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: Cook Islands
Episode: “Dire Strengths and Dead Weight” (Episode 2)
Broadcast Date: September 21, 2006
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Cook Islands is a standout season for one thing in particular: its characters. I’ve written previously about this season’s controversies and want to preface this article by condemning the choices producers made to play on racial stereotypes. Despite this, many of the characters we meet in Cook Islands (Parvati Shallow, Ozzy Lusth, Jonathan Penner) become staples of Survivor. Even those who don’t make future appearances are memorable in their own right, and this episode does a great job elucidating these characters alongside innovative gameplay and comedic relief.
The most colorful of all these characters is Cao Boi Bui, from the Puka Puka tribe. Cao Boi, older and more out there than most of his younger tribemates, begins to rub his tribe the wrong way with jokes about ethnic groups, pointing out the satire in the theme. Meanwhile, on the Raro tribe, male egos clash as Penner returns from Exile and demands work from everyone, which annoys Adam Gentry, the classic alpha male. Over on the Aitu tribe, the group bond while chicken catching, all except for Billy Garcia, who opts out to “conserve energy.” This doesn’t sit well with the ultra-competitive Ozzy, who launches a plan with his tribe to throw the next Immunity challenge so they can get rid of the “dead weight.”
Despite offering to sit out, Billy competes in the Immunity challenge, but his fate is already sealed. The producers have an excellent time with shots of Ozzy laughing and smiling as he leads his tribe to complete failure. Throwing challenges comes and goes in Survivor, but the fact that Ozzy convinced his tribe to throw because he was impatient with Billy’s physical abilities shows the grip of the game he had at only 24-years-old and foreshadowed what was to come. But it’s the moment after the challenge that goes down in Survivor history, when Candice Cody mouths, “we love you” in support of Billy. “I love you too,” Billy says back, misinterpreting the situation. But more on that later.
After the challenge, Yul is sent to Exile, where he begins his arc to genius-status, finding the hidden immunity idol with only two clues. The evolution of the hidden immunity idol is a topic that could take up a whole article, but the power of this idol—to be played after the vote and up until the final four—essentially locks Yul’s spot up as a contender to win from episode 2.
Back at Aitu, the plan for Billy seems locked, and he knows it. It’s honestly quite heartbreaking to watch as Billy pleads with Cecilia Mansilla and Cristina Coria to flip and vote for Ozzy instead. But as soon as Tribal starts, it’s clear that Billy’s campaigning was to no avail. However, before his torch is snuffed, Billy makes sure his last moments will be remembered forever. As Jeff Probst tries getting the tribe to admit they threw the challenge, he ends up receiving a very different confession. Out of his singular interaction with Candice, Billy believes he has found love on the island. Billy says that his prize isn’t even the million dollars, “My prize is… I fell in love in this game.”
Probst’s face sells it. It’s one of the most unintentionally funny moments in Survivor history. And it’s purely ridiculous. It’s not strategic. It’s not game-changing. It’s just lighthearted and funny, and it’s strictly old school. New school Survivor would have possibly over-edited this or glazed past it in favor of strategy or a big move, but this is purely character, and it’s why I fell in love with Survivor. Put the most unique people on an island, deprive them of all of society’s comforts, and see what crazy crap they’ll do. It’s entertaining, it’s comedic, and it’s the kind of episode you can rewatch 14 years later and it’ll still make you laugh.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 80. You can check out the previous entries here.