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: “Jury’s Out” (Episode 8)
Original Air Date: April 18, 2002
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It’s the Final 9 in Survivor: Marquesas and things couldn’t be going any better for the alliance of John Carroll, Zoe Zanidakis, Tammy Leitner, and Robert “The General” DeCanio, collectively known as the Rotu 4. Having merged the previous episode, they eliminated the pesky “Boston” Rob Mariano, the biggest thorn in their collective side, and now the rest was smooth sailing.
The alliance had their fifth and sixth votes in Paschal English and Neleh Dennis, both original Rotus, whom they would use to defeat the Maraamu stragglers, Sean Rector and Vecepia Towery, then Rotu outsider Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien. Paschal and Neleh themselves could be disposed of after that. Simple. One of the Rotu 4 was guaranteed to win the season; there was no possible way they could lose. Right?
This Final 9 vote in Marquesas is one of the most critical votes in Survivor history. Up until this point in the show, the gameplay was pretty simple: make an alliance, win enough challenges to enter the merge with numbers, then pick off the other tribe one-by-one. There was potential for some deviation during the Final 9 vote of the previous season, caused by the great Lex van den Berghe witch hunt of 2001, but it never panned out. Here, though, the pieces are in place for a significant change.
Even though nine players are remaining, the Rotu 4 proclaims to be the dominant alliance, marking the other five castaways for execution. They believe that they can get away with it because the people in the group of five are from opposite sides. Kathy, Paschal, and Neleh had never been on a tribe with Sean and Vecepia before the merge, so to the Rotu 4, it doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility that these outsiders will ever band together.
This confidence turns into arrogance, though, as some of the bottom-dwellers start to notice the Rotu 4 parading their power around camp. Kathy, who had always been somewhat of an outsider on the Rotu tribe anyway, becomes increasingly turned off by the foursome’s cockiness. And she realizes that she’ll just be a pawn in the Rotu 4’s endgame if she doesn’t act quickly. Sean and Vecepia sense this and try persuading Kathy to join them in shaking things up. But three isn’t enough.
The problem soon becomes bringing Sean and Vecepia together with Paschal and Neleh, who are very hesitant to align their games with original Maraamu members. For “Pappy” and “Sweet Pea,” everything is as it’s supposed to be. They’re back with their old Rotu friends and are happy to ride out the rest of the game with them, unaware of the fate that John and company have already laid out for them. Their eyes will soon be opened to the reality of the situation.
Side-Note: Before we get there, though, this episode contains the “Go Fly A Kite” Reward challenge where the castaways literally have to… well, fly a kite. The simplicity and mundanity of this challenge compared to the epic scale of modern-day challenges is hilarious. And the fact that nobody is any good at it apart from Kathy just makes it all the better.
Back to the game, and the next Immunity challenge is about to change everything. This is the episode that sees the birth of the infamous Coconut Chop challenge, a future staple of the show. The game seems straightforward enough: everybody answers a trivia question, and if they get it right, they get to chop another player’s rope, with three chops eliminating that person from the challenge. However, what seems like an innocent enough game quickly becomes a look into the politics and hierarchy of the tribe.
One-by-one, the Rotu 4 eliminates everybody not in their group, starting with the ex-Maraamus Sean and Vecepia, then Kathy, and then Paschal and Neleh. This show of power doesn’t go unnoticed. As the challenge is going on, Sean turns to Vecepia and Kathy and says, “This is the order of how it’s gonna go.” Now, Kathy, Vecepia, and Sean have evidence to present to Paschal and Neleh to try to convince them to come over to their side; it’s just a matter of whether they’re willing to listen.
Fortunately, Paschal and Neleh return to camp after the challenge with their ears fully opened. Neleh, especially, now sees the writing on the wall, coming to the realization that she and Paschal are just the extra votes to the main Rotu 4 alliance. She pleads with Paschal to take the opportunity to change their fate in the game. Pappy shows some reluctance at first but eventually decides to take this chance to join up with Kathy, Vecepia, and Sean to topple the Rotu 4.
That night at Tribal Council, the first major power shift in Survivor history takes place. The five people on the bottom band together and all cast their votes for John, blindsiding the leader of the “dominant” alliance. Not to be forgotten is Sean’s amazing voting confessional when he casts his vote: “Checkmate, brah. Thought you’d had me. So anytime you go to Vegas, bet on black. Well, we’re definitely going to have chicken and waffles when this whole thing is done.”
This whole sequence was an unprecedented move that changed the core of Survivor strategy and showed both future players and fans alike that significant shifts in the game are possible; you just have to have the guts and the smarts to pull it off.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 8. You can check out the previous entries here.