South Pacific Episode 2: He Has Demons

Airdate: September 21, 2011
Christine Shields Markoski
“It’s gonna go one of two ways. It’s either gonna be Coach Wade duped once again on Survivor or it’s gonna be redemption for the Hantz family. I hope it’s the latter.” – Benjamin “Coach” Wade
Rating: 5 + Tier D (2) = 7

From the first season all the way to Winners at War, one of the few constants in Survivor has been the producers’ willingness to fabricate sexual tension for the sake of a good storyline.

For contestants like Colleen and Greg in Borneo, it was a matter of dialing up some playful flirtation and oddly phrased metaphors about snapping a kitten’s neck. In the case of Wendell and Michele in Winners at War, who had in fact kicked it before the game, the editors spun Michele into a scorned ex-lover holding a grudge that A) was allegedly presented in a way overblown fashion, and B) never actually paid off from a dramatic standpoint.

I can relate. I’m still bitter that Taylor Swift never returned my calls after accepting my promposal as a publicity stunt.

All that to say that I think the way Brandon Hantz’s creepy obsession with Mikayla Wingle is portrayed very deliberately Continue reading “South Pacific Episode 2: He Has Demons”

Guatemala Episode 11: Everything is Personal

Airdate: November 24, 2005
Gary Hogeboom
“There’s a winner and a loser in this game, and if you’re going to be jealous then you’re an idiot.” – Stephenie LaGrossa
Rating: 8 + Tier D (2) = 10

“It just feels like all is right in Survivor world.”

“It is…just for a minute.”

Guatemala remains a truly monumental yet simultaneously neglected chapter in Survivor history. It introduced the inarguably most impactful twist the show has ever seen in the hidden immunity idol, paired new and returning contestants together for the first time, and might stand as the single greatest example of the power of editing, which I’ll get to a minute.

But its legacy couldn’t be summed up any better than in Continue reading “Guatemala Episode 11: Everything is Personal”

Blood vs. Water Episode 11: Gloves Come Off


Airdate: November 27, 2013
Vytas Baskauskas (eliminated from Redemption Island); Caleb Bankston
“Teenage mom. Hellraiser. She can look you in the eye and lie better than anybody.” – Tyson Apostle, on Ciera
Rating: 7 + Tier C (3) = 10

Moms are supposed to be the most trustworthy people in our lives. They know us better than anyone else. They’re the first people we turn to when we need comfort. And they lead the family band with a bassist who’s a couple decades away from leaving Jonny Fairplay in such unbearable pain that he will ask to be voted out three days into Survivor: Micronesia.

I like “Come on Get Happy” as much as the next guy, but I’d rather have had a second full season of Fairplay, thank you very much.


But moms can be ruthless. And when they team up, you’d better be on high alert. That’s the takeaway from this solid but unremarkable episode of Blood vs. Water. Despite my unwavering belief that structures like Redemption Island and Edge of Extinction have no place in Survivor and automatically worsen a season, I have to say my favorite part of this episode is when Laura joins Tina and Vytas on the loser beach. As Tina nervously worries that her daughter Katie had just gotten voted out, Laura coos, “Mom?” It’s not until they’re about to hug that Tina realizes it’s actually her fellow mother using the secret code word that moms use to suss out one another. It’s cute. And yet when I Continue reading “Blood vs. Water Episode 11: Gloves Come Off”

Africa Episode 11: We Are Family


Airdate: December 20, 2001
Frank Garrison
“I can bid better with a little drink in me.” – Tom Buchanan
Rating: 6 + Tier A (5) = 11

Watching an episode of Survivor from 2001 is a pretty jarring experience 19 years later. You’ll see disturbing things you would never see on TV these days, such as:

  • Good ol’ boy Big Tom taking pleasure in bathing the ladies, and everyone laughing it off
  • A giddy Big Tom celebrating that he gets an extra share of ham because he pooled money with a “Jew boy”
  • Frank lamenting the liberal stranglehold on American media…on CBS
  • An extended, poignant solo scene of Frank staring in awe at a beautiful Kenyan sunset

Holy crap, that last one is shocking enough to Continue reading “Africa Episode 11: We Are Family”

Cambodia Episode 13: Villains Have More Fun


Airdate: December 9, 2015
Abi-Maria Gomes
“If people would’ve asked me, ‘You know, hey, where’s Keith been for the last 30 days? Is he sitting in a temple in Cambodia or [did] he just get off the shuttle back from Mars?’ Well, they’d say, ‘Oh, he just got back from Mars cause he damn sure ain’t in Cambodia.’ That’s how amazing this is.” – Keith Nale
Rating: 6 + Tier C (3) = 9

While nobody in their right mind could ever classify Cambodia as “old-school” Survivor–it’s often considered the precursor to if not the start of the convoluted, advantage-heavy modern version of the show–the quote highlighted above inadvertently reveals two factors that separate it from the seasons that followed: Continue reading “Cambodia Episode 13: Villains Have More Fun”

Thailand Episode 6: The Power of One


Airdate: October 24, 2002
Robb Zbacnik
“Trust is instilled early. And if it’s fucked up early then it’s fucked up forever.” – Robb Zbacnik
Rating: 7 + Tier D (2) = 9

For better or worse, the portion of my brain that once acted as a Survivor encyclopedia has…well, let’s go ahead and use Jeff Probst’s favorite word and say “evolved.” I still can place a name and face on just about every contestant and I remember the biggest events of each season, but there are certain storylines and episodic details that I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint, even from the early seasons that I watched ad nauseum. Due to its longtime lack of DVD availability and status as the first “bad” season of SurvivorThailand is one that just barely exists in my memory. Like, if someone were to ask me to Continue reading “Thailand Episode 6: The Power of One”

Samoa Episode 10: The Day of Reckoning


Airdate: November 19, 2009
Laura Morett
“It’s continually impressive and bordering on annoying how pathetic the analytical skills of the Galu tribe are.” – John Fincher
Rating: 7 + Tier E (1) = 8

Frustrating. That’s the only word to describe this episode. It’s not bad. It’s relatively interesting and entertaining, at least for a Samoa episode. But it’s frustrating. And here are the top nine reasons why, in chronological order: Continue reading “Samoa Episode 10: The Day of Reckoning”

Micronesia Episode 10: I Promise…


Airdate: April 17, 2008
Ozzy Lusth
“Just because you’ve gotten on everybody’s nerves don’t mean a donut is going to make it better. You really can’t expect to appease everybody over a donut. So if you tempt somebody with a donut and they say, ‘Oh yeah, sure,’ they might just have wanted a damn donut.” – James Clement
Rating: 10 + Tier B (4) = 14

Have I been unfair to Survivor: Micronesia? My fairly low ranking of this incredibly popular season is by far my most controversial Survivor opinion…and other than my preference for Continue reading “Micronesia Episode 10: I Promise…”

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 Continue reading “All-Stars Episode 15: The Instigator”

Africa Episode 13: Truth Be Told


Airdate: January 2, 2002
Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper
“It’s completely gone to cutthroat mode. And if I think that Tom, I think that he’s in a situation where he’s about to screw me over and stab me in the back, I’ll cut his throat.” – Lex van den Berghe
Rating: 6 + Tier A (5) = 11

One of the most heart-breaking moments in Survivor history didn’t occur during the 39-day stretch of a season. It was Continue reading “Africa Episode 13: Truth Be Told”