The 50 Best Survivor Episodes (No. 27)

“Why Would You Trust Me?”

Cook Islands, Episode 11 (Air Date: November 23 2006)
by Ian Walker and Martin Holmes

It had been a rough past couple of days for Jonathan Penner. After making the hasty decision to mutiny to the other tribe to reunite with some old allies, and being unceremoniously welcomed upon arrival, he quickly knew he was in deep trouble. Luckily, bigger targets presented themselves, and he managed to squeak by the next three votes, advancing himself to the merge. That respite didn’t last for long, however, as an old ally was about to come knocking on his door.

Survivor: Cook Islands is one of the most polarizing seasons, with fans on both sides of the aisle heaping praise and/or ridicule. There’s no question, though, that the merge episode is the best one of the season, and not just by Cook Islands standards, it’s a legitimately great episode of the show. Like a lot of the great Survivor hours, it centers around one big decision, but what makes this one so special is the way the players involved speak so candidly and intelligently, to both each other and the viewers at home.

The choice Jonathan is faced with is sticking with all of the young kids he joined up with at the mutiny or flipping back to the older, more mature crowd that he abandoned only days before. To make matters worse, the young Raro kids are off getting faded and showing no concern for Jonathan as a trusted ally.

The youth of Raro are truly obnoxious in this episode: joking about making Jonathan do all the work, failing to make fire or collect water, flirting with each other and lazing around all day like a bunch of students that decided to skip lectures. There is also an overly-long scene of Candice Cody (formerly Woodcock) smooching with Adam Gentry in the woods with odd, creepy music accompaniment. While all this buffoonery is going on it gives Yul Kwon the chance to make the hardcore pitch on behalf of the Aitus for him and Jonathan to realign.

Yul lays out the pitch plain and simple by revealing that he has the hidden immunity idol. This was back when the idol had God status, meaning Yul could force any vote on him to blow back towards anybody else his alliance voted for, including Jonathan. This is where the great Yul/Jonathan dynamic comes into play. Both guys have a discussion about the vote in the most respectful and rational way possible, with Yul making the thinly veiled threat to Jonathan to either force him to vote with his alliance or force Jonathan out of the game by way of the idol. Jonathan takes the information and mulls it over, clearly giving it the thought it deserves.

Seriously, this episode could earn its placement almost simply due to the Jonathan and Yul conversation. We talked in a previous entry about how compelling the Ian Rosenberger and Tom Westman strategy chat was in “We’ll Make You Pay”, in that scenario it was two close allies plotting how to best move forward at a difficult point in the game. What makes the Jonathan and Yul discussion fascinating is that it is two former allies turned enemies putting their differences aside to decide how to approach the next vote. These are two very smart, well-spoken men, that clearly understand the complexity of the game, and it is a joy to hear them converse.

Side-note: This episode also contains the great “Get A Grip” challenge where the players have to hang on to a large totem poll for as long as possible. There is a great moment where Jonathan talks about how it’s a harder challenge for him due to his larger feet, which Jeff Probst kind of scoffs at, until Yul comes to his defence and explains why Jonathan is correct – “It’s kind of like why elephants can’t run up trees.” Yes, get told Probst!

For Jonathan, though, there really is no choice, because when Yul flashes that idol, it guarantees that Yul’s fedora’d friend will choose his side. Still, it’s a tough decision for Penner; he knows he’ll be a bastard either way he swings, so he doesn’t make the decision lightly. He even goes to the young Raros to gauge whether they think Yul has the idol, who, much to his dismay, are all convinced that he doesn’t have it.

The Raros ignorance is the Aitus gain, as ultimately Jonathan chooses to vote with the Aitus, ending the game for all of the Raros, setting the game up for Yul’s win and establishing Jonathan Penner as one of the greatest confessional narrators in the show’s history.


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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.

  • José Zepeda

    Good episode, really good!
    Still, should’ve been 50, not 27.

  • Erin

    Don’t quite agree with such a high ranking…but you are right, it was an amazing scene between two very intelligent and complex, yet respectful men. A high contrast from everyone else on Raro. I hated that tribe. The best aspects of this season were; Jonathan Penner (love that man, one of the best ever) Ozzy’s bad assery, the tribe mutiny resulting in Aitus becoming one of the closest tribes ever. Not to mention one of the best teams ever, they worked very well together and won every challenge, together. It’s when the season picked up in momentum.