Let’s face it; it hasn’t been the greatest year in Survivor, at least as far as the US seasons are concerned. Things started with an unnecessary returnee season, marred by horrible personal issues and a disappointing boot order, and culminated with a newbie season which took weeks to get going and when it finally did the momentum was destroyed by a controversial ending. But even if these seasons weren’t top tier Survivor, there were still individual parts that when separated from the whole are worth highlighting and/or celebrating.
This week we’re going to be posting end-of-year lists to highlight the best, funniest, and most shocking moments of Survivor in 2017. The Inside Survivor team separately nominated four choices in each category (six in the Best Character categories). We then tallied those votes to determine the final four nominations for each of those categories.
Here are our four nominations for Best Episode of Survivor in 2017. Readers can vote below for their favorite.
“Dirty Deed” (7 nominations)
Survivor: Game Changers, Episode 5, March 29, 2017
The pre-merge of Survivor: Game Changers undeniably belonged to Sandra Diaz-Twine and the fifth episode of the season saw the Queen at the height of her powers. Having already won the war against Tony Vlachos at the second tribal council, Sandra now had her sights set on the only other former winner in the game, JT Thomas. What made JT’s downfall so sweet was not just the method in which it happened, but the instant karma it served for his actions at the previous tribal council. JT made a monumental goof by fraternizing with the enemy, causing the shock early exit of fan-favorite Malcolm Freberg. It was not just a blow to fans, but to the Nuku tribe (which contained the most entertaining characters), and Sandra relished in the opportunity for revenge.
JT had a problem with what he perceived as Michaela Bradshaw’s “bad attitude” and took particular offense to her half-joking request for “seven drips of coffee and a scoop of sugar.” Sensing that tension, Sandra stirred (or scooped) the pot by sneakily finishing off the remaining sugar herself, knowing full-well that JT would blame Michaela. What followed was a hilarious scene of Sandra mugging to camera and then stoking the fire as she encouraged JT’s frustration with the falsely-accused sugar thief. Tribal Council was even funnier, as Michaela played the part of departing victim perfectly and lulled JT further into a false sense of security. JT was blindsided with an idol in his pocket, and to sweeten the send-off, Michaela took out her water bottle to reenact the Kermit tea-sipping meme while Sandra confessed to being the real sugar fiend.
Yes, this episode also contained the disturbing Debbie Wanner temper tantrum and her volatile argument with Brad Culpepper, a moment we’ve all tried to erase from our memories. But not even that can bring down such a deliciously entertaining episode.
“The Tables Have Turned” (6 nominations)
Survivor: Game Changers, Episode 4, March 22, 2017
It’s been a year of controversial Survivor twists, and the 2-Tribes-1-Vote episode of Game Changers certainly kicked things off with a bang. It’s hard to say whether this particular episode received nominations for its overall narrative or just because of its unforgettable tribal council. But whether you were a fan of the twist or not, there is no denying it made for riveting television. From the moment Jeff Probst dropped the bombshell on the Mana and Nuku tribes – that they’d both be attending tribal council at the same time but voting out just one person – everything that followed was unmissable.
Back at their respective camps, the opposing tribes tried to formulate a mode of attack for this unprecedented tribal council. The Nuku tribe, led by Sandra, aimed their targets at Sierra Dawn-Thomas, although JT was secretly hoping he could use the opportunity to take out Sandra. Meanwhile, the outnumbered Mana tribe struggled to settle on a plan. Brad wanted to a take a shot at the Queen, while Sierra thought they’d be stupid to pass on the chance to take out Malcolm. When Tai Trang found a Hail Mary in the form of a last-minute idol find, it gave the Mana tribe new hope.
Things only got crazier at tribal council when after a tense stand-off, everything suddenly went bananas. JT crossed the threshold and whispered plans to Brad. Hali Ford, a potential swing-vote between the tribes, ran over to Sandra, not so subtly hinting that she’d flip if Nuku voted for Brad. Probst sat there gobsmacked as castaways scuttled back-and-forth, huddled in corners, shoved eavesdroppers out of the way, and strategized in hushed tones. At one point, Hali even refused to give her consent to allow the vote to happen. It was utter chaos that ended with JT telling Brad to vote Sandra, hoping that would save himself and Malcolm and keep him in the good graces of his old tribemates. That’s not what happened though, as Tai played his idol for Sierra, nullifying all of Nuku’s votes against her, while Mana’s votes came down on Malcolm, the one person who had mostly remained quiet throughout all this madness. It was a big loss for the season overall, but for a single episode of Survivor, it was sensational nail-biting drama.
