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: “Anger, Tear and Chaos” (Episode 10)
Original Air Date: April 8, 2004
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Survivor: All-Stars is one of the seasons with the biggest emotional impacts—and not necessarily for the right reasons. The idea of bringing back and spending more time with favorite players from the past was something that the Survivor fanbase wanted since the early days of the show, yet most viewers didn’t realize what dark turns the game could take.
All-Stars was the first time players came into the game knowing each other, after spending time building bonds within the alumni community after their season was over. For some, playing with acquaintances, or in some cases, true friends, wasn’t that big of a deal, as their ability to separate game from real-life kept them focused on the task at hand. It wasn’t so easy for others, as some players learned that trustworthiness outside the game doesn’t necessarily translate to loyalty inside the game.
What happens here at the All-Stars merge between “Boston” Rob Mariano and Lex van den Berghe is one of the most divisive things to ever occur on Survivor. Some might question whether an episode like this really qualifies as one of the “best” because of how uncomfortable it is at times. But, whether you agree with the fate that Rob eventually hands Lex or not, there’s no arguing that this is one of the most important things to happen in Survivor, serving as a benchmark for how to handle the interpersonal relationships of the game for all seasons to come.
The whole confrontation between Boston Rob and Lex stemmed from the previous episode when a surprise tribe swap separated Rob from his girlfriend, Amber Brkich. Of course, Amber wasn’t just Rob’s “island girlfriend,” but the woman whom he’d eventually start his ultimate alliance with outside the game in holy matrimony. Needless to say, Rob was depressed to be split up, fearing Amber had no chance to survive on the other tribe without her closest allies.
Desperate to pull any trick out of his little B-hat that would have even the slightest chance to save Amber, Rob made a risky move after his tribe won the final pre-merge Immunity challenge. He pulled Lex aside and uttered the now infamous words: “You take care of her, I’ll take care of you. If you can, if you can.” It was a last-ditch effort, one final attempt to save Amber from her inevitable fate, knowing that it probably wouldn’t work. Rob even makes a new alliance with Alicia Calaway at the start of this episode, preparing for post-Amber life.
Except, it did it work. Rob’s tribe, Mogo Mogo, shows up to the next Reward challenge and in walks Amber with the rest of the Chapera tribe, a smile on her face and a light in her eyes as she looks upon Boston Rob once again. As sweet as the moment might be, Rob knows that he now finds himself in a mightily awkward position, having made way too many promises to way too many people.
Later in the episode, the two tribes merge, and the lovebirds reunite after their short time away as star-crossed lovers. Although thankful, Rob is also incredulous that Lex chose to keep one of his numbers in the game, knowing full well it’s a decision he really shouldn’t have made. Amber pleads with Rob to not go against Lex, feeling some gratitude after being saved and insisting that they spare him for at least one more round. Rob knows what has to be done, however, as the episode builds towards the big talk.
Rob and Lex’s ensuing confrontation is fascinating and heartbreaking all at once, all because of the completely different experiences each guy is having. Rob explains to Lex how he wishes he could help him but, ultimately, he cannot, and as more words come out of Rob’s mouth, Lex’s face turns into one full of shock and disgust. Lex’s closest ally, Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, is also present, and as the conversation continues, her expression becomes wrought with anguish as tears start streaming down her face.
As Rob continues to explain his thought process with a cold and expressionless look on his face, Lex boils over. When Rob finishes speaking, Lex erupts into anger. To Lex, Rob wasn’t just a potential alliance partner; he was a genuine friend he had made outside the game. They had built a relationship with enough respect to honor their agreement inside the game. Rob thought differently, seeing Lex as just the next person standing in his way in his quest to win a million dollars.
That night at Tribal, Lex is voted out in a storm of rage and disappointment (and an actual rainstorm). To Lex, this was an unfathomable act that would irreparably sever his and Rob’s relationship—and the damage sustained here carried into real-life for many years. It was just another move in the game for Rob, though it’s a move that ultimately ends up costing him the votes at the Final Tribal Council.
This whole ordeal between Rob and Lex is such an unusual circumstance, especially back in the old-school era when returnee seasons weren’t as common. The entire disagreement is built upon a preexisting relationship, something that just isn’t a thing in most Survivor seasons. That’s what makes this episode so memorable. But it also teaches us a universal lesson that can be drawn upon.
Rob may have known Lex before the game and may have acted like a jerk in Lex’s eyes. But it doesn’t change the fact that Rob committed a betrayal of trust in the game, and he reaped the consequences when it came time to do so. Rob’s cold demeanor resulted in an infuriated jury that denied him the title of Sole Survivor, illustrating the importance of good jury management, which is essential regardless of whether somebody’s playing with strangers or friends.
Survivor faced the consequences of this moment as well, suffering a divided fanbase that was either Team Lex or Team Rob and creating one of the most polarizing, critical, and memorable moments in the show’s history.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 35. You can check out the previous entries here.