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: “We’ll Make You Pay” (Episode 12)
Original Air Date: May 5, 2005
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Tom Westman and Ian Rosenberger made for a formidable duo and had essentially been running the game of Survivor: Palau from the very start. Their path to the end seemed clear-cut. But now, here at the Final 6, Tom and Ian are starting to get nervous, and it all stems from some eyebrow-raising decisions at an infamous Reward challenge.
In a variation on the classic Coconut Chop challenge, a game famous for revealing the power structure of a tribe, Gregg Carey wins a luxury yacht trip and chooses to bring Jenn Lyon and Katie Gallagher along with him. The first choice comes as no surprise to anyone, as Jenn had been Gregg’s island girlfriend from early on (he was at the stage of asking for her permission!). But it’s the Katie pick that sets off the alarm bells ringing in Tom and Ian’s heads.
Katie had been riding closely with Tom and Ian throughout the majority of the game. They looked at her as a loyal number in their alliance. But after helping get them chopped out of the challenge and being buddy enough with Gregg to be selected to go on the reward, Tom and Ian become gravely concerned about their positions in the game. Is Katie more loyal to Gregg and Jenn than she is Ian and Tom? That is the big question.
It doesn’t help matters that the reward itself is a constant conveyor belt of awesomeness. Not only do Gregg and co get to spend time on a luxury yacht—sipping champagne and strutting around in bathrobes like Hugh Hefner—but they receive massages, a feast, and a visit from their loved ones. And, as if that isn’t enough, it’s all topped off with an opportunity to swim with dolphins. If Tom and Ian weren’t jealous before, they certainly had a right to be now.
When the reward goers arrive back at camp, it’s actually Ian who has the “Oh s***!” moment first, and he straight up tells Tom, “we have lost control of the game.” He calmly explains to Tom how they have lost Katie. It’s an impulse from Ian that should be applauded by itself, as not many players have the awareness to see the game slipping through their fingers. But it’s Tom’s reaction that kicks this episode into another gear when he turns to Ian and asserts that Gregg has to go next.
Sounds like the makings of a great blindside, right? There’s just one problem: the possibility of a tie. This is what makes the episode so compelling. It’s a nice contrast to South Pacific‘s “Double Agent,” which we saw earlier in the countdown. “Double Agent” focuses on the potential flipper, underdog John Cochran; this episode puts us in the shoes of Ian and Tom, the power players who are forcing someone to flip (or draw rocks). It’s a brilliant insight into the thought process behind creating a tie-vote scenario.
With Katie defecting to Gregg and Jenn, that would put their three votes against Tom, Ian, and Caryn Groedel (who Ian & Tom convince in joining them to blindside Gregg). That means a potential rock draw looms ominously overhead. This leads to the episode’s best scene, as Tom and Ian sit at the Koror picnic table and discuss their next move. It’s like two war generals strategizing their battle plans, trying to devise a counterattack after being outmaneuvered by the enemy.
Tom and Ian talk through all the options, and, in the end, they decide to risk it all in hopes of winning the war. They decide that their best move is to charge full steam ahead into the front-lines and force a rock draw. Sure, it could backfire, but it could also give them the advantage needed to make it to the end of the game and have a chance at the million. Their willingness to make the big play is what makes Tom & Ian such a badass Survivor duo.
It also gives a chance for self-described “great actress” Caryn to show off her acting abilities. She takes on the role of downbeat, ready-to-go-home loser—a part she was born to play. Obviously, “Caryn sucks” when it comes to forming a women’s alliance. But, when it comes to pulling the wool over Gregg’s eyes, she is Academy Award nominee worthy, as Ian puts it. Each stage of this plan is plotted to perfection, as Gregg never sees that the tide is turning against him.
This cloak and dagger scheme also provides Tom and Ian the element of surprise, which they employ right before the vote. Ian goes to Katie and transforms from war general to mafia boss, telling her that he and Tom are forcing a tie. Not only does this strike fear in Katie, but it puts the decision to go to rocks or not solely in her hands. Ian & Tom are willing to risk it all, but is she? It’s one last great move from Ian before he crashes and burns in the episodes to come.
Ian’s last-minute move ultimately works. Katie does not want to risk going home in a rock draw, and so, she sides with Tom, Ian, and Caryn, sending a shocked Gregg out of the game. Tom and Ian demonstrate how to act cool under pressure, masterfully sidestepping the guillotine and placing Gregg’s head in there instead. It’s some fantastic gameplay and sets up the endgame of Palau as one of the best endings to any season.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 44. You can check out the previous entries here.