I interviewed Malcolm Freberg before “Survivor” debuted this fall because he grew up in Marietta and graduated from Walton High School, before going to Dartmouth College. He struck me as a bright frat-boy type who had a game plan going into “Survivor” and stuck with it.
Of course, as he was talking to me, he knew he had made it at least to the final four, which viewers discovered this past Wednesday. He has very good shot at winning the $1 million in the CBS show’s 25th incarnation.
He told me in September that his strategy was not to necessarily make friendships but be sensitive to people’s feelings. “People get confused,” he said. “This is not real life. The way I carry myself on the show isn’t the same way I treat people in real life.”
At the beginning of the season, “Survivior” split the original 18 into three teams. Freberg started on a really weak crew dubbed Matsing which quickly lost four challenges in a row. The only other survivor from that team was another sharp player in sex therapist Denise Stapley. They aligned. Malcolm then found an immunity idol with Denise but kept it. The pair were separated and placed on the other two teams. Over the next three episodes, Malcolm’s team kept winning. Denise and Malcolm came back together when all the players merged into one team on day 17.
Lisa Whelchel (”Facts of Life”) accidentally found Malcolm’s idol at one point and sussed him out. He revealed the Idol during the tribal council but didn’t need to use it. As more people got eliminated, Malcolm mostly stayed out of harm’s way despite the fact he was clearly both a physical and mental threat. He even kept Lisa as part of his alliance, along with “Survivor” alum Michael Skupin.
During episode 12 Dec. 5, Malcolm could have been blindsided by Skupin, Lisa and nutty, negative Abi-Maria Gomes, but he won immunity at just the right time.
This past Wednesday, Malcolm pondered whether to throw Denise under the bus if given the opportunity. He felt he has a better shot at winning if the final three were he, Skupin and Lisa. He told those two while they were on a reward that Denise is unbeatable and they need to stick with him. “Nobody works harder and she hasn’t betrayed anybody,” Malcolm reasoned. “It would be a blowout if she goes.”
During the immunity challenge, he fell way behind the other four, then made an impressive comeback creating a maze and won again.
It’s hard to say who among the final four will get the votes to win. It may come down to their arguments in front of the jury once they get to a final two or three this Sunday though Malcolm’s recent string of victories bolsters his case.
Freberg before the show began airing said to me that he tried out two years earlier but didn’t make it. Now, he realizes that was a good thing.
“I wouldn’t have been ready. I was this young, cocky frat kid with no life experience. Now I’m just a young, cocky kid with some life experience under my belt.”
If Freberg wins, he’d be the second former metro Atlantan to take home the crown.
Sprayberry High School and UGA grad Parvati Shallow won “Survivor Micronesia” in 2008 on her second “Survivor” stint.
“Survivor,” 8 p.m. CBS