Guest Post: Does the Best Player Always Win?

Before we start a new season of Survivor, let’s sneak in one more piece of off season content. This one is by frequent PRP commenter Other Scott. As always, opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily reflect those of the PRP. Except for the ones that are right.

Something I see a lot in Survivor fandom is people elevating winners to a different tier of player than any other Survivor player. That because a player won, by necessity, they must have “outplayed” the other players on the season. After all, the slogan of Survivor is “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast” and as a result the winner must have done so. 

I find this take very results oriented — I don’t think there’s any game where the best player is guaranteed to win every time. Survivor has a lot of luck, and as a result, luck can hit some players more than others, resulting in an improvement on some players’ chances to win. Further, moves that were the right ones based on the information known at the time can result in being disastrous, and moves that were the wrong ones can result in positive results. 

I’m here today to fight against results-oriented thinking in Survivor and give everyone the freedom to evaluate players and moves in the context in which they happened.  Let’s look at some specific instances and some specific hypotheticals in which a player loses due to circumstances outside their control and not just look at the end and say “SCOREBOARD”.

Swap Screwing and Twists

Let’s start with the most obvious example of twists playing into a game. There’s some obvious examples of twists that can have a major impact, such as the Do or Die twist. In Survivor 41, Erika competed in the Do or Die challenge and as a result had a chance of losing the game right there. She ended up outlasting Deshawn, and thus was not at risk of going out immediately. But does our evaluation of her as a player change if she gets eliminated due to that twist? She’s no longer a winner then, so most would say she’s a worse player. But the only thing that actually changes is that she can’t balance a ball on a pole as long as others. That is luck at work impacting who wins a season.

We just ruined your day, didn’t we?

Cirie Fields knows her way around losing because of a twist. A common assumption is that Cirie would have won Micronesia if there was a Final 3 instead of a Final 2. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that assumption is right. Because there was a Final 2, Parvati played better than Cirie that season. But if there were a final 3, suddenly Cirie would have played better. Neither Parvati or Cirie had any impact on whether the season ends in a Final 2 or Final 3, so their skill as a player remains unchanged. You could say similar things about Cirie’s exit without a vote in Game Changers, but at least in that circumstance, some of the players were immune through game skill, including the eventual winner, Sarah. 

Finally, getting swap screwed is generally something that a winner avoids that may have doomed them otherwise. Would Wendell have been able to survive the circumstance that Stephenie Johnson, James Lim, and Brendan Shapiro faced in Ghost Island, swapping from a minority into a circumstance where everyone was determined to stay Naviti strong? Probably not. In fact, the two great players of that season were completely snowed by James Lim in a previous swap vote and were somewhat fortunate that the person who got voted out was someone named “Morgan” and not one of them.

Immunity Luck

Winning immunity is part of Survivor. It’s built into the game and has been from the very first season. And it absolutely factors into the strategy: one of the more underrated parts of Amanda’s games in China and Micronesia is her determination to eliminate the traditional immunity threats so she can win out the final challenges and have control of the end game. 

That being said, which immunity challenge comes up at which point is crucial for Survivor, particularly at the end game. Rob Cesternino has stated in The Amazon that he was ready for the trivia challenge when the final immunity challenge was held at Tribal Council, and if that had been the final immunity challenge, he is very certain that it would be him and not Jenna who had won that season.

Never not a good time to post this.

If final immunity challenges had been slightly different, Sandra Diaz-Twine, often considered the best of all time, might have no wins rather than 2. In Pearl Islands, if it’s a final challenge that involves a little more athleticism, Fairplay probably wins and takes Lil to the end, and Sandra does not win that season. And in Heroes vs Villains, Jerri was a step away from winning the Final Immunity challenge over Russell. It is unclear whether Sandra or Parvati gets voted out in that circumstance, but once again, the result of the challenge, something Sandra ultimately had no control over, was able to assist her wins. 

