The Hidden Immunity Idol – What is it Good For?


It’s Feature Article day on Survivor Oz as Mr. Nick Chester returns with another article, in which he debates whether Hidden Immunity Idol’s are outdated. Nick questions whether Idol’s are becoming to predicable, why the concept needs a make over and what sort of changes he would make! Of course, we want to know what you think, so don’t forget to leave a comment!

The Hidden Immunity Idol, (HII), is very much a part of Survivor now. In fact, there have almost been twice as many seasons that had HII’s than those that haven’t. But how important is the HII now? Can it even be considered a “twist” anymore, or have players become so accustomed to it that they can work around it? It’s interesting that Jeff Probst and other people in production often defend twists such as Redemption Island on the basis that the game needs to change and evolve if it is to remain successful and on the air, which I totally agree with. Yet the Hidden Immunity Idol has not had any significant change since season fourteen.

Like many fans of the show, I have become frustrated at the amount of time HII’s take up on the show, with little payoff in terms of changing the game or making for interesting television. I am always disappointed that time that could be used to build up a player’s story, or develop relationships between the players is instead used for, (in many cases), pointless Idol searches that have to be shown, but really add little to the end product.  So are HII just a given, a part of the show that is a constant, even if it has little impact? Or can it be retired, or changed as a twist to make it worthwhile going forwards?

First off, I should say I have always been a big fan of the HII as an element of Survivor. The potential it has to shake up the game is always there, but for a variety of reasons, this has waned over time. One of the main reasons is who is finding the Idol. Through both bad luck, and a bit of bad design, often it is the players in control of alliances and the game in general who find the HII. As Boston Rob has stated, the best way he could use the Idol was to find it and not play it. This meant he knew who had it, and it minimised variance and uncertainty as much as possible. We have seen many other players use a similar tactic, including Kim, Tyson, Sash, Stephen and Coach. It’s hard to argue with this logic but it doesn’t exactly make for thrilling viewing. it’s also noticeable that in seasons with returning players, these players have a much better sense for where to look for Idols and are often looked up to by new players, who pass information onto them about where they are, (think Ciera in Blood vs. Water or Albert in South Pacific). Any fun to be had from a random person finding the Idol and stirring up the game is lost.


Good players aim to find the Idol, but never need to use it. This is smart strategy but boring television.

The other major issue with the Idol is that there has to be long scenes of people finding it, which isn’t always great television. This might explain why it is so easily hidden. It’s easy to see why having a separate Exile Island was scrapped and the Idol is now hidden at camp, because having to show scenes of people looking for an Idol that has long been found is just boring, but inescapable.

A further problem with the HII, and a major one, is that people like to tell others they have it. I think producers never really foresaw that players would find an Idol and then tell everyone, as it’s in their best interests to keep it to themselves in order to surprise people, thereby maximising its effect. It seems human nature and the inability to keep a secret take over and people have to tell others. In Samoa, Russell famously told his allies that he had the Idol, pulling each aside individually to tell them “in confidence”. This was a smart move as it improved the level of trust they had in him, but this is rare. Normally people find an Idol and just tell everyone. What made Malcolm’s Idol play in Caramoan so good was that he kept his Idol secret for so long, even convincing Reynold to give up his first. Sadly this is uncommon.

But the biggest problem I have with the Idol is that players have simply outsmarted how it works, and can now work around it. In a recent article I wrote, a commenter pulled me up on my criticism of the HII, saying that Penner used his successfully. This is true, Penner kept himself safe, but the larger alliance had already planned for this, splitting their voting power and putting votes on R.C., in the event that Penner did play his Idol. This kept them all safe and Penner’s Idol play really changed nothing, apart from the fact he was there to cause more trouble! Later that season, a new alliance did a similar thing with Abi-Maria’s Idol, splitting votes between her and Pete to ensure that an Idol play wouldn’t ruin their plans. And as fun as Malcolm’s Idol play was in Caramoan, it was only successful because he had two Idols and Reynold was safe with the Individual, (or is that personal?) Immunity Necklace. This was an unprecedented situation and highly unlikely to happen again. Much like other twists before it, like Tribe Switches and Final Threes, smart players have had time to see how HII’s work and find ways to outsmart it. There will always be times when things don’t work quite as planned but it’s rare. The players have evolved, but the HII as a game twist hasn’t.


Situations like this are now rare.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at some hard facts.

By my reckoning, there have been forty-five HII’s in seventeen seasons of Survivor, (correct my math if I’m wrong people!). In terms of this article, I’m going to discount the first three used in Guatemala, Exile Island and Cook Islands because the rules of their play are so different from how it has been played since and their possession is a bit like playing a video game with the cheat codes on.

