Over the coming months, Inside Survivor is undertaking its biggest list ranking yet, as we count down the 100 best episodes of Survivor ever. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season: Heroes vs. Villains
Episode: “Going Down In Flames” (Episode 10)
Original Air Date: April 22, 2010
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After 4-plus months, over 20 weeks, and 99 entries, we’ve finally arrived at the number one spot on Inside Survivor’s revised and expanded 100 Best Episodes countdown. It’s been one hell of a journey, and we’re finishing things off with an absolute doozy of an episode.
Heroes vs. Villains was a gathering of some of Survivor‘s most iconic characters of all time. Undoubtedly, one of those icons was Parvati Shallow, who had defied the odds at this point in the game, making it to the merge. Going into the season, nobody expected Parvati to make it this far, especially her fellow castaways. She’d entered the game with a huge target on her back due to the devious and manipulative reputation she’d built in Micronesia, where she emerged triumphantly as the winner.
Although the Villains tribe had a winning streak at the beginning of the game, Parvati got off to a rocky start. Most of her tribemates watched her with a skeptical eye, questioning her every move, and eventually, they took their shot during a Tribal Council for the ages. While she very nearly got voted out, Parvati avoided her date with Jeff Probst’s snuffer mainly thanks to Russell Hantz, who played his idol on her in the ultimate Hail Mary move.
After surviving that extremely close call early on, Parvati was able to find some solid footing in the game. Now at the merge, she has her first opportunity to really play her game, and what she does with that opportunity is something truly magical. This merge episode not only cements Parvati’s legacy as one of the best to ever play but further establishes Heroes vs. Villains as one of the greatest seasons of all time and this episode as our overall favorite.
It’s not just Parvati’s legendary double idol play that makes this episode phenomenal, though (although that is certainly an exhilarating climax to the hour). The overall story of how the Heroes tribe come into the merge riding high on the heels of a comeback, only to be utterly outplayed and have their hopes crushed, makes for some genuinely brilliant Survivor schadenfreude.
To be fair to the Heroes, some of them do have a sneaking suspicion that a downfall is potentially heading their way. But instead of acting on these concerns, they ignore all the warning signs, charge full speed ahead, and ultimately pay the price for their actions. The person most at blame for this misguided belief in success is James “JT” Thomas, and the Survivor storytellers have a lot of fun at this expense.
If Parvati’s legacy receives the most significant boost this episode, then JT’s takes the biggest hit. JT came into the season also a former winner, having played a dominant and statistically perfect game two seasons earlier in Tocantins. Yet, by the end of this merge episode, all of the goodwill JT had developed in his previous season evaporates, as he suffers an embarrassing Survivor defeat, the seeds of which were sewn in the last episode.
In one of the most questionable decisions in Survivor history, JT willingly handed over his idol to Russell on the Villains’ side, believing him to be the next victim of a supposed all-female alliance headed by Parvati. This decision seemed semi-reasonable on the surface; Russell was the only guy left on his tribe, and Parvati’s “Black Widow” reputation spoke for itself. By giving Russell the idol, JT was making a play for the merge, hoping to gain a new ally for the Heroes and take out Parvati at the same time.
Russell seemed like an honest, good ol’ Southern boy in JT’s eyes, which speaks to the considerable advantage Russell had going into this season–nobody had seen his previous season. Russell was able to play into JT’s beliefs about him, despite being one of the biggest villains Survivor had ever seen. To JT, Russell seemed trustworthy, and in the game of Survivor, perception often equals reality.
Fast forward to the merge, and JT is relieved to see Russell still in the game. However, he and the rest of the Heroes are confused to see Parvati still standing as well. Russell comes up with a flimsy story about how he and Parvati both played idols at the same time, and, in the first moment of JT’s doofus downfall story, he wholeheartedly believes Russell and is pumped to have a new ally on his side.
However, not all of JT’s allies are on board with trusting Russell. Rupert Boneham has his suspicions, especially after talking with Sandra Diaz-Twine, his old Pearl Islands buddy. Sandra gives Rupert the scoop on the Villains tribe dynamics, telling him how Russell has been running the show and cannot be trusted. Rupert reports back to his fellow Heroes upon learning this information, but rather than his concerns being considered, his intel falls on deaf ears.
