It’s the middle of the week which means it’s time for the SURVIVOR OZ TOP TEN, and this week it’s brought to you by Ozlet Ben Powell! With over 25 seasons and close to 400 episodes in the bank, just what are the greatest episodes in the history of the show? We’ve seen so much debate over the best players, seasons, tribes and even rewards, but very rarely do you hear a debate about which episodes stand out in peoples memories as the all time best. Today we start that debate, as we bring you the top ten greatest episodes in the history of the show. What episodes do you think deserve to be in the top ten? Read on to find out.
10. Exile Island – Palau Episode 10
While not a ground-breaking or revolutionary episode in any way, Exile Island was a unique episode in many regards. It centred around Janu, who up until that point had been nothing more than a background character on the Koror tribe. An outcast from the main group/clique of Tom, Ian, Gregg, Jenn and Katie, and since the other two members of the tribe, Caryn and Stephenie, were making friends with those five, Janu was slated as the next person to go.
The episodes shows a different side the people who would inevitably end up the heroes of the season. They partook whole-heartedly in the mocking of Janu both to her face and behind her back, lead on by Katie. They complained about her weak stomach at the reward. They laughed at her admittance that she would be going to be stranded on a beach alone without knowing how to make fire. By the time of Tribal Council she was such a non-threat that they were even willing to vote out Stephenie over her because of how much she had given up. It provided a unique look and examination of a character that up until this episode had been a nobody, as well as giving us a different side to the heroes of the season. If her stay on the beach alone without any of Koror was the happiest she had ever been in Palau, how bad was it for her that we never saw?
However, the episode was not just about Janu. Stephenie was at the centre of a tumultuous time in the game. She had survived the previous final council by a fluke after being the sole member of Ulong to make the merge, and she was in such a precarious position that Janu leaving over her was her only shot. It should have been easy, considering how little the entire tribe thought of her. However, Koror wanted to keep Janu because of how little she cared, and upon this revelation came the most memorable Tribal Council of the season – Stephenie, the ultimate underdog, breaks down in tears…
…and Janu willingly lays down her torch. She did so not just to screw up the plans of the rest of the tribe, but to leave the game on a high note – she had reached the apex of her Survivor game with the Exile Island journey, and believed everything she could have gotten from her adventure was achieved.
Exile Island is a unique look at a character nobody really gave any thought towards before, and handled the concept of quitting in a unique manner. It provided a challenging perspective towards the heroes of the season and continued the arc of the lone Ulong member’s survival, and as such it is placed at Number 10 on my list.
9. Slay Everyone, Trust No-One – Heroes vs Villains Episode 1
The premiere of Heroes vs. Villains is not only a grand look at 20 of the most memorable characters in the show’s history, but also perhaps the overall funniest premiere episode in the show’s history.
After 19 seasons, 20 was the 10th anniversary special. Some of the most notable characters in the show’s history such as Rupert, Jerri, Colby, Boston Rob, Tom Westman, Cirie, and even Sandra Diaz-Twine and Russell Hantz, returned to play for their second/third time.
And the premiere season started with a fantastic and hilarious episode that displayed some of the highs and lows of comedy. The sand challenge in the beginning led to unlikely match-ups such as Sandra ripping off Sugar’s bra, Parvati dislocating Stephenie LaGrossa’s shoulder (after supposedly being egged on by Courtney), and Colby being dominated physically by Benjamin
“Coach” “Dragon Slayer” “Quotes Marcus Aurelius In Everyday Life” Wade.
And that’s not even getting into some one-off hilarious moments – Russell and Coach randomly appearing on a seesaw at the Villains camp. Sugar trying her best to get together with Colby and waking everyone up in the process. And even an entire scene dedicated to watching Coach climb up a tree while Sandra and Boston Rob sit on the side and make a bet over it. It was an all-around hilarious episode that showed just how funny Survivor can be, and is number 9 on my list.
8. True Lies – Marquesas Episode 7
This will not be the only entry from Marquesas on this list. The proceeding episode is, in fact, higher up on this list.
Marquesas established itself as a tumultuous and unpredictable season the moment Hunter Ellis was voted out of Maraamu. What followed was possibly the best back-to-back string of episodes in the history of the show, climaxing for the first time in the merge episode, True Lies.
It’s a dark time for everyone who was ever a Maraamu member. Sean, Vecepia and the newly coined “Boston” Rob are underdogs on the new Rotu tribe, where one more challenge loss means Boston Rob becomes a victim to the villainous Rotu 4 alliance.
