Earlier this year, Survivor Oz held a poll to determine the listener's top 25 episodes. It was certainly a controversial result - and many claimed regency bias with Cagayan and San Juan del Sur holding a number of the spots in the final list. This week, Nick Chester shares 10 other excellent episodes of the show that didn't make the top 50 in the poll, and episodes that may have been forgotten and could definitely be described as underrated. Do you agree with his assessment? Read on to find out!
The great thing about Survivor is that we all find different things to like, the show is subjective and we notice moments that others do not. I decided to trawl the top 50 list and see which ones were missing to create a top 10 underrated episodes, at least underrated by our listeners. Its sure to meet controversy of its own and I hope readers understand that we all see different things to like. So this is my list – I’m sure you have your own favourites and be sure to let me know. I only had 3 rules – episodes had to be outside Survivor Oz’s top 50 list, were not finales (I know this was not a rule on the poll but I feel this isn’t a really fair comparison with a standard episode), and they had to not be hugely iconic episodes in their own right. The “just a f’n stick” episode isn’t underrated – we all love it and I couldn’t include it here.
So without further ado, here is my list of underrated episodes.
10. ‘No longer Just a Game’ – Australian Outback
Often fans think of how an episode ends and draw judgement on how great it is based off that. Many of the top 25 episodes end in a blindside, and this is only natural because it makes for an exciting finish, one that we all want to see. But sometimes that can forget a mediocre 30 minutes that preceded it. The opposite is often true as well – a predictable or uninteresting boot can follow a really interesting episode, and Amber’s elimination in the Outback is probably the best example of this ever.
This episode really emphasises the reality of reality TV. Whereas other shows have players in comfortable conditions, or at least having breaks where they are well fed and rested, Survivor is the real deal – these players really endure the conditions, whatever they throw at them. This was the most extreme scenario ever, where the tribe’s entire camp was washed away while they were at a challenge. Having foreshadowed the risk of camping in a dry creek bed, the creek became not so dry and the raging torrent that replaced it led to players taking, quite frankly, insane risks to get their meagre supplies back. Tina went into the river to retrieve the can of rice, which seems insane now. What if she had been caught in the current? Forget season 31 – season 3 would never have happened! The tribe then has to rebuild their shelter once again. One aspect that is really fascinating is that this is all intercut with scenes of Colby with the cowboys, eating and relaxing (and eventually paying the price when his stomach decided it wasn’t such a great idea).
The vote out of Amber seems almost pointless in this episode – she was probably just pleased to get somewhere warm, dry and safe. This is a great episode to show “that” friend who thinks Survivor is completely fake. The reality is all too clear this time.
9. ‘Apple in the Garden of Eden’ – Gabon
A very underrated episode, probably in part because Kenny, Crystal and Susie ultimately win the vote in the end and they were never the most popular people on the season. This is a shame though – the episode ultimately turns the season on its head and shows the role that luck but also good management of those lower in the pecking order is to success in the game.
The episode starts with Marcus and his Kota alliance in full control – the merge seems imminent and when the two tribes are called to the beach for a feast, everyone assumes the merge has arrived. This feast is of course famous for the discovery of a hidden immunity idol, which the tribe, led by Marcus, throws into the ocean for no one to use. The players then discover that the merge hasn’t arrived, but a second tribe swap has occurred, leaving Marcus and Bob vulnerable to Susie joining with Kenny and Crystal and voting one of them out. The episode has this weird theme where Marcus finds out Crystal is actually the cousin to one of his best friend back home, and him deciding he can’t vote against her. Crystal has no such problems.
The new Fang tribe see the writing on the wall and seem prepared to throw the challenge to keep Marcus safe and get rid of Matty, who no one has allegiance to. However the challenge isn’t one that they can do this so easily – it involves players having to balance poles above their arms, and Matty is able to save himself. The Kota tribe then go to tribal council, where Susie is the swing vote and joins Kenny and Crystal in removing one of the game’s biggest threats. Forgotten however, is Marcus’ inability to be strategically flexible and attempt to sell Susie a better deal, even if he doesn’t mean it. This makes Susie’s decision pretty easy. All in all, this episode has a bit of everything – great strategy, a turning point for the game, idol fun and a lot of comedy for this season’s best characters. Its definitely worth a watch.
8. ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ – Samoa
Samoa is of course the season that gave birth to Russell Hantz and many of the most memorable moments of the season revolve around him. His use of an idol to blindside Kelly made the list, but the move that allowed the game to change in his favour was made by his ally, and the player that would eventually beat him in Natalie.
The two tribes merges and the Foa Foa tribe are severely outnumbered. However, as is often the case when there is a large tribe that has not had many chances to get ride of people, Galu are splintered and start turning on each other. One of the more aggressive players here is Erik, who is pretty arrogant toward them and this leads to Natalie campaigning to get rid of him with the other Galu players. Natalie is often discounted a good player or winner, but her skills are pretty powerful and allow her the kind of social advantages that Russell can only dream of. Her pursuit of Erik is of course ultimately successful and I see this episode as a great example of how subtle social plays can be much more effective that bullish aggressive idol plays in the right situations. It would be fair to say that Natalie’s list of “big moves” is quite short so I think its really valuable to remember that so called big moves don’t always win the game.
This episode also has a great tribal council, where Erik is shown to be particularly cocky towards the Foa Foa tribe, and Jaison’s great line to him saying “I don’t care what you like”. It’s really fun, especially when Erik is completely blindsided by pretty much his entire tribe. He also leaves with an idol, which is often forgotten.
7. ‘Trojan Horse’ – South Pacific
South Pacific is a season that doesn’t get much love, and this may be fair enough but it actually has a lot of great moments. All that is both good and bad is captured for me in this episode.
This of course is where the two tribes are deadlocked at 6 members each. Whoever wins will likely have an advantage heading into the merge, and they both know it. This of course leads to the epic immunity challenge where Cochran takes the blame for Savaii losing, and Ozzy has a tantrum afterwards. The Upolu tribe are forced into being “on your knees” after winning – never something you want to hear Coach saying to you.
This episode highlights the religious element of South Pacific – and its on show in full force here. First the tribe prays together to finds the idol (that Coach already has) and for a win in the challenge, followed by immediate thanking of God when they win. I know a lot of people are put off by this, but I just find the whole thing pretty amusing – everyone except maybe Sophie seem so earnest about it all, in a game for a million bucks.
Speaking of funny (or maybe not), this is of course the Jack and Jill reward challenge, where Coach and the rest of Upolu ham it up whilst watching one of the worst movies ever made. I love the facial reaction of Sophie who obviously finds nothing funny about the movie.
And then there is Savaii, who go back to camp and lambast Cochran, prepare him to be voted out and then ask him to go for the win on Redemption Island – and if he wins, to come back and re-join them. If you want evidence for why Cochran flips on them in the next episode, here it is. But the craziness doesn’t end there – Ozzy begs the tribe to vote him out so he can win at Redemption Island – all this based on a dream he has. The tribe eventually obliges, and he gives his idol to Cochran on the way out. It’s all hilariously insane and captures everything about this season in one episode – crazy religious people, Ozzy’s overconfidence; Cochran’s severe lack of confidence and mind numbing craziness. Most of all it shows the potential this season has. Although I will always defend it, I understand why most hate this season. Which is such a shame – it could have been so great.
6. ‘Eruption of Volcanic Magnitude’ – Vanuatu
I am not the world’s greatest Survivor: Vanuatu fan, but one thing I defiantly agree on is that it has one of the best conclusions of a season ever. The Chris comeback story is great TV, but it doesn’t get more real or gut wrenching than when he sends his buddy Julie home. The Julie-Chris friendship has always been something I feel was a tad underdeveloped and could have been made much stronger. After this episode, I wish it was. Julie wins the reward and takes Chris for some volcano viewing and you do see the real friendship and chemistry between them. Which makes her blindside at the end of the episode even more dramatic. Clearly she and Eliza are both completely shocked by the outcome and Chris sold them a story that they bought 100%.
Given this is Chris at the height of his bullshit powers, there is also a lot of great humour here – this is the “I’m just laying in the hammock” episode where he and Eliza get busted by Twila talking crap about her. Somehow Chris manages to walk away from the fight….not technically of course, becuase he’s just laying in the hammock looking cocky as all hell. In the same episode he also gets caught out by Eliza by telling her a fake plan by mistake – again he somehow gets away with it. It really is fun to watch – Chris is such a fun character and winner.