By this point in his Survivor career, Rupert wasn’t exactly known for having the sharpest mind for the game, so the rest of his alliance is very dismissive of his Russell paranoia, proving to be a sign of bad things to come. In another dodo moment for JT, he says in a confessional, “If Sandra’s story turns out to be true and Russell did not play the idol, then that means I’m probably going home the next Tribal Council. Do I believe it? Not a chance in the world, but you never know in this game.”
Meanwhile, Parvati is busy having her own reunion, having her first in-game chat with Amanda Kimmel, her right-hand woman from Micronesia. Now on opposite sides, the two ladies try to figure out if their games can coincide or if they’re going to have to fight against one another. Parvati knows she’s on the hot seat with the Heroes and presses Amanda for anything she can share about the Heroes’ plans and even drops the nugget that she has an immunity idol of her own.
Amanda assures Parvati that she will let her know if her head is truly on the chopping block. But Parvati quickly recognizes how cagey Amanda is being and determines that her former BFF doesn’t have her best interests at heart. This is the kind of conversation that highlights how compelling the game of Survivor can be. You have two former friends and allies now on different sides trying to navigate a difficult vote while not trying to show their hand too much.
When it comes time to decide who to send home, the Heroes think they have it all figured out. On the “off chance” that Rupert’s worries are correct, the plan is to tell Russell to vote for Parvati to test his loyalty. Meanwhile, the five Heroes will vote for Jerri Manthey. They also hope to flush Parvati’s idol, and it falls on Amanda to convince her former Black Widow comrade to play it on herself. But Amanda’s glassy-eyed persuasion tactics are transparent, and Parvati quickly realizes what’s going on.
It’s not just the Heroes making misjudged moves this episode, though. This is where the wheels start to come off the Russell train. Parvati had stepped down from the classic totem pole Immunity challenge and given the win to her closest ally Danielle DiLorenzo, believing Danielle to be more at risk than herself, given she has an idol for protection. However, Russell is unaware of Parvati’s idol, and, believing her to be in danger, he hands her his own idol (gifted by JT) before Tribal.
Now in possession of two idols, Parvati has a lot of room to maneuver, making the upcoming Tribal arguably the most important one of her playing career. Even more so, she is finally starting to believe her own hype. “Apparently, everyone else in this game is, like, desperate to get rid of me,” she says. “They said I’m the most dangerous player out here, so I dunno; I guess they’re right. I didn’t really think they were right until right now—now I think they’re right.”
Parvati proves just how right they are later that night at an epic Tribal Council showdown. When it comes time for any idols to be played, Parvati breaks the silence with an instantly classic line. “You know what, Jeff,” she says, that iconic smile beginning to widen across her face. “I think it would be downright depressing to sit and watch green bananas turn yellow without my debaucherous little villains.”
She hands the first idol to Sandra, which initially seems like a mistake; at least, it makes the Heroes momentarily relieved. But the party doesn’t stop there. “And Jeff, I would just like to increase our odds,” she continues, passing her other idol over to Jerri. “Damn it,” mutters JT in the background. It’s pure Tribal Council theater in the best way possible, delivering all the dramatic ups and downs you could ask for as a Survivor fan.
Parvati’s instincts are immediately proved correct, as all five Hero votes bounce off of Jerri, allowing the five Villains to swoop in and knock JT out of the game. What makes it such an impressive move is that Parvati is the only person in the game that knows what is about to happen (much to Russell’s annoyance). She holds all the cards, knows where all the votes are going, and has the power to single-handedly dictate how the vote will turn out based on her immaculate reads.
Survivor episodes don’t get much more perfect. This is everything a fan could ever dream about from Survivor. There is the old-school dynamic of two tribes posturing for position. An elaborate ruse just waiting to be exposed. The complexities and intricacies of past relationships. Plans and counter-plans. A classic Immunity challenge. The new-school thrill of a flashy idol play before idols became oversaturated. And it all goes down in one of Survivor‘s biggest seasons with some of the most memorable players of all time.
“Going Down In Flames” is god-tier Survivor and rightly sits atop of our 100 Best Survivor Episodes countdown.
Thank you all so much for reading our 100 Best Survivor Episodes countdown over the past few months. And a huge shout-out to all the writers who contributed: Ian Walker, Gia Worthy, Garrett Stanley, Christine Pallon, Mariana Loizaga, Cory Gage, Morgan Ames, Daniel Kennedy, and Toby King.