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: “Assumptions” (Episode 7)
Broadcast Date: October 31, 2002
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It’s fun to look back at Survivor history and see what counted as a “game-changing twist” almost 20 years ago. Before the likes of broken returnee twists that let first boots make the Final Tribal Council, magical trinkets hidden under every other stump in the jungle, and even the now elementary idea of bringing back past castaways for more seasons until their legacies are damaged, we had the likes of no rations, the basic tribe swap, and the long-forgotten Fake Merge twist.
I know Thailand‘s reception is trash and won’t be salvaged any time soon, but I still think it has things going for it. For example, this episode, named “Assumptions.” The premise of this episode’s story is clear: it’s the merge… NOT! Wow, what a knee-slapper, huh? The basic premise of the fake merge is to trip someone up. Ideally, a player would be ballsy enough to flip on their tribe only to discover it’s all a joke, then lose Immunity and be voted out with egg on their face. Unfortunately, this twist doomed one of the season’s stars in Shii Ann Huang, but as far as single episode stories go, it’s hard not to find the events here amusing.
Jeff Probst sets everyone up for the “Gotcha!” perfectly, holding your typical old-school Survivor ambassador meeting with each person pairing up with someone from the opposing tribe and a couple of pairs visiting the camps to pick the most desirable merge location. But with some cheeky wording, Jeff only tells them they’ll be living together on “one beach” rather than as one tribe. So when the Immunity challenge comes, he’s happy to inform them of what’s really going on.
Is it a dumb twist? Yes. Does it largely hurt the rest of the season by preventing an interesting merge vote from taking place? Yes. But I still ironically enjoy how utterly proud Jeff and production are for devising this cruel yet dumb joke in the moment, like it’s their magnum opus of twists. It’s honestly a prank on the level of John Raymond’s awkward fake water source “joke” from the Thailand premiere, but it’s too silly to hate.
Unlike most twists, it actually delivers exactly what it’s supposed to without any major hang-ups or bugs. Shii Ann takes the bait hook, line, and sinker, sets herself up for elimination perfectly, and then gets voted out as the editors plan their ironic Shii Ann sound bites for the episode. Even if the rest of the season suffers from the twist working as well as it does, the episode alone is a fun, little island in Thailand‘s sea of hit-or-miss darkness.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which episode placed at number 98. You can check out the previous entries here.