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: Kaoh Rong
Episode: “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” (Episode 4)
Broadcast Date: March 9, 2016
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Survivor: Kaoh Rong is an absolutely brutal season. That’s basically all you need to know going into this episode because it’s all about how miserable Survivor can be for its players. While “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered” is polarizing due to its bizarre nature (and perhaps avoidable situation), it’s more than deserving of a spot on the Best Episodes countdown because it’s so unique.
Physical injuries, health check-ups, and medical evacuations are nothing new for Survivor. The dangers of this game have been apparent ever since Michael Skupin fell into the fire back in The Australian Outback. But what was new for the show during this episode was the Cambodian dry season, an oppressive climate, unlike anything the show had faced in years. In the span of mere minutes, what should be a simple Reward challenge for spices and coffee turns into a life-or-death situation.
This challenge and the subsequent medical emergencies take up 25-minutes of the episode’s 43-minute run-time, culminating in the tear-jerking evacuation of Caleb Reynolds. The former Big Brother star’s body gives out, and production is forced to pull the curtain back, allowing their entire crew to assist on screen. As Caleb’s condition worsens, the call is made to remove him despite his silent pleading to stay in the game. The show pulls out its musical chops to make the scene hit every emotional note it needs to in order to sell the devastation. It’s scary, upsetting, and real television.
While Caleb’s tragic exit is the heart of the episode, we shouldn’t ignore the struggles of Debbie Wanner and Cydney Gillon. After 45-minutes of digging in scorching sand, both women are severely dehydrated to the point of heatstroke, which Debbie self-diagnoses thanks to her military training in a moment where her constantly changing job titles prove useful. While Debbie recovers before the challenge is over, Cydney’s condition worsens, requiring more assistance from the crew as tribemate Kyle Jason watches over her as if he’s back on the battlefield in the middle of war. It’s a rare moment where the game ceases to exist and the best of humanity comes out, even from the villains we’re supposed to root against.
But we’re not done. There’s still an Immunity challenge and Tribal Council to get to, and both are just as unique as the first 25-minutes of the episode. As the Brawn tribe continues to implode with personal drama and another messy challenge loss, the writing is on the wall. Jason, Cydney, and Scot Pollard are on the same page: tribe pariah Alecia Holden is going home if they lose. As Jason says in the title quote, “Tribal Council is signed, sealed, and delivered.” Jeff Probst even offers to conduct the vote-off on the spot post-challenge if the tribe unanimously agrees to it. However, Alecia is a fighter and sternly tells Jeff there is no way she’s going along with that.
Despite Alecia’s fighting spirit, all she does is delay the inevitable. The result is so obvious that no time is wasted with post-challenge camp life. The episode cuts straight to Tribal Council, where Jeff wraps up the discussion in a couple of minutes, and Alecia is eliminated, ending an impressive if divisive underdog run.
Clearly, this episode isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve seen it lauded as the best of the season and panned as the worst for years. If you watch for the gameplay, there’s basically nothing to see here, and you might even be tempted to skip it on a re-watch. But if you watch for the emotions, the characters, the location, the survival, or even the great music (all part of Survivor‘s original foundation), this episode has so much unique content to offer.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 85. You can check out the previous entries here.