30 from 30: #22 – Yau-Man Chan Creates a Fake Immunity Idol

The Moment:

Adorable little Yau-Man made an immunity idol. It was not a turtle.

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.

Sometimes, the odds in Survivor are stacked against you from the start. The old, the weird, the female, and the broken-wristed (yes, I included that just to shout out Kourtney Moon) all face an uphill battle to stick around in this game. So when nineteen people of various races and ethnicities (shout out to Melissa McNulty, the Survivor that never was) landed on the beach in Fiji, the writing was seemingly already on the wall for 54-year old Yau-Man Chan.

Even if Yau-Man wasn’t a bespectacled, diminutive MIT grad who weighed less than your average bowel movement, he might have had trouble fitting in, as Fiji set the all-time record for most assholes in one Survivor cast. And because Fiji was all about doubling down on terrible decision-making, the Haves vs. Have Nots twist gave one tribe an embarrassment of riches — food, shelter, creature comforts — and the other tribe got a handful of go fuck yourself. Yau-Man was among the fucked in the Have Nots tribe.

But Yau-Man made himself valuable. He used his glasses to start a fire for his deprived tribe and used his knowledge of physics to help his tribe with challenges (Yau-Man knowing how to both select the best javelin and throw it properly is one of my favorite parts of Fiji). Perhaps most importantly, he formed a strong alliance with a handsome, well-liked black man.

Dreamz hanging out in Fiji
No, I said well-liked. And handsome.

Yau-Man’s alliance with Earl was one of the few bright spots of Fiji. They worked together to acquire an immunity idol through clues obtained from Exile Island, and Yau-Man later used that immunity idol correctly at tribal council to keep himself safe.

Excited Yau-Man with the actual immunity idol. It’s a turtle.

But Yau-Man also realized that other people had been getting clues to find the hidden immunity idol. And since Yau-Man knew where the idol had been, he decided to hide a fake immunity idol in the same place the real immunity idol had been hidden. Using some paint they had at camp, he created what could best be described as a coconut with eyebrows.

It has a face on it. (This is called foreshadowing.)

In the end, Yau-Man’s fake immunity idol was never discovered. But this moment was the genesis; over time, the fake immunity idol would evolve into something that yielded far more spectacular results.

Why It Matters:

Even though Yau-Man’s was never deployed, others saw what he’d done and realized the brilliance of the plan. If you could convince someone that your fake immunity idol was real, that could be a useful bargaining tool. Or it could be used as a threat, to convince others not to vote for you. (I know what you’re thinking: there’s another use! We’ll get to that one.)

A fake immunity idol doesn’t even need to be all that complex to work. Rupert attempted to fake an immunity idol simply by shoving a rock into his pocket in Heroes vs. Villains. Rupert! The man with all the subtlety of a loud fart in a crowded elevator! Rupert’s public perception as a strategy-averse player was so ingrained in the other players, particularly Russell, that his fake idol ploy worked brilliantly. Candice was targeted instead, and Rupert stayed safe for three more days. Watch him talk about it, and marvel at how this man has played Survivor four times:

Joe, whose listed profession was jewelry maker, attempted a fake immunity idol in Worlds Apart. He pieced something together using various trinkets he’d been collecting, and the craftsmanship was impressive. Its strategic value? Less so. (I know, I know. This isn’t the one you want to talk about. Wait for it!)

Pretty, but ultimately useless. And so is the necklace.
Pretty, but of little actual value. The same applies to the necklace.

A fake immunity idol could also be used as a tool to punk the shit out of someone, just for fun. Like when Bob punked Randy in Gabon by giving him a fake immunity idol with craftsmanship nearly as impressive as Joe’s. It served no strategic purpose, other than to make people like Bob a little bit more.

Bob Gabon fake immunity idol
Bob Crowley, crafty bastard

Ok, we’re finally here. It’s time to discuss the entire reason I chose to write this post, and one of my favorite moments in thirty seasons of Survivor. And the nice thing is that I’m not just shoehorning this in; there is an actual, verifiable direct link back to Yau-Man’s fake immunity idol.

Ozzy, member of both the Survivor Hall of Fame and the Douchebag Hall of Fame, was sent to Exile Island in Micronesia and managed to locate the immunity idol there. But even though Yau-Man’s fake immunity idol had never been deployed in Fiji, Ozzy had seen that season and recognized that it was a good idea. He even gives a shout-out to Yau-Man in his confessional. So once he found the actual immunity idol, Ozzy decided to replace it with something that someone might mistake for an immunity idol.

“Is it hidden behind that stick?” you ask. No. It is not.

Actually, let me correct myself. He replaced it with something that only a fucking idiot would mistake for an immunity idol.

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

Jason Siska is sent to Exile Island after Ozzy has hidden his stick wrapped in a napkin fake immunity idol. Jason, discovered by casting through a Craigslist ad searching for “Ozzy, only somehow much dumber”, finds Ozzy’s monstrosity and celebrates.

But it’s when Jason promises to use his primitive relay race baton immunity idol to protect Eliza that the magic really happens. Eliza is many things, but “stupid enough to believe that’s an immunity idol” is not one of them. So when the time comes for Jason to hand over the kindergarten art project idol that will save Eliza, this happens:

That must be the idol, Jason tells Eliza, because it has a face on it. Jason knows it’s just a fucking stick, but regular old sticks don’t have faces on them! Face = immunity idol, Eliza! Just for fun, let’s look at the charred remains of what Jason thought was an immunity idol. Pay particular attention to the “face”.

Ozzy's fucking stick fake idol from Micronesia

So if you’re keeping track at home, here is a graphical representation of the evolution of fake immunity idols in Survivor:

Evolution of fake immunity idols

If you’ve got a keen eye, you might have noticed that the evolutionary path of fake idols took a slight detour in Micronesia. If humans had evolved in the same way that fake immunity idols did, it would look something like this:

Evolution of man

But this all begins with Yau-Man, who went from breakout star in Fiji to gone-too-soon pre-merge boot in Micronesia. Even if Yau-Man’s Survivor career is done, his legacy is as undeniable as a face on a stick.

What else made the list?

You can view all of our 30 from 30 content here.