The 115 Funniest Things to Ever Happen on Survivor

#1. Dead Grandma
Pearl Islands - Episode 10

And here we have it. The #1 funniest thing to ever happen on Survivor (in this columnist's eyes, anyway). And honestly, it was never even close. There was no way I could create a list like this and not put Thunder D and the Dead Grandma scam at the very top. I'm sorry, but there's just no way I could ever do something like that. I just have way too dark a sense of humor not to appreciate the artistry (and humor) behind something like this.


I'll post my thoughts on why this moment was so freaking funny at the very end of the writeup. But first I have to do a walkthrough of the single funniest scene in Survivor history. Because even though you may be sick of it (and sick of its overplay throughout the years), there is a lot going on in this scene that I think you may have missed. In fact in many ways the Dead Grandma gag isn't the only funny thing happening during this challenge. Don't believe me? Just watch and see. There's a lot more humor here than originally meets the eye.

Especially pay attention to Sandra.

And Lill.

And, of course, the very flamboyant death-bringer, Thunder D. Or, as I like to call him, my favorite non-Survivor Survivor NPC* of all-time.

Thunder D, harbinger of doom

(* NPC= Non-Player Character, for those of you who weren't Dungeons and Dragons nerds like me)


It's the tenth episode of Survivor: Pearl Islands and the castaways are gearing up for what will one day become the single most famous Survivor event of all-time. But they aren't aware of that fact yet. In fact not even Jon Dalton is aware of what is about to go down. All he knows is that they are about to have a reward challenge.

And it looks like it involves some sort of plank-walking...

The chaotic evil halfling, Jon Dalton

Time for some plank-walking!

Just in case you forgot the details of this particular challenge, here is the cast of characters you will soon become acquainted with. These are the stars of the single funniest moment in Survivor history, along with their respective quirks, accents, quotes, and reactions.

Burton Roberts, the squinty athletic one (who's a dead ringer for Eric Bana in the movie Troy)

Christa Hastie, the one who sounds like she always has a cold

Darrah Johnson, the unintelligible one

Tijuana Bradley, the one I can't think of a nickname for

Lill Morris, the crying one

Sandra Diaz-Twine, the defiant one

And Jon Dalton, the one who's going to hell

So here we are, with the seven quirky Pearl Island finalists sitting on the bleachers, as Jeff explains the rule of this particular challenge.

"This one will involve some plank-walking. Jon, is there anybody you would like to see walk the plank today?"

Jon is still in prime asshole form. And he doesn't yet realize this is the family visit challenge. "Yeah there's one or two people I wouldn't mind seeing walk the plank right now."

Sandra guesses it's her

And that's when Jeff explains that it will be a lot more complicated than just players walking the plank. He explains that the players' loved ones will be the ones walking the plank. And that's when the cavalcade of Survivor loved ones begins. Let's bring 'em out!

It's Sandra's husband!

It's Tijuana's best friend!

It's Lill's husband!

It's Christa's boyfriend, TV's Fred Savage!

It's Darrah's boyfriend, who she apparently met on the plane out to Panama! (see below)

And what Survivor loved one challenge would be complete without the oldest cliche in the book: The hunky single guy who brings his mom as his loved one! Burton's mom runs out, watches him take a shower, and then says "hibaby."

The players watch their loved ones trickle out. Note that Jon is particularly excited. He knows what's about to happen. The plan he set into motion more than a month and a half ago is about to finally come to fruition. He's so excited he's about to pee his wee little pants.

Only one loved one remains. It's time to meet Jon's best friend. Jeff turns around and says unenthusiastically, "I can't wait to meet this guy."

It's Thunder D!


Burton enjoys Thunder D

As does Darrah

I love Thunder D. In fact he may be my very favorite part of this entire scene. After all, out of all the people Jon could have picked to come deliver his tragic news of loss, did he really have to pick this guy? Was this the most effective messenger Jon could have picked to help him sell this scam to its fullest extent? Was this the most sympathetic harbinger of death Jon could have found??

