The 50 Best Survivor Episodes (No. 2)


“The Great Lie”

Pearl Islands, Episode 11 (Air Date: November 26 2003)
by Ian Walker

Lying happens all the time in the game of Survivor, and with good reason. It’s a game based on social politics and strategic manipulation, requiring the players to form relationships with their competitors for their own personal gain. The good players are the ones that can best exploit those relationships, most often by building a deep camaraderie that can either be honest and truthful or one that’s built on deceit and duplicity. A lot of Survivor players view lying as a necessary evil, something that greatly helps navigate a very hard game, but not something that they necessarily enjoy doing.

Jonny Fairplay was different. He came into the game relishing the opportunity to tell lie after lie, openly embracing the role of the bad guy. In fact, coming into Survivor: Pearl Islands, Fairplay aspired to be the biggest villain reality television had ever seen, and up through this point in the season he was doing a pretty good job of achieving that goal.

Right from the beginning Fairplay used his devilish charm and cunning strategy to slip out of some pretty tight spots, all while seeming to have the time of his life. In the previous episode, he even got to live out the classic villain dream and took out the good guy, voting out Rupert Boneham, one of the biggest heroes in the history of the game, in an epic blindside.

Things were going about as well as they could for Fairplay in his quest to be the biggest bad Survivor will ever know, but he had one more trick up his sleeve, which gets deployed this episode, resulting in the most creative, and sinister, lie ever.


Fairplay’s dead grandmother lie changed the game of Survivor. Prior to this point in history, nobody had thought to build a lie based on something that lives outside of the game in order to bring it inside the game for their own personal gain. Not only was it an external lie, but a lie based on family, the thing most people in their own lives hold the most sacred, allowing him to exploit some of the most powerful emotions that people have.

Also, by using this lie, Fairplay wouldn’t just be deceiving his fellow competitors, but the people at home, thereby accomplishing his ultimate goal on two fronts. He would be able to use this lie to his advantage by gaining the sympathy and trust of the other players in the game, and the hatred of the people at home, appalled that someone would stoop so low just to win a game. It was all Fairplay had ever wanted and it worked, and all of it was spectacular to watch.

The episode isn’t all Fairplay greatness, as it starts with a fantastic moment starring another iconic survivor.

As previously mentioned, Rupert was blindsided at the previous tribal council, and this made Sandra Diaz-Twine mad. Rupert was one of her closest allies, and losing him set Sandra off on the kind of expletive-filled tirade she has become known for. “Where’s that snake motherf***** Jon,” she calls out to the tribe. “I’ve never trusted you from Day 1 and you can’t be trusted,” she continues, speaking her mind in the way only Sandra can get away with.

However, Sandra’s verbal assaults towards Jon quickly get derailed by a bigger issue when it’s discovered that the tribe’s collection of fish has been dumped all over the ground. Fingers eventually point to Christa Hastie, Sandra’s other closest ally, whom denies having done it and gets very emotional over the matter. No matter how much she tearfully denies doing it, however, the other members of the tribe adamantly assert that Christa dumped the fish on the ground.


Turns out, Christa was telling the truth all along, as the audience learns the role her “friend” Sandra has played in this whole debacle.

“When we got back to camp, I kept thinking, you know what, they’re not gonna enjoy Rupert’s fish, screw that,” she says in a confessional. “So, I got to camp first and I grabbed the bucket full of fish and it was so damn heavy, and I trip on a vine and I spill all the fish, and I started arguing with Jon to the point where it saved me because they never pointed the finger at me as to being the one dumping the fish.”

Sandra’s sneaky ways here fall in line with her signature game philosophy of “as long is ain’t me,” allowing her to avoid blame, and the votes, all the way to the first of her two Survivor wins.

All of the tension in the tribe is soon alleviated when the castaways arrive at the next reward challenge, which turns out to be the loved ones visit. This news elicits tears of joy from the entire group, including Jon, albeit for an entirely different reason. This is the moment he had been waiting for, his plan that had been in place for weeks finally being put into fruition.

