30 from 30: #23 – The Edgardo Rivera Blindside

The Moment:

The Four Horsemen fall when the Syndicate Alliance discovers a way to beat the hidden immunity idol with the Edgardo Rivera blindside.

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:

One thing you should know about me is that the episode that contains this moment, “It’s a Turtle” from Survivor: Fiji, may very well be my favorite episode of Survivor ever. That’s right. I have “favorite” and “Survivor: Fiji” in the same sentence. Not only do I contend that this episode and moment make that season worth it, I almost think that what came before HAD to be so bad for this moment to be so good.

You see, while the episode (the second post-merge episode but first to feature the entire cast at Tribal Council) is a thrilling series of strategy sessions, moves and counter-moves, and hilarious interference by perhaps the biggest wild card in Survivor history, it is ultimately satisfying for simple, human reasons. A group of entitled, smug douchebros were outsmarted and outmaneuvered by a group led by mature, enjoyable adults. Sometimes TV entertainment can be that simple.

I could probably save myself a lot of time and effort by just ending the explanation for the moment's greatness right now. Everything is redundant after this GIF.
I could probably save myself a lot of time and effort by just ending the explanation for the moment’s greatness right now. Everything is redundant after this GIF.

But let’s go back a bit anyway, if only to savor the blindside for what it truly was. The thing about Fiji is that you and 4 friends could have a debate over who was the worst person there and each pick someone different. And you’d all have a legitimate argument. The season started to pick up from the horrific slog of the first part of the season with the back-to-back eliminations of two of them, but it still left us with the other three coming into the merge as part of the “dreaded” Four Horsemen: Alex Angarita, Edgardo Rivera, Mookie Lee, and Dreamz Herd.

The Four Horsemen came into the merge at a 6-4 disadvantage, but wasn’t going to let that dampen their considerable arrogance or belief that they were the dominant force in the game. Although it’s not entirely their fault; they weren’t able to see the edit flashing in big bold letters who the winner would be.


After being gifted the elimination of Michelle Yi via the dumbest game twist since… well… the start of this season (Haves vs Have Nots), three of the Horsemen (Alex, Edgardo, Mookie) came up with an unbeatable plan: use the combo of their immunity idol (held by Mookie, believed to be community property by Alex) and prior pre-swap relationship with the sixth most horrible person of the season (Stacy Kimball) to turn the tide. You could almost say their plan was foolproof… unless you took that phrase literally.

The key was that they couldn’t tell Dreamz about having the idol, for fear that he’d do something stupid like tell the other side about it (since the other side hadn’t spent the first half of the game being awful to him). So: bring Stacy into the fold, and keep Dreamz in the dark. Should be easy.

Edgardo sure is taking this hard. I'm sure it'll be fine...
Edgardo sure is taking this hard. I’m sure it’ll be fine…

So Dreamz spills the beans about Mookie’s idol to Earl and Cassandra after the slightest of pressure by Earl, who gets the confirmation he needs that Dre isn’t lying by getting Dreamz to describe the idol (giving the episode its title). Because Earl is the fucking man, he acts completely shocked by the news that the idol looks like a turtle, despite the fact that he’s already seen the idol when he helped Yau-Man acquire the other one.

One of the great acting performances in the history of the show. Probably better than his mark needed.
One of the great acting performances in the history of the show. Probably better than his mark needed.

So Earl’s alliance (the Syndicate) is ready to take out Alex, with Dreamz on their side. Until Dreamz decides to let Alex know. And when Alex’s considerable charm fails to win over Stacy (despite the fact that the Syndicate spent the reward challenge shitting all over her), it’s time to put plan B in place and use Mookie’s idol on Alex.

Super stealthy idol transfer.
Super stealthy idol transfer.
What could possibly go wrong?
What could possibly go wrong?

Thus, the Syndicate can’t do what had been standard Survivor practice up until that point: eliminate the other side’s biggest threat. So if Alex is going to be immune due to Mookie’s idol, they decide to blindside the previous idol holder. With Dreamz and Stacy on their side and the idol out of the way, this should be easy. You know, as long as you trust that Dreamz is telling the truth. Or won’t tell the other side that the vote has shifted to Mookie.

So after Dreamz leaves, the remaining five (Earl, Yau-Man, Cassandra, Boo, and Stacy) discuss their concerns and their options. If they don’t believe Dreamz, then the target is Alex. If Dreamz is telling the truth, then the target is Mookie. But if Dreamz was telling the truth, but backtracks and betrays them, then it’s Alex again. How much do you trust Dreamz? But he’s the swing vote. Unless…

Yes, Stacy. What if?
Yes, Stacy. Why don’t we?

Credit where credit is due: Stacy comes up with the plan of voting for the least likely target: Edgardo, the least objectionable member of the group. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, a tactic that was never necessary before but was suddenly essential: in a game with idols, you can’t attack your enemy head on. You need to come at them, as Stacy puts it, “from the left”. You need to attack the least likely target first so the idol is played incorrectly.