So how have the other forty-two been used? It’s hard to break these down by categories as each Idol play is a little different due to the circumstances. But generally speaking, I would say there are four ways an Idol play works:

Category 1 – A player uses an Idol to discount votes against them in such a way that a majority alliance is shocked, and a blindside occurs. (Examples of this include Yau Man in Fiji or Amanda in Micronesia).

Category 2 – Idol is found by someone, but not used, either because that person gets voted out without playing it, or keeps it until after it has expired. (Examples include James in China or Stephen in Tocantins).

Category 3 – Idol is played, but that person doesn’t receive enough votes to go home. Generally this person is already in power and uses it just because it’s about to expire or just as extra protection. (Examples include Chase and Sash in Nicaragua or Boston Rob in Redemption Island).

Category 4 – Idol is played but the controlling alliance has foreseen this and strategically votes for someone else, or splits votes to ensure that even if an Idol is played, they control who goes home. (Examples include Alex in Fiji or Abi-Maria in Philippines).

It would be fair to say that as viewers and production, category one is the most exciting and interesting to see. But as the graph below shows, this is actually a fairly uncommon way that it is used. Only twenty-two percent of Idols end up having the kind of dramatic impact at Tribal Council in the way production intended. Now think about how much screen time is dedicated to strategy around HII’s. How many scenes do we get of people looking for Idols? Or strategising about how to use Idols, or to split votes to lessen their impact? Is the actual amount they are successfully played justified given how much of the strategy revolves around them? I would argue that it isn’t.


I also accept that an Idol doesn’t have to be played in this way to create interesting television. Obviously moves like the blindsides of James, Ozzy, Andrea and others is entertaining and this was in a large part because they didn’t use their Idol when they should have. But the blindsides of these players would still have been pretty good television, whether they had an Idol or not. When Brendan and Erik were voted out, the fact they left with an Idol wasn’t the most interesting part. The reality is that the Idol doesn’t have nearly the impact on the game that the amount of screen time dedicated to finding it would suggest. Many players will now argue that having the Idol actually brings little benefit apart from in the short term.

So if on balance it isn’t adding anything to the strategy of the game, and isn’t making for much interesting television, why have it at all? As I said at the beginning, I like the HII. I think it has given us some great television and still has the potential to change up the game, but needs to have some sort of change to it if it’s going to justify the screen time given to the other aspects of it besides the ultimate playing of it at Tribal Council. I’m sure if I was speaking to Jeff Probst directly about this, he would ask for solutions, and not just problems! So here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Put an expiry date on the Hidden Immunity Idol

Let’s say that once you find the Idol, you have to play it within two Tribal Councils and then it goes back into circulation. Unfortunately this wouldn’t decrease the amount of scenes of people finding it, (in fact it would probably increase it), but it makes the twist worthwhile, as the Idol can fall back into the hands of people outside the main alliance, and if you only have it for a short time, it’s more likely you can keep it quiet. This also means that the majority alliance needs to split votes more often, just in case someone has the Idol. This leaves smaller margins of error, which can mean it takes less people to flip to change the majority.


An Idol with an expiry date is much more likely to be used as there is no value to holding onto it.

2. Give the Idol different powers

Perhaps instead of Immunity, the Idol could give the user an extra vote, or allow them to deny another player their vote. I believe something similar has been used on international versions of the show. Often the Idol has a short term value but can’t help change the game, and has the potential to be used more strategically than a HII. It also isn’t always possible to mitigate this by splitting votes.

3. Remove the Hidden Immunity Idol, but bestow its properties on the Individual Immunity Necklace

If the holder of the Immunity Necklace can transfer it to another player after the votes are cast, but before they are read, this could have quite significant implications for the game. It means nothing is set in stone and also makes Immunity Challenges all the more important. It means that someone is always a threat as whoever wins Immunity has a lot of power. The potential downside is that it perhaps increases the role luck plays in the game, as the majority essentially have to guess who Immunity may be given to. But it’s a potentially interesting concept all the same.

However the game progresses, it seems a certainty that Idols will continue to be a part of the show. But if the way they were used was made more interesting and the stakes were higher, then who was looking for them and how other players dealt with this would make for much more interesting television and having time dedicated to it would not feel wasted.


Do you agree or disagree with Nick? Comment below to let us know!

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20 Comments on The Hidden Immunity Idol – What is it Good For?