“Buy One Get One Free [Part 1]” (5 nominations)
Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, Episode 10, November 29, 2017
Up until this point in the season, Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers had been plodding along at a relatively slow-pace. The game looked set to continue in a predictable fashion as the “Round Table” alliance, comprised of the former Heroes and Hustlers, aimed to pick off the remaining Healers one-by-one. That was until Lauren Rimmer decided to shake things up during a game-altering reward of hamburgers and fries. Her pitch to Ashley Nolan, Ben Driebergen, and Devon Pinto was blunt, straightforward, and made perfect sense. The alliance of seven was going to crack, and they needed to be the ones to make the first move. This scene was contrasted beautifully with Chrissy Hofbeck and Ryan Ulrich back at camp, patting themselves on the back with deluded congratulations.
It wasn’t just the vote-off that made this episode so entertaining, but the various moving pieces of the plan. It wasn’t merely a blindside; it was a covert, undercover mission. Devon was looking beyond instant gratification; he had an idea that would continue to give them control beyond this tribal council. Devon’s plan involved Ben voting with Chrissy and Ryan so that he could infiltrate the enemy as a secret spy and pass back information. To pull that off, it required the votes of Joe Mena and Dr. Mike Zahalsky, and the two outsiders were more than happy to jump aboard, albeit entirely oblivious to what was truly happening. The Rogue Knights completed their assignment, sent JP Hilsabeck to the jury in an #EpicBlindside, left Chrissy and Ryan shellshocked, and salvaged the season.
Not only did this episode feature compelling strategy and a tasty blindside, but it had both humor and emotion. Lauren and Ben both gave heartfelt confessionals about their families and lives back home upon reading their loved one’s letters. While Joe and Mike solidified their budding friendship with an alliance name – The Coconuts – and proceeded to act like fools and wind-up their fellow tribemates.
“Not Going to Roll Over and Die” (5 nominations)
Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, Episode 12, December 6, 2017
It’s a testament to how strong the last few episodes of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers were that this episode made the list, despite featuring arguably the worst challenge in Survivor history. I’m of course talking about the rock draw at the family visit which was less of a challenge and more of a cure for insomnia. But that wasn’t enough to take away from the rest of the episode which saw relationships crumble, alliances blow-up, an eventful tribal council, and perhaps the most perfect idol-play the game has ever seen.
It was the first episode where Ben’s secret spy operation was now out in the open, and the revelation had immediate repercussions. The friendship between Ben and Chrissy was now completely torn apart, the betrayal leaving wounds too deep to heal. The pair had vengeance on their mind – Chrissy denying Ben the chance to spend time with his wife, Ben planting a fake idol for Chrissy to find. It looked set for a former Hero showdown until Ben overheard his Rogue Knights alliance mention his name. Fuelled by paranoia, Ben decided to target Lauren, flipping the entire episode on its head. Now Ben needed Chrissy back on his side to help pull off the blindside. Chrissy was rightfully unsure, but her reluctance caused Dr. Mike to spill Ben’s plan to Ashley and Devon. All in all, a turbulent afternoon of pre-tribal strategizing which led to Lauren handing Mike part of her idol for safe-keeping.
That night’s tribal council was a scattered mess of secret-spilling and unpredictability. Everyone laid their cards (and other’s cards) out on the table. Ben told everybody about Lauren’s idol and extra vote advantage. Lauren busted Ben’s balls about his plan to trick Chrissy with a fake idol. Then Dr. Mike, erratic as ever, threw half of Lauren’s idol in the fire, effectively killing any chance of it being used. In a similar scene to the Malcolm boot in Game Changers, the castaways got up from their seats and started whispering plans back-and-forth. In a crazy turn of events, Chrissy was not trying to convince Dr. Mike to keep Ben and vote Lauren. But none of their plans mattered. The only vote that counted came from the only person smart enough to keep a secret. Ben played his idol and sent Lauren packing with a single vote.
Honorable Mentions: “The Stakes Have Been Raised [Part 2]” (Survivor: Game Changers, Episode 2), “I Don’t Like Having Snakes Around” (Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, Episode 4), “Buy One Get One Free [Part 2]” (Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, Episode 11), “Million Dollar Night” (Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, Episode 14).
The poll closes Monday, January 1 2018.
Check back on Tuesday when we will reveal the nominations for Best Character.