30 from 30: #14 – The Outcasts Return

The Moment:

Survivor pulls out its most controversial twist as the Outcasts return to haunt Pearl Islands.

We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.


Why It Matters:

Seven seasons in, Survivor was experimenting with its format in small ways: a swap here, a fake merge there, a themed season just the other day. The one thing these experiments in format never altered was the most basic rule of the game: once you were voted out, your game was over.


For six episodes, Pearl Islands seemed to be following this script. The pirate theme had lent the season a few minor twists like looting, buried treasure, and that time Rupert was kidnapped.

The original manbearpig
“I’m a bearded Lindbergh baby! Kidnap me!”

Then, the seventh episode began. The two tribes were even at five members each, the Morgan tribe having fought their way back from an early deficit. And as they face Jeff, he says he has something to tell them. Most of them probably expected a merge at this point. Ten was the classic merge number thus far, so that only made sense.

But instead, the tribes were greeted by this:

survivor pearl islands outcast skinny ryan
It’s German for “The, jerks”

and this:


and this handsome mofo:

Burton Pearl Islands
I realize this picture isn’t of him in an Outcast buff. But he’s shirtless, so that’ll help us get pageviews.

Oh, and also three other people that no one remembers. The ghosts of Survivor past had returned, and Probst revealed why: if the Outcasts won this challenge, two people who had been voted out would be returning to the game. If they came in second, one of them would return. And if the Outcasts lost the challenge, they’d be gone- and probably forgotten- forever.

According to Probst, the Outcasts had been surviving on a meager diet similar to the rest of the players still in the game. Sure, a few of them seemed to have actually gained weight, but you know what they say: the camera adds ten pounds to the Outcast tribe. (When we interviewed Savage, he laughed at the idea that the Outcasts had been living off of rations.)

Savage is thinking what we're all thinking: "Now this is some bullshit".
Savage is thinking what we’re all thinking: “Now this is some bullshit”.

Predictably, the Outcasts win the challenge. The six of them go to a tribal council, and two of them are voted back into the game: Lil and Burton.

The Impact:

The impact of the Outcast twist was obviously heavily felt throughout Pearl Islands. It didn’t just lead to the return of this:


but it also led directly to Osten’s quit (more on that another time), Savage’s downfall (sob), and Jon Dalton being able to stick around long enough that we could see this:

thunder d 2
Did you really think I was done with this photo? WOOOOOOO!

It also led to Lil’s finest moment, which is an admittedly low bar. But all the “sad Lil” faces were worth it, just so we could get this:

lil and jonlil wins

Lil ends up outlasting Jon in the final immunity challenge and decides to bring Sandra with her to the final two. And in the end, one of the worst twists the game has ever had resulted in one of its best seasons ever; Pearl Islands not only comes in third in our Survivor season rankings, it also came in second in a poll CBS did. It may be unfair, but it was entertaining as hell.

Of course, if the Outcasts only returned to Pearl Islands it wouldn’t be impactful. The Outcast twist showed that the show was willing to experiment with the very mechanics of the game itself. The most obvious successor to the Outcast twist was Redemption Island. Redemption Island modified the most unfair aspect of the Outcasts twist- it let the Survivors know from day one that the players they voted out could return to the game. Of course it also modified the most palatable aspect of the Outcasts, namely that they only came back once, and that was at the merge.

Redemption Island isn’t the only thing the Outcasts influenced; the central conceit of the Outcasts, that a survivor could get another chance to play when the game has turned on them, can be said to be the same motivation that eventually created the hidden immunity idol, which (in its Panama and Cook Islands form) saved someone after they would have been voted out.

But maybe most importantly, the Outcast twist really hammered something home to contestants: you are never safe from the game. The game can change, the show can throw previously unthinkable twists at you, and you have to be ready for it. Because if people who were voted out can come back in, anything can happen. Even Thunder D.

thunder d 2

What Else Made the List?

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