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: San Juan Del Sur
Episode: “This Is My Time” (Episode 14)
Originally Aired: December 17, 2014
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Historically, Survivor finales can be very hit or miss. Some of them are electrifying and keep the audience on their toes until the final jury votes are read. Others can be a soul-sucking slog to a predictable finish. Luckily, the finale of Survivor: San Juan del Sur is one of the best finishes to a season ever.
San Juan del Sur is an interesting season for multiple reasons, one of them being the way it is edited. For the pre-merge, Jeremy Collins and Josh Canfield are set up as the two most important players, with most viewers expecting one of them to take home the win. However, in a shocking turn, both men are taken out back-to-back at the start of the merge. Jeremy’s elimination is also a blindside of Natalie Anderson, his closest ally, and so begins her story of avenging Jeremy.
The editors do an excellent job of telling Natalie’s story. It is full of great moments (many of which are in the finale) while still playing second fiddle to other power players throughout the season in a way that shields her. Before you know it, Natalie is in the Final 5 with an idol and a lot of game moves on her resume. She’s in a prime position to win, and while the audience starts to realize it, the other players have yet to. It becomes so obvious that Natalie is leagues above the other players, and you can’t help but root for her to pull this off. Natalie is basically John Wick, and we all forgot.
This episode opens after the Jon Misch vote-out, and Jon’s girlfriend, Jaclyn Schultz, is not happy and is feeling very alone. Jaclyn’s anger is good in Natalie’s opinion; it will prevent people from wanting to work with her. Natalie’s entire endgame is about pitting her castmates against each other and keeping the lie going long enough for her to make the Final 3. And it’s working perfectly, with Baylor Wilson and Missy Payne wanting to take Natalie to the end with them. The only potential problem standing in Natalie’s way comes in the form of one Keith Nale.
Keith might not be the greatest strategist, but he has a likability factor that could earn him plenty of jury votes. Plus, he’s nifty in challenges, and he proves that here when he wins the Reward challenge, earning himself an advantage that allows him to practice before the next Immunity challenge. Keith practices for a long time and blows the others out of the water at the challenge, securing another win and solidifying himself as a serious endgame threat.
With Keith immune, everyone seems to think that Jaclyn is going home, including Jaclyn herself. She doesn’t want to give up, though, and promises Natalie that she will take her to the end if she stays. At the same time, Natalie is nervous about the Missy and Baylor bond due to them being the last pair in the game. Baylor asks Natalie to play her idol for Missy in an all-time bratty moment, but Natalie wants to make big moves, even though she’s a little nervous that it could shoot up her threat level.
Ultimately, Natalie pulls off one of the most badass moves in Survivor history. When they go to vote, Jaclyn tells us in her voting confessional that she is following Natalie’s plan. Before Jeff Probst reads the votes, Natalie gets up and asks the now-iconic question, “Jaclyn, did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” Jaclyn tells her “yes,” and Natalie then plays her idol on Jaclyn. Missy is certain it’s her going home, but it turns out to be Baylor, who gets incredibly angry when she realizes it.
Despite having voted off her daughter, Natalie is able to keep Missy on her side, explaining it as just a game move. All Natalie has to do is survive one more vote to make the Final 3, and she plans to keep hyping up Keith as the biggest jury threat. That said, things could all fall apart if Keith wins Immunity again. The final challenge is extremely tense. Natalie and Keith are neck-and-neck throughout, only for Jaclyn to come from behind and emerge victorious, sealing Keith’s fate as he becomes the season’s final elimination.
The Final Tribal itself has a few stand-out moments. In general, Missy is disliked by the jury, Jaclyn is viewed as being in Jon’s shadow, and Natalie seems to be the clear favorite. I don’t think Jaclyn gets as much credit as she deserves here, but she struggles to outline how her decisions impacted the game. Of course, Jeremy stumps for Natalie, saying that “Nat balled out,” and he asks the jury to vote for her. Natalie has a huge grin on her face as Jeremy delivers his speech; it’s a great moment and a nice conclusion to the Natalie & Jeremy arc.
But perhaps the moment most will remember from this Final Tribal is Reed Kelly‘s “Wicked Stepmother” speech. While many moments in reality TV have gotten worse with time, I would argue that this one has gained better fan reception over the years. Reed’s speech may have seemed a little harsh to some seven years ago, but it has aged well with the modern political climate. Baylor crying about Reed tearing into her mom is a melodramatic finish to the season, and I love every second of it. My sister and I have been quoting her “sstahp!” to Keith for years now.
Natalie wins the game in a 5-2-1 vote, though she surely would have had more votes had this not being a Blood vs. Water season. Jon was always voting for Jaclyn and Baylor was always voting for Missy. Plus, in an all-time petty move, Reed votes for Jaclyn just so Missy doesn’t tie for second place. Regardless, Natalie’s victory is a feel-good moment and is the perfect ending to cap off a brilliant finale to a slow-burn of a season.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 60. You can check out the previous entries here.