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: Redemption Island
Episode: “You’re Looking at the New Leader of Your Tribe” (Episode 1)
Broadcast Date: February 16, 2011
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“It’s going to be fun; this is going to be fun,” says Kristina Kell confidently after finding the first hidden immunity idol of the season. Kristina is right; this episode is fun (just not for her and her alliance). For a season many have deemed one of—if not THE—worst in the series’ forty season run, the Redemption Island premiere has arguably one of the most iconic Tribal Councils of any premiere, full of tribe turbulence, self-sabotage, and mispronunciations.
The premiere begins with the Zapatera and Ometepe tribes being given the Heroes vs. Villains treatment as they touch down on the beaches via helicopter. Jeff Probst is quick to inform them that two more players will be joining them; enter Boston Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz. Rob is greeted with an apparent and outward abundance of exuberance, while Russell settles for forced applause and genuine trepidation from the group. The two former Villains pick buffs and join their new tribes; Rob donning Ometepe Orange, Russell donning Zapatera Purple, with Francesca Hogi quick to voice her concerns over playing with two returnees.
After Jeff informs everyone of the Redemption Island twist, the two tribes set off for their beaches. Russell almost goes full-Silas Gaither from Africa (minus the taking a knee) and gathers his tribe for a pep talk, claiming that the old Russell you used to love to hate is no more. Zapatera takes this with the biggest grain of salt and know they will have to sleep with one eye open as long as Russell is around. Russell’s promise lasts all of ten minutes before he’s back to planting his “Russell Seeds” and teaming up with the tribe’s younger women. However, for as fun as this is, the reason this episode lands in the Top 100 is the magnificent mayhem that is Phillip Sheppard, Francesca, and the Ometepe tribe.
From the off, Phillip is out there (both personality and briefs-wise), giving the producers quotable gold, as he wastes no time informing his tribemates of his federal agent ways or likening himself and Rob to two lions while proceeding to roar and flex during confessional. But as Phillip questions the motives of his alleged alliance, Kristina and Francesca, it leaves them wondering why on earth they got this federal agent involved in their dealings. Kristina is able to sneak away long enough from the majority of the tribe to find an idol, confining in Francesca and telling Phillip with almost-immediate regret.
The real fun begins after the Immunity challenge, which sends Ometepe to Tribal. Rob instructs his majority alliance to and how to split the votes, reminding them that someone (Tyson Apostol) screwed this up last time and got themselves voted out. It all seems too easy for The Robfather; however, he and the rest of his alliance are unaware of the Phillip-Francesca-Kristina trio and the idol they could unleash Rob’s way. Yet the underdog alliance continues to self-combust as they bicker over how and when to use the idol, who they’re voting for, even arguing over whose turn it is to speak; it’s only day three!
At Tribal, the trio proactively self-implodes to the delight and bemusement of Rob, Jeff, and the audience alike. Francesca and Kristina initially proceed with caution, playing their cards (and idol) close to the vest, only for Phillip to go rogue, cutting off Francesca mid-sentence, revealing multiple plans of the trio aloud, mainly the women’s’ intent to oust Rob. Francesca and Kristina are in deny-deny-deny mode when asked about the Rob plot; however, Phillip remains adamant, to the point of pleading with Rob. To Phillip’s credit, this move ends up working out for him as he gains Rob’s trust for the rest of the game and makes it all the way to the Final 3.
The bickering continues until the moment that unquestionably cements Francesca and Phillip’s rivalry and their return to the game in Caramoan. “My vote tonight is for Fran-CES-qua,” Phillip declares. “Francesca,” replies Franny, quickly correcting the mispronunciation. Kristina jumps to Francesca’s defense, only for her game to receive a Sheppard sabotage. Phillip reveals that Kristina HAS AN IDOL while adding further mispronunciations of Francesca’s name to which he blames on a dry mouth. Rob then goes full Robfather by asking Kristina to show the idol and states that she better give it to him if she wants to stay. Kristina rightly refuses, and the tribe gets to the vote.
Upon voting for her former ally, Phillip, Francesca states in her voting confessional, “I hope I never see you again.” So early in the game for such disdain, yet Franny genuinely warrants it, and it’s great to watch from a viewer’s perspective. Francesca’s wish is granted; she will never see Phillip again (this season at least) as she is the first boot of the season and becomes one of the most memorable first boots ever.
“Man, it feels so good to play with you amateurs; you give away so much, you don’t even know enough to keep your mouth shut; thanks for the memories,” Rob says as he shows his vote. Rob’s confessional not only summarizes the trio’s hilarious self-implosion but ultimately foreshadows the entirety of his run on Redemption Island as he masterfully marches his troops to the end, sealing the Sole Survivor prize once and for all.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 94. You can check out the previous entries here.