So Thunder D comes out, wooing and prancing all the way. Because of this prancing, a lot of Survivor fans have mistakenly believed he was gay. But Jon straightens this out on the Pearl Islands DVD commentary. He tells us that Thunder D is perfectly straight. He just likes to prance when he walks. So there you go.

Thunder D and his buddy embrace

Jon quietly whispers what Dan is supposed to say. I never caught this before, but on the DVD commentary Jon says that Thunder D forgot his line. The first thing he told Jon was "Roddy Piper (a pro wrestler) just got fired!" So Jon has to quietly remind him what he is supposed to say.

Well needless to say Jon has had this moment worked out in his head for more than a month and a half. It's a plan he dreamed up a long time ago, in an attempt to squeeze maximum sympathy out of his Pearl Island opponents, and it's now time for Thunder D to set the wheels in motion of the big event. It's time to try to pull off the greatest (and most unethical) scheme that has ever been attempted on Survivor.

And here we go.

Thunder D forgot his line, so Jon starts the whole conversation instead. He asks how grandma is doing back home.

And he looks very concerned

Lill and Tijuana hear the tone in Jon's voice and look up, concerned. Lill hasn't burst into tears yet, but just wait. It's coming.


Jon hurts just as much as anybody, you know.

Note: I love this whole exchange. From the way Jon insistently asks the question, to the way Dan says "She died, dude," to the awkward and sad hug they share in front of everybody. I especially love that Dan doesn't just say "She died" like a normal human being would have said. Somehow "She died, dude" just seems much more fitting. That quote is my favorite part of this entire scene.

Unless you count Jeff's dubious look of suspicion. I don't think he quite buys this.

Big pouty lip. He actually looks sort of Rafe-ish here. Sell it, Jon. Sell it!

Jon goes back to the bench and Lill immediately consoles him. Perfect. He is sitting right next to the person who is most likely to cry. I wonder if he did that on purpose?

Jeff doesn't seem to quite buy this, but by law he is required to ask a follow-up question. So he half-heartedly apologizes to Jon for the bad news.

This is where Jon really piles on the B.S. "It's okay. I'm hoping that maybe I can win the challenge and find out a little more information from my buddy." Note that Lill is already in hysterics. Ha ha.

The Angel of Death looks on in mock concern

So does Darrah

Everyone seems to buy this story, except for Sandra. And the look on her face pretty much says it all. "Fuck you, Fairplay. I don't believe this shit."

The challenge begins, and Jeff explains the rules. If the loved ones answer a question, their player gets to pick who walks off the plank. So the players are pretty much at the mercy of their loved ones. And if Fred Savage wins, it doesn't count. Got it?

The challenge begins. Lill has stopped crying but Sandra still looks pissed. And check out the acting job being done by Mr. Dalton on the left! He's playing Hamlet!

The challenge begins, and Thunder D immediately starts "woooo"ing again.

Darrah and her boyfriend can't agree on what her nickname is. Like I said before, apparently they just met on the plane ride over here. This pattern will be repeated over and over again.

Okay, here's the funniest part of the entire challenge. Sandra gets to pick the first person to walk the plank. And even though Jon was just told that his gram-gram died, and even though every other castaway is depressed over this news, Sandra just doesn't give a shit. So who is the first person she picks to take one step backwards on the plank? "FAIRPLAY'S BUDDY!" She doesn't even hesitate. She just points and says it very angrily. This quote always cracks me up.

Whoops. Sandra doesn't believe me. Better do a little damage control...

"Well, I'd like to hear a little more news from my friend. But apparently some people don't give a shit." Great quote, by the way.

Great reaction shot

Jon's plan to make Sandra look bad might not have worked... but here's Lill to help enable him again. She comes down on Sandra's lack of compassion, admonishing "His grandmother just died, Sandra." Ha ha ha. Lill totally sells this whole moment. She buys the dead grandma lie hook, line, and sinker. And it works too. Nobody ever picks on Thunder D the entire rest of the challenge.

