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: “Mutiny” (Episode 9)
Broadcast Date: November 9, 2006
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Survivor fans probably know what happens in this episode just from the title, but fun fact: this isn’t the first time a mutiny was offered to players. It happened in Thailand, Pearl Islands (unaired), and later in Tocantins. The offer was never accepted because who would be so crazy as to swap to the other tribe? To openly betray multiple people at once and hope you’ll still be perceived as trustworthy? Well, it turns out there are contestants crazy enough to mutiny. In fact, there are two, and currently, the only two to ever do so, which is why this episode is not just about a mutiny, but the mutiny.
After the last Tribal Council, the Aitutaki tribe (more commonly referred to as “Aitu”) is officially down to six members, the same number as Rarotonga (otherwise known as “Raro”). Everyone expects a merge now that the teams are even, but they’re still making plans just in case. While Raro is losing trust in tribemate Brad Virata after several slip-ups, the core of Aitu (Jonathan Penner, Yul Kwon, Candice Woodcock, Becky Lee, and Sundra Oakley) is planning to blindside Ozzy Lusth if they lose the next Immunity challenge.
Despite these hang-ups, both tribes have the same mentality about going into the merge—the best way for their tribe to get far is to stick together. In actuality, the truth is much more complicated, because Candice doesn’t want to stick with Aitu. She wants to get back with her original tribemates Parvati Shallow and Adam Gentry, and Jonathan is also considering this route. No matter which way they choose, they know they’ll have to betray one group at some point. This time scheming at camp is really just the calm before the storm.
The storm comes much faster than anyone expected with the titular event of the episode. At the Reward challenge, Jeff Probst announces that the tribes are not merging, but there is an offer for them to consider. Members of both tribes are given a chance to mutiny to the other side. No one takes Jeff up on the proposal initially, and it appears that we’ll have another wasted twist. Then, Candice steps off the mat in the last few seconds, and Jonathan follows right after. The remaining Aitu members are shocked to be left with only four members after such a public betrayal. Ironically, it’s Ozzy, the one who benefits most by Jonathan and Candice not being there, that ominously warns the mutineers that they will meet their fate sooner or later.
Turns out the answer is sooner, because the Aitu foursome wins the Reward challenge by a landslide and chooses to send Candice to Exile Island in a very well-timed and petty fashion. Despite the devasting blow to their numbers, the emotionally-charged reward actually strengthens Aitu’s resolve to stay committed to one another. In retrospect, this scene should be so much more significant to Survivor than a simple bright spot for a group of underdogs. Rather, it’s a glimpse of what’s to come for both Aitu and Cook Islands as a whole.
While Aitu’s off celebrating, the gravity of the mutineers’ decision begins to weigh heavily on everyone else. At Exile, Candice has nothing but time to think about her choice. In her excitement to mutiny, she managed to make four players specifically mad at her. She hadn’t expected Jonathan to mutiny too, and now in a cruel twist of fate, he’s at camp bonding with everyone while she’s effectively out of the game. At Raro, Jonathan works on getting acclimated to his new tribe, with varying degrees of success. He plans to use the time to earn trust by appearing non-threatening and eager to help out, but no one’s really buying the act. Leave it to Nate Gonzalez to explain it best—they all saw Jonathan openly sell out his own tribe; why would they ever trust him?
Raro will have to test their trust in each other much faster than they hoped because Aitu steamrolls through Immunity too. The real question with this vote is whether the tribe feels comfortable with the original six or if they’re pulling the mutineers into the fold. Despite Candice’s delayed reunion with her new tribe, it becomes clear that the vote is between Brad and Jonathan. There are pros and cons to both if the constant wavering between the two is any indication. On the one hand, Jonathan can’t go back to Aitu once the merge hits; he’s stuck with Raro whether he comes to regret it or not. On the other hand, despite his mess-ups, Brad choosing not to mutiny earned him some favor with other players.
Watching this Tribal all these years later is glorious, if only because of how terrible the reads are. Tribe members boast about their plans to pick off Aitu once the merge hits, that they may have lost this challenge, but they’ll win when it counts. Of course, we know now that this is the exact opposite of what actually happens. While Raro couldn’t know what was to come, hearing these bold declarations with full knowledge of the endgame is a whole new viewing experience for more seasoned Survivor fans. Unfortunately for Brad, he shoots himself in the foot when he says he doesn’t trust his tribe as a whole, and it’s unsurprising when he’s voted out 7-1. What is surprising is that Brad is announced as the first member of the jury, alluding to the first-ever Final 3.
Yes, on the surface, this episode is a story of betrayal in its most blatant form. In actuality, it is so much more meaningful than the dramatics it’s remembered for. “Mutiny” is a story of perseverance and resilience in what appears to be a hopeless situation. As we all know now, Yul, Ozzy, Becky, and Sundra stick together throughout the game and finish as the final four of Cook Islands, a result that no one could’ve foreseen. So, while “Mutiny” is certainly memorable for its shock value, this episode should really be commemorated as the origin story of the Aitu Four.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 84. You can check out the previous entries here.