30 from 30: #24 – James Clement is Blindsided with Two Idols

The Moment:

James Clement is voted out with two idols in his bag on Survivor: China.

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

The Hidden Immunity Idol changed Survivor. This is an obvious statement, but the introduction of the idol forced players to figure out strategies to deal with the idol. One of the most popular is the vote split- when the side with the idol is outnumber by at least a 2-1 margin, the majority group splits their votes between two targets, flushing the idol and making sure that one person aligned against you goes home.

And as Andy just discussed, the way to go after the idol when two roughly equal sides have an idol is to target the person that they would never suspect you to target.

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.
Never gets old.

But what is the strategy to deal with an idol-holder when that person is in the dominant alliance?

In China, Todd, Amanda and Courtney had a problem. They were the dominant alliance, with only Peih-Gee and Erik left from the other alliance, and had complete control of the game. (Denise was also there, but who cares about Denise?) That wasn’t their problem. This was:


James Clement was a major threat. He was athletic, funny, charming, and he had two immunity idols (one that was given to him by Todd, and the other that he found after being told where to look). Both of these idols had to be used by final five, after which he would only have to win one immunity challenge to get to the final three. Amanda saw this situation and realized that the most likely thing keeping her from winning the game wasn’t Peih-Gee or Erik, it was James, his two idols, and his charming personality (little did she know that she was perfectly capable of keeping herself from winning without any help from others).

So while James, Amanda, Todd and Courtney were sitting around camp promising that this was the final four, and James was reminding everyone not to eat the apple,

apple bite
Mmm, sacrilicious.

Amanda cooked up a plan.


The three decided that only an idiot would fail to play his idol at final six and final five, so the chance to get James out was right this very moment. Right now.


Otherwise, they were betting that James would lose the last immunity challenge. And that wasn’t a bet they were willing to make, especially since Todd and Courtney weren’t exactly paragons of athleticism. One minor problem: in previous seasons, no immunity idol-holder failed to play the idol when he was in danger. So Amanda, Courtney and Todd had to blindside James. They had to convince him that he wasn’t the target, and no one that was voting for James could betray the plan. Sorry, James, that apple looked too delicious.

This was a risky plan, but Amanda, Courtney and Todd had a pretty crucial thing in their favor: James was in their alliance and they still had two people to vote out, so it was unlikely that James would think he was the target. Oh, and also James wasn’t very good at Survivor. They had that going for them, too.

Amanda sold her alliance on the plan, using this exact logic. Their only chance of getting James out was when he didn’t expect it, and he did not expect it tonight. Courtney agreed immediately, Amanda then convinced Todd and Denise, and Todd agreed to go along with it as long as this was kept super secret and they didn’t tell anyone else. For Todd, the risk was huge; if James played his idol, Todd was likely going home.

Then, of course, Amanda told Peih-Gee, who then promptly told Erik. At that point, the only person who didn’t know that James’ name was being written down was James Clement.


But James never figured out the secret everyone was keeping from him, and that night he went home with two immunity idols in his possession.


The Impact:

The impact of this moment was two-fold. The first is that it immediately became the dumbest thing that a Survivor had ever done. James had two immunity idols! And he failed to play either of them! “The Failure of James Clement” would forever be enshrined on the short list of dumbest Survivor moments.

When you think about it, it’s odd that James brought two idols with him to Tribal Council. One probably would’ve sufficed.

The real impact of this moment was to suggest yet another strategy for dealing with a player that has a hidden immunity idol (or two). Targeting unlikely players while waiting to split the vote is all well and good, but why not just blindside the idol-holder? After all, they have to elect to play the idol- this isn’t the Yul idol (or Tyler Perry idol, if you prefer). The only thing necessary for this plan to be a success is that the idol-holder doesn’t expect to be the target.

The strategy caught on immediately. In Micronesia, Ozzy was sent to Exile Island where he found the idol. He was in a great position on his tribe, had a dominant alliance, was a huge challenge threat and now had an idol. So what happened to Ozzy? Blindsided.

More on this to come. Stay tuned.

Jason Siska then went to Exile Island. He found the idol and was also a huge challenge threat. Unlike Ozzy, Jason Siska knew he wasn’t in the dominant alliance- or rather he should have known (this is Jason Siska we’re talking about)- so he had no reason not to play his idol. James, now on the outs with Ozzy gone, was told that he was the back-up target, but that they were trying to convince Jason he wasn’t in trouble. James, of course, thought that someone would have to be an idiot not to play their idol in this situation (and he would know). Fortunately for James, Jason was a fucking idiot. Blindsided. Jason goes home with an idol in his pocket.

