31 from 30: Staff Picks for the 31st Moment that Shaped Survivor

We’ve reached the end of our 30 from 30 series, but as we approach the 31st season of Survivor, we each had thoughts on what a 31st moment could be. For a reminder of what made the list of thirty, click here.


#31 – Rob Cesternino Blindsides Alex Bell

Having already flipped on Deena just one vote earlier, Rob’s blindside of Alex (and later of Christy) showed that flip flopping can be a viable strategy to get to the end. Provided you’re able to win a final immunity challenge, of course. Though his lack of allegiance may have earned him the nickname of Slimy Rob by my mother (having been preceded by Boston Rob and Skater Robb), Cesternino’s ability to flip between alliances also granted him the title of “best player to never win.” At least for the next ten seasons. This moment’s most recent impact can be seen on San Juan Del Sur when Jon and Jaclyn flipped to vote Josh and then Jeremy in consecutive tribal councils. Deena and Alex were similar strategic threats in The Amazon. Although note to Alex: While giving two weeks notice is the right move at a job, maybe not so good of an idea in an alliance.

Emma: @purplerockemma


#31 – Tom and Ian Play Purple Rock Chicken

The Purple Rock was created to eliminate ties. The random and capricious nature of elimination basically took ties out of the vocabulary of Survivor players for the five seasons that followed its deployment in Marquesas (whereas there had been three prior to it). No one would dare risk being eliminated due to random chance. No one, that is, until Tom and Ian realized at the final six that they would be the next targets of the other three members of their alliance once the annoyance of Caryn was dealt with. The decision then became avoid the risk now to be taken out next, or roll the dice and test the resolve of the other side (specifically Katie). Katie was not feeling similarly bold and fell in line, voting out Gregg. In doing so, Tom and Ian discovered that if you don’t fear the purple rock, you can assume its power. Subsequent alliances would later follow this template, realizing that you can break ties as long as your resolve to face the rock is greater than that of your opposition (see: Samoa and South Pacific).

Andy: @purplerockandy


#31 – Stephenie and Bobby Jon Return to Play Newbies

Though the show first toyed with returning players in All-Stars, it didn’t dare mix them with new players until Guatemala in season 11. And so began the trend of newbies fawning over people they saw on their TV screens. Not only did this affect gameplay, as fans became somewhat star stricken (for a time), but it also worked as a repeated ratings stunt and the foundation for the Fans vs Favorites theme. Other than CBS’ love affair with Boston Rob, would there have been a Redemption Island without a Guatemala or Micronesia? And we would have missed out on moments like Erik giving up immunity or Cochran doing yoga with Coach?

Mark: @purplerockmark


#31 – Plan Voodoo

The vote split is the most important and most frequently used strategy for dealing with the hidden immunity idol.  The first time we see a successful split vote was in Fiji.  However, the first time we saw someone talk about splitting the vote as a viable strategy to deal with an immunity was in Cook Islands when Cao Boi concocted Plan Voodoo.  According to Cao Boi, he had a dream where (and god I wish I had the imagination to make this up) people were being kidnapped from a village and he couldn’t defeat them (because they turned invisible, of course), and a shaman lady (who had credit card applications for some reason) told him he needed 3 and 3.  To Cao Boi this obviously meant if they put 3 votes on two people, it would flush the idol.  He told this dream to Yul Kwon (who did have the idol), who immediately thought the plan was so ingenious that he made sure Cao Boi was voted out that next tribal council (an underrated comedic moment is seeing Yul’s face morph from him humoring Cao Boi to him immediately realizing Cao Boi was trouble).  It’s unclear whether future Survivors decided to split votes because they were inspired by Plan Voodoo, but it is indisputably the first time the split vote strategy for dealing with idols was explained to the viewing audience.  For introducing the split vote strategy to Survivor, Plan Voodoo is one of the moments that changed the way the audience understands the strategy of Survivor and watch the show.

Matt: @purplerockmatt


#31 – Jeff Probst Ends Dan Foley’s Edit-Blaming Pity Tour

Dan Foley made many mistakes on Survivor, but the mistake that future Survivors will remember happened outside the show. When Dan was doing his post-game press, he took every opportunity to give his side of the story. In his version, he was the hero and CBS had done him wrong by portraying him in a bad light. He had tried to sculpt his own narrative while on the show, and it’s likely that the production team realized exactly what he was doing. So when they broadcast the story they saw, rather than the story in Dan’s head, Dan reacted angrily and attacked the show. But since Jeff Probst and the staff read these post-game interviews, they decided to address them at the Worlds Apart reunion. The result was a cringefest evisceration of Dan that gave him no wiggle room to claim he’d been portrayed incorrectly, and the message was delivered to future players: You’ll take your edit and you’ll like it.

John: @purplerockpod

What do you think? Do you have a 31st moment that you think should’ve made the list? Let us know in the comments below.

