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: “If It Smells Like a Rat, Give It Cheese” (Episode 13)
Original Air Date: May 8, 2008
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In any given season of Survivor, players are bound to make mistakes. There’s only one winner, and even they sometimes make a gaffe or two (or three or four) along the way. The history of Survivor is littered with the blunders and screw-ups of past castaways, their quest to win a million dollars blown up by a mishandled conversation or a bad vibe they’ve given off.
Often, the worst mistakes make for the best television. There is something almost cathartic about watching a player blow up their game in spectacular fashion. The audience can revel in the poor decision-making. We yell at the TV, claiming that we would have made a better call in the same position, ridiculing the players on the screen from the comfort of our couches.
Most of the time, though, it’s not really fair to criticize the castaways for these mistakes; they’re operating on limited knowledge, while we can see the whole story and have the foresight to know when a player is headed down the wrong path. However, every once in a while, a player comes along who makes a mistake so disastrous that the audience is completely justified in their ridicule. No moment on Survivor better fits that description than Erik Reichenbach giving up Immunity.
Erik giving away the Immunity necklace at the Final 5 of Survivor: Micronesia may not be the dumbest move in Survivor history (though it’s certainly in the conversation), but it’s the one that hits the hardest. That’s because, before this moment, it seemed unfathomable that anybody would give up an Immunity necklace when their butt would be on the line otherwise.
But, Erik does, all because he falls victim to one of the greatest con jobs in history, perpetrated by one of the deadliest alliances ever, the Black Widow Brigade. This sly and smart group of ladies know exactly the right buttons to push with Erik, playing on his guilt and insecurities to make him do something unquestionably not in his best interest. Their play is remarkable to watch and results in something the likes of which Survivor has truly never seen before.
The seeds of Erik’s downfall are sewn at the previous Tribal Council at the Final 6, where it looks like Amanda Kimmel is going to be knocked out. However, she surprises the entire tribe by busting out a hidden immunity idol and protecting herself. Only her BFF Parvati Shallow stands by her side, their two votes sending Alexis Jones out of the game and putting Erik in the group who voted against Amanda.
Up until that point, Erik and Amanda had had a pretty good relationship in the game, but now Erik is in the doghouse with Amanda after writing her name down. This development is important because it’s representative of Erik’s play across the entire episode, ping-ponging between the four women, desperate for their approval as he tries to strengthen his position heading into the end-game.
Erik tries to make things up with Amanda by promising to take her on the reward, except there’s one major problem: he already promised his other good friend Natalie Bolton the same thing. It’s safe to say that things would be pretty hairy for Erik if he were to win the next Reward challenge. And so, what happens? Of course, Erik ends up winning the challenge (besting the ladies in Survivor trivia and cementing his superfan status).
When faced with the decision of who to take with him on the reward, Erik selects Amanda, sending a furious Natalie back to camp. Erik immediately recognizes that he screwed up with Natalie but tries to focus on his upcoming one-on-one time with Amanda, hoping that he’ll be able to smooth things over with Natalie upon his return to camp.
Unfortunately for him, Natalie is left back at camp with Cirie Fields, who spends the afternoon stoking Natalie’s anger towards Erik. And it works; when Erik gets back to camp, Natalie listens to his apologies but is not convinced by him whatsoever. Natalie even shares notes with Amanda, making both of them even angrier that Erik had been telling them the same thing. After that little gabfest, the mission becomes clearer than ever: Erik had to go, and the only way to do that was to win Immunity.
Fast forward to the Immunity challenge, and Erik does it once again, winning his third individual Immunity in a row. With Erik now protected from the vote, the four women return to camp completely dejected as they start coming to grips with the fact that one of them had to be sent home. They sit on the beach and reveal all of the Erik shenanigans to Parvati, who had been away at Exile Island.
Parvati laments, declaring, “That sucks that he won Immunity. If he didn’t have that necklace, he’d be gone.” A beat passes, and then Cirie offers up one of the most devious suggestions ever put forth in Survivor: “I wonder if he would give Nat his necklace.” This idea is met with a variety of reactions. Parvati and Amanda are excited by the possibility, goading Natalie to give it a try. Natalie is much more skeptical, openly dismissing the idea because of the sheer lunacy involved.
The girls are persistent, however, as they lay out all the intricacies of the plan. By giving up Immunity, they argue, Erik would redeem himself in their eyes and, more importantly, the eyes of the jury, who will be making the ultimate decision on the winner. Natalie eventually succumbs to the preposterous idea, and the wheels are in motion for one of the most incredible stretches of Survivor ever produced.
Natalie approaches Erik and starts spinning her web, telling him that he needs to give her the Immunity necklace to score some major brownie points with the jury. Erik is immediately dubious of this proposition, but Natalie continues to stress how good this would look in front of the jury. With Natalie’s words running through his head, Erik decides to do something he really shouldn’t have done—he goes and talks with Cirie.
Proving her phenomenal skill for the game, Cirie spins her part of the web flawlessly, echoing Natalie’s statements as Erik chews on the idea more and more. If there’s any doubt just how hard and deviously these Black Widows work to make Erik do the unthinkable, Cirie lays it to rest in a brilliant confessional. “If Erik takes that necklace off tonight, his torch would be snuffed so quick, I don’t even think he could have time to blink his eyes,” she says.
Erik spends his last few hours before Tribal Council pacing up and down the beach, the idea of giving up the Immunity necklace consuming more and more of his thoughts. This leaves the audience on the edge of their seats as we wait to see if Erik would really be that foolish to fall for the Black Widow’s scheme.
That night at Tribal, the women keep up their excellent charade, berating Erik about how badly he had burned all of their trust and reiterating the one thing he could do that could earn some of that trust back. By this point, Erik is thoroughly trapped in their web, admitting to his mistakes and desire to make amends at Tribal. When the time comes for Jeff Probst to ask the all-important question, Erik makes a jaw-dropping decision.
“Um, Jeff,” Erik stutters. “This is a very tough decision for me, for a lot of reasons. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last couple of days, and I know that actions speak louder than words.” There is a sense of tension building as it dawns on the jury members and the audience what Erik is about to do. “I wanna give individual immunity to Natalie,” he states.
As Erik removes the necklace and hands it to Natalie, expressions of utter shock spread to the players and the jury members alike, and with good reason. Erik’s decision is shocking, and the show treats it with the reverence it deserves. For the only time in Survivor history, all of the voting confessionals are shown, leaving little doubt about how momentous this Tribal is.
While the women deliver their savage voting comments, Erik sits with his fingers crossed and a worried expression on his face, knowing that he may have just committed the biggest blunder this game has ever seen. And, ultimately, his fears are proven right. Erik is voted out, leaving the Black Widows with the perfect parting words of “You guys drive me crazy” as they break into smiles and laughter.
To his credit, Erik is very positive in his final words, expressing gratitude for his experience and illustrating why this moment works so well. In a season dubbed Fans vs. Favorites, Erik was the ultimate fan, a young kid whose exuberance for Survivor was infectious. While it’s easy for somebody at home to laugh or shake their head, the fact that Erik can suffer such a humiliating fate and come out the other side with a smile on his face should make viewers smile as well.
Erik may have made one of the worst mistakes ever; he also created one of the most iconic moments in the history of Survivor, and that is an honor not many other fans can claim.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 3. You can check out the previous entries here.