The 50 Best Survivor Episodes (No. 21)

Photo: CBS


“The Twist”

Africa, Episode 5 (Air Date: November 8 2001)
by Ian Walker

Silas Gaither loved life on the morning of Day 13 of Survivor: Africa, and it was easy to see why. He was a big, strong alpha male firmly entrenched in the dominant alliance on his tribe and was in no danger of leaving anytime soon. “There’s not an event that in the future would alarm me,” he said in the previous episode. “I can’t wait until the merge because I plan on winning this. You might as well write the check and hand it to me because I’m shooting for the stars and I’m gonna get there.”

However, over the next three days, Silas’ star would come plummeting down to Earth so hard it would crash and burn, thanks to an event that was unforeseen not just to Silas, but to the entire Survivor world.


It all started innocently enough. Silas’s tribe, Samburu, received tree mail about an upcoming tribal summit, the catch being only three people were required to go. The decision on who the representatives should be was a pretty easy one. The two older people on the outs of the majority, Frank Garrison and Teresa Cooper, were forced into the roles, while Silas, being the young, adventurous go-getter that he is, agreed to be the third person.

The tension was running high as the three embarked on this mystery adventure, as Samburu had experienced a tumultuous first 12 days. Easily the most dysfunctional tribe in Survivor history up to this point, Samburu had split right down generational lines, with the four older people bonding over their strong work ethic and life experience, while the four younger people were reveling in their shared laziness and self-entitlement.

Up until the first tribal council on day nine, Silas waffled between the two sides before ultimately sticking with the Mallrats, sending two of the older folk out of the game. Now, on the morning of this tribal summit, the Samburu kids were more than happy to send Frank and Teresa out of the camp for a few hours, sending Silas along as their eyes and ears in case anything big went down.

Something big sure did go down at the summit, except the Mallrats found out in a way they weren’t expecting. Silas, Frank, and Teresa never returned to Samburu, because they had walked into the first ever Survivor tribe swap. The importance of this moment cannot be overstated, as it took both the players and viewers by complete surprise. This swap was the first major deviation from the Survivor formula that had been established over the first two seasons and showed, both the players in the game and the people watching at home, that you can never get too comfortable.

So Silas, Frank, and Teresa were switched onto the opposing Boran tribe, and the effect that a switch like this could have in the game was seen immediately. Freed from the oppression of the Mallrats, Frank and Teresa saw new life breathed into their games as they made friends with Boran tribe members Ethan Zohn and Kim Johnson. Silas, meanwhile, felt his game quickly crumbling beneath his feet. Looking for any in at all, Silas tried to make friends with Ethan, reaching out to his fellow young athletic guy to see if he could lend a hand to his situation. Rather than giving a hand, however, Ethan decided to push Silas off the crumbling cliff he was standing on by engaging with a new strategy never before seen on Survivor: he decided to throw the challenge.

Intentionally losing a challenge seemed to go against the basic tenets that Survivor had set up in seasons prior. The goal was to win immunity to avoid tribal council, not willingly go to it. But Ethan saw this new opportunity that the switch provided his tribe. He had Silas right where he wanted him, stranded on a new tribe away from his allies yet trapped with his enemies, with no power whatsoever. With Frank and Teresa’s votes, Ethan and Kim could easily vote Silas off and squash the opposing Samburu threat, gaining some new allies in the process, and that’s exactly what happened.

Boran threw the challenge and swiftly voted Silas out of the game. As the first person voted out as a direct result of a tribe swap, Silas’ exit marks an important point in Survivor history, providing a cautionary tale to any future players on the importance of keeping strong relationships with everybody in their tribe, not just their allies. Otherwise, when somebody gets swapped, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to get Silas’d.

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Written by

Ian Walker

Ian, from Chicago, Illinois, graduated with a Communications major and an English minor and is now navigating adult life the best he can. He has been a fan of Survivor since Pearl Islands aired when he was 11 years old, back when liking Rupert was actually cool.

4 responses to “The 50 Best Survivor Episodes (No. 21)”

  1. I really think he deserved a second chance. Hope to see him coming back on the next Second Chance season.

  2. Silas was an ass and received his due. All the young ones on Samburu were. Africa was an amazing location – no water challenges and yes, Ian you have to give this episode major props because it’s a first in Survivor history.

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