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: “Burly Girls, Bowheads, Young Studs, and the Old Bunch” (Episode 2)
Broadcast Date: September 23, 2004
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There are few Survivor scenarios more satisfying than when the self-proclaimed “swing vote” gets the boot. Christy Smith at the Final 6 of The Amazon and Sarah Lacina at the Cagayan merge vote are two of the most memorable instances of the “swing-turned-boot” phenomenon. But perhaps an underrated contender for this particular brand of Survivor schadenfreude is sheep farmer Dolly Neely in the second episode of Vanuatu.
At the start of Vanuatu, both the men’s Lopevi tribe and the women’s Yasur tribe are clearly divided along generational lines. After ousting the young and relatively strong Brook Geraghty at the first Tribal Council of the season, the older men of Lopevi are firmly in control at the start of “Burly Girls, Bowheads, Young Studs, and the Old Bunch.” There’s a tense conversation between John Palyok and Travis “Bubba” Sampson about the latter’s uncertain position on the tribe as a physical threat, but the real action of the episode happens over on Yasur.
By Day 4, two factions have emerged on the women’s tribe. On the “older” side, we have Ami Cusack, Scout Cloud Lee, Leann Slaby, and Twila Tanner. On the “younger” side, there’s Eliza Orlins, Julie Berry, Mia Galeotalanza, Lisa Keiffer, and Dolly, the sweet, innocent sheep farmer who struggles with the elements and the pressures of the game but remains optimistic and determined to keep going.
After Yasur wins the Reward challenge, Dolly tells Twila to her face that the younger women were planning to vote Twila out if Yasur went to Tribal. In a confessional, Twila remarks that there’s potentially an opportunity for the older women’s faction to pull in obvious people-pleaser Dolly as a fifth in their alliance to vote out Eliza if Yasur loses the next Immunity challenge.
The Immunity challenge is the classic “Blind Leading The Blind,” with Lea “Sarge” Masters and Scout as the callers. The pure comedy of having a literal drill sergeant as the caller for this challenge is made even funnier when compared to the dysfunctional mess that is Yasur. Between Scout losing track of her tribemates and forgetting a pair of puzzle pieces in the ocean, Yasur loses handily to Lopevi and heads to their first Tribal Council of the season.
Back at Yasur, Dolly and Julie convene about the vote. Dolly makes it clear to Julie that she’s in a swing position, going so far as to tell Julie that she’s planning on voting for Eliza because she doesn’t like the idea of voting out Twila. Julie manages to get Dolly on board with voting Leann over Twila, and it seems as though the young women will have the numbers with Dolly firmly in their corner.
Dolly then runs first to Ami, then to Scout, to tell them that she’s planning on voting Leann with the younger women instead of voting Eliza with the older women. Dolly might as well have “I’m the swing vote!” written on her forehead with how open she is about the power she holds with absolutely everyone on the tribe.
Shortly before Tribal, Ami and Leann pull Eliza aside to talk about the vote and proceed to throw Dolly under the bus. Ami and Leann frame the vote as a way for Dolly/Julie/Mia to take power, essentially telling Eliza that if Leann goes first, then Eliza is almost certainly going next. Eliza immediately takes the bait and suggests they vote for Dolly instead without any hesitation, which Ami and Leann agree to. With just this one conversation, the dynamics of the vote completely shift: Eliza becomes the new swing vote, and Dolly becomes the new target.
At Tribal Council, poor Dolly still thinks she’s in a position of power. “I feel kind of like Dolly in the middle,” she says just before the vote. “Four people want to vote one way, and four people want to vote another way, and I’m kind of the deciding factor tonight.” The vote does come down 5-4, as Dolly predicts, but it’s far from the outcome she expected.
With Eliza flipping to the older women, she helps send Dolly out of the game over Leann, blindsiding the rest of the younger women on the tribe. Over the course of just one episode, Dolly goes from being arguably the safest person on the tribe with the most power to becoming Vanuatu‘s second boot, all because she made her position in the game way too obvious.
This episode highlights just how complex the Yasur tribe is, even at the very first Tribal they attend. On another tribe and another season of Survivor, Scout and her bum knee likely would’ve been the obvious consensus boot here. But because this is Yasur, we’re treated to a complex powerplay between two warring factions that results in the swing vote becoming the boot and one of the potential boots becoming the swing vote. As sweet as Dolly seems, it’s hard not to enjoy her swift (and completely avoidable) downfall thanks to her own hubris.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 90. You can check out the previous entries here.