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: “Create A Little Chaos” (Episode 4)
Original Air Date: October 10, 2012
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The story of the Matsing tribe in Philippines is one of the most tragic tales in Survivor history. Seemingly dysfunctional from the start, the words “Matsing wins Immunity!” are never spoken in the tribe’s entire existence, each subsequent loss only compounding the misery. And right in the middle of the endless suffering and heartache is Russell Swan.
Russell had come back to the game for his second chance, determined to write a better ending to his story after his first chapter ended in the most life-threatening medical emergency the show had ever seen at that point. After being denied greatness in his first game, where he was in a pretty strong position to make a deep-run, Russell is sure he is destined to achieve that greatness in his second go-around. Unfortunately, all he finds is more sadness and disappointment.
There is some excellent editing in this episode that perfectly captures the despair of the Matsing tribe. The opening two-and-half-minutes are entirely dialogue-free as the camera pans through shots of a waterlogged camp, wrinkled hands and feet, and ominous, dark clouds. We finally pause on the Matsing 3, desperately trying to start a fire. In this moment, we feel the struggle, and much like Russell, we pray for the biggest comeback ever in Survivor.
Side-Note: Another masterful moment of editing in this episode is during Russell’s search for the hidden idol. Russell provides meta play-by-play commentary of his hunt, describing what the audience is seeing on screen. “I’ve probably walked by it a hundred times already, and they’ll be flashing it up on screen,” he says, followed, of course, by the idol flashing on top of the rice container while Russell wanders by aimlessly.
Matsing’s dire circumstances are further highlighted in comparison to the much more lively Kalabaw and Tandang tribes. Over on Tandang, we get a taste of Abi-Maria Gomes‘ Brazilian spice for the first time, as her battle with RC Saint-Amor kicks up a gear after mischief-maker Pete Yurkowski plants an idol clue in RC’s bag. “Maybe the rats carried it over,” says Abi with her by now well-established passive-aggressive sarcasm.
The Kalabaw tribe, meanwhile, is breaking down into a battle of the sexes, with Jonathan Penner and Jeff Kent reaffirming their alliance—even if it goes against Jeff’s original intentions. While the men are out fishing, the women back at camp, Sarah Dawson, Dana Lambert, and Katie Hanson, grow suspicious and decide to form their own alliance.
But Matsing doesn’t have time for creating chaos or building alliances. Comprised of only three people (Russell, Malcolm Freberg, and Denise Stapley) and heading into another physical obstacle course Immunity challenge, Matsing is just hoping to survive. They are fully focused on overcoming how bleak and dire things have become for them by finally getting their first win on the board.
In one of the most epic challenges ever, Matsing almost gets that win, getting out to an early lead against the other two tribes. They traverse through the mud to get to the final stage—swinging wrecking balls in an attempt to knock ceramic pots off of pedestals. Matsing looks to be closing in on victory, but then, in a gorgeously edited slow-mo shot, the wrecking ball of Kalabaw smashes into the pots, ensuring the win for them and sending Matsing back to Tribal Council.
Russell immediately screams his frustrations to the heavens in a moment of raw passion. He becomes so caught up in his pleadings to the Man Above that he calls Jeff Probst “Lord” by mistake. Probst himself is brilliant at this moment, questioning Russell’s need to expect greatness from himself all of the time, delivering great insight into the mind of a man who wanted so much out of this game and instead got so little in return.
With Tribal looming, Russell tries his best to stay in by attempting to play Malcolm and Denise against each other; unfortunately, he doesn’t realize how close Malcolm and Denise have been since the beginning of the game. In fact, the two of them do a better job of playing Russell than he does them. Denise, showing her keen skill for the game, goes into therapy mode and gets Russell to open up about his past troubles, making him vulnerable enough to convince him that the two of them are voting against Malcolm.
Unfortunately for Russell, he gets duped one final time on his way out the door. Malcolm and Denise, fulfilling their destiny as the real survivors of the Matsing tribe, vote him out and, in the process, write the end to Russell Swan’s swan song on Survivor.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 21. You can check out the previous entries here.