“If It Smells Like A Rat…”
by Ian Walker
In any given season of Survivor, players are bound to make mistakes. There’s only one winner, and even they sometimes make a gaffe or two (or three or four). The history of Survivor is littered with the blunders and screw-ups of past castaways, their quest to win a million dollars blown up by a mishandled conversation or even a bad vibe that they’ve given off.
Often, the worst mistakes make for the best television. The audience can revel in the poor decision making of the players, yelling at their TV that they would have made a better call in the same position, ridiculing the players on the screen from the comfort of their couches. Most of the time, though, it’s not really fair to criticize the survivors for these mistakes; they’re operating on limited knowledge, while we the viewer can see the whole story, and can have the foresight to see when a player is headed down the wrong path. However, every once in awhile, a player comes along who makes a mistake so disastrous that the audience is completely justified in their ridicule, simply because the player should have known better.
Erik giving away the immunity necklace at the final five of Survivor: Micronesia may not be the dumbest move in Survivor history, but it’s the one that hits the hardest. That’s because, before this moment, it seemed unfathomable that anybody would give up immunity when their butt would be on the line otherwise.
But, Erik did it, entirely because he fell victim to one of the greatest con jobs in history, perpetrated by one of the deadliest alliances ever, the Black Widow Brigade. This sly and stunning group of ladies knew exactly the right buttons to push with Erik, playing on his guilt and insecurities to make him do something that was unquestionably not in his best interest. Their play was remarkable to watch and resulted in something the likes of which Survivor had truly never seen before.
The seeds of Erik’s downfall were sewn at the previous tribal council at the final six, where it looked like Amanda Kimmel would be knocked out. However, she surprised the entire tribe by busting out a hidden immunity idol and protected herself. Only her BFF Parvati Shallow stood by her side, their two votes sending Alexis Jones out of the game, putting Erik in the group who voted against Amanda.
Up until that point in the game, Erik and Amanda had had a pretty good relationship, but now Erik was in the doghouse with Amanda after writing her name down. This development is important because it’s representative of Erik’s play the entire episode, ping-ponging between the four women in the game desperate for their approval as he tried to strengthen his position in the game. He tried to make things up with Amanda by promising to take her on the reward, except there’s one problem: he already promised his other good friend Natalie Bolton the same thing. Things would be pretty hairy for Erik if he were to win the next reward challenge.
Fast forward to the next reward challenge and Erik won (by besting all of the ladies in Survivor trivia, proving his status as a lovable Survivor superfan.) When faced with the decision of who to take with him, Erik selected Amanda, sending a furious Natalie back to camp. Erik knew he screwed up with Natalie but tried to focus on his upcoming one-on-one time with Amanda, hoping that he could smooth things over with Natalie upon his return.
Unfortunately for him, Natalie was left back at camp all alone with Cirie Fields, who spent the afternoon stoking the fires of Natalie’s anger towards Erik, doing what she does best. It worked; when Erik got back to camp, Natalie heard him out on his apologies but was not dissuaded by him whatsoever. Natalie even went and shared notes with Amanda, which made both of them even angrier that Erik had been telling them the same thing. After that little gabfest, the mission became clearer than ever. Erik had to go, and the only way to do that was to win immunity.
Fast forward to the immunity challenge and Erik won, an impressive third immunity win in a row. With Erik protected from the vote, the four women returned to camp dejected, coming to grips with the fact that one of them had to be sent home. They all sat down on the beach and caught Parvati, who had been away at Exile Island, up on all of the shenanigans Erik had pulled in her absence.
Parvati lamented in her frustration, declaring “That sucks that he won immunity. If he didn’t have that necklace, he’d be gone.” A beat passed, and then Cirie offered up one of the most devious suggestions ever put forth in Survivor: “I wonder if he would give Nat his necklace.” This idea was met with a variety of reactions. Parvati and Amanda were excited by this possibility, goading Natalie to give it a try. Natalie was much more skeptical, openly dismissing the idea because of the sheer lunacy involved.
The girls were persistent, however, as they laid out the plan. By giving up immunity, they argued, Erik would redeem himself in their eyes and, more importantly, the eyes of the jury. Natalie eventually succumbed to the idea, and the wheels were in motion for one of the most incredible stretches of Survivor ever produced.
Natalie went to Erik and started spinning her web, telling him that he needed to give her the necklace to score some major points with the jury. Erik was immediately dubious of this proposition, but Natalie kept stressing how good this would look in front of the jury. So, Erik then decided to do something he really shouldn’t have done; he went and talked to Cirie.
Proving her phenomenal skill for the game, Cirie spun her part of the web flawlessly, echoing Natalie’s statements as Erik chewed on the idea more and more. If there’s any doubt just how hard and deviously these widows worked to make Erik do the unthinkable, Cirie laid it to rest in a confessional:
“If Erik takes that necklace off tonight, his torch would be snuffed so quick; I don’t even think he could have time to blink his eyes.”
Erik spent his last few hours before tribal council pacing up and down the beach, the idea of giving up the immunity necklace consuming more and more of his thoughts, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats to see if he would really fall for the Black Widow’s scheme.
That night at tribal council, the women kept up their excellent charade, berating Erik about how badly he had burned all of their trust, and reiterating the one thing he could do that could earn some of that trust back. By this point, Erik had been thoroughly sucked into their web, admitting the mistakes that he made and his desire to make amends at tribal council. When the time came for Jeff Probst to ask Erik the question of the night, he says:
“Um, Jeff. This is a very tough decision for me, for a lot of reasons. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last couple of days, and I know that actions speak louder than words. I wanna give individual immunity to Natalie.”
As Erik took off the necklace and handed it to Natalie, expressions of utter shock spread to the players and the jury members alike, and with good reason. Erik’s decision was shocking, and the show treated it with the reverence it deserved. For the only time in Survivor history, all of the voting confessionals were shown, leaving little doubt to how momentous this moment is. While the women delivered their savage voting comments, Erik sat with his fingers crossed and a worried expression on his face, knowing that he may have just committed the biggest mistake in Survivor history.
Ultimately, his fears were proven right; Erik was voted out of the game, leaving the widows with the perfect parting words of “you guys drive me crazy.”
To his credit, Erik was very positive in his final words, expressing gratitude for his experience and illustrating why this moment worked so well. In a season dubbed Fans vs. Favorites, Erik was the ultimate fan, a young kid whose exuberance for Survivor was infectious. While it’s easy for somebody at home to laugh or shake their head at Erik, the fact that he can suffer such a humiliating fate, and come out the other side with a smile on his face, should put a smile on the viewer’s face as well.
Erik may have made one of the worst mistakes ever; he also created one of the most iconic moments in the history of Survivor, and that is an honor not many other fans can claim.
[Credit to http://survivoraddict.tumblr.com/ for GIFS]