Know How to Deal with Idols and Advantages (and other Rules/Game Mechanics)
This rule used to be an Appendix, but was elevated a while ago when it became clear that idols and other advantages were growing in importance, especially now that Jeff Probst and jurors are considering this part of the “Outplay” portion of the game in determining who should win the game. If anything, the importance of knowing how to deal with idols and advantages has only increased as Jeff becomes more and more creative and puts further emphasis on them. That means players need to know how to properly deal with them.
This brings up two questions:
- What should you do to get one?
- What should you do with it?
There are different answers to each of these questions depending on the situation, specifically whether the idol or advantage in question is a secret or known to everybody.
First, it may seem obvious to say but I do indeed think you should do your best to find any idols you can, but without putting yourself in danger. I know the first Blood vs. Water had the weird situation of an idol clue being a target, and there are still some players who try to bring that back in order to put a target on anyone they want to label as “sneaky.” But under normal circumstances, any chance of getting an idol not only gives you a safety net but also takes away the potential blindside effect of somebody else having an idol. So definitely go for it. Tai told Rob on the red carpet after Game Changers that players should know the idol can be hidden in any crack or hole in a tree, so they should just go around sticking their hands into anything like that – even if you get stung by a scorpion, the idol is worth it!
Of course, now we have Beware advantages and idols, which come with downsides. Some of those downsides are really bad, like losing your vote; others are stupid and meaningless, like needing to take a nighttime boat trip. Players in Survivor 44 now know about these but Jeff has come up with new twists for downsides. Still, taking one if you find it is not an awful strategy because at least you know where the idol is. Of course, if you have to make some stupid announcement to everyone about butterflies or goats, then eventually everyone will probably know you have it and you’ll need to deal with that. Which leads nicely to the discussion about what to do if people know.
If you are found out in the early part of the game, then it’s time to make a show about how you have this idol for your tribe/alliance/whatever you can say to make people feel more comfortable. If it’s later in the game, you’ll have to play it by ear and perhaps try to bring anyone who knows onboard – or target them as the next person to go.
What to do with an idol is a bit trickier. You have to go back to the third rule – be flexible. Under most circumstances, it is my opinion that it makes sense to keep it for yourself only, which also means keeping it completely secret. But there is an ongoing debate about this, because some people say it’s sometimes better to make use of the idol as an alliance-building tool to bring people together. I can see that it can occasionally work that way, but more often than not, secrecy is the best policy. HHH definitely showed that keeping it a secret worked a lot better than sharing the information! And now that an idol nullifier has been introduced into the game, it is yet another reason to keep your idol a secret! Also, for goodness’ sake, don’t give away advantages, idols, or parts of idols away as a sign of trust! For two seasons in a row, the person to whom something was given turned it around! Cirie tried to use Sarah’s advantage in Game Changers and Dr. Mike threw Lauren’s half-idol into the fire just when she needed it in HHH.
With all that being said, it doesn’t mean you have to use that idol on yourself. You can use it to your strategic benefit in other ways, such as saving an ally as Natalie Anderson, Jeremy, and David Wright showed us.
But whatever you do, don’t get voted out with an idol in your pocket! This goes back to having the pulse of everybody there. You may feel stupid if you use your idol and it wasn’t necessary – but nowhere near as stupid as if you leave and take it with you as a souvenir. And as Ben showed us in HHH, you can use the idol and then just go find it again after it’s been rehidden!
While you may end up with an idol, it’s mathematically more likely that someone else will get it, which means you need to be on the lookout for telltale signs. Several times, people have been busted for having an idol because they were too calm when they should have been freaking out about an upcoming Tribal Council. Any time you can suss out somebody else’s idol, you get a big advantage on them. And any time there is even the slightest chance an idol could be in play, if you have the numbers to do it and aren’t worried about some strange flip, make sure to split the votes. Of course, this presumes there is someone else who is obviously on the outs; if there isn’t, things get trickier because by putting split votes on someone else, you’re telling them that you were willing to let them go. So there are a number of factors that need to be weighed, but you just have to lay it all out.
As for advantages, these are probably the trickiest situation. Time and time again we’ve seen advantages get misplayed, and they also keep changing, which makes them that much more difficult to predict and play. Generally, if there is an advantage offered, I think you should go for it – if only to prevent the opposition from getting it. Of course this is situational too; if an advantage is offered for quitting an immunity challenge and you think you have a good chance of winning that challenge, go for the win. But if you have no chance, go for the advantage instead, like Stephen did on Second Chance.
But if everyone knows you have this advantage, you may well have put a big target on yourself – again, like Stephen did in Second Chance. So you need to decide whether to share information about what the advantage does, or just burn it up by using it right away. That decision must take into account what the specific advantage does. If it’s so powerful that you think it’s worth the risk, then take that chance. But you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. Some advantages are basically just traps for unwitting players, others can only really be useful in very specific situations.
Of course, if you have a secret advantage, that’s a whole different story. By all means make the best possible plans to use it and treat it similarly to the way I advised above for having an idol. That means you can use it to create bonds, but I would advise once again to not do that, and to keep it secret for when it can best be used. Indeed, there should be more emphasis on keeping things secret. As we saw with Maryanne in Survivor 42, she was literally the only one to keep an idol secret, and of course she won! But if you have to tell someone, make sure you tell all your allies so none of them feel left out the way Jonathan and Maryanne did when Mike told them about Lindsay’s amulet idol.
Speaking of keeping idols or advantages secret, players may want to consider trying to wear clothing that can hide idols. I know production picks the clothing but they usually choose it out of what you send them, so give yourself some hiding space. (Sometimes they won’t like anything you send them and will give you clothes they bought – unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about that.) This helped one player convince another in Australian Survivor to let her “hold” the idol because she had plenty of places to hide it while he didn’t. Then she voted him out and kept the idol.
