Ultimate Survivor Tribal Council Bracket – Strategic Division Round One

We’re a bunch of gamebots here, and it’s always exciting to see strategy come together at a Tribal Council. Whether it’s a brilliant plan executed flawlessly or a bold move that backfires, we love to watch it unfold. Here’s the grouping we decided were the most strategic in the bracket. Yes, most of them involve immunity idols. You decide who stays.

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Voting criteria:

  • You decide what makes a Tribal worthy of your vote. Was it your favourite? The best? Most memorable? Most dramatic? It’s up to you. We’ve organized them by theme, but you’re under no obligation to pick the most strategic tribal to represent the Strategic bracket.
  • Tribal Council is defined as everything that happened in episode from when the tribe gets to Tribal Council through to the Final Words of the eliminated contestant. Things that didn’t make the air were out of bounds for consideration when putting the list together.
  • For Final Tribal Councils, the reveal of the winner is out of bounds (except for the first Final Tribal). This takes place at a different time and place and is aired on a different episode.

Voting ends on Tuesday, March 15th.

1. Parvati’s Double Idol Play vs 16. Cirie Falls Victim To Her Own Strategy


Parvati’s Double Idol Play – Heroes vs. Villains, episode 10 “Going Down in Flames”

Does this tribal council even require an introduction? If you’re the kind of Survivor fan who reads sites like ours, you know about the double idol play. But Andy and John say I have to write about every match up anyway, so here we go: Going into the merge, the Villains and Heroes had even numbers. The Heroes were counting on Russell defecting, having been gifted with an idol to protect him from a rumored women’s alliance, and told him they were voting Parvati. However, they were wary of the possibility of her having an idol, and actually planned to vote for Jerri. Acting on bad information, Russell gave Parvati his hidden idol so she could save herself. Little did he know, she already had an idol of her own. However, a conversation with Amanda led Parvati to correctly believe that the plan to vote for her was a ruse. Problem was, she had no way to know who they were voting instead. Not Russell, she knew the Heroes still thought he might be with them. Not Danielle, she won immunity when Parvati stepped down. So Parvati covers her bases, handing an idol to both Sandra and Jerri. Her fellow “debaucherous little villains” were saved, and J.T. was sent home through the power of his own immunity idol.

Read more about this moment in our 30 from 30 series.


Cirie Falls Victim to Her Own Strategy – Heroes vs. Villains, episode 4 “Tonight We Make Our Move”

After making it just short of the final tribal council on her two prior seasons, the largely less strategic Heroes should be wary of letting Cirie get too far in the game. So when the majority decided to flush an idol by splitting the votes 3-3 between Tom and Colby, J.T. decided to take an opportunity to play more deviously than he did in Tocantins. He joins Tom, who negates three votes with an idol, and Colby, who receives two votes, in voting for Cirie. Oprah in a gangster suit is sent home in a strategy that mirrors the 3-2-1 vote that she’s famous for. (More on that later).

1. Parvati's double idol play vs. 16. Cirie falls victim to her own strategy

  • 1. Parvati's double idol play (88% Votes)
  • 16. Cirie falls victim to her own strategy (12% Votes)

Total Voters: 396

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8. Russell Idols Out a Kelly vs 9. Jenn Idols Out a Kelly


Russell Idols Out a Kelly – Samoa, episode 9 “Tastes Like Chicken”

Having wasted his idol during Erik’s blindside at the previous tribal council, the remaining Galu members were confident that this was their chance to target the somehow already infamous Russell Hantz. They were wrong. Russell pulled out yet another idol, negating seven votes against him and sending Kelly Sharblah home. With Laura Morrett finally vulnerable during the next vote, the Foa Foa Four are able to pull in Shambo, tying the numbers, spooking John Fincher, and turning the entire game around.


Jenn Idols Out a Kelly – Worlds Apart, episode 7 “The Line Will Be Drawn Tonight”

The nuNagarote group may have been likable, but they simply didn’t have the numbers against the conglomerate that eventually became the Axis of Evil. Despite it essentially being 8-4, Mike was not confident that Will had really flipped to their side, so they chose not to split the votes. With the immunity necklace around Joey Amazing’s neck, it was practically a coin flip between voting for Hali or Jenn. Luckily for the viewers, they chose Jenn, who had found an idol while avoiding chicken slaughter. She correctly played her immunity idol, knocking out Kelly Remington, who the No Collar crew felt betrayed by. And thus Worlds Apart had it’s final moment of hope until Mike transformed into an underdog.