  1. By my count there have been 46 idols, not 45.

    Russell 5
    Malcolm 3
    Ozzy 2
    Parvati 2
    Reynold 2
    Tyson 2
    Abi-Maria 1
    Amanda 1
    Boston Rob 1
    Brendan 1
    Coach 1
    Earl 1
    Erik C. 1
    Erik R./Andrea 1
    Gary 1
    James 1
    Jason 1
    JT 1
    Kim 1
    Kristina 1
    Marty 1
    Mookie 1
    NaOnka 1
    Penner 1
    Ralph 1
    Randy 1
    Sabrina 1
    Sandra 1
    Sugar 1
    Taj 1
    Terry 1
    Todd 1
    Tom 1
    Troyzan 1
    Yau-Man 1
    Yul 1

    • Sorry about that. I think this may be the idol Parvarti found right at the end of FvF, which I didnt count. Happy to be corrected though. You are living up to your name…

  2. I really enjoyed tbis article! I agree with you 100%. I like your first two solutions the best. But what if… They hid 5 hidden objects all at once? One was an HII to be only used in tribal play. One was an HII only to be used post merge. One gave you an extra vote. One took away the vote of someone. One granted to power to award a second person with individual immunity. Then you cohld have up to 5 players having an impact at once. You could also see people using counter moves, for example, someone uses their double vote token so someone else uses their take away a vote token to counter it. It would add a lot morw who has what making vote splitting and blindsides both riskier and more worthwhile.
    Another solution to not having enough camera time is to increase the duration of each episode, but i dont think that will ever happen sadly.

  3. ScottWatchesSurvivor // February 17, 2014 at 10:17 am // Reply

    A lot of good points and well researched. I like the HII but also feel it’s time for a break or a change.

    The one suggestion that I could see working well without changing fundamentals is the two episode expiration. I think it would add a lot of complexity by splitting more votes and allow more opportunity for those on the bottom of the majority to move. It would provide more action. Still, it gives the majority a lot of power and, like you said, would take up a lot of screen time.

    I’m surprised there is no mention of the Tyler Perry Idol in this article!

    • Thanks Scott – this was written before I heard about the “Tyler Perry” idol, which I think is a pretty dumb idea.

      • ScottWatchesSurvivor // February 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm //

        Not only can I not believe that it’s being used, but that Jeff makes it seem so revolutionary. It better be tough to earn with so much power!

  4. I really agree with your suggestion to make the immunity necklace transferrable after the votes are cast but before they are read, and I already thought about this idea by myself before reading this article. This would be a really interesting twist that could cause fun blindsides.
    However, I think that the hidden immunity idol twist has become indispensable to prevent majority alliances from always doing agongings, and to counter the increasing control that player have against it (as seen in Caramoan), I would add a new twist, inspired by David Murphy’s vote against Grant Mattos, that would add several dimensions to the game: The double vote.
    The principle of the double vote would be that at the beginning of a season, each player can have one and only one of all of his votes at tribal council that counts for two votes. The deadline to use it is the same than the HII’s deadline. Among the new strategic dimensions that would appear with this twist:
    – Doing a succesful split vote to counter an idol would be much more difficult.
    – When an alliance needs several but not all of its member to play a double vote, it could create tensions in the alliance as everyone would want someone else than himself to play a double vote. Implies new trust issues between allied players.
    – Hunt against players who still have their double vote at the end of the game, as they become more and more powerful.
    – Keeping your double vote for the post-merge game to use it against the other tribe, or using it against the other alliance on your own tribe?
    – Interest to keep players who still have their double vote going into the merge rather than players who have already used it.
    – Need to perfectly master your use of the double votes when a merge at almost even numbers occur, with great suspense for the audience. For instance, if a merge between tribe A and tribe B occurs at 6-6, and at the first tribal council all of the tribe A members use their double vote (and none of the tribe B members), giving them a 6-5 advantage, tribe B can play two double votes at the next two tribal council, which assures that two tribe A members are voted out back to back and gives tribe B a decisive 5-4 advantage.
    – Crazy scrambling when tribe switches occur, as everybody tries to figure out who still has his/her double vote.

    Would really be an incredibly great twist.

    • ScottWatchesSurvivor // February 17, 2014 at 12:58 pm // Reply

      If love to see veterans scramble to perfect this strategy in an All-Stars season. Hell, I’d like to see it once in any season. It’s not “pure” but neither was BvW and that worked nicely.

    • This is amazing. Question: Do you have to announce that you are using your double vote at tribal council? Or is it a secret? I think it would be crazier if it were a secret but I think logistically, and for viewing suspense, you should announce it. Jeff says, “If anyone would like to use their double vote token now would be the time to do so.” And could you (I’m not sure why you would want to) give it to someone else? This would be so awesome!