Here are Darrah and Bradley doing Darrah and Bradley things again. Nope, he doesn't know what her favorite meal is.

Nope, he isn't quite sure what her dream job is...

The challenge goes on and lots of amusing things happen. Darrah misses every question. Tijuana's friend jumps off and does a cannonball. Lill bursts into tears at least seven times. Christa and Fred Savage give some incredibly annoying, ultra-cutesie answers. Thunder D woooos a lot and does a lot of incredibly gay non-gay things. But, predictably, we finally come to the end of the challenge. We finally come to the point where Jon and Thunder D are about to win...

Burton chooses Lill's husband to be the last one to jump in the water

Bye, Lonnie.

And we have a winner! Wooooooo!

Jon wins the challenge! Jon wins a visit from his buddy! And he immediately gets a congratulatory kiss from Lill.

Everybody seems incredibly happy for Jon. Well, everybody that is, except for Sandra. She could not be less enthused by this. I'm surprised she doesn't just reach over and punch him in the balls.

And here comes the next big highlight of this scene. Jon momentarily forgets that he is supposed to be grieving. He is so excited that he won the challenge, that he accidentally forgets he is supposed to be looking sad. Check out the glee with which he runs over to hug Thunder D...



We did it!

You can't grieve without a "woooooooooo!"

Jon suddenly remembers he is supposed to be looking sad. So he turns around and "tearfully" thanks everybody for letting him win.

Hector of Troy gives him a congratulatory thumbs up. Everybody (except Sandra) seems very happy about all this.

The Rafe Pouty Lip is back. This causes Lill to once again burst into tears.

So anyway that's the "dead grandma" scene in all its glory. It's funny from start to finish, with a bunch of wonderful little quirky moments along the way ("Fairplay's buddy!"), and it would have made #1 on this list even if it would have ended there. But luckily for us it doesn't just end there. In fact some would say the best part is still yet to come...

Like this over-dramatic, over-long, unintentionally hilarious quote from Lill. She's the only player who ever could have said this, by the way. "I've gotten to know Jon over the past few days, and he hurts as much as anyone."

So here's Jon and Thunder D back at Camp Balboa. And even though we suspected the dead grandma thing might have been a lie, this is where they finally confirm it for us. Although it's really not that hard to do, judging by the grins on both of their faces.

THUNDER D: "That was a brilliant performance."
JON: "Yeah, but I couldn't cry though."

And here we have one of the single funniest (and most memorable) quotes in Survivor history. In fact, this quote sends this whole scene (and scam) to the next comedic level. "My grandma's at home right now watching Jerry Springer." Ha ha ha ha.

So what just happened here? Easy. Jon lied about the death of his grandma, just to win a little sympathy (and favor) from the rest of his tribesmates. Like I said, it is easily the dirtiest thing ever done on Survivor, it is easily the most underhanded thing ever done on Survivor, but I also happen to agree with Jon when he explains that...

"You only get one shot at winning a million dollars. And if you don't take every advantage you possibly can, then you're an idiot!"

And I love that Jon and Thunder D sit around all day just joking about this.

"Your grandma's gonna be pissed!"

"My grandma's gonna love it!"

So does the comedy end there? Of course not. This wouldn't be the #1 moment if it stopped at that point. Because not only does Jon milk this "dead grandma" scam as hard as he possibly can, he actually starts swearing on the body of his deceased grandmother when he tries to cut deals down the road. Jon literally uses his grandmother's passing as a bargaining chip with the rest of his tribesmates, and it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen on Survivor. I honestly couldn't believe I was actually seeing a person do something like this on national TV.

Jon swears on his grandmother's name that he'll be true to Christa and Sandra

Jon swears on his gram-gram to gain favor with Sandra

The best part about Jon's repeated swearing on his grandmother's name is that Lill never seems to catch on. She actually reminds him that gram-gram is in heaven, looking down, and that he should be careful with what he is promising. Jon's response? "She'll understand."