One by one, the loved ones come out for the typical feel-good reunions the audience has come to expect. Eventually, Jon’s friend Dan comes around the corner, both men exuberant upon being reunited. Then, Fairplay asks the question that sets the whole plan into motion, “How’s Grandma?” “She died, dude,” was the response, and reality television history was made.

Jon slowly walks back to his spot amongst the survivors, seemingly overcome with grief and sadness struggling to explain why his friend is here on the island instead of his grandma. All of the other players are sympathetic towards Jon, with one major exception. Sandra isn’t buying it, her expression throughout this whole sequence saying as much, but it doesn’t matter. The tribe lets Jon win the challenge, allowing him and Dan to have the Balboa camp to themselves for 24 hours while the rest of the tribe goes to live on another camp during the interim.


After the challenge, we see the other survivors first, reacting to Jon’s news about his grandma. “We all kind of agreed, hey, let’s let Jon take this. Our mothers, husbands, wives, boyfriends, whatever, will be there when we get home,” Burton Roberts tells the camera. In her own teary confessional, Lillian Morris says “Jon got the news about his grandmother. I’ve gotten to know Jon, he hurts just as much as anyone. My husband has to understand that this is what we had to do, for him to have some time to talk over his grandmother’s death with his friend.”

While this group somberly copes with Jon’s devastating news, he and Dan are having a much different reaction over at camp Balboa. As they strut down the beach, Fairplay turns to his buddy and says “that was a brilliant performance, sir,” as the two of them begin to hug and congratulate each other. Then, in a confessional, Fairplay reveals that “my grandmother is sitting at home, watching ‘Jerry Springer’ right now,” causing the audience’s collective jaws to drop to the floor.

The biggest scam in Survivor history has just been pulled off, and now Fairplay gets the chance to revel in it. “This is a game for a million dollars, I have once chance in my life at this, you should take every single advantage possible, if you don’t you’re a fool,” he tells the people at home, planning on taking full advantage of the one he’s created of himself.

The lie comes in handy as soon as later in the episode when Tijuana Bradley and Darrah Johnson, accessory votes in Fairplay’s blidside of Rupert, try to make their own big move at this final seven round by trying to get together with Sandra and Christa in order to take out Jon or Burton. However, Jon sees this retaliation forming against him, so he takes a page out of the Rob Cesternino playbook and goes to Sandra and Christa about teaming up with him and Burton to take out Tijuana or Darrah.

Even though he just betrayed Sandra and Christa the previous tribal council, Jon now has the trump card he didn’t have before, being able to swear on his dead grandmother’s grave. The fact that the play works and Tijuana is eventually voted out isn’t the important part here though, but rather the tool that Fairplay has in his arsenal to make the move happen, all because of the dead grandmother lie.

It’s an utterly transformative moment in reality television history, creating one of the most iconic moments in Survivor history and cements Fairplay’s legacy as the greatest villain Survivor has ever seen. In other words, everything Jonny Fairplay had ever wanted.

Ian, from Chicago, Illinois, graduated with a Communications major and an English minor and is now navigating adult life the best he can. He has been a fan of Survivor since Pearl Islands aired when he was 11 years old, back when liking Rupert was actually cool.

  • Zachary

    Most overrated episode ever. Nobody remembers who went home at the end of the episode. Who was it again? (I saw only a few days ago…)

    • Anon

      It’s a good season and it’s a good episode. It’s definitely not overrated. “Going up in Flames” is overrated.

  • Logan

    Hopefully #1 is Ready to Bite The Apple, but The Final Four will probably beat it out.

  • TJ Faulkner

    Tomorrow my prediction will be correct! The Final Four is #1!

    • Johng

      I will laugh in your face so hard if your amazing “prediction” fails.

  • Dutch

    Best lie in history. Fairplay was a legend at the time. Not sure if this is the second greatest episode in my opinion but definitely deserves to be high.

  • Red

    This is the episode that made me hate Fairplay