The Types of Plurality Votes on Survivor

After Morgan Ricke was eliminated by a plurality vote, there was a lot of talk about the move. It’s amazing that through 36 seasons of this show, there are still occurrences rare enough to excite us. But just how rare are plurality votes? Ehhhh. While I didn’t count how many tribal councils there have been in Survivor history – because my name is not Jeff Pittman – I did look into how many of these votes there have been. Not counting the Outcast vote that returned Lil and Burton to the game in Survivor: Pearl Islands there have been 33 instances where three or more castaways have received votes (excluding times when votes are erased by idols), with the votes for the eliminated contestant being fewer than the others combined. That’s almost one per season.

Of course, not all pluralities are created equal. There are three main categories: vote splits, a rogue voter, and “we owe Cirie a great debt.” As a bonus, there’s the “Borneo shit” thanks to the famous 4-1-1-1-1-1-1 vote that eliminated Gretchen Cordy. The closest the show has come to a vote like that is with Drew Christy, who was still voted out by the majority 5-2-1-1.

Vote Splits

This strategy obviously did not come into play until after the hidden immunity idol became a mainstay. When one side has enough power, they can divide their votes between two people so that if an idol is played no one on their side goes home. The first time it was implemented, it was a smart strategy, even when it came to Cao Boi in a dream and wasn’t actually used in Survivor: Cook Islands. Now, however, it is rote.  It’s barely even strategy, it’s just what you do.

Of course, it can backfire. Ironically, splitting the vote is occasionally what makes other plurality votes possible. For example, Stephen Fishbach was voted out in Survivor: Cambodia when Spencer took advantage of the split vote plan to eliminate him instead. Sometimes the majority just gets lucky though, such as the numerous vote splits that should have failed in Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.

The following contestants eliminated by a plurality were due to a vote split.

    • Sylvia Kwan
    • Mookie Lee (with Alex voting Mookie to save being voted out due to a tie)
    • Jason Siska
    • Brendan Synott
    • Jill Behm (though it was pretty unnecessary since Marty had given up his idol to Sash at that point)
    • Francesca Hogi (in Survivor: Redemption Island)
    • Christine Shields Markowski
    • Leif Manson
    • Troy “Troyzan” Robertson
    • Reynold Toepfer
    • Andrea Boehlke (in Survivor: Caramoan)
    • Kelley Wentworth (in Survivor: San Juan Del Sur)
    • Vince Sly
    • Joe Anglim (in Survivor: Worlds Apart)
    • Shirin Oskooi (in Survivor: Worlds Apart)
    • Kass McQuillen (in Survivor: Cambodia)
    • Scot Pollard
    • Rachel Aka

Rogue Voter

The rogue voter comes in many different flavors. Usually, it’s simply because the castaway feels bad writing the name down of the consensus boot, such as Richard Hatch with Sonja Christopher, or Kelly Wigglesworth when Jenna Lewis was voted out – both in Survivor: Borneo. In these cases, the eliminated contestant would have been voted out by a majority if the rogue voter stuck to the plan. Occasionally this happens simply to avoid a tie before going to rocks. And then there’s Jonathan Penner in Survivor: Philippines. Was he leaping at the chance to let Jeff Kent get voted out? Did he just really hate Abi-Maria? Was he truly just confused about who to vote for? Did he not want a tie? Who can say? But there’s no doubt that he went rogue.

The following contestants were eliminated by plurality because of a rogue voter.

  • Sonja Christopher
  • Jenna Lewis
  • Boston Rob Mariano (in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains)
  • Elyse Umemoto (unusual in that two people – Keith and Whitney – went rogue in order to preserve their alliance with Ozzy)
  • Jeff Kent
  • Debbie Wanner (in Survivor: Koah Rong)

We Owe Cirie a Great Debt

Finally, we come to the style of plurality votes that brought us here today. Both invented and perfected by Cirie Fields in Survivor: Panama aka Exile Islandthis is seen as a particularly impressive way to orchestrate a blindside. Instead of stressing over securing the perfect majority, those enacting the plan instead make sure they have just enough votes to get by. This is usually implemented by either making sure a few people are out of the loop, or simply not telling them that the plan has changed. For example, in Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, Jon and Jaclyn probably could have gotten Keith, Wes, and Alec to vote for Jeremy if they needed to, but with those three planning to vote Reed, and Jeremy and Natalie planning to vote Keith, Missy and Baylor (along with an already onboard Reed) were the only people they needed to convince. Better to execute with the numbers you have than to risk information leaking and the plan being ruined. And yes, I did just praise Jon Misch’s strategy. I’m upset about it too.

This style is considered such a strong move because it’s often so tough for people to get past the need for a majority. Malcolm et al had the perfect opportunity for a plurality vote when Phillip wanted to split a vote against Reynold and Eddie, not realizing Malcolm, Erik, and Corinne were plotting against him. Instead, Corinne argued against the split vote instead of taking advantage of it and tried to bring in Dawn as an additional and unnecessary number, resulting in her elimination.

As a historical note, I’d like to focus on the first instance of this I could find. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the famous Courtney Marit 3-2-1 boot, but rather the elimination of Bob Dawg. By being first, naturally, the definition is a little fuzzy. After all, Shane (who refused to write Bob Dawg’s name down), Aras (who wanted Bruce gone), and Bruce (who was mad that Courtney did yoga in his rock garden) could all correctly be defined as rogue votes. However, they were so spread out (the final vote was 3-2-1-1) that it seems worthy of mention here, particularly because it occurred in the same season as the influential 3-2-1 vote.

Without further ado, the contestants below were eliminated thanks to the most impressive method of a plurality vote, and those who orchestrated the plans owe Cirie a great debt. Unless she was involved, which is true of three of these votes.

  • Bobby “Bob Dawg” Mason
  • Courtney Marit
  • Matt Elrod (the second time)*
  • Jeremy Collins
  • Monica Padilla (in Survivor: Cambodia)
  • Stephen Fishbach (in Survivor: Cambodia)**
  • Zeke Smith (in Survivor: Game Changers)
  • Morgan Ricke

*The 6-5-1 result of this move makes its categorization debatable. However, since it would have been a tie if Matt flipped no matter who the Ometepes voted for, and it was a well-executed blindside, this seems close enough to me.

** Worth noting that this was only a plurality vote because Stephen used the vote steal advantage on Joe. Otherwise, even with the split vote, he would have been eliminated by a majority.