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Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Mack continues things by bringing us back to the enormously popular, epic season finale for the first season of Survivor. Read below, argue with us in the comments, and enjoy the new series!
To understand the greatness of the Survivor: Borneo finale, you have to appreciate the power of a shared moment. You have to know more than one hundred and twenty-five million people watched at least part of the last episode. You have to know ads were selling for six hundred thousand dollars a pop and that credible newspapers were running front page stories speculating about who might win. You have to put aside all the preconceptions and all the biases you might have about reality television and realize during the summer of 2000 no one thought that way. You have to remember that for three solid months Survivor actually mattered.
At first, it was more of a curiosity than anything else, sixteen odd and adventurous strangers left to fend for themselves amongst the rats and snakes on an island. They weren’t people as much as variables in a science experiment, but as the weeks went by, something utterly strange happened. Viewers started to see themselves, their friends and their family members in the personalities of the castaways. By the end of the third episode, seen by more than twenty-three million, viewers started to pick favorites. Arguments started to spring up about Ramona’s mystery disease, Gervase’s laziness and Dr. Sean’s asinine alphabetic voting strategy. And like that, it was suddenly a big deal, a grandiose, inescapable weekly event that dominated water cooler conversation. It likely would have continued on that level for the rest of the season too if it weren’t for the implosion of reality television’s first alliance.
Richard, Susan, Rudy and Kelly had little in common with each other, save for the fact that all four realized to play the game correctly, one had to get his or her hands dirty. After the two tribes merged, their collective voting strategy picked off players one-by-one. They were like some primitive mafia, ordering hits late at night in a dark forest. And then Kelly cracked. She betrayed her partners and decided to strike out on her own. In doing so, she started one of the most bitter and hateful feuds in the history of television and paved the way for one of the most anticipated finales ever.
In many ways, it’s a miracle the finale somehow lived up to the hype. Kelly needed to win both immunity challenges to survive. Had she lost either, the remaining members of the alliance would have simply voted her off, and the jury would have been forced to choose between two like-minded players. Improbably, she won both and elected to bring godfather Richard Hatch with her in front of their peers. She reasoned he would give her the better shot at winning since, after all, he’d mercilessly presided over a shady and cutthroat regime that cast off players on selfishness rather than merit. Her logic seemed foolproof, at least until the jilted Susan Hawk gave one of the most memorable speeches in the history of television. Comparing Kelly to a rat, she told her if she was dying and needed a glass of water, she’d walk past without any ill regrets. It was hateful and shocking, a diatribe laced with animosity and also intelligence. Her vote went to Richard. So too did three of the six other jury members. And as the final vote was read and Richard Hatch was crowned the winner, viewers either slammed their remotes or pumped their fists, emotive, polarizing and visceral responses befitting the show that captivated America more than any other in my lifetime.
For one night, an incredible percentage of Americans were on the same page. They were all in front of their televisions wondering how it would end, and when that resolution came, all they wanted to do was talk about it. I too was a part of it, and I’ll never forget how it felt.