After the crazy twists and advantages introduced in Season 40, everyone is wondering what new game mechanics will be added in future seasons. Meanwhile, let’s take the time to review all of the clever (and not so clever) advantages that have been incorporated into the game over the last 20 years. This list will rank all “Survivor” advantages based on their contributions to the overall quality and strategy of the show’s gameplay.
It’s no surprise that Hidden Immunity Idols make the top of the list. The standard version of the Idol was introduced back in Season 14, and it has been included in every single season since. Idols add a lot of suspense to the game — since they have to be played before the votes are read, players often have to make a difficult choice when deciding whether or not to play an Idol.
Many players have become iconic because of their Idol plays. Russel Hantz, Kelley Wentworth, Ben Driebergen and Rick Devens have all made names for themselves through their successful use of Idols. A great Idol play can often flip the game entirely on its head, but even if players never end up playing their advantage, it can be highly entertaining to watch them get voted out with an Idol or two in their pocket — James Clement is famous for being voted out with two Idols in “Survivor: China.”
Idols can take on many forms. The very first Idol, back in Season 11, acted as an immunity necklace and had to be played publicly before the votes were cast. Since then, twists like Split Idols, Temporary Idols and Super Idols (to be discussed more later) have been thrown into the game. However, the standard Idol will always be the best kind because of its clarity, consistency and overall effectiveness.
2. Vote Steal
The Vote Steal effectively allows a player to “steal” a vote by voting twice and blocking the vote of another player. When used in the right situation, a Vote Steal can be a valuable tool in ensuring a majority in your favor. Of course, the Vote Steal generally requires coordination with other members of your tribe, and won’t be useful without some sort of alliance. The Vote Steal has appeared on “Survivor: Cambodia,” “Survivor: Game Changers,” “Survivor: David vs. Goliath” and “Survivor: Winners at War,” and regardless of the advantage’s efficacy in each situation, it certainly brought about some interesting and complex vote-outs.
3. Fire Tokens
This “Survivor” currency was introduced in the show’s most recent season, “Survivor: Winners at War.” Players can use Fire Tokens to purchase food, helpful items around camp, and most importantly, advantages in the game. There is, of course, the added twist that voted-out players must “bequeath” their tokens to remaining players, which, as the great “Survivor” strategist Yul Kwon notes, adds “a whole other layer of duplicity” to the game.
Fire Tokens were closely connected to the Edge of Extinction on Season 40, because players on the Edge could sell advantages to players in the game. However, it will be interesting to see how the “Survivor” economy concept evolves in future seasons without the Edge of Extinction to push it along.
4. Super Idols
Super Idols, which can be played after the votes are read, were actually introduced before the regular Hidden Immunity Idol (back in Season 12), but they have appeared on far fewer seasons since. Despite the fact that a Super Idol has never been played on “Survivor,” they hold a lot of strategic power. Players like Yul Kwon and Tony Vlachos have successfully used the threat of the Super Idol to propel themselves through the entire game and take home the million.
However, although the Super Idol provides strategic intrigue, this advantage is too overpowered. It basically gives players a safety net, allowing them to play the game without nearly as much paranoia. Once the standard form of the Idol was introduced, the Super Idol should have remained a relic of “Survivor” past.
The Legacy Advantage acts as a special type of Immunity Idol that is passed from player to player when the original owner is voted out. Similar to Fire Tokens, this introduces a complex strategic element — how can a contestant vote someone out and still manage to obtain the Legacy Advantage from the player who was sent home? Sarah Lacina masterfully accomplished this in “Survivor: Game Changers” when she voted Sierra Dawn Thomas — this has gone down as one of the greatest moves in “Survivor” history.
6. Extra Vote
The Extra Vote is a straightforward advantage, giving the owner another vote at Tribal Council. The simple premise makes it easy to include season after season, but it doesn’t have much power. Extra Votes are only useful in very specific situations, and they require the owner to know exactly how the vote will turn out in order to be played correctly. The same holds true for the inverse of this advantage, the Vote Blocker, which appeared in “Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers” and “Survivor: Island of the Idols.”
This advantage allows players to leave Tribal Council, giving them immunity, but taking away their vote. Safety Without Power has only been used once by Jeremey Collins in “Survivor: Winners at War,” so we have yet to see the strategic value that it will bring to the game. However, the idea is certainly intriguing, and holds promise for future seasons.
A variety of Challenge Advantages have been introduced throughout “Survivor” history. These advantages are a nice touch and keep things interesting. However, they don’t seem to present any strategic opportunities, and therefore don’t add much to the gameplay.
Unfortunately, this is the point where advantages begin to take a turn for the worse. The Advantage Menu presents a mash-up of three smaller, more arbitrary advantages to the person who obtains it. The menu has been seen twice, in “Survivor: Game Changers” and “Survivor: Edge of Extinction,” but the two versions worked differently and had different options each time. Ultimately, the Advantage Menu may provide a bit of variety, but it is an unnecessary and inconsistent twist. It’s more confusing than beneficial.
10. Idol Nullifier
Introduced in “Survivor: David vs. Goliath,” this sneaky little advantage provided the first opportunity to counteract hidden Immunity Idols. It allows the owner to negate an Idol, given that they play it on the correct person. The idea of an Idol Nullifier may sound intriguing at first, but really, all this advantage does is weaken the concept of the Hidden Immunity Idol. Those who are clever enough to find an Idol shouldn’t have to fend off other advantages to keep themselves safe — poor Dan Rengering didn’t even know that the Nullifier existed when he was voted off after playing an Idol.
Extortion, which allows you to block someone from competing in an immunity challenge and voting at Tribal Council, is more cruel than amusing. This advantage could really screw up someone’s game if they don’t have enough Fire Tokens to negate it. Luckily, Tony Vlachos’ resourcefulness in “Survivor: Winners at War” allowed him to escape Extortion unscathed, but who knows if future victims will be so lucky.
12. Fake Advantage Kits
In “Survivor: Island of the Idols,” Jamal Shipman was given a blank piece of parchment to create a fake advantage. However, the idea of a fake advantage as a legitimate, producer-provided advantage seems unnecessary; after all, contestants have been making their own fake advantages since Yau Man Chan sparked the idea in Season 14. It’s more exciting to watch players be resourceful by pulling together fake Idol materials on their own than watching the producers hand them a mode of deception on a silver platter.
13. Juror Removal
Thank goodness this advantage was only seen once when Michelle Fitzgerald won the final challenge and removed Neal Gottlieb from the Jury in “Survivor: Kaoh Rong.” This twist undermines the whole idea of Jury management, providing a cop-out way to victory. Plus, it deprives a Jury member of their right to vote for a winner — frankly, it’s unconstitutional.
14. The 50/50 Coin
It’s a shame that poor Fitzgerald had to get stuck with the two worst advantages in all of “Survivor,” even though the Juror Removal may have helped her get the win. The 50/50 coin works exactly the same way as a normal Hidden Immunity Idol, except that it only has a 50% chance of working. You flip the coin, and the votes against you are only negated if it lands on the “safe” side. “Survivor” is a game of strategy, and it’s difficult to be strategic when your life in the game is left to chance.
Clearly, “Survivor” advantages have evolved over the years; it’s hard to imagine going back to the straightforward strategy of the first 10 seasons. After the wild, advantage-filled gameplay that we’ve been witnessing recently, one can only imagine what twists are in store for “Survivor” in the upcoming years. All of us fans can’t wait to find out.