by Martin Holmes and Ian Walker
It’s the Final Six of Survivor: Palau and Tom Westman and Ian Rosenberger are nervous.
Their concern stems from the previous reward challenge. It was a variation of the classic Coconut Chop challenge, a game famous for revealing the power structure of any given tribe. Gregg Carey won a nice trip on a yacht, and he chose to bring Jenn Lyon and Katie Gallagher along with him. The first choice came as no surprise to anyone, as Jenn had been Gregg’s island girlfriend from early on (he was at the stage of asking for her permission!), but it was the Katie pick that set off the alarm bells in Tom and Ian’s heads.
Katie had previously been riding with Tom and Ian throughout the majority of the game, but after having helped them get chopped out of the challenge, and being buddy enough with Gregg to be selected to go on the reward, Tom and Ian become gravely concerned about their positions in the game.
When the reward people arrive back at camp, it’s actually Ian who has the “Oh S***” moment first, and he straight up tells Tom “we have lost control of the game,” and calmly explains how they have lost Katie. It’s an impulse from Ian that should be applauded by itself, as not many players have the awareness to see the game slipping through their fingers. But it’s Tom’s reaction that sets this episode into another gear when he turns to Ian and asserts that Gregg has to go next.
Sounds like the makings of a great blindside, right? There’s just one problem: the possibility of a tie.
What makes this such a compelling episode, and a nice contrast to South Pacific’s “Double Agent” which we saw earlier on the list, is that the focus is put squarely on Tom and Ian. Where “Double Agent” focuses on the potential flipper, John Cochran, this episode instead puts us in the shoes of the power players who are forcing a potential flip (or a rock draw). We get a brilliant insight into the thought process behind creating a tie-vote scenario.
With Katie having defected to Gregg and Jenn, their three would vote against Tom, Ian, and Caryn Groedel, and vice versa, with a rock draw looming ominously overhead. This situation leads to the best scene of the episode, with Tom and Ian sitting at the Kamp Koror picnic table discussing what they’re next move is. It’s like two war generals discussing their battle plans, trying to devise the counterattack after having been outmaneuvered by the opposing general, and like any good generals, they decide to risk it all to win the war. Tom and Ian decide that their best move is to charge ahead into the front lines and force the rock draw, and their willingness to make the big play is a badass look on both of them.
It’s also a chance for Caryn, self-described “great actress”, to show off her acting abilities as she plays the downbeat, ready-to-go-home loser. A role she was born to play. Indeed, “Caryn sucks” when it comes to forming a female alliance but when it comes to pulling the wool over Gregg’s eyes she is Academy Award nominee worthy as Ian puts it. Each stage of the plan is plotted so perfectly that Gregg never sees it coming.
This cloak and dagger scheme also provide Tom and Ian the element of surprise, which they employ right before the vote. Ian goes to Katie and transforms from war general to mafia boss, telling Katie that he and Tom are forcing a tie and in turn gives Katie all of the power- forcing the decision to go to rocks is on her. It’s one last great move from Ian, who demonstrates some great skill for the game this episode before he crashes and burns in the episodes to come, and it’s a move that ultimately works.
“It’s like taking a bag of chips from a fat man. You can do it, but you better do it quick, or he’ll sit on you.” – Ian
Katie ultimately sides with Tom, Ian, and Caryn, sending Gregg out of the game. Tom and Ian were sidestepping the guillotine, and putting Gregg’s head there instead, and it sets up the endgame of Survivor: Palau as one of the best endings to any season of the show and is an excellent example of how to act cool under pressure.