Meanwhile, the final original Maraamu member was voted in the previous episode in Gina. One more challenge loss means Kathy, quickly becoming possibly the most popular character in the season, becomes a victim to the unbreakable Neleh-Paschal alliance.
So it’s fortuitous for both of them that they both volunteer for a mystery challenge where they end up meeting for the first time, forming new impressions of each other, and, as is the case in Survivor, sharing secrets. As Kathy quickly changes her opinion of Rob, Rob tells her exactly why Gabriel, the golden child of the Rotu tribe, went home in ‘The End of Innocence’, and Kathy has to take in the fact that her old tribe mates, the people she thought she trusted, are planning to vote her out the moment they join back together.
The rest of the episode deals with the fallout of this inevitable meet up. The Rotu 4 quickly turn back on Rob once they find out he was talking to Kathy, Kathy herself finds she can’t trust who she once thought were friends and has to win immunity to stay alive, and it all culminates in one of the most memorable and heated fights in the show’s history. Rob, Sean and John all simultaneously bring each other up on their hypocrisy, their lies and their twisting of words. It all comes to a head when Boston Rob ends up on the chopping block thanks to his own mouth, and is sent home 7-2-1 that night.
The episode, while great, is not higher on the list thanks to it being a precursor to an even better episode. This was the Act I to the second episode’s Act II. However, it stands head over heels above the two below it on it’s own, and that’s how this episode is Number 8.
7. The Merger – Borneo Episode 7
The events of the episode itself are very unassuming, and one might look at this episode and think that it’s inclusion on this list is wrong. However, what makes this episode so meaningful and important is how the vote goes; Gretchen Cordy, the leader of Pagong, is voted out.
There have literally been essays written on why this is important, so this will be kept short – everything people thought Survivor symbolized, everything people thought Survivor would be as a television show went right out the window once Gretchen muttered the immortal words “Oh my god…it’s me.” Votes on merit, thought once the norm, were now seen as foolishness. The concept of the alliance and its effectiveness was now showcased to almost 25 million Americans. Unwritten rules were shattered, and a beloved and important character was voted out.
It’s hard to emphasis exactly how much of an impact this vote had. However, for this impact, it earns Number 7 on this list. And no, this is not the only Borneo episode that is included.
6. The Martyr Approach – Tocantins Episode 13
Coach is perhaps one of the more polarizing characters in Survivor’s history. Either you love him or you hate him. As such, if anyone ever questions what Coach is as a character, there is one answer to this question and one episode to show them – “The Martyr Approach”.
This episode is all about Coach, in all his glory. He is a buffoon one minute and a mighty warrior the next. One minute he’s talking about honour, integrity, and how nobody else in the game has that, the next everyone is shown talking down on him.
The apex of Coach’s Survivor story is inarguably his trip to Exile Island, especially the events leading up to it and the events afterwards.
JT and Stephen have been winning an awful lot of reward challenges, and as such they’ve been in a lot of control as to who goes to Exile Island. They feel continuously bad about sending Erinn or Taj, so they decide to send Coach should they win next. Coach gets wind of this and tries to plea every excuse in the book to try to show why he shouldn’t go. His back is sore. His asthma is acting up. His grandmother just died. Of course, they don’t believe him, and of course, they send him once JT wins reward.
What follows is one of the most overdramatized, over edited and over-Coached sequence in Survivor, and in only a good way. Coach does Coach things for three whole, uninterrupted minutes where upon his so-called “spiritual journey”, declares himself one of the mightiest warriors and one of the bravest souls on the face of the planets, with the most character, the most power, the most truth, and that none of the other cast are even worthy to look upon him.
A write-up is not nearly enough to do this episode or this sequence justice. What can be said, however, is that the editors may have a bad rap these days, but there is no overlooking how well created this scene and the scenes that follow, culminating in Coach’s vote-out, are constructed. Coach may be many things, but he is a character above anything else.
Unbreakable. Unbending. Unyielding. Immeasurable. Immovable. Invincible. And Number 6 on the list of the greatest Survivor episodes ever.
5. Trial by Fire – Australian Outback Episode 6
There are very few moments that completely and utterly define a season – how it shaped out, how it was viewed, and how it changed perceptions of the show up until that point. Trial by Fire, also known as the episode Mike Skupin was medically evacuated, is perhaps at the top of that list.
There are 11 people left in the Australian Outback, and Kucha are at an all-time high. They’ve just voted out Kimmi, their most annoying tribe member, and have just won a reward which not only nourished them, but morally crippled Ogakor. It’s writing on the wall right now – Mike, Alicia, Jeff, Elisabeth, Rodger or Nick are going to win the second season now. They’re going to get to the merge, take out Ogakor, and produce the show’s first unanimously loved winner.