    • In my mind, you would not have to announce that you are using your double vote, it has to be a secret. You would put something like a token or an etiquette on your vote to have it count double, and it would be revealed once the votes are tallied. I think you could give it to someone else if you want, but I don’t see why anyone would do it.

  5. I personally, like a large number of hard-core fans, hate the HII. Like you said, it takes up way too much airtime and has little effect on the game. It’s just unnecessary. The game of Survivor is such a perfect and unique format that it doesn’t need to be changed with Hidden Immunity Idols. In my opinion, most of the best seasons are the ones that either never had the HII in the first place (pre-Guatemala) or the HII had very little effect on the game and received little airtime (eg. Gabon). That’s the reason I’m not too big of a fan of Micronesia and HvV as they were just way too Idol-orientated, which meant that we got less character development.

  6. I forgot to say this in my comment. I think your last two suggestions are reasonable ones that could work, but your first suggestion really isn’t great at all. My only reason for that is that we already lose so much screentime to Idols as it is, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to make that problem even worse. I understand that some could say that it would make the game more “interesting”, but I’d rather not have it dominating our screens even more than it already is. I know this will never happen, but my suggestion would be to just get rid of the HII all together. The pre-merge of BvW was such a breath of fresh air because it had such little effect on everything, and then obviously the season got progressively worse after the merge once it started affecting things.

  7. Have you seen the Survivor: Cagayan preview on TVGN Nick? They will have another special immunity this season that can be played after Jeff reads the votes. 😀 Can’t wait! Love the article thanks!

    • Is this a joke? If it’s not, your the first person I’ve ever seen that’s happy with this. I’m obviously assuming that you’re being sarcastic though.

    • No Joe, unfortunately that’s not a joke. The funniest part is that Jeff presents it as an exciting new twist when it has already been used in Exile Island and Cook Island.
      Another problem with that special idol is that there might be four idols in play at the same time. I wonder what happens at the final 5 if one player has the immunity necklace and the other four all play their hidden immunity idol.

  8. You said that “When Brendan and Erik were voted out, the fact they left with an Idol wasn’t the most interesting part” but I’d argue that when a person is voted out with an immunity idol, more often than not, at least part of the reason why that blindside happens when it does is due to them having an idol. Which might then make other people more paranoid and want to vote that person out ASAP. It might also make it easier to sell the idea to other people in the alliance.

    That’s why I don’t necessarily think it’s that simple as to say that when a person is voted out with an idol in their possession that the idol wouldn’t have had impact on the game or played into making for interesting/entertaining television.

    Othen than that I agree with the article and I do think it would be interesting to see some twists made to a twist that really isn’t a twist anymore but an expected part of the game. That’s why I’m also not as opposed as some people to seeing how the “special idol” this season plays out. Although I hope it’s not valid as long as the regular idol because I wouldn’t like it if someone makes it to the end (or to a win) as a direct result of an idol beeing played.

  9. I always get blasted for this but I still think there should be no rules on the HII, allowing other players to steal it off someone if come across. Like how people bury it. It would for sure solve you’re issue of people not keeping it a secret.

  10. What should happen is a season where producers deceive contestants into believing hidden idols are in play. The twist is there are no idols. Except contestants are oblivious to this. Maybe producers give them clues or something, but there is nothing to find. When no one can find an idol, maybe they stuff their pants, or maybe they BOB it. We’ve seen this before, but it might add a new dimension. No idols, no idea. Heck, even just telling contestants they’re playing an idol free season would be twist enough at this day in age.

    • ScottWatchesSurvivor // February 19, 2014 at 3:03 am // Reply

      I heard on a podcast (can’t remember which) the idea of leaving a note where an idol has been found. The note can’t be removed. This has a few positive results and keeps the HII fresh:

      1. Lets others know there is an idol in someones possession.
      2. Get a good TV moment of person finding the note and maybe the tribe learning an idol was found.
      3. Decreases screentime of cast on a wild goose chase.
      4. Increases strategy to out the idol at camp (think Ciera’s brilliant work on Katie) or, if in possession of the idol, keep it a secret.
      5. Increases strategic thought about flushing the idol at TC.

      It would be such an easy thing to implement, not changing much, yet still changing a lot of the social and strategic situations.

  11. I think it should stay. Your graphic shows it : Different things happen with HIIs and you just never know what will happen with them. I think they help make the show just a little less predictable. And you can’t say they are never useful… think of Natalie, who indeed was in the majority alliance, found it, but completely turned it around by using it on Jacquie, who was on the outs. Let’s also mention when jenn played her idol, sure it helped her stay ONE round, but hell, just that one tribal council was the only good tribal council of the entire season. Having no idols would have been sooo boring. Just my point of view.

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