Also, if you’re going to hide something in your clothes, make sure it stays hidden! We don’t need another JD situation with his extra vote advantage literally hanging halfway out of his shorts!
We also need to discuss fake idols. In recent seasons we’ve seen quite an uptick in the creation and use of fakes, with some people turning into an art form. Heck, there have been so many that some weren’t even shown on TV because they ended up not mattering. As fakes have been proliferating, so have ways of detecting them, with people now expecting to see not just the idol but the full note as well. So if you’re going to make a fake idol, you’d better either have a note from a real idol or a damn good reason why you don’t have one – and those are hard to come by, though in one season the producers gave out a genuine fake idol, which confuses matters even more! Every situation with a fake idol will be somewhat different, but whatever you do, don’t use your fake idol in a way that pushes you into the realm of scheming and plotting too much. This almost happened to Domenick early in Ghost Island when he had a real idol and a fake idol and was trying to double-bluff people. He lucked out in that they decided not to target him, but an ally instead – but ally Morgan wasn’t so lucky! The main point to take away here is that if you’re going to make a fake idol, whether to give to someone else or to try to protect yourself, it had better have a damn good story to go along with it.
Survivor South Africa: Return of the Outcasts turned this into an art form. Two different players independently came up with the idea to create fake idols and plant them in Tribal Council so they could be “found” by them later in a realistic situation. Additionally, another player bluffed having several different advantages and disadvantages to confuse other players and so she wouldn’t be blamed for turning on them.
As a newer addition to this rule, we also have a bit to say about game mechanics – everything from rock draws to stepping down from a challenge for food to final four firemaking.
We’ll start with rock draws, which of course is a topic near and not-so-dear to Jessica Lewis. There are times when it’s ridiculous to put your game at risk on a rock draw, and other times when it’s absolutely essential. Ridiculous times would be very early in the game when you have plenty of time to maneuver. Essential times would be like Jessica herself, who was in a solid alliance against another solid alliance who wanted her gone. If she hadn’t held strong, she would’ve sealed her own fate because she never could’ve broken into the opposing alliance and they would’ve tossed her as soon as they had the opportunity. Even if by some miracle they hadn’t and she’d made it to the end, she would have burned every bridge in the game and been absolutely unable to win. On the other hand, winner Adam told us in our Why Adam Won redux podcast that if he had drawn the wrong rock instead of her, he believed she would’ve had a good chance of winning instead of him!
Another situation where a rock draw was absolutely the right move was in Blood vs. Water when Ciera had an epiphany at Tribal Council and decided on the spot to force one. Tyson told Rob that he had very little hesitation about it because he knew he had a very small chance of winning if he didn’t do it. Monica later acted as if he’d done it to save her, but in fact, he did it for himself. And he wasn’t the only one to do the right thing there, as Ciera made the correct decision as well, from the opposite side. While it might initially seem like that was mathematically a terrible idea since there was a 67% chance someone on Ciera’s side would go home, it actually made sense because otherwise there was about a 100% chance she was never making it to final 3. Gervase and Monica had slipped and basically told her she was number four. If Tyson had drawn the bad rock and not come back from Redemption Island, Ciera was almost guaranteed to be in the final 3 and would have had a good case for the win. As she said in interviews afterwards, she played to win, not to come in fourth.
Another game mechanic that comes up frequently, and may come up more with Jeff Probst wanting to force tough decisions, is the temptation of stepping down from, or choosing not to participate in, an immunity challenge for food. Sometimes it’s the greatest thing ever, if you are absolutely 100% certain that your place in the game is solid. But other times, it’s just not a chance you should take. A perfect example that came full circle was Kim in One World and then Winners at War. In her first season, Jay dropped out of a challenge for food and Kim organized the vote to get rid of him. Kim herself stepped down too but she was pretty well controlling the game. He thought he was in a solid alliance but clearly wasn’t. Jay said in his Day After video that he stepped down because the person he thought they were targeting was already out and he trusted his alliance. Fast-forward to Winners at War when Kim stepped out of the same challenge for peanut butter and cookies. After the episode, Kim posted a picture of it all and tweeted, “From my calculations, approximately 2 million dollars of PB.” I’m sure she thought she had allies to keep her safe, just like Jay did. But she’d been on the bottom for the whole game and should’ve stuck it out if she could. She especially should’ve known better because she was the one who assured Jay in her prior season that he had nothing crazy to worry about!
I will grant one exception: If you’re about to fall out of a challenge anyway and Jeff offers food, it makes absolute sense to take it. Just don’t convince yourself that you’re about to fall out if you’re really not.
Finally, we have Final 4 firemaking. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it should go away. But Jeff Probst seems to love it so that means players have to deal with it. The first and most obvious way is to make sure you know how to make fire! Firemaking kits are available online, so you should practice before even going out to play. But then you should also do it while you’re in the game because trying to light a fire with wind and the actual materials in Fiji is different from doing it in your kitchen sink or backyard.
Beyond that, you need to consider the strategy involved. I think it’s generally a terrible idea to put yourself into the firemaking challenge if you already won immunity. But Chris Underwood did it because he was told by the jury that he absolutely needed to. Then Natalie didn’t do it in Winners at War and some jurors criticized her for it. I still say those jurors were wrong, but the problem is that those jurors are also the people who will be judging you, and sometimes they have stupid ideas. Like so much else in the game, you need to have a good read on the other players. Try to figure out what people think while they’re still in the game so you know what they may be thinking once they get to the jury. And of course you need to know where you stand compared to the others left in the game. Maybe you have a situation where there is one player who is obviously going to win if they make it to the end and the other two have no chance of knocking them out – then it could absolutely be the right move to throw yourself at firemaking to ensure you have a chance to win the game.