The Quintessential Survivor Merge Boot

There’s been some chatter about “traditional merge boots” and whether or not an alpha going at the merge is still a thing. I’m not here to figure out if that’s the case. I’m here to figure out who embodies the stereotypical view of the merge boot. The platonic ideal of the merge boot.


First, it’s important to know who all the merge boots are:

Borneo – Gretchen Cordy
The Australian Outback – Jeff Varner
Africa – Clarence Black
Marquesas – Rob Mariano
Thailand – Ken Stafford
The Amazon – Roger Sexton
Pearl Islands – Andrew Savage
All-Stars – Lex van den Berghe
Vanuatu – Rory Freeman
Palau – Coby Archa
Guatemala – Brandon Bellinger
Panama – Exile Island – Nick Stanbury
Cook Islands – Nate Gonzalez
Fiji – Michelle Yi
China – Jaime Dugan
Micronesia – Fans vs Favorites – Eliza Orlins
Gabon – Charlie Herschel
Tocantins – Brendan Synott*
Samoa – Erik Cardona
Heroes vs. Villains – J.T. Thomas
Nicaragua – Alina Wilson
Redemption Island – Matt Elrod
South Pacific – Keith Tollefson
One World – Jonas Otsuji
Philippines – RC Saint-Amour
Caramoan – Corinne Kaplan
Blood vs. Water – Aras Baskauskas
Cagayan – Sarah Lacina
San Juan del Sur – Josh Canfield**
Worlds Apart – Kelly Remington
Cambodia – Second Chance – Kass McQuillen

*Joe Dowdle was medevac’d at the merge, so we chose to count Brendan as the merge boot, for being voted out.
**Julie McGee quit at the merge, so we chose to count Josh as the merge boot.

Next, we want to define the prototypical merge boot. Generally the idea is that this is someone who is primarily a physical threat, and also a leader of the opposing/down-in-numbers alliance. Usually this means we’re looking at an alpha male type, although there are some female exceptions that still fit the description. We’ll start off by eliminating those who most obviously do not fit the accepted definition:

Africa – Clarence Black
The Amazon – Roger Sexton
Palau – Coby Archa
Cook Islands – Nate Gonzalez
Fiji – Michelle Yi
Micronesia – Eliza Orlins
Nicaragua – Alina Wilson
Caramoan – Corinne Kaplan
Cagayan – Sarah Lacina
Worlds Apart – Kelly Remington
Cambodia – Kass McQuillen

With that narrowed down, it’s time to eliminate both those who were idoled out of the game, and those who were targeted because the real traditional merge boot had individual immunity:

Panama – Exile Island – Nick Stanbury
Heroes vs. Villains – J.T. Thomas (Editor’s note: I protest J.T.’s inclusion here. I’ll explain in the comments.)
South Pacific – Keith Tollefson
Philippines – RC Saint-Amour

Now I’m going to take a cop-out and eliminate everyone whose circumstances I don’t remember clearly. I’ve seen every season. You can’t be the platonic ideal of anything (except a purple edit) if I don’t remember much about you:

Thailand – Ken Stafford
Guatemala – Brandon Bellinger
Gabon – Charlie Herschel

To avoid controversy, we will now eliminate anyone whose vote-out was questionable. Anything with a major what if, like outdated tie-breakers or the butterfly effects of medevacs and quits:

The Australian Outback – Jeff Varner
Tocantins – Brendan Synott
San Juan del Sur – Josh Canfield

Look at how much progress we’ve made! Okay, it’s time for our final elimination. We all know a few of the names left on the original list are a bit of a stretch to represent the ideal merge boot. Sometimes it’s because they’re not the challenge beast, sometimes it’s because they weren’t the head of another alliance. Either way, much like they were close to winning the game if the merge had swung a different way, they just didn’t quite cut it.

China – Jaime Dugan
Samoa – Erik Cardona
Redemption Island – Matt Elrod
One World – Jonas Otsuji

And then there were five. So I now turn the decision to you, my beloved/tolerated readers. Am I turning this into a poll to avoid making a decision? Of course not, that’s definitely not in line with my personality at all, I can’t believe you would even suggest such a thing.

A case for the contenders:

Gretchen – The first merge boot set the stage for going after strength in the post-merge game. The last woman standing in this discussion, she had the strongest survivor skills and had been the leader of the Pagong tribe.

Rob – Maraamu was outnumbered 7-3 at the merge, and Rob was perceived as both the physical and strategic threat of the minority alliance.

Andrew – One of the most clear-cut leaders on a tribe that didn’t force you to pick one, Savage was a lightning rod at the merge. Performing admirably at a tribal challenge where he literally shouldered the weight was impressive, but likely put a target on his back. Dismissing Lil didn’t help matters, but that’s neither here nor there.