8. Russell idols out a Kelly vs. 9. Jenn idols out a Kelly

  • 8. Russell idols out a Kelly (55% Votes)
  • 9. Jenn idols out a Kelly (45% Votes)

Total Voters: 388

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4. Going to Rocks vs 13. Penner Plays His Idol


Going to Rocks – Blood vs. Water, episode 12 “Rustle Feathers”

After Caleb was voted out, Hayden knew he, along with Katie Collins, were fully on the outs. He also knew that Ciera was the clearly on the bottom in an alliance of all returning players. But they were at the final six, and flips happen at odd numbers, right? So he tries to flip two people, telling Gervase and Ciera how Tyson is sure to win if he gets to the end (well, he wasn’t wrong) and that getting to the end and losing is no better than being voted out at six (except for, you know, monetarily). When Gervase wins immunity, however, it quickly becomes obvious that he has no intention of flipping. It seems like Ciera will stay pat too, until it becomes repeatedly and heavily implied that Ciera is fourth in the alliance. Monica tells her that “four is better than six,”and Gervase counts her as number four when counting her alliance.  Hayden and Katie smartly decide to vote for Monica, putting Tyson at the risk of the rock draw, and pass this name to Ciera while Tyson continues to try to keep her loyal. Hayden starts pressing  Ciera to make the “big move” and go to rocks, while Jeff struggles to hide his erection. After voting, voting again, and Tyson choosing not to betray Monica, they draw rocks. Katie Collins ends up trying the white rock, even though it CLEARLY should have been purple (what did we ever do to you, production)? Ciera would go on to get fifth place instead of fourth, but also earned her return to the game.


Penner Plays His Idol – Philippines, episode 7 “Not the Only Actor on This Island”

Throughout the pre merge, Jeff Kent wanted Penner out. Whether he was jealous of the returning player’s shine because Kent had to hide his fame, just didn’t like him, or was using an anti-returnee sentiment as a rallying cry, we don’t know. What we do know is that Kent’s insistence on getting rid of Penner kept Skupin and R.C. from flipping to Kalabaw. In fact, Kalabaw didn’t even vote for Kalabaw, as everyone either turned on Penner or thought they were participating in a split vote. Possibly due to having been voted out before, Penner is able to sniff out the plan and plays his idol. It was known that he might have an idol, and it was easy to get Tandang agree to have R.C. be the secondary target, and she is sent home after her first and only tribal council. It’s really not all that exciting. You’re not voting for this over the rock draw. If this tribal wins, I will eat a purple rock.

4. Going to rocks vs. 13. Penner plays his idol

  • 4. Going to rocks (86% Votes)
  • 13. Penner plays his idol (14% Votes)

Total Voters: 389

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5. Stick to the Plan vs 12. Caleb Flips on Culpepper


Stick to the Plan – San Juan del Sur, episode 10 “This is Where We Build Trust”

After the consecutive blindsides of Josh and Jeremy, Jon Misch seemed to find himself on the top of the pack. For a while, it seemed that the trend of voting out the big players in the game would continue, as Reed organizes a plan to exploit a vote split between Keith and Wes, so that the three of them and Alec can take out Jon. There’s even hints of Natalie being on board, since she’s hoping to avenge Jeremy. But then Keith Nale happened. Apparently, the “Broadway star” did a little too good of a pretending he had turned on Keith, and the elder Nale got nervous. While talking about people freaking out about idols, he looks directly at Reed and says… well, you know what he says. The reaction is immediate. Natalie makes the surprising-at-the-time but ultimately smart move to have Jon play his idol. This forces Keith to play his own idol, and then his son Wes is voted out with two votes against him.


Caleb Flips on Culpepper – Blood vs. Water, episode 4 “One Armed Dude and Three Moms”

The first few episodes of Blood vs. Water largely involved people yelling at Brad Culpepper for either voting them out, or voting out their loved ones. Sick of taking all the blame, and worried about what that meant for his wife on the other side, Brad decided he might be better off voting for someone who didn’t have a loved one on the other side. The problem was that Tadhana kept losing all the challenges, so the only one without a loved one was Caleb, whose fiancé Colton had recently quit. Naturally, this makes Caleb nervous, especially due to the recent betrayal of John Cody. At tribal Caleb hears a little too much of this loved ones talk and calls an audible: He tells Ciera and Katie he’s writing Brad’s name down, and suggests they do the same. They oblige, and the vote is a 3-3 tie. Not willing to risk his game so early just to save his meat shield, Vytas flips on the revote, and Brad is sent home. After over a decade of Survivor, changing your mind at Tribal Council was now a thing.

