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.
Episode: “Surprise and… Surprise Again” (Episode 11)
Original Air Date: November 25, 2004
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The modern era of Survivor is mostly defined by blindsides and big moves, courtesy of countless hidden immunity idols and advantages and incessant proclamations by Jeff Probst about the need to “play to win.” However, there was once a time, back during the early days of the show, when fantastic blindsides would occur without the use of an idol or a barrage of leading Probst questions.
In order to make a “big move,” players in the old days of Survivor had to rely on instinct and ingenuity to flip the game in their favor. That’s not necessarily a condemnation of the hidden idol; it’s just that there’s something extra special when a player has to utilize their wits and charm to execute a game-changing play. That’s the position that Chris Daugherty finds himself in at the Final 7 of Survivor: Vanuatu.
With all the men being systematically wiped out by the Yasur tribe’s powerful women’s alliance, Chris finds himself as the last man standing, and his chances of survival certainly look grim. However, Chris had one thing on his side, and that was time. Having all of his allies voted out allowed Chris the chance to bond with some of the other women as his expiration date was seemingly approaching.
It was easy for Chris to chat up the girls, considering he’s one of the best schmoozers the game has ever seen. Chris was looking for cracks, trying to find an in with the women wherever he could. “You question a woman’s character, you question a woman’s ability, she’ll snap your neck,” he said in the previous episode, with his signature Daugherty dramatics. “You open up your heart, show a woman you’re vulnerable, then they start thinkin’ with their heart. That’s when they open up that back door.”
That’s what happens for Chris in this episode… albeit somewhat unintentionally. When the loved ones make a surprise visit to compete with the castaways in the blindfold Immunity challenge, a frenzied Chris screams directions at his fiancé Lorie, his voice cracking with desperation. Chris knows he needs to win this to survive, and the engaged couple almost pulls it off. Sadly for Chris, Ami Cusack and her girlfriend take the victory. Chris, convinced his fate is sealed, bids a tearful farewell to Lorie.
However, after witnessing the intense, emotional moment Chris and his fiancé shared at the challenge, Julie Berry and Leann Slaby would prefer to stave off Chris’s execution for at least one more night. Instead, they’d rather take out their most annoying alliance member, Eliza Orlins, who they consider less deserving than Chris. Ami, the clear leader of the women’s alliance, gives the okay, prepared to throw Eliza under the bus.
Things only get trickier from this point forward. Having formed a close bond over the past few days, Julie decides to break the good news to her friend Chris, letting him know he’s safe and that Eliza will be voted out. While doing her buddy a solid, this proves to be a costly mistake, as Julie’s information only serves to get Chris’s head back in the game and prompts him to look for ways to stay beyond that night’s Tribal Council.
Luckily, Chris has an audience eager to listen to him. Twila Tanner and Scout Cloud Lee were both displeased with the way Ami and Leann had been running the alliance for some time. In fact, earlier in the episode, Leann confirms that she’s promised Julie a spot in the Final 4, meaning the original Ami, Leann, Scout, and Twila Final 4 deal is off. Twila, in particular, is now ready to shake things up, and she knows exactly what needs to happen.
Chris and Twila talk it out, and Twila hints that he can completely flip the game around by just talking to one person. It eventually clicks for Chris that Twila is referring to Eliza. And it makes sense, right now, four is the magic number in a group of seven. Chris, Twila, Scout, and Eliza could control the vote if they all came together. Except there is one problem—Eliza pretty much despises Twila and Scout by this point in the game and does not trust nor like them.
There is some debate among fans about who gets the credit for this move between Chris and Twila. The truth is that neither could have accomplished it without the other. Twila has the timing and the drive to make this move happen but she doesn’t have the relationship with Eliza. That means Chris has to step in and be the liaison between the two parties, and, while he certainly has his work cut out for him, he is more than up to the task.
Right before Tribal, Chris pleads with Eliza to vote with himself, Twila, and Scout, knowing that the rest of the game hinges upon her vote. Eliza, who is very stubborn and highly skeptical about the whole thing, fires back at him with the doubt she has that this could actually work. In the end, all Chris can do is cut right to the chase and tell her bluntly: if you don’t vote with us, you are going home. Eventually, it works.
In the defining Tribal of the season, Ami, Leann, and Julie walk in confident that they’re sending Eliza home, and when those first Eliza votes pop up, they’re feeling great. Then come the Leann votes, one, two, three, with Eliza flipping to make it four. The tense staredown between Eliza and Ami is brilliant. All of a sudden, the majority is toppled, establishing this unlikely underdog alliance in its place, and giving Chris the opening he’s been looking for to make it to the end of the game.
This Leann blindside ranks among the very best in the entire series. It’s not just a flashy Tribal; it’s everything leading up to it, from the emotion of the loved ones’ visit to the twists and turns of the pre-Tribal scrambling. And it’s made even sweeter by the fact that there are no idols or barking about big moves involved, just some savvy play by some desperate and disgruntled players ready to shake the game up.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 18. You can check out the previous entries here.