This episode does make me somewhat sad that we have and never will see Julie back on Survivor. She’s the full package – great strategically and socially, and of course stunning to look at. Given her past relationship with Jeff Probst, she will never be back on a season of Survivor. This episode is a good reminder of how much we are missing because of that.
5. ‘Smoking Out the Snake’ – Africa
Many newer fans of Survivor will say that older seasons were boring and nothing that interesting really happened. Whilst I appreciate the way the show has grown into a more strategic game, the early seasons also offer a lot of fun – and can still have great gameplay too. This episode is a great example of that.
This is where Lex’s paranoia starts to get the best of him and he wants to smoke out the snake who voted for him last night, despite the fact it was only one vote and should have had no impact on the game. It’s so funny that he doesn’t suspect Teresa at all and decides it must have been Kelly. This could have turned the whole game on its head – Kelly sees the writing on the wall and turns to the ex-Samburu members to save her.
With 4 Boran and 3 Samburu plus Kelly, Brandon is left as the swing vote, and ultimately decides to go with Lex and his crew, sealing Kelly’s fate, but also his own along with it. The one thing I just don’t get is why the producers showed Brandon’s vote at the end of the episode, spoiling what should have been an absolute cliffhanger. It doesn’t change what is a really great tribal council though.
But of course this episode also has one of the most memorable reward challenges ever, where Ethan and Lex win two goats to barter at a local village. The whole scene is both heart-warming (the village kids are pretty cute and the scene gets a great button with Ethan giving away his hacky sack), and just a little macabre as the pair sell the goats and watch them get led to the slaughterhouse. In the modern era where location matters less and less, it’s a good reminder that at one time, Survivor made a concerted effort to show the location and make it mean something to the players and the audience. It’s also really cool to think that you see the birth of Ethan’s charity right here in this moment.
4. ‘You’re Looking at the New Leader of Your Tribe’ – Redemption Island
It’s easy to just think of Redemption Island as a totally awful season, devoid of any praise. However, the season started with a bang and it’s actually hard to think of too many season premieres with more going on than this one. Between the Rob v Russell stuff, you also have the first glimpses into the train wreck that becomes Phillip, along with Kristina finding an idol and a pretty epic immunity challenge. You also see Russell up to his old tricks with Stephanie and Krista, so there is a lot happening in a very short space of time.
This episode is also a great reminder on what we missed out on with Francesca – she gives fun confessionals and is very natural in front of a camera – she also seems like a genuinely great person who is pretty social and it’s actually not really surprising that they brought her back for a second season, and I don’t think it was just for the Phillip rivalry.
The first tribal council of Redemption Island is truly a mess, but a really fun one all the same. Phillip yells and of course mispronounces Francesca’s name several times – “I have dry mouth and I’m getting treatment for that” – WTF?? Often forgotten is the exchange between Rob and Kristina over the hidden immunity idol, where he attempts to strong-arm her into giving it to him to save herself.
To her credit, not only does she refuse, but doesn’t play it and keeps herself safe for another round. It’s crazy to think that after this move, the rest of the tribe just didn’t see Rob for what a mob boss he was and get rid of him. He talked after the season about what a target he had on his back – I think that is true, but it was pretty much a target he put there himself because of moves like this! In a way, this episode is so frustrating because it gives so much hope for a great season, which fades into one of the most boring within a couple of episodes. Still, at least one great episode is better than none I suppose.
3. ‘No Pain, No Gain’ – Marquesas
Sticking with a Boston Rob theme, episode 3 of Marquesas is, in my mind, one of the most important strategic episodes in Survivor history yet is often overlooked or forgotten. Marquesas is really the first season where one tribe dominates from the outset and you start to see much more cut throat strategic gameplay in Maraamu earlier in the game than usual.
Most people going into the season expected Hunter would be a long term player, given both his physicality and ability to survive in the elements. However, Survivor was changing and Boston Rob had no need for another alpha male, especially when the alternative boot at this point would have been his ally Sarah. Rob was really the first player to place loyalty over strength, and keep a weaker player that he could rely on to vote the right way instead of someone who could help him win challenges.