Lex – Rob’s immediate betrayal of Lex, against Amber’s wishes, was due to him being a strong threat in the game. It’s often forgotten in the sands of time that Lex was a formidable challenge beast in Survivor: Africa, but it’s probably safe to assume Rob was well aware of his former friend’s prowess.

Aras – The most merge-bootish merge boot in the modern era of Survivor, Aras is a fit former athlete and former winner whose not-so-subtle alliance was a threat to eventual winner Tyson.

Now it’s time for you to make the call. If we were casting a trope-filled cliche season of Survivor, who is the first person voted out at the merge?

Who is the ultimate merge boot?

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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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  • I’m claiming JT should be included as a potential candidate, because he was going to at least end up tied for most votes against. The one case against his inclusion is that they were targeting him partly because they assumed he didn’t have an idol, since they were in possession of it.

    • sharculese

      I figured it would be something like this and I basically agree with you. Plus, even with the fact that they knew he didn’t have an idol, he was the obvious physical threat and the closest thing that clusterfuck of a tribe had to a leader.

  • Mike Hirsch

    Savage is the mergiest merge boot that ever merged.

    • Hornacek

      Gotta go, my damn wiener-podcast is waiting.

  • Alycia Swift

    I’d put Ken Stafford back in the contest. You don’t remember him but some of us do and he fits the mold. Alpha male, athletic (probably one of the top that season), the leader of the opposition alliance and was well-liked. He was also a cop.

    I’d also put Josh Canfield back in because of the same reasons except he was not a cop. He just was built physically smaller (more like Aras or Vytas if you think about it).

    I agree with John too about JT.

    • Purple Rock Emma

      In a vacuum, Josh does make sense as a merge boot, I just didn’t want anyone with special circumstances on the final list. There’s an argument to be made that Jeremy would have been voted out first had Julie not quit (and then he would have been quite the merge boot!). There’s wasn’t enough info online about Ken for me to feel confident giving him a final write-up, so I chose to cut him and those like him. Besides, isn’t it more fun for the quintessential merge boot to be a more well-known character in the community?

    • However, wouldn’t the fake merge be considered a special circumstance?

      • sharculese

        Ken didn’t go home during the fake merge, that was Shii Ann. Ken went home first after the actual merge.

        • Purple Rock Emma

          But the fake merge occurring may have effected things, in theory. I certainly didn’t think of that, but Barbara makes an interesting point.

          • sharculese

            It’s a little different, but at the end of the day I think fundamentally equivalent to a merge after a swap. The only real difference is that Chuay Gon had more potential members of the opposing tribe to pump information from pre-merge.

          • That’s a valid point.

        • I know, but in theory, had they merged then, Erin would have went out instead of Shii Ann.

    • sharculese

      Yeah, Ken probably fits the mold Emma’s talking about. Arguably Jake was the leader of that alliance, but if he wasn’t, Ken was, and and was the more obvious immunity threat.

    • andythesaint

      I think Ken Stafford was the prototypical merge boot. Especially for the time. That’s when the idea of a traditional merge boot was formed, with a cluster of Gretchen, Rob, Ken, Savage, Lex.

      Which ultimately may have necessitated the advent of the idol. Too frequently, the mid game was set in stone: the side that has numbers picks off the best player on the other side. Now with idols, new strategies needed to emerge (with the Edgardo boot being the epitome of that).

    • Prom King

      I’d say that Jake was actually the leader of the opposition alliance and Ken was his loyal lieutenant. Although more of a physical threat than Jake, despite Jake’s prowess.

  • I swung behind Rob, Grechten, Aras and Lex.

  • Side Character

    I didn’t realize Amber didn’t want Rob to betray Lex (I might need to watch that season again, I don’t remember all of it–it was actually the first season I saw, funnily enough). We don’t give as much credit to Amber as Shii-Ann did.
    I’m just gonna go off on a tangent and say I’ve always liked Shii-Ann. They were so terrible to her on All-Stars and she took it like a champ–seriously, she could have been the most bitter juror on that season, and EVERYONE on that jury was fucking bitter, but she was the most level-headed of all of them. This may be one of the reasons why I like her.

    I don’t know who I’d vote for here. These are all pretty good choices. I’m inclined to go with Gretchen’s vote out, if only because it was the first to implement getting rid of the strong, perceived-leader type. It was also really the first true blindside, so it has that going for it.

    • Purple Rock Emma

      I’ll be honest, I’m going by Wikipedia’s episode summary there. But it was more like she didn’t want to betray him quite so soon.

  • Ms. Sweaterfan

    This is purely an observation, but does it seem like gay men are represented on this merge boot list in a higher ratio than would be statistically average based on typical Survivor casting?

    • There was 4 gay male merge boots correct? Also, if you had add in Kelly Remington, you would have 5 out of 31 gay merge boots, which seems really high.