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: Heroes vs. Villains
Episode: “Banana Etiquette” (Episode 6)
Original Air Date: March 18, 2010
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To be considered one of the best of the best episodes of Survivor ever, it can’t just be memorable. It has to be unforgettable—an episode where the viewer can recall the exact time and place they watched. All of these Top 10 episodes left the people at home feeling some jaw-on-the-floor incredulity, whether positive or negative, leaving the audience reeling, knowing that they just witnessed an incredible hour of television.
Few moments in Survivor history inspire eye-popping shock and awe more than Tyson Apostol essentially voting himself out in episode six of Heroes vs. Villains. It’s certainly one of the craziest and unlikeliest results ever. Russell Hantz‘s ultimate Hail Mary shouldn’t work. It’s not even clear he thinks it will work going into it. But it does. This one move changes the course of the entire game, perhaps more than any other single move in any season before or since.
However, it’s not just the thrilling Tribal Council that pushes this episode into the Top 10, though it certainly plays a significant part. But the Tribal Council is just the icing on top of the incredibly delicious cake that is “Banana Etiquette.” There’s so much other great stuff across the hour that makes this episode truly one of the best the show has ever produced.
One of the first scenes occurs early morning at the Villains camp, where Russell and “Boston” Rob Mariano have a pre-dawn chat. At this point, Russell has been fed up with Rob for a while and is champing at the bit to take a shot at him. Russell sees Rob as the big player of the tribe that he needs to take down to become the top dog at camp. On the flip side, Rob sees Russell as a tribe nuisance, albeit a sneaky nuisance that should be dealt with soon.
The whole exchange plays out like two rival cowboys meeting for one last time before their duel to the death at sundown. Rob and Russell stare each other down, each telling the other to “watch your back.” Both men are confident that they’re going to come out on top. “I don’t care how strong he is, I don’t care who he is, he’s threatening Russell Hantz. When you do that, you go,” Russell says in a confessional.
Meanwhile, Rob explains that “Russell’s gonna find out soon enough that he’s out of his league. I just did everything I could to make him more paranoid as I could, just so he runs around like a crazy man.” The showdown between these two Survivor titans is coming in this episode, and this scene does a fantastic job of bracing the audience for that epic battle.
Meanwhile, the Heroes tribe is suffering through their own personal turmoil. Having lost four out of the first five Immunity challenges, morale is at an all-time low, best exemplified by the tribe’s resident Mopey McMoperson, Colby Donaldson. His best friend, Tom Westman, was voted out at the previous Tribal Council, and now he’s convinced that he’s the next to go, a fate he’s seemingly willing to accept.
The only thing stopping Colby’s torch from being snuffed is James Clement, who injured his leg in the previous episode and has been walking around in a leg brace ever since. James and Colby’s usefulness to the tribe comes to a head at the Immunity challenge, where it’s revealed that both tribes will go to Tribal. While the challenge is an individual competition, it still becomes relevant as James performs better than Colby, leading the Heroes to ask, is an injured James worth keeping over a healthy Colby?
Another issue putting James in jeopardy is his lack of “banana etiquette.” It’s been established during James’ time on Survivor that he eats a lot. It should come as no surprise—he’s a big muscly dude, and big muscly dudes need a lot of calories. Therefore, James eats a lot of bananas, much to the tribe’s chagrin, and they think that James should reign in his banana consumption. His friend Amanda Kimmel tries to explain the problem to him, but James just isn’t having it, laughing off the whole idea as ridiculous.
Equally ridiculous is the fact that the tribe makes James run in a foot race against James “JT” Thomas, just to prove his physical capability. While James doesn’t beat JT, he comes kind of close, which shows more desire to stay in the game than Colby, who’s spent the entire day silently sitting by himself in the water looking sad.
Rupert Boneham best sums up the Heroes’ situation by saying, “Who do we keep? James, who is fighting to stay in the game, or Colby, who is ready to walk out? I don’t want to see James go; James is 100% an ally on my side. Colby is not. James is a fighter. Colby is not. James is POWER. Colby is not.”
At the Villains tribe, the strategic action is ramping up. Rob wins the Immunity necklace, giving himself some security as he mobilizes his forces against Russell. Luckily, Rob has more numbers at his command, having six people to Russell’s three. It’s widely suspected that Russell has an idol, so Rob gives him one last chance to fess up. Although he does have one, Russell denies it, which prompts Rob to say the words that rankle Russell like no other, “It’s better to play with me than against me.”
Russell goes to Parvati Shallow and Danielle DiLorenzo and declares his intention of handing his idol over to Parvati, thinking it’s his best bet to foil Rob’s plan. He’s right, at least initially; Rob gathers his troops and instructs them to all vote Parvati while hoping to force the idol out of Russell’s hands. However, after mulling it over, Rob is struck by a bit of “plan voodoo” inspiration and tells his alliance to split the vote.
By putting three votes on Russell and three on Parvati, it’s a foolproof way for Rob’s group to come out on top. It wouldn’t matter who Russell played the idol on because they could just vote out the other person at the tie-break. Unfortunately for Rob, Russell realizes this play too, so he tries one last effort to shake things up by pulling Rob’s main ally Tyson to the side and telling him that he’ll be voting for Parvati and that he should too.
With that final Russell seed in bloom, the Villains head to Tribal for one of the most incredible blindsides ever. Throughout this whole Tribal, the audience is left wondering whether Russell can pull off another miracle. After coming off an improbable run to the end of the previous season, fans knew better than to count out Russell when there’s a big move to be made. But this situation seemed impossible to overcome even for Russell; there was no way to overcome the split vote plan.
When Russell hands the idol over to Jeff Probst, declaring its use for Parvati, it seems like Russell is making his last grand gesture in Survivor. Rob shakes his head, thinking that the guy just signed his own death warrant. The first two Russell votes come in, and everything is going according to plan. Then, one, two, three… four (!) Parvati votes, all nullified. Then comes three Tyson votes, sending him out of the game and leaving all of the Villains, even Russell, as well as the entire viewing audience, shocked and confused at what just took place.
This vote stands as one of the most difficult to comprehend moves ever, as it’s tough to determine who really should receive the credit. Did Russell really get into Tyson’s head and convince him to flip his vote, or did Tyson not believe Russell all along and thought he’d be safe flipping his vote to Parvati anyway? Either way, it’s another huge moment in the Russell Hantz legacy, adding more fuel to his fans’ clamor of declaring him one of the best to ever play.
The Heroes’ Tribal council immediately afterward serves as a nice palette cleanser after the insanity of the last vote and is made even better by a still shellshocked Villains tribe eating hotdogs off to the side. While there is some tension here, the vote is a lot more straightforward than what we’d just witnessed with the chaotic Villains.
James chides Colby for not giving it his all in the game, giving him the now-famous moniker of “Superman in a fat suit.” He also voices his dissent on banana etiquette, delivering the hilarious line of “In my world, if your ass is hungry, you go get a banana.” Alas, this is not enough for James to stay, as he’s voted out by the Heroes, ending one of the craziest, most unpredictable, and simply enjoyable episodes in Survivor history.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 4. You can check out the previous entries here.