30 from 30: #20 – Yul Kwon’s Perfect Hidden Immunity Idol Play

The Moment:

Down four to five at the merge, Yul Kwon uses his hidden immunity idol to convince Jonathan Penner to flip back to the Aitu Four.

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:

Survivor: Cook Islands wasn’t the first time the hidden immunity idol was introduced, nor was it the season that the show perfected the idol’s powers. It was, however, the first time it was used to significantly change the outcome of the game.

But let’s go back a little…

On day 19, the Aitutaki and Rarotonga tribes were even at six members each when Jeff announced there was an opportunity to mutiny. Candice took Jeff up on the offer because she missed Parvati and Adam, her fellow young white people. Penner followed suit because he considered Candice to be his most trusted ally. This is an example of how Penner is a great character, but maybe not so much a great player.

That's bollocks and you know it.
That’s bollocks and you know it.

Thus the mythical Aitu Four were born and arguably the main reason we wound up with three seasons of Ozzy. The scrappy underdogs proceeded to beat Rarotonga in all four of the challenges between the mutiny and the merge. Two tribal councils and a questionable double vote-off later, and the seemingly insurmountable eight-four lead enjoyed by Rarotonga had shrunk to five to four. As such, despite their streak of challenge wins, the Aitu Four were still technically the underdogs. They had to figure out a way to flip someone from Rarotonga to their side.

And that’s where Yul, quite possibly the most intelligent person to have ever played the game, comes in. (Editor’s note: You’re fired, Emma. But he’s up there.)

Is there anyone else you think was the most intelligent? Anyone?

Adam thinks the future is bright, because they have the numbers. Nate figures Rarotonga will remain strong because he’s tight with Adam and Parvati and assumes Jonathan and Candice can’t flip because they’ve already betrayed the Aitu Four. Parvati feels that Yul is the biggest threat. Guess which one’s right?

After the merge feast, Yul and Becky head to a secluded area of the beach in order to strategize. Yul has something he needs to run by his ally.

Look at Becky being part of the game.
Look at Becky being part of the game. Acknowledge it!

“I’m trying to think, what’s the danger of them knowing I have the idol? I’m not sure it is a horrible danger, to be honest. They don’t have the numbers to arrange a split vote.”

Becky agrees that Penner is rational above all else, so he is selected as the one to approach. Then comes a scene to delight gamebot strategy nerds everywhere: The Yul-Penner sit down. Look, if one of you has a better name for it, I’m all ears.

When Yul first approaches Jonathan about working together again, Penner says he couldn’t consider it. Ozzy wouldn’t trust him, Yul shouldn’t trust him, there’s just no reason to do it. Unless… unless Yul were to have the idol.

What an interesting idea, Jonathan. Yes, what would happen if I were to have the idol?
What an interesting idea, Jonathan. Yes, what would happen if I were to have the idol?

It all starts as a hypothetical, but Jonathan explains that if Yul were to have the idol, he would have no choice but to go back to the Aitus. Instead of confirming anything right then, Yul pockets that information and begins his move.

First, he tells his remaining allies, Sundra and Ozzy, that he has the idol. This is an underrated part of the plan. If Sundra and Ozzy aren’t in on the plan, they have to assume they’re just sitting ducks. This keeps them from trying to create something of their own. Knowledge of the idol especially keeps Ozzy in line. He was already bonding with Nate and his challenge prowess gives him a non zero chance at lasting past some Raros even in the case of a Pagonging.

The only problem with waiting to tell his allies about the idol is now Yul has to explain why he waited. But of course he thought that through too.

“This could take all four of us all the way. And that’s how I want to play it.”

By making the idol about his alliance, and not him (but while still keeping the idol in his pocket), Yul further solidifies an alliance that was really only formed due to circumstance. But of course he needs the idol to do more than that. It still needs to save them.

Spoiler alert: It did!
Spoiler alert: It did!

After the immunity challenge, while Adam and Parvati discuss how they need to target Yul, he goes to check in on Jonathan fishing. Yul hits Penner with a one-two punch: He shows Penner the idol and he offers him final two. At this point in the game, Penner already can’t win. This is not a terrible deal. But then Yul hits him with the death blow (Why am I making so many boxing metaphors? That’s what I’m doing, right?) and says if Jonathan doesn’t go with the Aitu Four, they’ll all write his name down, Yul will play his idol, and Penner will go home. Of course, if Penner just lies to keep the vote off himself… but hey, as the great Wes Nale once said: “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit.” [Editor’s note: despite what Rocky 4 might have taught us, they don’t actually fight to the death in boxing]

The one extra key to this move is when Yul lets Jonathan choose who to vote off. When targeting someone to flip, it’s always best to make them as comfortable as possible.

Yul proceeded to ride this move to the final three and win the game. And thank god, because we can’t have Survivor: Race Wars end with the ultimate straight white boy winning.

This fucking guy.
This fucking guy.

The Impact:

Because memory is fallible, for a while I mistakenly thought Cook Islands was the first season with the Tyler Perry idol, nee the “God Idol”. It made sense that the producers tried something, quickly realized it was too powerful, and then dialed it back. But no, Yul was actually the second to possess this form of the hidden immunity idol. Challenge beast Terry Dietz just never did anything with his. There were attempts, sure, but not like Yul did it.

Once Yul showed the idol has more power than saving you from one vote, the show had to make adjustments. People can still make a power move a la Kwon, but it is a decidedly riskier game. Trusting the person you’re going to flip is that much harder when you have to play the idol before the votes are read.

However, the idol still continues to have power outside playing it. Though it came to nothing, Brendan and Taj used a combination of Exile Island and hidden immunity idols to build a cross tribal alliance. And when J.T. found Taj/Stephen’s idol, the pair knew it was more valuable to use that idol to bring J.T. into their alliance instead of targeting him for knowing their secret. The Jalapao Three went on to be the most dominant underdog alliance since the Aitu Four.

Plus Erinn.
Plus Erinn.

Even those without the idol can leverage it to build alliances, like when Kenny, Crystal, and Matty found out that Sugar had the idol and chose to bring her into the fold.

Not like she was going to have her own strategy anyway.
Not like she was going to have her own strategy anyway.

Although not revealed on the season, Andrea Boehlke has said that Ashley Underwood and Natalie Tenerelli knew that Boston Rob had the immunity idol, and that was part of the reason they wouldn’t flip with Andrea.

Though many have started to feel the hidden immunity idol places too big of a target on your back, smart players will find that it can buy you more than another three days in the game. You just have to find the right way to use it.

What Else Made the List?

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