The 50 Best Survivor Episodes (No. 36)


“The Merge”

The Australian Outback, Episode 7 (Air Date: March 8 2001)
by Martin Holmes and Ian Walker

The early seasons of Survivor serve as the strategic building blocks for all of the crazy blindsides and big moves to come, and one of the best examples is here in the merge of Survivor: The Australian Outback.

Armed with the knowledge of how the first merge went down from the first season, this second group of castaways knew the name of the game is just to have the numerical advantage, and with the Kucha and Ogakor tribes having combined with five members each, everybody was posturing for position. It’s an especially tricky vote with the tiebreaker rule in play, sending the person with the most past votes out of the game.

What this episode serves to remind us is just how loyal people were to their tribal alliances in the early seasons. Kucha was already a close-knit tribe before Michael Skupin’s medical evacuation but losing a tribemate under such devastating circumstances created an unbreakable bond. Ogakor was a lot more dysfunctional by comparison, but their allegiance to the tribe was just as steadfast. It truly was a battle between two families; even choosing which camp to live at became a fight for power and dominance.

Despite the war for control, there was no bad blood between the individuals. Colby Donaldson and Keith Famie are welcomed into camp Kucha with open arms, even if the men of Kucha were expecting female company. Likewise, at camp Ogakor, Alicia Calaway, and Elisabeth Filarski are treated to hugs and smiles and Jerri Manthey’s “famous” tortillas. There is a real human element to the episode that can often be lacking in modern day Survivor. Kucha is just as concerned about poor Ogakor’s food situation as Ogakor are about Michael’s well-being. It’s proof that genuine human spirit and kindness exists even as this complex game is going on around them.

And the game is complex.

Every Past Season of Survivor and more at your fingertips for just $5.99 per month!

With both groups even, it looks like it will be a bit of a guessing game to determine who has the most prior votes, and from the outset, it sounds like the Kucha tribe have the upper hand. The Ogakors have the two most surly and difficult people to live with, Jerri and Keith, making them easy targets for the Kuchas to put their vote on. Luckily for the Ogakors, that is what they are anticipating. Jerri and Keith were indeed the only Ogakor members with prior votes cast against them, so Colby, in his savviest move of the season, hustles to attract all of the votes his way by being intentionally cocky and strutting around camp like a brash Texas cowboy who owns the place.

Also, watching Jerri desperately try not to bad-mouth Keith in order not to give away the tribe dynamics is a great source of comedy, especially when she realizes he left camp with the “damn matches.”

The battle for tribe dominance became so intense it led to one of Survivor’s most iconic challenges, “Perch”, in which each tribe member has to stand atop a wooden platform in the water until only one remains. The challenge lasts for an incredible 10 hours and 17 minutes, with Tina Wesson eventually giving up immunity to Keith, who felt much more in danger of going home. This is the same challenge that features Jeff Varner’s infamous jump for peanut butter that became the driving force for his second chance in Survivor: Cambodia, and also Amber Brkich’s chocolate finger-licking montage set to bad 80s porno music (later reprised for Woo Hwang at the Survivor Auction in Survivor: Cagayan).


There isn’t even time for last minute hustling back at camp, as the new Barramundi tribe are ushered straight to tribal council after the epic challenge. Nothing more could be said or done at this point. The plans are made, and the battle has been fought.

All that is left to find out is who the Ogakors are voting for, and on that front, they come prepared. Unbeknownst to the Kuchas, the Ogakors have some secret intel. At a previous challenge, Tina, sweet on the outside and sneaky on the inside, allegedly poked and prodded legendary loudmouth Kimmi Kappenberg into revealing that Jeff had a vote cast against him. Heading into tribal council, the plan is in place, and it all works perfectly for Ogakor. Five votes for Colby, five votes for Jeff. In the end, Jeff gets bit in the ass with this past votes, giving Ogakor the lead and eventually propelling Tina and Colby to the Final Two.



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 Chong

    Fanastic choice. This was a fun episode, but I’m sad Jeff Varner was voted out. I rather have Colby go.

  • Erin

    Agree with Zachary on the fantastic choice. Some of these higher ranked eps have been sort of, eh, for me.
    But then again, someone has to be on the bottom! I loved all of the nuances from this episode you mentioned. Tina using her sweetness while subtly undermining Kucha, Jerri during her absolute best not to curse Keith too loudly. Looking forward to the next rankings.

    • Erin

      And I forgot, I love, love, love the hours long challenges that used to result in a great showdown! Miss those.