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Andy and John are the hosts of the Purple Rock Survivor podcast.
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22 thoughts on “31 from 30: Staff Picks for the 31st Moment that Shaped Survivor

  1. All are excellent choices. Much better choices than the jury usually has at final tribal. I give the edge to John though because that was a glorious moment of television. It almost made up for a season’s worth of Dansplaining and misogyny. Almost.

    1. The thing that kept it off the list is that not only do we not know if it will actually have an impact (since no Survivor has aired since that moment), it would be tough to ever know if it does, since it’s hard to prove a negative (which is to say if Jeff bringing down the thunder puts an end to future contestants blaming the edit, we won’t have anything to point to, since it would the absence of things).

      Still, worth discussing in this forum.

      1. I think the bigger impact is gonna end up being that Survivor thinks long and hard about whether future players are potential Dan Foleys. I don’t think there’s any curbing Dan, or the next Dan if he happens. Dan is still going off on his grudge against the show these several months later. There is no stopping someone who lacks that baseline level of self-awareness.

        I liked the point your were making during Worlds Apart about how casting was probably intimately familiar with Dan at this point and may have decided to throw him on the show just to get him off their hands, but if that’s true the joke is on them because there is just no way they are happy with the level of oxygen Dan sucked up, even before he got booted and really went off.

        This is probably the lesson they should have learned after Brandon Hantz, but maybe they only learned to look out for players who might be dangerous. Now they know a player can be toxic enough to derail a season even without getting violent, and hopefully they look out for it in the future.

        1. It is extremely funny that you brought up Brandon in this post because I got into a bit of debate someone around the time of the WA Finale where we were debating between Dan and Brandon. I argued that Brandon never actually attacked the show for presenting him badly during South Pacific. In fact, some of the jury members still contend that he could have won South Pacific had he made the final 3. Although Brandon also had a terrible fall from grace at the reunion when Uncle Russie decided to insult Brandon’s game, or am I misremembering that?

          1. That did happen at the reunion, yes.

            And I don’t know if I’ve heard ANY jury member from South Pacific NOT say that Brandon would have won. It’s been unanimous as far as I’ve heard.

          2. So, who would have been at the hypothetical tribal? Brandon, Sophie, and Coach? Would Cowboy Rick be in there as well?

          3. Brandon takes Albert’s spot after not giving up immunity. He sticks with the plan and votes out Cowboy Rick. Ozzy loses final immunity.

          4. I’ve also heard that so many times. I’m tempted to say they’re all in on a scheme to troll us all, but I think they’re probably being honest, which is insane. HE VOTED OUT A WOMAN FOR GIVING HIM A BONER, AND LIED TO EVERYONE TO TRY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!!111!!!!11!11!!!!

          5. Yeah, I don’t think Brandon felt done poorly by Survivor post South Pacific, although he may have felt ill treated by him family.

            I was comparing Dan to Brandon in the sense that, hopefully, after Caramoan Survivor had a conversation about how not to cast another Brandon, and hopefully they had a similar conversation about how not to cast another Dan. I know Survivor needs terrible people to gin up controversy, but I don’t think they were any happier with the Dan Foley experience than the fan base was.

          6. It is almost like they didn’t realize who he truly was while he didn’t realize what the show can do to someone or someone’s edit all at the same time.

  2. One last time:

    #31 (chronologically, #1): Richard Hatch’s first interview instructs everyone in every future season as to the kind of self-awareness it takes to get camera time and be an entertaining narrator of the game. Also sets himself up as a “villain” from day one, providing a template for others. Season 1 of Survivor isn’t the cultural phenomenon it is without Hatch’s arrogance and insight.

    “I’m good to go survival wise. People wise, it’ll be a little, a little more challenging. But I’ve got the million dollar check written already. I mean, I’m the winner. And it’s that kind of cocky attitude that makes people really hate your guts. So that’s the kind of thing, I’ve really got to keep, uh… under wraps. But, uh, it’s just, how do I get there from here?”

  3. #31: Rob proposes to Amber at the All-Stars reunion. This was sort of a fun moment that unfortunately set the stage for every mediocre reunion “twist” in the future, from presenting Denise with a giant check to David Murphy’s half-assed attempt to follow in Rob’s footsteps with his own proposal.

  4. Plan Voodoo should’ve been on the list, dammit. It’s waaaaay more influential than some of the others, because it kicked off vote-splitting, which has been utterly critical to so many seasons since.

    1. The reason it didn’t is that we’re not convinced it ACTUALLY influenced vote splitting. Here’s why: the first actual vote split happens in the next season (Fiji). Fiji was notoriously made up of non-fan recruits. Do we think these people even SAW much less took to heart Cao Boi’s weird confessional, or did just come up with the idea independently?

      It’s also rumoured that vote splitting was conceived in Panama, it just never came up on the edit because Terry was never not immune.

      So Plan VooDoo was the first time it was on the show, but we’re not sure it actually shaped anything.

  5. Caleb announcing he’s changing vote to Brad in the middle of tribal council.Sets up the idea that nothing is really set in stone until the votes.

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