But alas, fate had other plans. Mike was tending to the fire and a gust of wind blew smoke into Mike’s eyes and nose, upon which he passed out and fell into the fire. What happens is a sequence upon which the rest of the tribe consequently have to try and help their suffering tribe member, who is quite literally suffering at this point, try and calm him down, until help arrives, and when it does, he is promptly taken from the game.
Survivor was at its peak at this point. If you were to ask a casual watcher who watched Survivor back then what they remember from it, it would be one of two things: “Oh, didn’t that fat naked gay guy win?”, or “Wow, wasn’t that the show where that guy fell into the fire? Man that was brutal.”. Any doubts that previously existed that supposed Survivor was fake were eradicated from the face of the earth. Not only did a man who was meant to do well just fall victim to mother nature, the tribe crumbled as soon as he left. Kucha fell at the merge to Ogakor, and Elisabeth was the last member standing at fourth place.
The episode where Mike fell in the fire is a landmark episode that almost anyone who ever saw, or even heard of Survivor can name. Then why, do you ask, is it number five on this list?
4. Swimming with Sharks – Pearl Islands Episode 10
The moments from now on are not only ground-breaking, but also key moments in the history of the show. Swimming with Sharks, more commonly known as the Fall of Rupert Boneham, Survivor’s most popular character up to that point, is not only a key moment for Rupert himself, but for the most notorious villain to ever play Survivor, Jonny Fairplay.
The episode plays out well and truly like a Shakespearean tragedy. Rupert is re-established as the hero of the season, and not five seconds after Jonny Fairplay is re-established as the villain. Jonny Fairplay, not five minutes in, explains his plan to take out Rupert using the tribe outcasts in Tijuana and Darrah. The dye has been cast.
Jonny Fairplay and his new allies conspire to have Rupert miss the reward, to weaken him for the immunity challenge. Fairplay woos Lillian to his side during the reward given to him by Burton, with the votes against him everything is set for Rupert’s fall. The final nail in the coffin is during the immunity challenge, where Sandra accidentally takes Rupert out, without any way to save himself for the vote-out that night.
The episode is up high for many reasons. It is the establishing episode for Jonny Fairplay, to this day the most successful villain who has ever played Survivor. It was the tragic fall of Rupert, who at that point was the most popular Survivor ever. It was perfectly edited, perfectly timed…it is one of Survivor’s Top 4 episodes.
Perfectly timed, you ask? Funny you mention that…
3. The Great Lie – Pearl Islands Episode 11
There are sparingly few moments that define a character more than the lie Jonny Fairplay told during the reward challenge in Episode 11. Barely any. Jonny Fairplay’s performance during the loved ones reward in Pearl Islands is one of the most well-known episodes and events in Survivor history, as it not only propelled him forth from a successful villain, as he was established as in “Swimming with Sharks”, but it made him a truly “evil” villain.
For those unfamiliar, here is what transpired. It is the Final 7 in Pearl Islands, and emotions are at an all-time high. Sandra and Christa were betrayed by Fairplay, everyone was blaming Christa for throwing away perfectly good fish, and Lil was as emotional as always. The stage was set.
There was little of note happening initially in the loved ones challenge. That is until Dan “Thunder Dan” Fields appeared as Jonny Fairplay’s best friend, to not only rejoin his friend after almost a month of absence, but also to tell him some almost tragic news – his grandmother, who reportedly was supposed to be there in place of Thunder Dan, had passed away. The rest of the castaways, emotions still running high from both their loved ones being there and the vote-out the night before, all but forfeited the challenge to give Jonny Fairplay a chance to find out what happened from his friend.
And then of course, we find out he made the whole thing up. And then, swearing on his grandmother’s name became his ultimate bargaining chip throughout the entire season. It got him to the Final 3, and would almost have won him the game.
It’s hard exactly to explain exactly how big of a moment this is in just words. For context, watch the Final 7 episode in The Amazon, where Jenna’s tearful revelation that her letter is from her dying mother leads half of the cast to further ostracize Christy, who outbid her on said letter. A dying loved on is a powerful thing, so Jonny Fairplay purposefully went into Survivor knowing that the moment he tells people he has a loved one who died while he was out there, he would have the upper hand over every single one of them for the rest of their time out there. It’s not only a completely and utterly morally bankrupt move, but a completely and utterly successful move as well. Jonny Fairplay managed to do what no other castaway could before him and corrupt the otherwise happy, emotional and sometimes tearful loved ones reunion with the ultimate bargaining chip – his grandmother couldn’t make it because she died.
