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: Game Changers
Episode: “The Tables Have Turned” (Episode 4)
Originally Aired: March 22, 2017
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“The Tables Have Turned” is an episode that makes this list almost solely for its chaotic Tribal Council. As an overall episode, it’s not exactly the most nuanced and well-told in terms of story, which could be said for Game Changers as a whole. The first 20-minutes is crammed with two challenges and a nondescript check-in with the Tavua tribe. The remainder of the episode is dedicated to the 2-Tribes-1-Tribal twist, which, while controversial, certainly delivers drama. It’s Survivor‘s equivalent to a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, low on plot but spectacular in action.
Whether you are a fan of the twist or not, there is no denying it makes for riveting television. From the moment Jeff Probst drops the bombshell on the Mana and Nuku tribes—that they’d both be attending Tribal at the same time but voting out just one person—everything that follows is unmissable. Without the chance to cross-communicate, both tribes return to their respective camps and begin formulating a mode of attack. Who do they target? How do they plan for things like idols? It’s a complete shot in the dark, and anyone could be caught in the crossfire.
Initially, both tribes realize it’s the perfect opportunity to take out a big threat. The Nuka tribe, led by two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, believes that targeting Sierra Dawn Thomas makes the most sense. Sierra is a physical threat that could be dangerous down the line. Everyone seems to be on board, though James “JT” Thomas is still secretly hoping he can use the chance to take out Sandra. Meanwhile, the Mana tribe aims its focus on Nuku’s two most prominent players, Malcolm Freberg and Sandra, with Sierra suggesting it would be stupid to pass up the chance to take out Malcolm.
There is more pressure on the Mana tribe, as they’re outnumbered 6-5, but their luck changes when Tai Trang finds an idol seemingly minutes before Tribal. And things only get crazier from there.
What starts as a tense Tribal stand-off suddenly goes wild when JT crosses the threshold and starts whispering in Brad Culpepper‘s ear. While Tribal whispering is now a frustrating trend, this was the first time it happened and certainly made for thrilling television. After JT’s bold move, everyone starts getting in on the action, huddling in corners, shoving eavesdroppers out of the way, and strategizing in hushed tones. At one point, Hali Ford even refuses to give her consent to allow the vote to happen.
This utter chaos ends with JT telling Brad to vote for Sandra, hoping it would save himself and Malcolm while keeping in the good graces of his old tribemates. That’s not what happens, though. Despite Hali’s valiant effort to flip the vote on Brad, the Nuku’s put all their votes on Sierra, which backfires when Tai plays his idol on her. Meanwhile, the Mana tribe votes come down on Malcolm, the one person who had mostly remained quiet through all the madness. It’s a shocking moment when that first Malcolm vote is revealed as the audience is primed for it to be Sandra (including Sandra herself).
Would I like to see this twist every season? No. It removes a lot of the social play and strategy out of the game and turns it into a crapshoot. It also ends up removing a fan-favorite who never really had the chance to save himself. However, as a one-off, there is no denying that it turned what could have been a humdrum episode into sensational, nail-biting drama.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 65. You can check out the previous entries here.