And, of course, in this particular instance, you need to not tell Dreamz your fucking plans.


Credit where credit is due again: the Horsemen ALSO figured this out. Earl was the biggest threat on the other side and their original target, but Mookie surmised that he was the most likely idol holder given that he had made several trips to Exile Island (AKA Earl Island). So they shifted their target to Cassandra, who they felt was the fulcrum of the other alliance (which very well may have been true).

The best part of the final act of this episode is that they didn't hide the fact that the Horsemen were about to lose. Hard.
The best part of the final act of this episode is that they didn’t hide the fact that the Horsemen were about to lose. Hard.
Made everything that much funnier.

Tribal Council comes, and everyone gives coy answers about what’s about to go down. Those answers are edited to look more revealing than they probably are in context. They go to vote. Jeff comes back. Would anyone like to play the idol? Alex saunters up with the douchebag swagger he’s had all season, barely able to contain his excitement over the world about to see his plan come together. He sits down. He and his fellow bros exchange knowing looks. They are confident. They are strong. They are unstoppable.

I could probably save myself a lot of time and effort by just ending the explanation for the moment's greatness right now. Everything is redundant after this GIF.
They are doomed.

Final result? Cassandra: 3 votes. Mookie: 1 (Dreamz’ vote). Edgardo: 5. The apocalypse for the Horsemen.

The Impact:

You mean, besides leading to the greatest GIF in the history of Survivor? Is that not enough? I feel like it should be enough.

Obviously, the impact of this move was as stated above: when two tribes go head-to-head in the post-merge phase of the game, in the post-idol world, you can’t attack head on. You need to figure out who is the least likely person to have an idol or be given an idol, take them out, weaken the other side’s numbers and hopefully burn the idol in the process. You don’t need to take out the other side’s biggest threat, because the other side’s biggest threat is the idol itself.

Interestingly, no one has since successfully pulled off the “attack from the left” strategy laid out here (although they really should’ve done it in Samoa). But it’s still incredibly influential because people have tried, only for the other side to sniff out the countermove (or for it to fall apart due to other reasons). It’s become a double-reverse situation: two sides face off either at even numbers or with one side down one. One tribe is ready to play the idol to give their side an advantage. They don’t play it for their strongest member because they know the other side will anticipate that (as the Syndicate did here), so they try to suss out their least threatening member, figuring that the other side will attack then there. But then, the other side anticipates this subterfuge, and foils them. Confused yet?

Mookie is.
Earl is only pretending to be confused.
Earl is only pretending to be confused.

Let’s use an example: how about perhaps the greatest move in Survivor history. In Heroes vs Villains, it’s five “Heroes” vs five “Villains” at the merge. The “Heroes” have wanted Parvati gone so badly that one of them up and gave an immunity idol to someone he’d never met before (don’t worry, he wrote a note, so it should be fine). Heading into Tribal Council, they figure out that this gambit has failed and are now up against at least one immunity idol. The biggest threats on the other side are Parvati and Russell (with Danielle being immune). So, having learned the lesson of Edgardo, the “Heroes” decide to attack from the left and vote Jerri (while taking the extra, fool proof step of getting Amanda to convince Parvati to play the idol. Amanda might not be as good an actor as Earl).

But because Parvati is awesome, she sniffs out both Amanda’s terrible acting and that the other side will try an end around, and plays two idols for her side’s lesser threats: Jerri and Sandra. So the “Heroes” were influenced by the Edgardo blindside, and Parvati anticipated that they would be.

Pictured: Parvati being awesome.
Pictured: Parvati being awesome.

It comes up again in South Pacific, when Ozzy’s group figures Coach’s group would go after their lesser threat to avoid the idol, and gave their idol to Whitney instead of Keith or Jim Rice. But, Cochran pulled a Dreamz and let Coach know which way the idol was going, and Keith headed to Redemption Island. Speaking of Redemption Island, in that season, they went after Grant instead of Rob. But Rob just took out Matt instead. In Cagayan, after Tony pulled out his idol pre-vote, they went to “plan B”, which was Jefra instead of LJ. And it would’ve worked too, as the idols were played for Tony and LJ. But Kass had other plans.

So oddly, the Syndicate alliance created a strategy to beat the idol that has only ever blown up in the faces of those who tried to duplicate it (of course, it has also blown up in the faces of those who didn’t try to duplicate it. Just ask a couple of Kellys that no one remembers). But its influence still exists. In fact, beyond the creation of a successful strategy (that has yet to yield another success), perhaps its greatest influence is to the post-merge script of Survivor: no longer is the biggest threat the automatic target at the merge. Now that everyone wants to attack from the left, that threat is practically immune for at least one vote as perceived non-threats are targeted. The exact kind of non-threat that used to be practically immune. You know, like Edgardo was.

I could probably save myself a lot of time and effort by just ending the explanation for the moment's greatness right now. Everything is redundant after this GIF.
One more time. You’re welcome.

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