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.