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: “Ready to Bite the Apple” (Episode 11)
Original Air Date: November 29, 2007
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Survivor: China is in its eleventh hour (and eleventh episode), and the Fei Long alliance of Todd Herzog, Amanda Kimmel, Courtney Yates, and James Clement (plus, kind of, Denise Martin) continue to control the game. Not only has almost every vote gone their way, but through Todd’s guidance, they were able to find not only their original tribe’s idol, but for the first time ever, one player, James, holds two idols.
This episode begins with a twist, as the castaways are surprised with a Reward challenge at Tribal Council. Peih-Gee Law ends up winning a trip to the Shaolin Temple and chooses to bring with her Erik Huffman and Denise, the two other people outside the core alliance. It’s another opportunity to highlight the location and amazing culture of China. And it also brings about the revelation that Denise has been a student of karate for eight years!
Back at camp, the core four of Amanda, Courtney, James, and Todd proceed to make a final four pact. The end is in sight, and as long as they stay loyal to each other and avoid temptation, they pretty much guarantee they’ll all make the end-game. As James says, “No one should bite that apple.” Amanda, however, really seems to have a craving for fruit.
In confessional, Amanda hints that she wants to strike against one of the four, as she doesn’t want to go to the end with people she can’t beat, and specifically, she doesn’t think she can win against James. Amanda runs the idea by Courtney, stating that if James doesn’t win the Immunity challenge, she would like to take a shot at him, removing him and his two idols from the game.
Things end up perfectly placed for Amanda after Erik wins Immunity. She convinces Todd and Denise to jump on board with her blindside James plot. The main concern now is making sure James doesn’t get wind of it and plays an idol. Peih-Gee, who thinks she’s on the chopping block, is told to “just not do anything” and basically continue to act like she’s going home. That said, Peih-Gee still has her sights set on Todd, though her closest ally Erik is leaning more towards the James blindside.
James’s blindside is an all-time classic, beautifully foreshadowed a couple of episodes prior when Jaime Dugan mistakes a blank tile for the idol, which James finds highly amusing. Even though James is a likable character and a clear fan favorite, it’s hard to resist the joy of a karma-filled blindside. Luckily, he doesn’t have to hold onto the title of “dumbest Survivor player ever” for too long, given the season that follows.
This season is a brilliant mesh of old and new school Survivor, and it’s highlighted best in this episode. There are new and revolutionary strategies alongside memorable character-focused storytelling. Amanda and Todd conspiring against a close ally, against the concept of loyalty, was still somewhat unprecedented in this era. Not to mention the shock of seeing someone voted out with two idols in their pockets (something that isn’t seen again until 24 seasons later in Island of the Idols).
It teaches all future students of the game a tough but valuable lesson. Perhaps the threat you don’t see coming is the most dangerous. James’s vote-off embodies the best part about Survivor for a scrawny college student like me—a redefinition of what strength is. Looking at James, he is obviously the biggest physical threat on the cast, but he’s outplayed by a skinny flight attendant and Miss Montana USA.
While no one might have expected it, this episode actually created a new style of gameplay and a new archetype of what a threat is on Survivor. Without James’s blindside, the archetype of the nerdy strategist might never have come (or at least taken longer to arrive). The ideology of physical threats sticking together probably doesn’t become as common as it is now. And the Survivor legend of Amanda Kimmel never gets told.
I’ll close this recap out with James’s own quote from the premiere of Heroes vs. Villains. “It’s the same story every time; the talkers are the most dangerous. The ones who strategize are the ones who are the best at the game.”
Check back on Monday when we reveal which episode placed at number 37. You can check out the previous entries here.