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: “Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Episode 10)
Original Air Date: April 17, 2013
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If you could trace the modern-day “Tribal Council as theater” phenomenon back to its origins, you’d probably land at this episode in Survivor: Caramoan. Once again, Malcolm Freberg is in the spotlight, and, with his back against the wall, he blows up Tribal Council in epic fashion.
Having just pulled off the big “Hold Up, Bro” spectacle at the last Tribal, Malcolm is still down in the numbers. He needs a new plan, or else he and his fellow Amigos will be wiped out one-by-one. That’s certainly the intention of the Stealth R Us alliance, who are thankful that an idol is now out of the game and they have a free shot at the Three Amigos, or at least, so they think.
However, throughout the episode, things gradually unravel for the majority alliance. Firstly, Reynold Toepfer wins the Immunity challenge, scuppering the plan to split the vote between him and Malcolm. This is fantastic news for the Three Amigos because Malcolm still has his original idol, meaning that he is safe too, should he choose to play it. Only the third Amigo, Eddie Fox, is left unprotected, and therefore the only real target left for the Stealth R Us coalition.
Before Tribal Council, Malcolm decides to embark on another idol hunt to try and get his buddy out of a tight spot. This time around, the other players are hip to Malcolm’s idol-finding ways and refuse to let him out of their sight. But, at the right time, Malcolm activates his superpower and plucks another idol from a tree, right in front of Andrea Boehlke and Dawn Meehan, who immediately spill the intel to the rest of their alliance.
Now equipped with another idol, it’s time for Malcolm to make some magic happen. Later that night, the Three Amigos essentially take Tribal Council hostage, as Malcolm proudly declares all three of them safe, boldly flashing their immunity ammunition in the other players’ faces. From the moment Malcolm passes the second idol to Eddie, the rest of the episode shifts into hyperdrive.
The remaining players are sent into a frenzied state of panic and paranoia, desperately attempting to shake the target off themselves and onto anybody else. It’s an iconic moment because it’s one of the first times in Survivor history where strategy discussions and voting plans are being discussed and changed at Tribal. As John Cochran points out, it makes for thrilling television. Even Jeff Probst is excited, expressing his desire for an “individual pause button” to keep track of all the craziness.
However, while the Three Amigos have command of the room, they don’t handle the vote as well as they could have. Openly declaring “fun-sponge” Phillip Sheppard as their target in front of the entire group isn’t the wisest game move. Obviously, Malcolm and co were hoping to fracture Stealth R Us by taking out the CEO and hoping it would free up the other alliance members in the rounds to come. But that’s not what happens.
By announcing their target ahead of the vote, it allows the other Stealth R Us members to essentially wash their hands of the outcome. Phillip urges his group to stick to the split vote plan, banking on Malcolm or Eddie not playing their idol. This is a win-win for the rest of the group. Either their original target of Malcolm or Eddie goes home, or Phillip is ousted, absolving them all of the need to deal with the matter of voting him out later in the game.
Despite not being the smartest way to play it, the move does win the hearts of fans watching at home. Phillip willingly falls on his sword as Malcolm and Eddie both play their idols. Ultimately, Malcolm’s Haily Mary doesn’t change anything long-term, and he’s swiftly booted in the next episode. However, even in defeat, Malcolm leaves a conquering hero for having successfully sniped the Specialist and momentarily put a stop to the Stealth R Us reign of terror.
Not to be forgotten, this episode is also the one where Dawn accidentally drops her retainer, which contains her bottom teeth, into a lagoon. Dawn had already been struggling with the stresses of the game, and this only adds to her distress, as she has somewhat of a breakdown. Thankfully, Brenda Lowe comes to the rescue and swims down to retrieve the retainer for an eternally grateful Dawn. This event is significant because it comes back in a major way at the Final Tribal Council.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 26. You can check out the previous entries here.