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: “The Twist” (Episode 5)
Original Air Date: November 8, 2001
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It’s day 13 of Survivor: Africa and Silas Gaither is loving life—and it’s easy to see why. He is a big, strong alpha male firmly entrenched in the dominant Mallrats alliance on his tribe and in no danger of leaving any time soon. But, things can change at a moment’s notice on Survivor, and this episode is the first example of a huge production-influenced game-shift.
“There’s not an event that in the future would alarm me,” Silas said in the previous episode. “I can’t wait until the merge because I plan on winning this. You might as well write the check and hand it to me because I’m shooting for the stars and I’m gonna get there.” However, over the next three days, Silas’ star comes plummeting down to Earth, thanks to an unforeseen event not just to Silas but to the entire Survivor world.
It all starts innocently enough. Silas’s tribe, Samburu, receives Tree Mail about an upcoming Tribal summit, the catch being only three people are required to go. The decision on who the representatives should be is a pretty easy one. The two older people on the outs of the majority, Frank Garrison and Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper, are forced into the roles, while Silas, being the young, adventurous go-getter that he is, agrees to be the third person.
The tension runs high as the three embark on this mystery adventure, as Samburu had experienced a tumultuous first 12 days. Easily the most dysfunctional tribe in Survivor history up to this point, Samburu had split right down generational lines. The four older people bonded over their strong work ethic and life experience, while the four younger people reveled in their shared laziness and self-entitlement.
Up until the first Tribal Council on day 9, Silas waffled between the two sides before ultimately sticking with the Mallrats, sending two of the older folk out of the game. Now, on the morning of this Tribal summit, the Samburu kids are more than happy to send Frank and T-Bird out of the camp for a few hours, sending Silas along as their eyes and ears in case anything big goes down.
Something big sure does go down, except the Mallrats find out in an unexpected way. Silas, Frank, and T-Bird never return to Samburu because they walk right into the first-ever Survivor tribe swap. This moment’s importance cannot be overstated, as it takes both the players and viewers by complete surprise. This swap was the first significant deviation from the Survivor formula that had been established over the first two seasons. It showed both the players and the people watching at home that you can never get too comfortable in this game.
Silas, Frank, and T-Bird are switched onto the opposing Boran tribe, while Boran’s Lex van den Berghe, Kelly Goldsmith, and “Big” Tom Buchanan head to Samburu. The effect of a swap like this is felt immediately. Freed from the Mallrats’ oppression, Frank and T-Bird see new life breathed into their games as they make quick friends with Ethan Zohn and Kim Johnson. Meanwhile, the remaining Mallrats back at Samburu find their new tribemates are just as big on work ethic as their old tribemates.
Silas, meanwhile, feels his game quickly crumbling beneath his feet. Looking for any in at all with his new tribe, Silas tries to make friends with Ethan, reaching out to his fellow young athletic guy to see if he can lend a hand to his situation. However, rather than giving a helping hand, Ethan decides to push Silas off the crumbling cliff he was barely clinging to. Ethan does this by engaging with a new strategy never before seen on Survivor at this point—he decides to throw the Immunity challenge.
Intentionally losing a challenge seemed to go against the basic tenets that Survivor had set up in seasons prior. The goal of the show was to win Immunity to avoid Tribal Council, not willingly lose and go to it. But Ethan recognizes this new opportunity that the swap provides his tribe. He has Silas right where he wants him, stranded on a new tribe away from his allies yet trapped with his enemies, with no power whatsoever.
With Frank and T-Bird’s votes, Ethan and Kim could easily vote Silas off and squash the opposing Samburu threat right there and then. Not only could this help gain some new allies, but it would save the old Borans, Lex, Kelly, and Tom, who were at potential risk over on the new Samburu tribe. The opportunity to take firm control of the game is too hard to pass up, and so, that is precisely what ends up happening.
Boran throws the Immunity challenge and swiftly votes Silas out of the game, and it couldn’t have happened to a “nicer person.” As the first person voted out due to a tribe swap, Silas’s exit marks a crucial point in Survivor history. Silas provides a cautionary tale to any future players on the importance of keeping strong relationships with everybody on their tribe, not just their allies.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 31. You can check out the previous entries here.