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: Winners At War
Episode: “This Is Extortion” (Episode 11)
Original Air Date: April 22, 2020
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Tony Vlachos is one of the most well-known Survivor players in history, with his eventual crowning in Winners At War only further extending his legend. While Tony has always been heavy on screen time, this episode is quite literally the Tony Show. With a record-breaking 18 confessionals in one episode, this is about Tony, by Tony, and for Tony. Everyone else is just there to facilitate his story.
It’s the Final 9, and the game is getting sticky. Jeremy Collins had used his Safety Without Power advantage in the previous episode to pull a “Houdini trick” and leave Tribal Council. Back at camp, Jeremy and Ben Driebergen continue their petty feud by getting into it over who is the biggest threat. Meanwhile, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe and Michele Fitzgerald feel like everything is just a big ol’ mess. Basically, the tribe is in chaos, therefore the perfect environment for Tony to operate within.
Initially, Tony’s strategy this season was to stay around camp, not run off looking for idols, and build a sense of security with his tribe. However, at this stage of the game, Tony recognizes it’s time to change. While everyone else is sleeping, Tony goes searching. He is determined, and even Nick Wilson, known for popping up unexpectedly this season, can’t throw him off. Tony shakes Nick by sending him to an area he’d already excavated and finds the idol for himself. The old Tony is back.
Side-note: Before we continue with all things Tony, there is a funny island fashion show scene at camp. It’s introduced by Sarah Lacina talking about the importance of a social game, as she is shown designing her catwalk clothing. “A lot of people just think I’m smart, funny, and pretty, but I’m actually really creative,” Lacina deadpans. The catwalk is a welcome moment of levity and contrasts beautifully with Tony’s strictly game-mode orientated episode.
It’s not as if Tony doesn’t also recognize the need for a strong social game, though. He desperately tries to repair his relationships with Kim, Michele, and Jeremy. He compares it to going undercover, as he’s going to have to play both sides and convince Jeremy that he wasn’t going to vote him out at the last Tribal. Jeremy buys it, noting how genuine Tony sounded. Kim, however, isn’t so easily duped and lets us know that she is on to Tony’s antics.
What happens next is the reason why this episode is so Tony-focused. At the Edge of Extinction, Natalie Anderson and Parvati Shallow find an advantage that will allow them to “extort” one player in the game for fire tokens. It’s up to them to set a price, and if that player can’t pay the fee, they will lose not only their next vote but be forced to sit out of the next Immunity challenge. When Parvati talks about playing it on the most chaotic person in the game, it’s obvious who is about to be extorted.
Tony receiving the extortion leads to one of his best confessionals in the series. The way he walks the audience through his exact emotions is hilarious. First, he is ecstatic. “I get to extort someone!” he thinks, reminiscing about old mob movies. But as the excitement builds, he suddenly realizes the power is being used on him. His face goes slack, and it’s clear how disappointed he is when he realizes he now needs to scramble to find three fire tokens to add to his collection so that he can pay the fine of six tokens.
In a lesser player’s hands, this extortion could have tanked their game. Tony is determined not to let that happen, and he ends up turning a controversial twist into TV gold. Despite Lacina doubting Tony’s social game, he is able to get tokens from people he is either barely working with or lying about working with. He even gets Michele to admit she already spent four tokens on an advantage of her own (though she lies about what the advantage is). “Woah! The price of milk just went up,” Tony says about this inflation in the Survivor economy.
Despite all the odds stacked against him, Tony somehow gets all the tokens he needs to pay the extortion fine before the next challenge, retaining his vote in the process. And it immediately pays off when Tony wins Immunity—his second in a row. Now he can breathe a sigh of relief and just relax for the rest of the day. Who are we kidding? That’s not in Tony’s M.O. at all!
The craziest part of this episode is that the vote has barely been talked about up until this point. But the initial plan, as suggested by Lacina, is to split the votes 5-2 between Jeremy and Michele, with Jeremy being the intended target. On the other hand, Jeremy is still incredibly annoyed with Ben and wants to see him go, and he believes that Denise Stapley, Kim, Tony, and Michele will vote for Ben with him. However, Denise and Kim secretly decide to flip to the majority and vote out Jeremy.
With people jumping ship and votes being split, this leaves the door open for Tony to make some magic happen. Emboldened by his extortion survival and second Immunity win, Tony decides to make a big play. He’s noticed that Sophie Clarke has a lot of power and, in particular, is getting way too close to his Cops R Us partner, Lacina. Waiting until the last possible minute, Tony approaches Nick and is quickly able to sway him over to this new plan.
Ironically, Jeremy is the most difficult person to convince. Even though he likes Tony, Jeremy still has his doubts, especially because Tony hasn’t even talked to Michele about the plan yet. It ends with the cop and the firefighter sitting on the beach, with Tony literally begging Jeremy to save… Jeremy. It’s a very compelling scene and really amps up the drama and tension heading into Tribal Council.
Ultimately, Tony pulls off the best move of the season, as the majority sticks to the plan of splitting the vote, allowing the foursome of Tony, Nick, Michele, and Jeremy to blindside Sophie—a serious contender to win it all. Tony is able to do this without any idols or advantages (in fact, Sophie’s idol is flushed out of the game with this blindside), simply using his social and strategic acumen to pull off a crazy 4-3-2 vote.
It makes sense why Tony receives 18 confessionals this episode; he dominates the round from start to finish, battling against forces both on the island and off, and doing so in that consistently entertaining Tony Vlachos style. As opposed to other times when one character dominates an episode’s airtime, this one feels earned, and it makes for an all-time great episode of Survivor.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 13. You can check out the previous entries here.