5. Stick to the plan vs. 12. Caleb flips on Culpepper

  • 5. Stick to the plan (60% Votes)
  • 12. Caleb flips on Culpepper (40% Votes)

Total Voters: 381

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2. The Three Amigos vs 15. Mike’s Idol Bluff


The Three Amigos – Caramoan, episode 10 “Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

You know what this is. Malcolm has placed himself firmly on the outs against the Favorites plus Sherri, with Reynold and Eddie as his only alliance. When Reynold wins immunity, it’s not looking great for our original long-haired prince. Then he pulls out an idol, not only for himself, but also for Eddie. “We’re not going home tonight,” he tells the rest of the players. Panic ensues. Andrea’s face falls, Brenda immediately throws her name out, all while Probst desperately tries to talk to Malcolm. Eventually Malcolm (foolishly?) states that the three immune amigos will be voting out Phillip because he sucks. Erik points out (allegedly after Cochran whispered in his ear) that the amigos could be bluffing, and Phillip volunteers to fall on the sword  and insists they go with their original plan. Eddie and Malcolm both play their idols and Erik switches his vote to Phillip. Malcolm and Reynold proceed to be voted out at the next two tribal councils.


Mike’s Idol Bluff – Worlds Apart, episode 11 “Survivor Russian Roulette”

Having successfully extricated himself from a position of power to an underdog position, Mike knew he would have to be immune at every single tribal council in order to stay in the game (Ha! As if that could happen). That is, if he couldn’t force a crack in his former alliance. Learning from the very tribal this one is matched up against, Mike pulled out his immunity idol at tribal council and claimed he would play it for Shirin. He explained that she was voting for Tyler and he would be voting for someone else in the big alliance. In the end, he also voted for Tyler and did not play his idol for Shirin, who still got the majority of votes. However, Tyler and Will voted for Dan exposing some cracks, and Mike was able to use his idol the one time he lost an immunity challenge.

2. The Three Amigos vs. 15. Mike's idol bluff

  • 2. The Three Amigos (70% Votes)
  • 15. Mike's idol bluff (30% Votes)

Total Voters: 378

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7. Hold Up, Bro vs 10. Jeremy Saves Stephen


Hold Up, Bro – Caramoan, episode 9 “Cut the Head Off the Snake”

I think this should say it all:


Jeremy Saves Stephen – Worlds Apart, episode 10 “Like Selling Your Soul to the Devil”

After successfully beating Spencer to getting an advantage in the game, Stephen became a target. Despite having just voted with him to get out Wiglesworth, “the witches coven” immediately turned on Stephen because they knew Joe was antsy to get rid of the number one guy targeting him. Spencer was then convinced Stephen was after him, so he joined the movement to get rid of Fishbach, with Tasha reluctantly going along the crowd. But someone underestimated Jeremy’s loyalty to Stephen, and filled him in on the plan. Not only did Jeremy not want to go along with the plan, but he had a way to stop it. No one knew at the time, but Jeremy had two idols. When Jeff gave his customary alert to it being time to play an immunity idol, Jeremy stand up and take a long walk to Jeff as everyone waits with baited breath to see what’s happening. Finally he says, “My decision comes down to who I can trust more going forward. This is for Fishbach.” Ciera is voted out, silencing her pleas for people to “play the game” (with her). In a devastating whiplash for the Survivor nerd community, this was a double episode and Stephen gets voted out the next hour.