Even though Jon's "dead grandma" lie didn't win him the million dollars, it ended up being my single favorite subplot in Survivor history. Especially when it led to quotes like this, which I still laugh at when I watch them, even today. I love how funny Jon thinks this is. And I love how nobody else in the world was in on the joke at the time. As long as it was funny to Jon (and I guess to Thunder D), well that was more than good enough for him.

"I told them that one of grandma's last wishes was that I win."

He tries to keep a straight face...

Can't do it...

My reaction exactly. Thanks Jon.

I know I've taken a lot of potshots at Jon on the Funny 115, and I know I've made him the brunt of a lot of my jokes. But the fact remains that he holds the coveted #1 slot on the "funniest thing to ever happen on Survivor", and he did it with a style that makes me jealous. Jon went so above and beyond with this moment, and thought so outside the box with this scam, that I'll never replace this as my favorite Survivor moment of all time. No matter how many times I see it replayed, no matter how many times it shows up on "VH1's outrageous reality show moments!", I will never ever get sick of it.

It's the single funniest Survivor moment of all time.

Lord and Master of the Funny 115

P.S. Of course I can't overlook the fact that Jeff actually interviewed Jon's grandma during the reunion show. How cool is that? I loved the fact that the first time the producers realized this was a scam is when they called grandma's house and she actually picked up the phone. Sorry but that's just funny.

She's not quite dead. She's getting better!

P.P.S. The only way this moment would have been funnier? If Rupert had been there. Can you imagine what his reaction would have been to the dead grandma lie? Or would he have even noticed? Would he have been busy dry-humping his wife on the beach? Who knows? It's too bad he was voted out the day before the grandma lie, because his reaction to this scene would have been classic.

P.P.P.S. Anybody who knows me will tell you that my comedic idol is a guy named Andy Kaufman. He was a comic who died in 1982, and was well known for putting on the most bizarre stunts to just amuse himself. He didn't care if the audience laughed at his act or not. All he cared about was that he amused himself. So Kaufman would do things like deliberately bomb a performance, or deliberately try to piss off his audience, just because their reactions made him laugh. He was notorious for doing things that were only funny to one person in the world (himself), he was famous for doing things that would only be funny five years down the road (instead of now), and the patience he displayed to achieve this goal was downright mind-boggling. And if you don't see the parallel between Andy Kaufman and Jon Dalton's grandma lie, you'd have to be crazy.

I mean, look at it this way. Jon planned the dead grandma scam for MONTHS. He knew it was going to happen, he knew it would be hilarious someday, and he was able to sit on this joke (and not ruin it) throughout the entire course of a Survivor season! He was also able to stay in character, and never give away that it was a joke, full-well knowing that it would make the whole thing that much funnier (in a morbid, dark sense) when it aired on TV. And that's the thing that I most appreciated about the dead grandma lie. It was so Andy Kaufman-esque that it was like watching my favorite comedy performer come back to life for one last performance. And the fact that Jon Dalton was also an Andy Kaufman fan was certainly not lost on me. In fact, his sig line over at Survivor Sucks used to be "the new Andy Kaufman." So it's easy to see that he saw the significance of this scam as well as anybody.

The original Andy Kaufman

P.P.P.P.S. There's no way any other moment could ever have topped "dead grandma" on The Funny 115. Never. The fact that Jews don't eat ham was never even all that close.

Thanks to everybody who followed the Funny 115 countdown. It took me about six months to create, and it's by far the biggest Survivor project I've ever attempted. But I liked the way it turned out in the end, so thanks for reading. If you liked this countdown, you can please do either one of two things. You can either email me and tell me you loved it (or tell me how I could have made it better), or you can pass the word along and help me publicize this site as much as I can. Since I don't write for a major website anymore, I don't have access to large-scale publicity like I used to. So if you can pass the word along to two of your friends, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks again!

-Mario Lanza, 3/12/07


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