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.
Season: Cook Islands
Episode: “Why Would You Trust Me?” (Episode 11)
Original Air Date: November 23, 2006
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Survivor: Cook Islands is a somewhat polarizing season, with fans on both sides of the aisle heaping praise and/or ridicule. There’s no question, though, that the merge episode is the best of the season, and not just by Cook Islands standards; it’s a legitimately great episode of Survivor that still holds up today.
Like many of the best Survivor episodes, this one centers around a big decision that could have massive ramifications on the trajectory of the game. However, what makes this one so special is the way the players involved speak so candidly and intelligently—to both each other and the viewers at home. The decision-making process is broken down into all its intricacies, and it makes for fascinating television.
It had been a rough few days for Jonathan Penner. After making the hasty decision to mutiny to the other tribe to reunite with some old allies and being unceremoniously welcomed upon arrival, he quickly knew he was in deep trouble. Luckily, bigger targets presented themselves, and Penner managed to squeak by the next three votes, advancing himself to the merge. However, that respite doesn’t last for long as an old ally is about to come knocking on his door.
The difficult choice Penner is faced with is sticking with all of the young kids he joined up with at the mutiny or flipping back to the older, more mature crowd that he abandoned only days earlier. To make matters worse, the young Raro kids are off getting faded and showing no concern for Penner as a trusted ally. This only serves to complicate Penner’s decision as he wonders how to best move forward for the sake of his own game.
Raro is truly obnoxious in this episode: joking about making Penner do all the work, failing to make fire or collect water, flirting with each other, and lazing around all day like a bunch of students that decided to skip lectures. There is also an overly-long scene of Candice Cody (formerly Woodcock) smooching with Adam Gentry in the woods with odd, creepy music accompaniment. If it wasn’t already clear before now, the edit definitely wants us to root against the Raro tribe.
While all this buffoonery is happening, it gives Yul Kwon the chance to make a pitch on behalf of the Aitus for him and Penner to realign. Yul makes his pitch by first revealing that he has the hidden immunity idol. This is the old-school idol, meaning Yul can play it after the vote and cause it to blowback on anyone from Raro, including Penner. This is where the brilliant Yul/Penner dynamic comes into play.
Both guys discuss the vote in the most respectful and rational way possible. Even though there is the thinly veiled threat from Yul to force Penner to either jump ship or be sent home by way of the idol, there is no arguing or dramatics. These are two very smart, well-spoken players who clearly understand the game’s complexity, and it is a joy to hear them converse.
In an earlier entry, we talked about the Ian Rosenberger and Tom Westman strategy chat in “We’ll Make You Pay” and how compelling it was. In that scenario, it was two close allies plotting how to best move forward at a sticky point in the game. Here, we have two former allies-turned-enemies putting differences aside to decide how to approach the next vote, and it’s equally as engrossing. Seriously, this episode could earn its placement on the countdown almost due to this conversation alone.
This episode also features the superb “Get A Grip” challenge, where players have to hang on to a large totem pole for as long as possible. There’s a funny moment where Penner talks about how it’s a harder challenge for him due to his larger feet, which Jeff Probst scoffs at. That’s until Yul comes to Penner’s defense and explains why he’s correct. “It’s kind of like why elephants can’t run up trees,” Yul says. Take that, Jeff!
Penner’s feet fail him, as he does not win Immunity; instead, Ozzy Lusth picks up his first of five individual Immunity necklaces. So, Penner is back to mulling over his decision, even if he knows deep down that he really has no choice. As soon as Yul flashed that idol, it basically forced Penner to flip. Still, it’s a tough thing to have to do, as Penner knows he’ll be a “bastard” whichever way he swings.
In an attempt to soften the blow, Penner approaches his young Raro teammates to gauge whether they think Yul has the idol or not. If that possibility is out there, it could change up the plans or at least provide some justification for the impending flip. Yet, to Penner’s dismay, all of the Raros are convinced that Yul doesn’t have the idol.
The Raros ignorance is the Aitus gain, as, ultimately, Penner chooses to save his ass by flipping and voting with the Aitus, sending an unsuspecting Nate Gonzalez to the jury. This effectively completes the Aitu comeback story, ends the chances of the Raros, sets up Yul for his eventual victory, and establishes Penner as one of the greatest confessional narrators in Survivor history.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 39. You can check out the previous entries here.