This week and next, we’re doing end-of-year lists to celebrate the best moments of Survivor in 2016. The Inside Survivor team, including former two-time player Shirin Oskooi, discussed and debated the options and separately nominated four choices in each category. We then tallied those votes to determine the final four nominations for each of those categories.
Here are our four nominations for Best Episodes of Survivor in 2016. Readers can vote below for their favorite.
“I’m Not Here to Make Good Friends”
Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, Episode 10, April 20, 2016
When this episode first aired we were quick to declare it “one of the all-time greats,” and eight months later we still stand by that statement. It was an episode that dealt a lethal blow to the biggest villains of the season in the juiciest way possible. Kyle Jason and Scot Pollard had spent the previous weeks bitching and bullying their way around the island, sabotaging camp life and just being all around jackasses. Even though they didn’t have numbers, they still had power, due to their possession of the super powered combo idol, held by Jason and their reluctant ally Tai Trang. It seemed impossible for them to fail despite their awful behavior.
In stepped Aubry Bracco, who with a combination of emotional intelligence and social manipulation, was able to sway Tai away from Jason and Scot. It was a beautiful, old school move that didn’t require any over-the-top flashiness. Tai’s dilemma between playing with his head or heart was genuinely riveting. At tribal council, the votes for Scot came in, and as he looked to Tai for his idol, the world seemed to freeze for about a minute, as the camera panned back and forth between Scot, Tai, and Jason’s faces. “You’re not doing it?” Scot asked. “No,” Tai coldly replied, “sorry.” It was an instant classic moment that left Scot and the audience with only one word to say, “Wow.” The moment was topped off by the fact that Scot also left the game in possession of Jason’s idol.
And let’s not forget this was also the episode Tai won the extra vote advantage, making it seem even more unlikely anyone could stop the Jason/Scot/Tai trio. It was also the intense immunity challenge that ended in a showdown between Jason and Aubry, including dancing and spitting. A truly fun, compelling, and shocking episode of Survivor.
“Million Dollar Gamble Pt.II”
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, Episode 11, November 23, 2016
The first part of “Million Dollar Gamble,” with Chris’s blindside, was already a strong episode of Survivor, but the second hour took Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X to new heights. It was one of the show’s finest episodes ever, including all the different elements that fans love about Survivor: emotional scenes, character depth, humor (yes, “the worm” challenge), strategy, all topped off with a tribal council for the ages. Obviously, the main thing people will remember about this episode is the rock draw, and that’s understandable, it was an incredible moment, but everything leading up to that was equally as entertaining.
Firstly, the way the whole episode was edited as a human chess match between David Wright and Zeke Smith, like the knight taking on Death in The Seventh Seal. It was the two strategic kingpins of the season attempting to one-up each other, amassing their armies for the impending war. Just when you thought one side had the advantage, something would happen to flip it back into the other side’s favor. Secondly, the reward contained one of the season’s stand-out scenes, when Bret Labelle came out to Zeke, and the two men discussed the differences between their respective generation’s attitude towards homosexuality. It was a powerful, heartwarming scene that just about validated all the forced Millennials vs. Gen X stereotypes that came before it.
But, of course, the episode’s crown jewel is tribal council. The two sides going to battle in a game of “smoke and mirrors,” as Bret referred to it in the episode. It was high stakes performance art, as the players held their position, hoping to fool their opponents into making the wrong vote or flipping their vote. But everybody held their ground. Intense discussion, paranoid whispering, an idol play, two tied votes, and eventually the dreaded rock draw which sent a tearful Jessica Lewis out of the game. In terms of enthralling television, it doesn’t get much better than this.
“The Jocks vs. the Pretty People”
Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, Episode 8, April 6, 2016
Kaôh Rōng received very little pre-season hype and had to overcome not only multiple medical evacuations (two of which had already happened at this point in the season) but the problem of following a highly praised returnee season (Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance). But week-by-week, Kaôh Rōng smashed expectations, introducing outlandish characters, delivering twisty tribal councils, and providing some interesting dynamics heading into the merge. The merge episode itself, while entertaining, was stopped short by the medevac of Neal Gottlieb, seemingly leaving Aubry Bracco and the former Brains members outnumbered. But the episode that followed, the one nominated here, is the one that flipped the game around.
This was the episode that propelled Cydney “Don’t check me, boo” Gillon into power player position and started the comeback of Aubry. It seemed like the former Beauties and Brawns were on the same page, ready to pick off the remaining Brains like sitting ducks. But after becoming suspicious of a potential all-girl alliance, the men put their foot in it and provoked the ire of Cydney, who was like “Brrrrr!” Their paranoia about a girls alliance, in turn, helped create a girls alliance. Cydney felt Nick was “getting too big for his britches” and approached Aubry and Debbie for a counterstrike; she then brought Julia and Michele on board too. Almost single-handedly changing the direction of the game and delivering the biggest blindside of the season up until that point.
The interesting thing about this episode is that it didn’t paint the villains as one-dimensional, both Jason and Scot got to talk about their families, Jason with his autistic daughter and Scot about his mother’s health. The episode also contained a great endurance immunity challenge, that included Tai’s amazing bamboo/redwood speech, the image of Tai and Cydney hugging on the ground afterward, and, of course, Nick’s cockiness that a Brain was for sure going home. A classic downfall, some delicious Cydney confessionals, a huge shift in the game. What more do you want from a Survivor episode?
“I’m Going For the Million Bucks”
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, Episode 14, December 14, 2016
There is perhaps no other Survivor finale that delivered as much of an emotional impact as this one. The journey of Adam Klein over the course of the season was a bumpy one to say the least, sometimes on top, sometimes on the bottom, one-minute making friends, the next burning them. But throughout all that the one thing that remained consistent was Adam’s goal of winning Survivor for his mother, who had recently being diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Every time he found an idol, or an advantage, or a won a reward, we learned more about his story and his connection with his mom. So when the “super-duper fan” sat in front of the jury and told the story about how he and his mom had originally applied for the Blood vs. Water season, how it was their dream to play this game, and how he wanted to bring some joy to his family in these troubling times, we felt emotional investment unlike ever before. Adam’s impressive 10-0-0 victory was the perfect ending to a heartbreaking story.
But even without the big emotional punch of the episode, the finale provided funny and surprising moments like David’s fake idol, Jay playing it and leaving the game in great spirits, Adam finding a real idol, Bret’s blindside, and some fun challenges. Yes, six person finals are always rushed somewhat, but this episode packed as much goodness as possible into its running time and was capped off with a brilliant conclusion.
Honorable Mentions: “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered” (Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, Episode 4), “I Will Destroy You” (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, Episode 7), “Love Goggles” (Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, Episode 2).
The poll closes Saturday, December 31, 2016.
Check back tomorrow when we will reveal the nominations for Funniest Moment.