As number 3 on this list, how do you go up from here? There are two more defining episodes on this list. One kick started the series. The other flipped it on its head.
2. Jury’s Out – Marquesas Episode 7
Marquesas is sometimes remembered as a forgettable or unmemorable season for several reasons, when without it we don’t have Survivor as we do today. By today’s standards this episode isn’t much, but back then it was enormous. Not as enormous as the number 1, but still enormous.
Boston Rob has just been voted out of the game. The Rotu 4 are about to ride the par course of the game to the end. They have Neleh and Paschal, who are perfectly willing to settle for 5th and 6th, voting with them, and Vecepia is voting for whoever isn’t her. The only people who would even think of opposing them are Kathy and Sean.
Kathy and Sean both know how the rest of the game is going to play out. They’ve watched Survivor, it’s been on for three seasons, and they know how it works. The alliance of the Rotu 4 will make the Final 4, and they will be forced to pick a winner. Kathy and Sean can’t stand that, and for 2 entire days they are trying to get Neleh and Paschal to see that. Vecepia will vote with them, but it’s not enough. Neleh doesn’t want to cause waves, Paschal doesn’t want to work with Sean, and neither one want to break their word with the original Rotu. They’re stuck at a stalemate, and Sean is destined to go home. The season is just about to play out as it normally does, and there’s not a thing any of them can do about it.
And the immunity challenge, at first, doesn’t help. The now-famous coconut-chop challenge. Where those who answer a question right can chop down the coconuts of whoever they want, putting them out of contention. As per usual, Sean is taken out first. Then Vecepia. Then Kathy. And then the Rotu 4 get cocky, as they then take out Neleh and Paschal. Tammy then manages to win the challenge, and it’s almost certain Sean will be sent home. There’s no question about it.
Now, if that challenge had been any other challenge, that’s what would have happened. However, what is unique about the coconut chop challenge in Marquesas is how it showed everyone exactly where they stood. It opened the eyes of Paschal and Neleh, who realized that playing for 5th and 6th is not what Survivor is about. They worked too hard to get to where they were, and they weren’t going to stand for it anymore. Sean, Kathy, Vecepia, Neleh and even Paschal joined together that night and voted out the leader of the Rotu 4, John.
Until this point, Survivor had been a game about getting the numbers, removing the opposition, and then witling down those numbers until the most powerful alliance made the Final 2. There was no other way to play Survivor known up until that point. This was the first ever power shift in the show’s history. The Rotu 4 should have been the Final 4, but for the first time ever the people on the bottom joined together and got rid of the people on the top. The 5 non-Rotu-4 would become the Final 5 of that season, and Survivor has become the game we know today.
This was a ground-breaking episode. It proved that not only can Survivor can be exciting thanks to the character moments, emotional scenes and the like, but also because of the strategy. The game was unpredictable again, the underdogs now had a chance over the power players. Without this episode, there are no power shifts, or changing alliances, or Rob Cesternino’s or Jonny Fairplay’s. This episode showed exactly what needed to happen for Survivor to become a compelling television show in all aspects.
As dynamic and revolutionary as this episode was, only one episode beats it.
1. The Final Four – Borneo Finale
51.7 million viewers. If there needs to be any quotable proof, any solid statistics that prove exactly how revolutionary Survivor as a show once was, look at the finale viewership for the premiere season of Survivor.
This is such a well-known and well-documented episode that there needs to be little explanation as to why this is number 1. There can only be listed moments – Kelly backstabs Sue at the Final 4, taking out the only person who could ever take down Richard. Richard steps down from the final immunity challenge, effectively playing one last mind game on his opponents. Rudy, the show’s last remaining popular character, is voted out. The first two ever finalists face the jury and plead their case for why ethics and morals deserve to win over lying and deception, and vice versa. Sue delivers a now-famous speech about why Richard is deserving of the million dollars. And Greg delivers the deciding vote, declaring Richard the winner of the first Survivor competition.
Survivors for years would continue to model their games after Richard Hatch, man and woman alike. Survivors would try to re-capture the success of Rudy, or become as memorable for their speech as did Sue. While “Jury’s Out” revolutionized Survivor, the Borneo finale established Survivor and what nearly every person who would play since would either intentionally or unintentionally emulate for the years to come.
The Borneo Finale is the best episode in the history of Survivor.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!