7. Hold up, bro vs. 10. Jeremy saves Stephen

  • 10. Jeremy saves Stephen (56% Votes)
  • 7. Hold up, bro (44% Votes)

Total Voters: 386

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3. Cagayan’s Chaotic Merge vs 14. Voting Matt Elrod Back to RI


Cagayan’s Chaotic Merge – Cagayan, episode 6 “Head of the Snake”

This one could have easily fit in with theatrics if necessary. Two tribes enter the merge with Sarah clearly in the middle. Should she return to her former Brawns, or stick with her post-swap group? Clearly she has not watched Survivor: The Amazon because she spends a lot of time relishing her position as a swing vote. Note to future players: don’t do that. Meanwhile, Kass feels neglected by her allies because they’re so busy courting Sarah’s favor, and Trish pounces on that insecurity. Tribal is in session and Tony reveals his idol to everyone. The Aparri alliance starts talking amongst themselves, whispering that they should vote for “the other one.” After the vote,  he correctly deduced that Sarah is not going to vote with his side, so he plays his idol on LJ, assuming the horse whisperer is “the other one” the Aparris spoke of. Perhaps feeling guilty for having an idol played for him when he has his own, LJ plays an idol on Tony. It turns out “the other one” was actually Jefra. Faces fall instantly, until everyone realizes that there were more votes read for Sarah than Jefra. Someone flipped. And that, children, is the origin story of Chaos Kass.


Voting Matt Elrod Back to RI – Redemption Island, episode 8 “This Game Respects Big Moves”

The Ometepe tribe entered the merge with a 6-5 advantage over the Zapatera tribe; 7-5 if you count fresh-off-of-Redemption Matt Elrod. The problem is that it’s hard to know whether or not to count Matt. Does it make sense to rejoin his tribe, or should he flip to the people who, you know, didn’t vote him out? When Matt wasn’t busy flirting with Andrea, he was flirting with the idea of forcing a tie with Zapatera. Boston Rob isn’t one to leave his fate to chance and knew his tribe would have the numbers regardless. So they all voted for Matt, who for what it’s worth, chose to stay loyal to Ometepe. The Zapateras were floored, and in some cases, impressed. (It was in David Murphy’s case. David Murphy was impressed.)

3. Cagayan's chaotic merge vs. 14. Voting Matt Elrod back to RI

  • 3. Cagayan's chaotic merge (88% Votes)
  • 14. Voting Matt Elrod back to RI (12% Votes)

Total Voters: 370

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6. China Final Tribal vs 11. Cirie’s 3-2-1


China Final Tribal – China, episode 14 “A Slippery Little Sucker”

This is the master class in teaching future Survivors how to play at tribal council. The Jean-Robert question alone shows exactly how to answer a jury question, and how not to answer a jury question. Unlike James, who proclaimed not to be a “Bitter Betty”, Jean-Robert didn’t want to vote for any of the finalists: Todd and Amanda betrayed him and he hated Courtney. After asking Courtney why she deserved to be there, she pointed out that she was always the weak link and targeted from the very beginning. Being Courtney, she also threw in some shade, reminding everyone that she won an immunity challenge. Did you win a challenge, Jean-Robert? No you did not. Amanda generously decided to show future players what not to do when facing a Survivor jury and apologized, backtracked, and denied culpability. Then there was Todd. Jean-Robert was baffled that Todd voted him out over James. James was the obvious threat, asserted the self-proclaimed bad boy. Todd explained that Jean-Robert was soooo smart to figure out that James was a threat and that Todd wanted to be the only one making plans, so Jean-Robert became the biggest threat to him. With that answer, he did what no castaway had done before. He shut Jean-Robert up.


Cirie’s 3-2-1 – Panama, episode 12 “Perilous Scramble”

After identifying Courtney not-Yates-so-who-cares as a popular choice to take to the final two, Cirie decides that makes Courtney a threat. While she may not be a threat to win, she’s a threat to get to the end and fill a spot that could be taken by someone else (Cirie, in my dreams). With six people left, Cirie realizes it makes more sense to just have the plurality of votes instead of a true majority. She gets Aras and Danielle on board with the plan to vote for Courtney. Knowing Courtney and Terry plan to vote Aras, the plan is contingent on Shane voting for literally anyone else. Luckily, Shane is crazy and found Danielle annoying, so that took care of that and Courtney was sent home on a revolutionary 3-2-1 vote on the basis of a similarly revolutionary “goat slaughter” strategy.

6. China final tribal vs. 11. Cirie's 3-2-1

  • 11. Cirie's 3-2-1 (63% Votes)
  • 6. China final tribal (37% Votes)

Total Voters: 371

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The Rest of the Bracket

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Blindsides Bracket

Theatrical Bracket

Historic Bracket