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: The Amazon
Episode: “The Amazon Heats Up” (Episode 13)
Broadcast Date: May 8, 2003
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Not many episodes of Survivor focus on true tragedy, especially of the environmental variety, but “The Amazon Heats Up” is one of the few episodes where devastation runs amok on the castaways’ home. It’s an episode that manages to be both emotional and funny due to the connection viewers have built with these characters throughout the season. We can feel their pain and disappointment, but we’re also able to laugh along with them at their varied reactions to the situation.
The fire that engulfs the Jacare camp is one of the toughest blows to any group of castaways ever. Just the image of the flame growing exponentially from inside the firewood hut is an image that is sure to be burned into every Survivor superfan’s brain (pun intended). Sure, watching this go down brings up many different questions that play right into the minds of conspiracy theorists. Were there production people filming the footage in real-time? If not, how did production know to set up their equipment in order to capture the fire on camera?
Whatever the case, the blaze is captured in all of its fiery, destructive glory. From its inception as glowing baby embers to a roaring red monster devouring everything in its sight, the audience sees it all. As much as our hearts are sinking from our couches, that doesn’t match the shock and devastation on the faces of Butch Lockley, Jenna Morasca, and Heidi Strobel when they arrive back at camp from their reward challenge. The three of them are stunned into silence as they stare at what their camp has become—a big empty space with a pile of smoldering ash on top of it. Jenna’s “irreplaceable” pledge crown and sorority jacket are charred, Butch’s “Believe In Yourself” flag turned to dust, and, most tragically, Rob Cesternino‘s magic 8-ball is now a melted mound of plastic.
To make matters even worse, the (potential) cause of the fire was entirely preventable, if not for a certain wood-loving nut. Up until this point in the season, Butch had been a pretty quiet character, but all of a sudden, at the beginning of this episode, he becomes obsessed with amassing as much “dry, burning wood” as he can. His fixation with the firewood is further punctuated by Rob, rolling his eyes at Butch’s wood collecting and his own designation of “junior-deputy firewood bitch.” Even with the misfortune that falls of his tribe because of Butch’s actions (again, allegedly), it’s still pretty darn funny watching Butch going coo-coo over the firewood. Plus, the whole debacle sets up an excellent callback during the Final Tribal Council when a falling tree branch almost lands right on top of Butch, the Amazon rainforest seeking revenge for all the harm this man has exacted on the poor, unsuspecting flora.
Other than the fire, this episode is really about Rob setting up his endgame. He proclaims Matthew von Ertfelda to be in the driver’s seat, which he quite literally is after winning the car reward and taking Rob with him for an afternoon barbecue (the shots of the burning coals contrasted perfectly with the growing fire back at camp). This is a great scene that beautifully highlights Rob and Matthew’s odd-couple relationship. It’s a friendship that is awkward at times, and yet, also, strangely loving. “I’m very happy that [Matthew] got to win the car,” Rob says in confessional. “And I asked him, if he ever goes to Asia, or if he ever returns to the planet that he came from, he says I can borrow it and go cruising for chicks.”
When it comes time for the vote, Rob only has two options, or as he dubs them, “Twigs and Sticks.” One of them, Jenna, is seemingly on her last legs, ready to give up at a moment’s notice; this is Jenna’s low-point of the season, her down moment before her impressive comeback in the finale. The other, Heidi, is still raring to go and has a lot of fight left in her. Despite Heidi pushing to give Jenna what she wants and vote her out, for Rob, the decision is simple. Heidi is the clear threat; with her athleticism and intelligence, she needs to go, while Jenna can be left to wither away before her torch gets snuffed next. Unfortunately for Rob, history doesn’t play out as expected, but for now, he’s the king of the Jacare camp… or what’s left of it anyway.
Check back on Monday when we reveal which episode placed at number 96. You can check out the previous entries here.