by Ian Walker
Out of all of the seasons, Survivor: All-Stars may be the season with the biggest emotional impact, and not for the right reasons. The idea of bringing back and spending more time with favorite survivors from the past was something that the fanbase wanted since the early days of the show, yet most viewers didn’t realize what dark turns the game could take.
All-Stars was the first time in history where players came into the game knowing each other, after spending time building bonds within the alumni community after their season was over. For some, playing with acquaintances, or in some cases, true friends, wasn’t that big of a deal, as their ability to separate game relationships from real relationships kept them focused on the task at hand. For others, it wasn’t so easy, as some players learned that trustworthiness outside the game doesn’t necessarily translate to loyalty inside the game.
A lot of people will ask whether an episode like this really qualifies as one of the “best” episodes because of the uncomfortable things that happen. Whether you agree with the fate that Rob eventually hands Lex or not, there’s no arguing that this is one of the most important things to happen in Survivor, serving as a benchmark for how to handle the interpersonal relationships of the game for all of the seasons to come. Plus, as harsh as it is to watch, it’s also compelling in the “wow, I can’t believe what I’m watching right now,” sense, which can be just as powerful as any moment of joy, sorrow or hilarity on Survivor.
The whole confrontation between Rob and Lex stems from the previous episode when Boston Rob is separated from his girlfriend Amber Brkich by a surprise tribe swap. Amber wasn’t just Rob’s “island” girlfriend, but the woman whom he’d eventually start his ultimate alliance with outside the game in holy matrimony. Needless to say, Rob is depressed, fearing Amber has no chance to survive on the other tribe.
Desperate to pull any trick out of his little B hat that would have even the slightest chance to save Amber, Rob makes his move after his tribe wins the next immunity challenge. He pulls Lex aside and utters the now infamous words “You take care of her, I’ll take care of you. If you can, if you can.” It was a last ditch effort for Boston Rob, one last attempt to try to save his girl from her inevitable fate, knowing that it probably wouldn’t work.
Except, it worked. Rob’s tribe, Mogo Mogo, shows up to the next challenge and in walks Amber with the rest of the Chaperas, a smile on her face and a light in her eyes as she looks upon Boston Rob again.
Later in the episode, the two tribes merge, and the lovebirds are reunited after their short time away as star-crossed lovers. Although thankful that Lex made the decision to keep Amber, Rob is also incredulous that Lex chose to keep one of his numbers in the game, knowing full well it’s a decision Lex really shouldn’t have made. Amber tries to plead with Rob to not go against Lex, feeling some gratitude after being saved and insisting that they spare him for at least one more round. Rob knows what has to be done, however, as the episode builds towards the big talk.
The ensuing confrontation between Rob and Lex is fascinating and heartbreaking all at once, all because of the completely different experiences each guy is having. Rob explains to Lex how he wishes he could help him but ultimately he cannot, and as more words come out of Boston Rob’s mouth Lex’s face turns into one full of shock and disgust. Lex’s closest ally, Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, is also present, and as the conversation continues her expression becomes wrought with anguish as tears start streaming down her face.
Boston Rob continues to explain his plan with a cold and expressionless look on his face, and when he’s finished talking Lex erupts into anger. To him, Rob wasn’t just a potential alliance partner; Rob was a friend he had made outside the game built on a relationship with enough respect to honor their agreement inside the game. Rob thought differently, seeing Lex as just the next person standing in his way in his quest to win a million dollars.
That night at tribal council, Lex is voted out in a storm of rage and disappointment (and an actual rainstorm). To Lex, this was an unfathomable act that would irreparably sever their relationship; to Rob, it was just another move in the game. The whole ordeal between Rob and Lex is an unusual circumstance, as the whole disagreement is built upon a preexisting relationship, something usually non-existent in most Survivor seasons. But it does teach a universal lesson that can be drawn upon.
Rob may have known Lex before the game, and may have acted like a jerk in Lex’s eyes, but it doesn’t change the fact that Rob committed a betrayal of trust in the game, and he reaped the consequences when it came time to do so. Rob’s cold demeanor resulted in an infuriated jury that denied him the title of Sole Survivor, illustrating the importance of good jury management- which is important regardless if somebody’s playing with strangers or friends.
The show reaped the consequences of this moment as well, suffering a divided fanbase that was either Team Lex or Team Rob, creating one of the most polarizing, important and memorable moments in Survivor history.