Do you have to lose to win?


Another Feature Article is coming your way today as Kiwi Ozlet Nick Chester looks into the age old theory, ‘you have to lose one to win one’, when it comes to Survivor. In this article, Nick questions whether throwing challenges is actually a bad idea, why losing early challenges might be an advantage, why successful pre-merge tribes sometimes struggle post-merge and those players who have or haven’t benefited from part of a successful tribe. As always, we’d love to hear your thought’s, so make sure you leave a comment below!

Do you have to lose to win?

There is an old sports saying that you have to “lose one to win one”; meaning that sometimes losing a grand final will give a team the fire to come back stronger and win next time. In Survivor, most players only get one shot at the game, so losing isn’t an option, and sometimes losing one doesn’t mean you win the next one, as Amanda and Russell will attest to.

But Colton’s quit in Survivor: Blood vs. Water made me think about tribal challenges and the importance of losing an early challenge. We saw a similar issue play out in Caramoan, where the Favourites won a number of the challenges and started to implode due to their desire to start strategising. There has to be a certain amount of impatience creep into a player’s mind when they win a number of challenges in a row and the best strategy is to not strategise, but to maintain tribal harmony. This is all well and good if everyone is on board. But it only takes a player such as Colton, R.C. or John Carroll to want to start playing for things to get messy.

We have seen several versions of a tribe dominating early on, only to later fracture because they haven’t had the chance to do a little bloodletting at Tribal Council in the opening days. The reality is that in an original tribe of six to ten people, there will be some that just don’t fit and are likely to cause problems down the road if not dealt to early. For most tribes, this isn’t a problem. Seventy-five percent of tribes find themselves at Tribal Council within the first three episodes. The problem of a wayward tribe member causing problems sorts itself out. But in situations where it doesn’t, a seemingly advantageous winning streak can have disastrous outcomes later on down the road. People who would normally have made it far in the game can suddenly find themselves in powerful positions, splitting open a successful tribe, making the winning streaks of the first half of the game meaningless.


Did Tandang’s early success lead to the ultimate downfall of all its members?

Survivor: Marquesas is a great example. Had Rotu found themselves at Tribal Council in the first three episodes, Kathy would almost certainly have taken the fall. Kathy famously took some time to find her feet in the game and was socially awkward and out of place early on. As Rotu won repeatedly, Kathy got to stay when normally she would have been long gone. After the Merge, with Rotu well up in the numbers, Kathy is the key player in pulling an alliance together to take out the controlling group. Had Rotu lost early, they could still have kept their numbers advantage without having a loose cannon around to ruin their plans.

A similar situation happens in Survivor: Samoa, where Galu had an early winning run, buying Shambo enough time to make herself seen valuable enough to be kept around. Once again, after the Merge, Shambo quickly defects to Foa Foa and is the key catalyst to the Galu downfall, (including her own eventually). Had Galu lost earlier or even spared Yasmin to get rid of Shambo, things could have turned out quite differently.

A different but no less compelling example can be seen in Survivor: Philippines with Tandang not losing a challenge at all before the Merge. To say this group of six was not tight is an understatement and their desire to take each other out instead of dealing with the remnants of the Matsing and Kalabaw tribes first ultimately ensures none of them won. Had they lost an earlier challenge and gone to Tribal Council, they may have been able to deal with these issues before they became fatal.

Of course the alternative is the dreaded “throwing a challenge” which we have been told is incredibly dangerous because you should never lose on purpose. There is certainly some merit to this argument and a couple of examples to back it up. Zapatera’s decision to throw a challenge to rid themselves of Russell ultimately killed their momentum and gave Ometepe an advantage that eventually led them to take over the game in Redemption Island. In hindsight, throwing the challenge may seem a mistake, yet the alternative was to let Russell stick around and history had shown that would probably not end well for most of them. The Drake tribe’s decision to throw a challenge in Pearl Islands is often held up as an example of why this is such a bad idea, as the tribe went from three Immunity wins in a row to three losses. However, things worked out pretty well with Drake members in control pretty much the entire game. Jonny Fairplay rightly saw the need to do a little bloodletting to keep the remainder of the tribe strong and if they didn’t get a chance to so pre-merge, the consequences later could be extreme.

Colton himself has been guilty of taking things one step further in One World and giving Tribal Immunity away after winning it. Whilst this was clearly a bad move for the tribe in general, (as one of them would directly lose by being voted out that night), it also prevented them taking a numbers advantage into a Tribe Switch that occurred the next day. But it can be justified as a good move for Colton himself, as he got rid of someone he didn’t like and couldn’t trust.


Jeff Probst was very critical of the Zapatera tribe’s decision to throw a challenge to eliminate Russell.

You could easily turn this logic around and say that there are times that tribe should have thrown a challenge, but didn’t and it ended up costing them. John Carroll has talked about his regret that Rotu didn’t throw the final tribal Immunity Challenge in Marquesas, (the maze), as they would have then had the chance to eliminate Boston Rob before the Merge and had better control going forward. Sometimes it’s easy to point out that throwing challenges is a mistake because of a couple of momentum-ending incidents which are very visible. But the lost opportunities of not throwing a challenge will never be as clear.


John tried to engineer a challenge throw to eliminate Boston Rob in the Marquesas. His failure to do so would come back to haunt him.

The other side effect of winning too much is that people make it to the Merge that normally wouldn’t and are then very hard to get rid of. Someone who is a physical weakness or liability is usually voted off early because they are a weak link in challenges. If these people find themselves on a tribe that wins a lot early on, they can then sit out of challenges and arrive at the Merge as someone who is completely non-threatening. They can then sit back as the physical threats are targeted and potentially plan for an end game they know they will be a part of. This undoubtedly has played a big role in Sandra’s success in the game, but also people like Katie and Caryn in Palau, Cassandra in Fiji and Abi-Maria in Philippines. This could mean that the most physically able people who usually want to win every challenge should also consider strategically losing to ensure their own self preservation later in the game.


No one wins twice by accident. But being in a tribe that wins a lot of early challenges helps.

Clearly, each individual situation will require a different action and good players will be able to assess these correctly and act on them. Overcoming the desire to win every challenge in order to remove a bad apple is hard to do. The object of the game is winning and the idea that ultimate success can be gained from short term contrived failure may seem counterintuitive, but as history shows, winning everything may not always be the best move.


Do you agree or disagree with Nick’s theory? Let us know by commenting below!

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2 Comments on Do you have to lose to win?

  1. Great article. As a viewer, I love watching tribes throw a challenge just for the sheer comedic value of it but if I was a player, I would definitely want to be on a winning tribe.

    Especially during the first week when it hits you that you are out in the wilderness with complete strangers, bored, cold, hungry and in desperate need of a morale boost.

    If you haven’t made the right alliances by the halfway point in the game (assuming you haven’t been voted out yet) then you deserve to be on the chopping block at tribal council.

    Of course winning isn’t everything. If Survivor was all about one tribe beating another at challenges, then it might as well call itself a Japanese game show.

  2. I always stand by the fact that Tribal Council is therapy. It is the one setting in the game that a tribe can sit all together and hash out their problems and then vote out a problem. The tribes who win to begin with let all their problems fester and once the merge hits you have 2/3 players running off trying to find different paths. Galu self destructed really bad but Foa Foa was successful because they had become the strongest 4 possible because they had trimmed the fat at countless tribals. They knew exactly where they stood with each other.

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