to, if your name wasn't brought up, if you were never in trouble, if you never had to fight your way out of a hole, the fact that you were at every single Tribal Council really didn't matter." The fact that I had to fight my way out of a hole since Day 1 out there, I thought was a better story.
To me, if I was sitting in the jury, my story would have been the outwit, outplay, outlast story that would've gotten my vote. And as you count votes in your head 1,000 times -- you know, who's sitting next to you with jury votes and how could they be swayed -- I underestimated the power of Ponderosa and how much game is actually played there.
The fact I will say that there is more game played at Ponderosa than actually on the island itself. There are people that will go there that will -- in fact, there are people that are still playing the game today. They're lying about their age and saying crazy things about what happened seven months ago, and I keep thinking, "The game is not afoot anymore." (Laughs)
Reality TV World: It seemed like the best way yourself or Lisa could've guaranteed a victory was if you had taken Abi to the end. But you guys obviously opted not to do that. So why was that? Because it seemed like it was a near certainty she wasn't going to get votes.
Michael Skupin: See, there's a viewer perspective and there's a game perspective.
Reality TV World: Okay what was your perspective?
Michael Skupin: I have never seen anybody work a jury like Abi. Abi never left [Peter Yurkowski] and [Artis Silvester]'s side. She slept with them, she ate with them, she walked with them, she did everything with them. When she would walk into a jury, she would wave and wink and smile. And they would wave and wink and smile back.
When she left a Tribal Council, she'd wink, wave and smile at Artis, and they would wave, wink and smile back. So I thought, "She's got two votes. They had that deal from the day they made their alliance on Day 5 or 6 out there."
So she had the two of the four votes that were necessary right there. Both Penner and Carter said in their post-game interviews that if Abi, if her character could possibly make it into the Final 3, that she would have a strong enough story that they would strongly consider placing their vote with Abi.
So if you really totally look at Abi's position, Abi's game has won the million dollars before, because with that game, if you make it into the Final 3, that's a pretty good reason and she could tell a pretty good story. And I'm not saying she would've won, but everybody in the Final 7 could have told a brilliant story.
There were seven -- almost seven -- deserving winners when I look at the Final 7. So I knew no matter who I brought in there, that there would be a great story that they could tell. So Abi was by far no sure shot to take a victory.
Reality TV World: I want to ask you a couple questions about Artis. When I talked to him earlier this season, he said you had ended up flipping on the Tandang tribe long before Abi started running her mouth and kind of treating yourself and Lisa badly. I just wanted to get your take on that. Is that true, and if so, when was the first time you had realized you wanted to flip on your tribe and why did you decide that?
Michael Skupin: The one thing that you have to understand is that when I read post-game interviews, most people are still playing a part of the game, and things are said that never even happened. I've read many -- Artis is just so angry. I had no idea. I don't think he said five words to me after the merge.
I would've loved to have taken the seven people from the Tandang tribe, taken out the four people from Kalabaw and then game on. Because I knew I had RC and I knew I had Lisa. So I knew that I had three of the four votes necessary potentially inside the Tandang tribe.
So, there was at no point where I considered flipping on the Tandang tribe before they flipped on me. You're always running numbers and running scenarios, but I still have no idea where Artis is coming from. And I read some of his post-game comments about me and about other people, and we're all still in this -- what in the world is he talking about?!
Even post-game, the guy is still lying about his age. So I don't know where he's coming from. I can't even comment on it, because he didn't speak. Penner said he had one 60-second conversation with him in his whole life.
Reality TV World: I just want to recap what I'm referring to for you. Artis had said he had "personal problems" with you and that you just weren't "a nice human being." He also insisted he just didn't understand the "fascination" people had with you. So that's what you've been talking about?
Michael Skupin: I read them too and I don't know. Artis and I, he was actually on the outside of the alliance. It was the four of us -- me and RC and Abi and Pete. We started out in an alliance together, and the first one that would've gone home was Lisa.
And I was downloading to Lisa, because we had a Day 1 alliance. I kept telling her what to do and how to act and what not to do and I was trying to merge her into this alliance. In that time, Lisa and Artis sort of made a little pact and when I realized that I was the only old guy in a three-person young alliance, I thought, "Man, I better start laying some groundwork in case I need to make a move."
So I actually went up to Artis and said, "Hey, there might be a chance" -- Because he said, "I'm going to flip-flop. Nobody talk to me. Nobody likes me. If I had a chance to switch tribes, I would switch tribes today."
And I said, "Artis, you might not have to." I said, "There might be a time when you, Lisa and I need to make a move in this tribe. We're nowhere near that. We haven't lost. We don't really need to talk about it, but I want to let you know that although it seems like you're on the outside, there is already groundwork being laid where you, me and Lisa will have to make a move." And Lisa said the same thing to him.
So as far as I knew, we had sort of this groundwork being laid for aligning until Abi found the idol. And when Abi found the idol, I heard five words from Artis from that time -- about March 20 until even today. I still haven't spoken more than five words to him.
Above is the first half of Michael's interview. Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion. To begin reading our interview with Denise, click here. For the initial portion of Lisa's interview, click here. To start on our interview with fourth-place finisher Malcolm Freberg, click here.