Eleven years ago tonight, on the May 8, 2008 broadcast of Survivor Fans vs. Favorites’ penultimate episode, Erik Reichenbach handed over his immunity necklace—and thus his immunity—to Natalie Bolton, and was immediately voted out by Natalie, Cirie Fields, Amanda Kimmel, and eventual season 16 winner Parvati Shallow.
Natalie describes watching Erik hand over immunity to her as “an out-of-body experience,” and it was that for viewers, too. I remember being in complete disbelief, literally yelling at the TV—probably at Erik, but also being just so in awe of how Cirie, Parvati, Amanda, and Natalie conceived of and pulled off such a monumental strategic move.
Today, EW’s Dalton Ross has published a truly epic oral history—it’s more that 14,000 words long—of everything involved in making that moment happen.
Dalton’s title calls it “the greatest Survivor moment ever,” and it’s hard to disagree with that.
Of course, for Erik, it was “the day from hell.”
In the oral history, he says that after he was voted out, “production was terrified that I was going to be suicidal and crying and blown away at how devastated I was. But I was ecstatic! I was like, this is incredible! I was relieved to be out of that day from hell with them just emotionally destroying me.”
Host Jeff Probst compares it to “a master class in persuasion” and “a bank heist,” with each of the four women playing a key role in convincing Erik to give up immunity.
But how this came together is best described by now-executive producer, then on-the-beach producer Matt Van Wagenen, who says this is the story of four players “mind-fucking” another.
Dalton’s oral history includes perspective and detailed commentary from all five players who were still in the game, plus jurors Eliza Orlins and Ozzy Lusth, and producers Probst and Van Wagenen.
The original idea came from Cirie, after Parvati lamented Erik’s immunity win and the necklace that protected him.
“Erik was young, but he wasn’t an idiot, so we had to have something tangible and something that made sense for him to even consider something so outlandish,” Cirie says.
Dalton Ross’ oral history covers what led up to that moment, and also some pretty fascinating moments that were not broadcast, such as Parvati finding an immunity idol on Exile Island—and then abandoning it because she didn’t want to have to disclose it to her fellow players when she returned.
What’s most interesting to me, though, is the detailed accounting of the day of “emotional torture,” as Erik describes it.
First Natalie floated the idea of Erik using his immunity to protect her, and then Cirie set the stakes, telling him, “There’s nothing else out there that you can do to make me believe that you are truly gonna follow through with this plan, besides saving Natalie and making our numbers stronger, like we discussed.”
There was an unaired conversation, Erik explains, in which Amanda and Parvati “were saying, ‘We don’t trust you anymore, we don’t like you. You’re such a likable guy, but we don’t think you’re likable at all. We think you betray people, that you’ve lied to people, and the jury will see that.'”
Erik describes the effect all of this had on him:
“By the end of this day, as we’re on a way to Tribal, my emotional side has essentially taken over. It became much more important that I cared about how I was perceived and how people were seeing me. I felt quite a bit of pressure on me to do something. My strategic mindset was not in the forefront, especially because I’d won immunity. So I’m not thinking and I’m not even aware of it. Really, what they did was change it from a strategic conversation to an emotional conversation. That was really one of the big turning points in that day is that it went from me thinking about strategic placement of myself in a game versus social placement within a structure of people. They put me in a very bad emotional place.”
He also says:
“I was just playing Survivor, the same as them. It came down to me wanting to feel good. I am influenced by other people. I’m influenced by what other people think of me and especially people that I consider friends. They knew that, and they leveraged that.”
Those involved are quick to point out that “Erik did not do anything wrong,” as Parvati says. She adds, “Let’s be 100 percent clear about that. I do not believe that Erik ever did anything wrong. All of it was totally made up.”
Amanda is more blunt: “We’re awful people. I don’t know what to say. It was awful! The stuff you have to do on the show is awful. We basically used the sweet parts of Erik and threw it back at him. He’s such a sweet guy and we just manipulated that part. The stuff you’re capable of, it’s pretty bad.”
Jeff Probst agrees, saying, “I don’t think Erik was a dumb player. I think Erik played a great game, and he got outplayed. And I don’t think anybody fully appreciated how well those women played that.”
Thanks to Dalton Ross’ reporting, we can now fully appreciate it. Read the full oral history.
Also read: The Survivor rule book and the Survivor cast contract