Jason Siska, fucking idiot.
Jason Siska, fucking idiot.

In Tocantins, Coach slayed his dragon when Brandon was blindsided with the idol in his pocket.

Iron sharpens something, something.

In Caramoan, Cochran basically won the game when he and Dawn blindsided Andrea, sending her to the jury with an idol in her pocket. Andrea, by the way, is still the only woman to go home with an idol in her possession.


In Cagayan, Garrett was blindsided despite having a hidden immunity idol, which he had left back at camp. Fortunately reading people isn’t necessary to be a great poker player, right Garrett?

In San Juan Del Sur, Jon Misch was blindsided at final six with an idol in his pocket. I would write more about that moment, but even thinking about that season makes me sleepy.

So James going home with two idols created a new strategy for dealing with the hidden immunity idol. Instead of trying to get around it, sometimes it is best to attack it head-on and just blindside the idol-holder. After all, you can’t stop what you don’t see coming, and it works even better if the idol-holder is a cocksure, kinda dumb man (or Andrea, poor Andrea).

What Else Made the List?

You can view all our 30 from 30 content by clicking here.

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Matt has an irrational dislike for all contestants named Michel(l)e. Also if he ever takes a strong stance about why everyone else is wrong, it is he that is inevitably wrong.

Favorite seasons: Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains, Palau, Philippines, Pearl Islands, Cagayan
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19 thoughts on “30 from 30: #24 – James Clement is Blindsided with Two Idols

  1. God, I need to rewatch China soon. China was the last season I watched in full until SJDS, so it stands out in my Survivor memory.

    1. My disqus hasn’t been working, so I’ve been waiting two days to be able to say this. But yes! China is great, I love China.

      1. I just remember rooting for Amanda. I am already deeply ashamed of admitting that fact, but I was a teenager at the time.

          1. You would think that a former beauty pageant contestant would be good at FTC, considering that most of the questions will be talking about her game.

          2. I guess she must’ve just done really well in the swimwear portions. Especially since there wouldn’t have been any blurs.

          3. In her defense, Michael Caine from Miss Congeniality wasn’t on Survivor with the hairspray to prevent her swimsuit from riding up.

  2. The strategy of targeting the idol holder, starting with James and reinforced in Micronesia, lead to another interesting influence: people not wanting to be idol holders.

    You see it immediately in Gabon when Marcus throws the fake-merge idol into the ocean, and then is voted out. Later, in HvV, old school players Rob and Sandra try to exert peer pressure to make the idol holder an immediate target (which Russell ignores, becoming a target, but then shows that having an idol can be pretty powerful). Of course, the most obvious example is the original Blood vs Water, where contestants made a big show about burning idol clues rather than be branded an idol threat. (There are other smaller examples, both known and not, of people just plain avoiding searches because it runs counter to their UTR strategies).

    The common thread is that for many players, an idol everyone knows you have isn’t all that valuable, since it just makes you a target.

    1. It is interesting how different groups of survivors react to idols in different ways. Some groups will, as you say, do everything they can to keep that target off their back and avoid idols. Some won’t avoid idols, but will be so scared of the idol that they won’t ever make a move against the idol holder. And then some won’t avoid idols but will constantly compensate for unknown idols by splitting votes constantly, building super majorities even in the early merge portion to combat a possible idol and generally always playing as if anyone could have an idol

  3. This vote right here is the first thing I point to when I try to sell people on Todd not being as good a winner as people think he is. Because here is what should have happened:

    1. James should have played his idol. You only have three chances to use it, and you’re by far the most athletic person left in the game. You have to bank on winning one of the next couple immunities. You play the idol whether you think you are in any danger or not.

    2. Peih-Gee and Erik vote for Todd. They were told the votes were going to James. They knew that James had the idols. They knew the only one not voting for James was James. How is it that Peih-Gee did not convince Erik to vote Todd here boggles my mind, what’s the point of Erik’s James vote? How can he possibly think he’s in the Fei Long alliance?

    3. Todd goes home. He was assuming all the risk here in a very risky move, and he really had no control of the outcome. You can say he had the guts to do that, but in my mind to allow this to happen is not courage, it’s kind of stupid. Vote Peih-Gee, if James plays the idol, you’re safe because Peih-Gee’s going home on a possible tie, if not James is still out. If players were not being dumb, Todd goes home here. It was just luck he didn’t.

    1. 2 is the one that stood out to me on rewatch. Seriously why does Erik not vote Todd? that makes zero sense.

    2. 4. Todd had to assume this danger because of the situation he created by giving James access to two idols in the first place.

  4. “Oh, and also James wasn’t very good at Survivor. They had that going for them, too.”
    That cracked me up.

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