jeff kent lisa whelchel malcolm freberg survivor phillipines The best TV episodes of 2012: 'Survivor: Philippines' revitalizes reality TV in 'Dead Man Walking'It is almost impossible to believe that “Survivor” just concluded its 25th season. Even more improbably, “Survivor: Philippines” was epic, destined to top all-time fan favorites lists for its engaging cast, roller-coaster twists and insane Tribal Councils.

“Dead Man Walking,” the eighth episode, was the standout of an incredible season. The title refers to impossibly charismatic returning player Jonathan Penner‘s certain execution — and the thrilling Immunity Challenge victory that spared his life in the game. Leading up to one of “Survivor’s” most lively and astounding Tribal Councils, “Facts of Life” child star Lisa Whelchel transformed from America’s Sweetheart to aggressive gamer. She betrays Malcolm first by revealing to Skupin and Pete that he found a Hidden Immunity Idol — and then campaigning to blindside him next.

Party-boy Pete hilariously believes Malcolm’s denials — and boy is he in for a surprise at Tribal Council, where everyone is oversharing, to Jeff Probst‘s giddy delight. After scolding Lisa for throwing him under the bus, Malcolm reveals his idol and intent to use it. Then, for no reason at all, the season’s breakout villain — sourpuss Abi — whips out her immunity idol. In the end, neither played their idol: Lisa’s vocal campaign to oust Jeff Kent instead of Pete is a success. Capping off a perfect episode, the MLB All-Star bids a bitter, hilarious farewell, equating his early exit to his Game 7 defeat in the World Series.

One of the finest scripted TV episodes this season, and certainly the most nerve-racking, was “Homeland’s” “State of Independence.” In the frenetic nail-biter, Brody commits a desperate murder while a despondent Carrie attempts suicide — before being vindicated by the congressman’s taped confession. An inferior series would have saved this shocking storyline for the season finale; instead, the game changer unnerved audiences, who were left to wonder where they could possibly go from here.

Other outstanding hours of TV in 2012:

“Breaking Bad” – “Dead Freight”: ZOMG, Landry killed a kid!

“Supernatural” – “Bitten”: I’m a sucker for found-footage filmmaking, and this poignant episode was more memorable than the big-screen’s “Chronicle” — for which magnetic guest stars Brandon Jones, Leigh Parker and Brit Sheridan deserve much of the credit. As does new showrunner Jeremy Carver — his predecessor, Sera Gamble, would never have let stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki take second billing. For those of us who appreciate “Supernatural’s” clever writing more than the eye candy, this callback to the “Ghostfacers” era was a welcome treat — and proof that in its eighth season, “Supernatural” shines brightest when following its original formula.

“Sherlock” – “A Scandal in Belgravia”: In this Irene Adler-themed story, co-creator Steven Moffat gloriously reimagines “The Woman” as a sexy dominatrix (Lara Pulver), and even Benedict Cumberbatch has a nude scene (at the palace, no less). Their sizzling chemistry adds a new dimension to the legendary relationship originally portrayed by Conan Doyle, with emotional layers that leave us deeply affected by the tragic, and then joyful, ending.

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