Related to this is premerge immunity luck. Michele Fitzgerald was in significant danger in certainly her swap tribe, and potentially in her preswap tribe as well. However, her tribe never lost immunity and she never had to attend a premerge tribal council. Michele is reasonably athletic, but it’s safe to say the difference between her winning and being a premerge boot is likely the performance of her tribemates, something she had no control over.

Even when you lose immunity, luck can factor in. By all accounts, Nick Wilson was going to be the first person out of David vs Goliath until Carl broke his back on the boat ride from the immunity challenge. A rogue wave is the only difference between Nick being the best player on the season or the worst player. That’s something Nick had zero control over that impacts people’s perception of him.

Jury Luck

Even if people acknowledge that there is luck associated in getting to the end, they are often very adamant that you have full control over the opinion of the jury, and if the jury votes against you, you deserve to lose. People get their bristles up at the thought someone was “robbed” of the win by the jury. The jury saw what actually happened out there, the audience just saw an edited product. 

Leaving aside the questions of the edit (maybe another day), saying the jury has a crystal clear perception of what happened out there and can identify the best player is codswallop. Their views are biased by the relationships of players in the game, but more importantly, their perceptions of players that they bring into the game. Let’s go with my 3 favourite examples of a jury I did not think voted for the “best” player.


We don’t like to talk about Nicaragua here on The Purple Rock Podcast, but I think this is an important example for a couple reasons. First, quitters were allowed on the jury and their presence changed the winner. I don’t have a strong opinion on whether they should have been allowed on the jury; I would lean towards not, but the fact remains that if quitters were not allowed on the jury, the winner and as a result “the best game” changes. Further, the jury voted almost exclusively along the lines of their alliance. All the people in Chase’s alliance voted for him (except aforementioned quitters) and everyone in Fabio’s alliance voted for him. You can ask why Chase didn’t eliminate Fabio before so it’s only people in his alliance in the final 3? Well, I point you back to immunity luck, Fabio won the last 3 immunity challenges so there was never that opportunity. I don’t think there’s an argument here that Fabio played the better game or is in some way underrated for his win, he won the right immunities at the right time and had his alliance and some quitters on the jury to vote for him. That speaks nothing of how good a Survivor player he was. (Editor’s note: Fabio also escaped two opportunities to be eliminated as a result of those quits).

There’s also the circumstances in which the jury has preconceived notions of you as a person. The two biggest examples of this are Aubry and Hannah. Hannah does suffer from anxiety, and that showed on the island. She appeared indecisive and struggled with her decision making as a result. But that is her personality, not her play. In reality, Hannah was responsible for almost every post merge vote in some way or another and had correct reads on almost everything, including that the idol that was misplayed in the rock draw vote should be played on her. But yet, the jury’s perception of Hannah as a person and not a player influenced her vote. Hannah was drawing dead in MvGX because of her personality and her anxiety, and her skill as a player could not save her. The jury is not impartial in that way. Similarly, I personally think it’s safe to say Aubry lost two votes that she needed in Kaoh Rong because of her personality type as the nerd girl. She was not respected by Jason and Scot because of who she was, not because of how she played. 

Having the right people on the jury who respect you often doesn’t come down to how good at Survivor you are, but rather the preconceived notions that the jury has about who you are, and those are often not reflective of reality. In The Amazon, the women conspired to get out Roger at 10 because they (likely correctly) thought he would never vote for a woman to win. In today’s game where everyone who makes the merge makes the jury, doing something similar is not always possible.


The goal here was to show the many ways that luck does and has factored into Survivor. The end result is that you can play the exact same way and make the exact same decisions and win or lose depending on factors completely external to how you played. As a result, winning should not be looked at as the be all and end all of Survivor skill. Sometimes players get a lot more fortune fall their way than the more skilled players on their season. Survivor players can only be evaluated based on their decisions (strategically and socially) based on what was available to them. The end result cannot be the sole determining factor.