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Is third time a charm for Walton High School's Malcolm Freberg on 'Survivor'?

This was posted on Monday, March 6, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Malcolm Freberg, a Walton High School graduate trying for a third time to win "Survivor" starting Wednesday, admits he has "an overdeveloped sense of competition." And he owns up to a hearty ego.

So he was surprised and perturbed when I told him how host Jeff Probst, in a pre-game assessment, critiqued him based on his previous two trips on the show in a less-than-flattering way: "Malcolm has many game-changing elements to him, but he does have an Achilles heel. He's pretty good at challenges but not great. He's pretty good strategically but not quite there. And he's yet to close the deal with his words."

"Wow!" a clearly perturbed Freberg said. "He said that? That's not cool!"

Freberg, now a 30-year-old Los Angeles resident and freelance travel, food and drink writer, still wants to win the $1 million. And he thinks he can. He was jazzed to be asked to play against some of the best "Survivor" players. CBS has cast season 34 with past "game changers" who have made a big impression on fans. (Technically, not all of the cast were terribly good strategic players per se so the theme is broad.)

The free-spirited Dartmouth College graduate finished fourth his first time on the show season 25 in 2012. He came within a single immunity challenge from making it to the finals but his endurance and balancing skills cost him a shot at the big prize.

He came immediately back with just two weeks break, only to finish ninth during "Fans vs. Favorites" that aired in the spring of 2013. He was effectively tapped out, he said, from the wear and tear of the competition. As a consolation prize, the fans did vote him "fan favorite."

"I won Miss Congeniality that season," he said sarcastically.

As a super fan, Freberg was excited to go against great players. "On the first day, I was looking around as Jeff talked. You got Tony sitting next to you. There's Ozzie and Sandra. These are people I grew up watching and even recent people you absolutely love. It got my fires going. If this doesn't get your excited, you better check your pulse! From a strategic standpoint, I had so many places to go. Usually, I've stood out like a sort thumb and am seen as an immediate threat. There are so many people I can hide behind all day."

Freberg said he considers himself a passable challenge player when it comes to brute strength and puzzles but admittedly weak with endurance and balance. He said he isn't the best strategic thinker but he is certainly not the worst. He places his premium on his social game, his ability to be likable, to be able to stab folks in the back without causing them to hate him for it.

He entered the competition not planning to lock an alliance too tightly early on. He hopes his social game can allow him to bounce from group to group if need be.

"I've had a few years to recover and eat some protein and work out," he said. "I feel better about my odds now from a physical standpoint." But he made sure he purposely kept himself just soft enough in the midsection to eliminate intimidating abs.

And since he said he is the least flexible person he knows, he tried yoga. "I'm a Republican," he said. "That was a real stretch for me." (And no, he did not make a deliberately bad pun there.). He wanted to improve his balance and worked a bit on meditation as well.

Nonetheless, he added, "I was terrible at yoga. But I needed to get over my ego, which is big for me."

Two of the players - Zeke Smith and Michaela Bradshaw - were from the most previous season 33. None of the other 18 players knew who they were. That can be an actual disadvantage, as Freberg learned when he was on "Fans vs. Favorites."

"First impressions matter for them," he said. "How will I feel about them the first five minutes in will help me decided if I want to work with them. There are so many people we already know. The people you're watching are the devils you don't know." He said if one of them seeks him as a mentor, he could help them navigate the newcomer's dilemma and perhaps use that as a strategic advantage.

Occasionally, contestants get hurt or sick and have to be Medivac-ed out.  Don't expect that to happen to Freberg. "No. They'll be dragging my corpse out before they do that. The competition is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself."

He said the enduring popularity of the show is because it's impossible to guess who can win early on. There are simply too many variables. "You can bring in the same 20 people and have them play five times and you'll probably end up with five different winners," he said. "That's what makes it so fun for the fans."

He nurtured his competitive nature at Walton playing football, track and basketball. "During pregame, I can laugh and giggle and crack jokes. But during the match, when push comes to shove, I'll have smoke coming out of my ears and will chew out teammates if they screw up."


"Survivor: Game Changers," season 34 debuts at 8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.