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: “Smoking Out the Snake” (Episode 9)
Original Air Date: December 6, 2001
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Some of the best Survivor episodes are a study of one specific player, their motivations, decisions, and flaws on full display for the audience to see. This is certainly the case in this episode of Survivor: Africa, as Lex Van den Berghe gets the royal treatment from the editors.
After Clarence Black was sent home in the previous episode, Lex walked away from Tribal Council with two votes—one from Clarence and one from someone else. Lex would like to figure out who, as he graphically tells us, talking about smoking out the snake and cutting its head off. This is juxtaposed with sweet Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper confessing to camera that it was she who voted for Lex so that she could keep her word to Clarence. T-Bird is intelligent, though, and realizes that she should keep that information to herself no matter how sick it makes her feel.
Funnily enough, it seems like T-Bird is one of the only people Lex isn’t suspicious of. The main suspect is Kelly Goldsmith, Lex’s foil throughout the first half of the season. Despite swearing on her family that it wasn’t her, Lex continues to press Kelly about the vote, leading to her calling him a jerk and other insults in confessional. While Lex talks about how this stray vote could grow like a cancer in the tribe, Kelly grows more frustrated with Lex throughout the episode.
However, Lex’s manhunt is put on hold for one of the most memorable rewards in Survivor history. Ethan Zohn, who wins the Reward challenge, gets to take two goats to a local village and barter with the citizens for items he can bring back to camp. Smartly, Ethan decides to take extra items from camp (hats, sunglasses, etc.) to trade for food. When Jeff Probst comes to grab Ethan to take him on the trip, he tells him he can choose another person to bring with him. Of course, Ethan chooses the man of the hour, Lex.
The trip to the village is very funny and truly a hallmark of classic Survivor. The game is put on pause for a moment to soak in the location’s scenery and culture. Ethan and Lex have no idea what to do and end up trading the goats to a man—who immediately sells the goats to a nearby butcher in a moment of great unintentional humor. Other highlights include Lex being worried about eating cat meat, Ethan’s french fries sending him to the bathroom rather quickly, and Ethan playing hacky sack with some local kids. This trip would play a big part in inspiring Ethan’s Grassroots Soccer charity, which he helped co-found with his prize money.
Ethan and Lex return to camp and dish out the goodies to the tribe, with Big Tom Buchanan referring to Ethan as Santa Claus. But the festivities don’t last long before Lex is back on the case of the stray vote. With Lex still suspicious of Kelly, Kim Powers, a member of the underdog alliance, tries to use this to further drive a wedge in the majority. And it seems like Kelly is drifting away from Lex’s alliance and moving over to Kim’s. In another timeline, Kim Powers might have been the winner of this season had this one vote played out differently.
After the Immunity challenge, which Ethan wins, Lex’s paranoia turns up a notch, as he is now vulnerable to be voted out. He essentially pushes Kelly out of the alliance because he’s convinced she’s the snake. But it’s Lex’s own misguided vendetta against Kelly that ends up forcing her to turn against him, as she decides to officially flip to the other alliance and target Lex. It looks like we’re on the verge of Survivor‘s first-ever major vote flip until somehow Lex convinces Brandon Quinton, another member of the minority alliance, to vote against his own best interests.
It all comes to a head at Tribal, highlighted by the fantastic voting confessionals from Lex and Kelly about the other. But despite Lex’s sloppy and emotional gameplay, his talk with Brandon is enough to save himself, as Kelly is eliminated in a 5-4 vote. This tops off a highly entertaining episode that shows how paranoia can provide some of the best Survivor moments.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 51. You can check out the previous entries here.