A History of Premerge Hidden Immunity Idols Plays in Survivor

This past week, the Survivor community has been embroiled in a debate. Or, perhaps more accurately, mildly curious about a debate. David playing an idol not only premerge, but for someone else, feels like a risky move whether you think it’s a good one or not. But as the premier site of Survivor discourse, we knew we had to do more than simply discuss the decision on a podcast. We need to examine every other premerge idol play, and use the past to figure out if David is a good player or not.

Tom Westman Saves Himself – “Tonight, We Make Our Move”, Heroes Vs. Villains

Preparing to slay your fav, only to lose anyway.
Preparing to slay your fav, only to lose anyway.

Hard to believe that the first time an idol was played before the merge was in season 20, but here we are. If that’s incorrect, blame the Survivor Wiki, not me.

Anyway, in a tribe-wide idol hunt, Tom prevailed. This was good news, because he was in the extreme minority of his tribe, along with Colby. They were so alone that even with the idol, one of them would go home with the split vote… until they managed to get J.T. to flip and idol out Cirie. Unfortunately, at that point J.T. no longer needed Tom, and the silver fox was the next to go home. However, things did work out relatively okay for his partner Colby.

Russell Hantz Saves Parvati Shallow – “Banana Etiquette”, Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains

Russell plays idol for Parvati
Russell, seen here at his most likable.

The first season to have an idol played premerge is also the only one (so far) to see it happen twice! This is one you all should remember. It’s from one of the best episodes of the show and is objectively the most entertaining idol play of all time. After convincing Tyson to vote for Parvati – or after Tyson decided of his own foolish accord, whichever narrative you believe – Russell took a risk and gave Parvati his idol to play. It worked, and they were both safe and took control of the game. They may not have won, but neither would have gotten to the end without that premerge idol play.

Kristina Kell Flushes Her Idol – “You Own My Vote”, Survivor: Redemption Island

She's the one in the middle. We understand if you forgot.
She’s the one in the middle. We understand if you forgot.

After finding an idol on the first day, Kristina was quickly alienated from her tribe. She got away with not playing it during the first tribal council, but then she lost her only ally (Francesca). When Ometepe when to tribal again, she seemed to be the obvious target. Assuming they wanted to flush her idol, Kristina played it. However, Boston Rob had actually switched the vote to Matt Elrod, concerned about the potential for a power couple with Andrea. They did split the votes anyway (in case Matt had an idol? I don’t know), but not enough that the idol made a difference. Despite gaining an extra six days, Kristina failed to make any inroads and was voted out the next time Ometepe went to tribal council.

Reynold Toepfer Plays it Safe – “Kill or Be Killed” – Survivor: Caramoan

A r.obbed g.oddess, apparently
A r.obbed g.oddess, apparently

Though his idol was revealed two tribal councils beforehand, Reynold waited to play his until he and Eddie were the only ones left in the Cool Kids Alliance. The problem is, the Fans were such a terrible tribe that they were desperate to hold on to physical strength. Thus, Laura Alexander was sacrificed and Reynold negated one whole vote after playing his idol. The next immunity challenge was the infamous Brandon Hantz incident, which made Reynold safe through the swap, where he ended up on a more physically more dominant tribe. He would ultimately be a mid-level jury member and be part of two much more interesting idol plays.

In conclusion, prior to season 33, there have only been four instances where a hidden immunity idol was played before the merge. Therefore, the sample size is even more useless than usual. So what does it all mean? That it was easier for me to research this than to showcase every time an idol was played for somebody else. Besides, Andy talked about that in the podcast, so you already know it has a high success rate. Like most things in Survivor, it works when it works and doesn’t when it doesn’t.

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Emma is the token chick of the Purple Rock Podcast. She has watched the show continuously since the second episode and is pretty sure she's never seen the pilot.

Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, China, Philippines

Favorite players: Courtney Yates, Parvati Shallow, John Cochran, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin
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21 thoughts on “A History of Premerge Hidden Immunity Idols Plays in Survivor

  1. “It’s from one of the best episodes of the show.”

    This seems like an opportunity for me to promote my ongoing series of ranking the 33 Best Episodes in Survivor History. It can be found in the comments of the podcast post every weekend during this season. Will “Banana Etiquette” make the cut? The answer may surprise you (it won’t surprise you).

      1. By my count we are now up to three episodes where if I don’t include them I have lost my position (HvV & Pearl Islands premieres, Banana Etiquette). A lot of pressure I have to live up to here.

          1. I have 21 more episodes to reveal. What are the episodes that should be on my list? I’m willing to bet that one of them misses the cut. At least it would be interesting if that happened.

          2. I kid…I only have like four more “iconic” ones that should be on your list. The Borneo Final 4, Skupin falling in the fire, Dead Grandma, and the double idol play.

            I should probably make my list as well.

  2. Emma, I think I know a new list for you: Best Idol Plays for Others. Yes, I know this would be a lot of work, but it could be interesting. How low would Jeremy’s idol play for Stephen be? How high would LJ and Tony’s idol plays rank?

    1. “Yes, I know this would be a lot of work…”
      Oh look at that! You found the reason I didn’t do it. 😉

      However, if there were to be such a list, if the ranking was based on efficacy, LJ and Tony’s would be very low, if not at the bottom.

      1. I think Tony’s would be higher than LJ’s though. Tony was able to get LJ into a false sense of security so he could blindside him later while LJ was just doing it to reciprocate the favor. Tony even says that LJ shouldn’t have done it in the heat of the moment.

          1. Not sure I agree on Jeremy. On its face, saving Fishy for three days doesn’t seem like much of an impact. But, the other result was that he squashed the Coven Rebellion right as it started by clipping Ciera, while reinforcing to others that he wasn’t to be messed with. Spencer fell in line, Kelley and Abi-Maria never had power again, and he was able to control much of the rest of the game.

          2. So, you have caused me to think about this and I do think this ended up being a better move than what I was thinking because of three elements:
            1) Jeremy was able to basically finalize Stephen’s jury vote for him with that move.
            2) It gives Jeremy a big move that he could have pointed to, if needed, at FTC (of course, it was overshadowed by “no votes”, but he didn’t know that at the time).
            3) Keeping Stephen around after an idol play ensures that Stephen’s target grows while Jeremy’s stays relatively small.
            4) Not voting out Stephen showed how loyal Jeremy was to the jury members that loyalty mattered to: (Savage, Kelly…Keith and Joe down the line). But, it also ensured that he didn’t have Stephen’s blood on his hands the same way that Spencer did.

      2. They actually help prove my point: it might be more effective to play an idol for someone else when you’re in the plan of where the vote is going. In that scenario, Tony and LJ were just guessing, just like they would if they played it for themselves.

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