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: “It’s Funny When People Cry” (Episode 10)
Originally Aired: April 23, 2009
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I’ve highly regarded Survivor: Tocantins in the past for its exceptional gameplay and entertaining characters through the pre-and-post-merge. With big characters like Tyson Apostol, James “JT” Thomas, Taj Johnson-George, and Stephen Fischbach, plus arguably the most entertaining man to ever grace Survivor, Coach Benjamin Wade, the season was built for success from the very start.
By the tenth episode, Tyson, here more immature than his future appearances, feels like a king. In the previous episode, Tyson and his closest ally, Coach, blindsided their former tribemate Brendan Synott in favor of working with JT and Stephen. In true Tyson fashion, his immediate response upon returning to camp is to ridicule the outsiders, most notably his nemesis Sierra Reed. In confessional, he says that he “enjoys seeing Sierra scramble and mope” and that “at least her parents probably love her.” With this confessional, plus the “It’s Funny When People Cry” episode title, it’s almost written into foreshadowing law that a great dose of irony must be on its way.
Things continue to go Tyson’s way early in the episode as he helps his team dominate the Reward challenge. The winning team sends Stephen to Exile (because they don’t want Sierra going and finding a new idol) before heading to a local village for a feast and demonstration of Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art that mixes dance and music). On a side note, it’s rewards like these, that show off the country’s culture, that I miss about old Survivor. Fiji is excellent, but the rotating array of places from Palau to Gabon to China to here in the Tocantins is an element I believe is severely missing in the newer seasons.
Exile itself also shows off the power of the location. Stephen finds out there is no re-planted idol, making his Exile visit essentially worthless. But it’s worth looking up pictures from this episode just to marvel at how stunning this Exile location is. Of all the places Survivor has been, I believe this is one of the most underrated masterpieces of scenery. The vast and desolate sand dunes truly emphasize the loneliness and mental stress Exile is supposed to bring out of its inhabitants. I can’t imagine having to be there, but watching it is so eye-catching.
Back at camp, Sierra argues with Debbie Beebe about the concept of loyalty. The edit has great fun as it highlights Sierra’s plight, making us believe there is surely no way out for her. No matter who she talks to, everyone shuts her down, and soon, she breaks down, crying and pleading with Coach to keep her around. However, Coach knocks her back, telling her “death before dishonor,” basically saying Sierra should accept her fate and fall on her sword. But Sierra still fights, telling Coach she won’t back down, and it’s here when you start to feel for Sierra and how she’s been outcasted and mistreated merely because she chose to align with Brendan.
The shuffleboard Immunity challenge in this episode is a doozy, as it makes you think that Sierra has a chance to do the impossible. Coach, Stephen, and JT show their confidence by choosing to sit out of the challenge to eat, increasing Sierra’s odds of winning. Then, in the pouring, freezing rain, Sierra knocks Tyson’s puck off the board (god the symbolism), making it seem like she truly has a chance to pull off the underdog victory. But her hopes are shattered when Debbie knocks Sierra’s puck out of position, winning Immunity and reaffirming with the tribe that Sierra is on her way out.
But back at camp, a new plan suddenly emerges. Erinn Lobdell, who has had her own run-ins with Coach and Tyson, suggests to Stephen and Taj that this could be the perfect time to blindside Tyson. After all, they might not get many more chances to take a shot at the perceived biggest challenge threat. Stephen agrees that they should make the best move when they’re “freaking playing for a million dollars” and convinces JT to go against the “Warrior” alliance. This illustrates Stephen’s strategic skill and persuasion that was severely under-credited at the time, at least by his fellow castmates.
Tribal Council beautifully sets up Tyson’s downfall as he says that he loves EVERYONE on the tribe except Sierra. There is villainous banter, comedic one-liners, and the classic Tyson ego all on display as he prepares to say goodbye to his arch-rival. But when the votes come in, it’s 5 votes Tyson, 3 votes Sierra. And the faces… the faces are exceptional! Tyson is shocked, Sierra, who had no idea the vote had flipped, cries with happiness, and JT and Stephen share a look that says, “We completely control this game.” It’s pure Tribal perfection.
“It’s Funny When People Cry” shows off the gems of Tocantins: Coach serenading viewers with his warrior meditation, Jeff Probst making fun of Coach’s “life experience,” Tyson hoping that “Sierra will cry a lot at Tribal.” But it’s Tyson’s last words, “Now I know how Brendan feels,” that puts it over the edge for me. Big moves are great in Survivor; they’re entertaining; they’re fun; they keep us engaged. But hey, if you ever get on there and want to dish out some blindsides, make sure you can take them.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 69. You can check out the previous entries here.