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: “A Chicken’s a Little Bit Smart” (Episode 1)
Original Air Date: November 29, 2007
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As recently discussed in another Inside Survivor countdown, Survivor: China is undoubtedly one of the best seasons of all time. It is quite simply, ageless. And what I mean by ageless is that it doesn’t matter how the game evolves; China will always be one of the top tier seasons, and the reason for that is simple: the characters. And those characters are on full display right from this very first episode.
The opening sequence at the Buddhist Temple introduces and beautifully foreshadows the future of the season’s biggest characters in James Clement, Courtney Yates, Amanda Kimmel, Todd Herzog, and Peih-Gee Law. But it’s not just the main stars, almost every castaway across the premiere gets a moment to shine. It’s an episode filled with memorable one-liners, like “We bowed 37 times; we bowed for, like, days,” from Courtney, alongside truly emotional moments from Peih-Gee reflecting on her father’s passing and the vulnerability of Leslie Nease as she grapples with prioritizing her faith against fitting in.
As the tribes form and the happy-go-lucky Fei Long get to work, we get some hilarious confessionals from Courtney, who is perhaps my favorite Survivor character of all time. Her out-of-her-element city girl snark contrasts perfectly with a tribe made up of macho testosterone and sneaky strategists. There are early signs of friction between Courtney and poker-pro Jean-Robert Bellande, which comes to be one of the show’s best rivalries. Speaking of Jean-Robert, he spells out the whole season from the jump as he tells Todd that he seems “a little devious.” “I’m saying, watch out for Jean-Robert now,” Todd says with a smile afterward, cementing that he is indeed devious and not afraid to admit it.
While Courtney and Todd are the early stand-outs, other characters pop in this episode too. It’s obvious that James will become a huge fan-favorite with his hard-working attitude and quiet humor (there’s also a sweet bonding scene between James and Leslie). Peih-Gee shows herself to be a real go-getter with a good read on the game, and yet, also a source of friction. Michael “Frosti” Zernow is full of youthful exuberance from the very beginning. And from the way she reacts to the opening ceremony at the temple, we can tell lunch lady Denise Martin is someone who is going to cherish this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The vote-off of this episode isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking. It follows a typical old-school pattern of leadership disagreements, with the belligerent Steven “Chicken” Morris quickly falling out of favor with the Zhan Hun tribe. There are disputes, mostly between Chicken and Peih-Gee, over how and where the shelter should be built. And when Chicken basically throws a tantrum and refuses to share his advice, he all but seals his fate. However, Chicken makes his exit a memorable one when he loudly exclaims, “DAYUM!” as the final vote is read, scaring the crap out of his tribemates and viewers at home.
It also needs to be noted how the location of Survivor: China instantly makes this premiere stand out. The opening journey through modern China, to the train, to the Huangpu Mountain’s Mi Tuo Temple illustrates what this season does better than the rest—thematic justice. The introduction of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” shows the interest of implementing Chinese culture into the narrative. Sure, the actual location of the tribe camps is sometimes looked down upon compared to the more eye-pleasing beach locations. Still, I think production does a great job throughout the season, and this episode in particular, at demonstrating the brilliance of Chinese culture.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 95. You can check out the previous entries here.