All-Stars Episode 15: The Instigator


Airdate: May 6, 2004
Tom Buchanan
“Pony ride’s over. You’re welcome for carrying you this far.” – “Boston Rob” Mariano’s unrevealed vote at Tribal Council
Rating: 7 + Tier C (3) = 10

What’s with all the penultimate episodes from early seasons now? This is the third of the last four entries featuring one, and the second consecutive episode I’m reviewing in which Big Tom’s trustworthiness is questioned and he loses both of the exact same challenges (a ‘second chance’ competition with elements of past challenges and a word search). Man, say what you will about the guy being hard to understand and perhaps a bit backwards in his attitude towards women and minorities, but he is remarkably consistent in Final 5 episodes.

On paper, this is the last round of the game in which Rob and Amber’s love affair/empire/reign of terror (pick one or all three) is in danger of ending, because they’re at a 3-2 numbers disadvantage. However, maybe it’s just because I know the outcome, but at no point does it really feel like Jenna, Rupert, and Tom will do the math and team up. Sure, they’re aware that they could do it, but the idea seems more of a passing fancy. Any doubt that Rob and Amber are safe is gone when he openly pits Rupert and Tom against one another, unable to wipe the shit-stirring grin off his face as he watches them go at it. On top of that, Rob wins immunity, and only Amber really seems concerned with the possibility that the target could switch to her.

It’s not that there isn’t resentment brewing towards the two. Rupert mutters about their poor work ethic, and seeds of envy are planted when Rob and Amber emerge from the movie night reward, each with keys to brand new cars. (This may be the first time that the show references the “car curse,” but Rob isn’t discouraged.) Amber muses that she thought their first date would consist of dinner and a movie and some flowers. Weighing the options though, she’ll gladly take the car over some flowers. It’s pretty cute. And yet when I give a girl a car on our first date, I’m “violating the restraining order.”


I’m not taking no for an answer, Becky.


Is this enough to turn the tides? No, everyone seems to be aiming for an endgame in which they beat both Rob and Amber in the last immunity challenge and bask in the jury’s animosity towards the dynamic duo. What I will say to this episode’s credit is that it makes what was a very predictable Big Tom elimination truly suspenseful. Before Tribal Council, Tom pulls a Christy Smith and overly emphasizes his swing vote status, but it seems as though he, Amber, and Rob come to an agreement to vote out Jenna. I remember being really surprised when it first aired and Tom got his torch snuffed instead. His icy stare towards Rob says it all, and the jury looks equally distraught.


They know that the Ponderosa breakfast buffet is about to get a hell of a lot more competitive.


But at this point in the season, what was more important: tension in whether Jenna or Tom would get voted out that night, or some legitimate obstacle in Rob and Amber’s path? Much like Rob’s coronation in Redemption Island, the only inherent doubt here is logical, not based on the editing or game dynamics. Would they really allow a four-time player to win against a bunch of newbies? Would they really allow the most unbreakable pair in Survivor history to slide into the final two? In both cases, the answer was yes.

Fortunately, the word “logical” no longer exists in the producers’ vocabulary.


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