This episode is the genesis of Boston Rob as we would come to know him over the course of four seasons, and his “Godfather” speech in the episode is one of his most quoted and memorable moments. Apart from this, there are a couple of cool challenges and the appearance of the Maraamu radio show, an iconic moment of comedy. Hunter’s final words are still some of the most stinging and funny and I’m still disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of him. I think Hunter may well have turned into a Tom Westman type character had he stayed around longer.
In only its fourth season, it’s easy to forget that the shock of seeing one tribe lose the first three immunity challenges was quite high – we were still used to tribes winning and losing challenges at a fairly even rate. Marquesas takes so much about what we thought Survivor was, and throws it out the window. This episode really begins the process and has never really been given the credit it deserves for doing so.
2. ‘The Chain’ – The Amazon
When fans think of the best episodes from the Amazon, most would probably pick either the merge episode, or the ones where Alex and Christy get blindsided. These are all great picks but Deena’s final episode is one of my favourites as well, and I think gets a bit lost in the shuffle. This is where Deena takes her game and throws it down the toilet – a real disappointment, given the great TV she was providing.
Deena is one of those awesome players and characters who has been somewhat forgotten over the years and we will probably never see again on survivor, which is such a shame. The episode starts with Deena’s alliance on top and ready to deal to the guys remaining outside the core alliance. However, Deena is becoming restless and ready to get rid of Alex, who is in her alliance but it’s clear neither fully trusts the other. When Alex wins the reward challenge and takes Jenna with him, Deena makes the fatal mistake of telling Heidi what to do. Soon, this spreads like wildfire and Rob finds himself in the middle of a situation where his allies are all turning on each other.
Lots of players wouldn’t really enjoy this but he thinks its great. This episode also features the great moment where Matt swallows a giant bug whole to win immunity. The tribal council is also fun and I love how Rob tries to disguise the fact that he voted for Deena by writing in different handwriting and appearing to be completely shocked when her name comes up. More than anything, this starts a chain reaction for the rest of the season (quite fitting given the name of the episode) where a series of brutal blindsides turn the Amazon into one of the craziest seasons, especially for classic Survivor and I believe this season’s influence is still felt in modern survivor. So perhaps we have Deena and the rest of Jacare to thank for Survivor still being on the air so many years later
1. ‘Create a Little Chaos’ – Philippines
Philippines is an immensely enjoyable season and only becomes more so on re-watching it. Episode 4 is a tough, but compelling episode and well worth another look if you havent seen it in a while. The first few moments of this episode are so brilliantly put together. It plays out in almost complete silence – the three remaining Matsing players are huddled around the fire. Slowly, the players start to talk about how miserable it is to be doing so badly – the interviews are cut together so well, and accompanied with swelling music, and end with Russell vowing that Matsing are about to have one of the greatest comebacks ever. Yeah, about that…
This is not Russell’s finest hour, but the episode is so well edited that it never feels like a pathetic exit for him given how early it is for a returning player. You do really feel for Russell, and he is clearly heartbroken to be voted out. You also get to see what a bad ass Denise really is, getting Russell to open up then slipping into making a deal with him that she ultimately doesn’t honour. You also see the great moment where Russell points out that Denise would be unbeatable if she made it to the final tribal council – given that this is what eventually happens, it’s a fun moment in retrospect.
There is plenty happening on the other beaches too. This is the episode where Pete hides the immunity idol clue in RC’s bag, essentially framing her after knowing that Abi already had the idol. This causes the rift that more or less dooms Tandang to failure in the end, which is stunning given how strongly they started. We also see the men agree to an alliance on Kalabaw, and the women’s unease about it. Unfortunately this comes to nothing when Dana is medevac’d in the next episode, but it still sets up some interesting drama to carry through the next couple of episodes.
Ultimately what I like most about this episode is the immunity challenge. I’m not a huge fan of the challenges, but this one is so well put together on screen, you have to admire the beauty of it. Set up as an absolute must win for Matsing, they actually take a pretty decent lead over both other tribes, before hitting the wrecking ball section at the end. The defining moments of this are shown in slow motion – a really cool way of drawing out the drama. And of course, we get Russell’s somewhat famous breakdown after the challenge where he accidentally calls Jeff Probst “Lord”. I think the episode serves as a great but heart-breaking send off for Russell, who wanted so badly to succeed in the game, but ultimately failed to do so. A really top notch episode in an awesome season.
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!
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