Strong Males as Immunity Threats



It’s Feature Article day again and this week, Ozlet Kristan Knarr, takes a look at why male contestants are perceived as big threats in Challenges. Kristan argues that the connotation to keep strong males around pre-merge then vote them out as soon as possible is dying out and why winners or contestants as a whole don’t have to be good challenge performs in order to be good players or win the game. Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation by commenting below!

“We need to keep him around for tribe challenges, but he needs to go right after the Merge because he’s too big of an individual challenge threat!” It feels as though we hear this from players on every season, as well as from fans. However, is it really a true concern?


Colby after winning immunity, Tom competing in a final immunity challenge, and Terry after winning immunity

Four men are currently tied for the most individual immunity wins in a single season: Colby Donaldson, (The Australian Outback), Tom Westman, (Palau), Terry Dietz, (Panama), and Ozzy Lusth, (Cook Islands). They each won five Individual Immunity Necklaces in their respective seasons. I would consider Colby, Tom and Terry to be big, strong males, where, in my opinion, Ozzy falls into a different body type category – strong, but agile and smaller.

Colby Donaldson set the precedent that big, strong men are Immunity Challenge threats in Survivor: The Australian Outback. The five individual challenges that he won involved running, fire building, slingshot shooting, memory and knowledge about his former tribe mates. Years later, Tom Westman won endurance challenges, as well as water, memory, and physical challenges in Palau. Soon after, Terry Dietz dominated the first five Individual Immunity Challenges in Panama, consisting of endurance, climbing, running, memorisation, and brute strength. Whether the challenges were mental or physical, these men were nearly unstoppable.

Colby, Tom and Terry are often looked at as some of the best challenge competitors in Survivor history and rightfully so. However, what happened during the other twenty-five seasons? Is there real proof that strong, built men are the biggest Immunity threats and should always be early targets post-merge? Let’s take a look at some of the statistics from throughout the history of Survivor.


Kelly competing in a Final Immunity Challenge, Jenna after winning Immunity, and Kim after winning Immunity

As mentioned previously, Ozzy has also won five Individual Immunity Challenges in a single season. Additionally, three women in Survivor history have won four Individual Immunity Challenges in a single season: Kelly Wiglesworth, (Borneo), Jenna Morasca, (The Amazon) and Kim Spradlin, (One World). The other players that have four single season Individual Immunity wins include Rob Mariano, (All-Stars and Redemption Island), Rafe Judkins (Guatemala) and Jud “Fabio” Birza, (Nicaragua). The gender, body type, skills, and abilities of these players all vary greatly, but they were all able to win the same amount of Immunity Necklaces.


Individual Immunity Necklaces from Micronesia, Caramoan, and Vanuatu

On the surface, it would look like the theory that strong men are the biggest Immunity threats in any given season is fairly accurate. In eighteen out of twenty-seven seasons, men have won the majority of Individual Immunity Challenges. Women won more in seven seasons and there were ties in two. How many of the men that won Individual Immunities throughout the history of Survivor would be considered big and strong by most fans and fellow competitors? Certainly not all of them or even the majority of them. Men old, young, scrawny, physically weak, mentally weak have all won challenges throughout Survivor history. We have seen the strongest men fail miserably in all kinds of Immunity Challenges time and time again, yet this notion still exists that they’re the biggest threats? It just doesn’t make sense.

Taking it a step further, does it even matter how many strong men win Individual Immunities? From the first set of names mentioned earlier, Colby, Tom and Terry, only one of the three actually won the game. From the second set of more varied challenge dominators, Ozzy, Kelly, Jenna, Kim, Rob, Rafe, and Fabio, four of the seven won his or her season. Even disregarding the strong male stereotype, dominating in challenges doesn’t equate to winning the game. I understand that challenge wins can be necessary at times, but the weight put in them by contestants and fans seems vastly overestimated.

Looking deeper into that thought, is there evidence that players should focus much more on the strategic threats than the physical threats? In twenty-seven seasons, the person that won, (or tied for), the most Individual Immunities that season actually won the game only twelve times. Those winners are Vecepia Towery, (Marquesas), Brian Heidik (Thailand), Jenna Morasca (The Amazon), Chris Daugherty, (Vanuatu), Tom Westman, (Palau), Bob Crowley, (Gabon), J.T. Thomas, (Tocantins), Jud “Fabio” Birza, (Nicaragua), Rob Mariano, (Redemption Island), Sophie Clarke, (South Pacific), Kim Spradlin, (One World) and John Cochran (Caramoan). How many of those people walked onto the beach on the first day and had the other contestants look at them thinking, “That person is going to be a major challenge threat that I need to look out for post-merge?” I would say very, very few. A very small minority of these challenge dominating winners are physically strong men. Furthermore, the majority of them were actually strategic threats that happened to also win challenges. I’d even go out on a limb and say that a lot of the above winners would have won without some of their challenge wins. Challenge dominance and strong male stereotype is certainly not the main reason that many of these winners ended up at Final Tribal Council, let alone won over their juries.


Tina, Yul, Earl, Todd, Natalie and Sandra, (twice), all won the game without ever winning Individual Immunity.

Considering two things – seven seasons were won by players that never won a single Individual Immunity Necklace and many of the winners that did dominate their season in challenges were not big, strong men – leads me to a few final thoughts and questions. Do challenges change so much from season to season that it’s totally unpredictable as to which body type will excel? Did some seasons just lack the strong man stereotype post-merge, allowing others to win challenges? Does it even matter, in the full context of the game, that strong men do sometimes perform well in Immunity Challenges? Most importantly, is the perception that strong males are the biggest Individual Immunity threats and should often be eliminated right after the Merge even a real concern or simply a misconception that has remained in the minds of players and fans for years? I personally believe that it’s an outdated, flawed way of thinking. At the very least, I find this to be a thought-provoking topic that should be debated more frequently.

Final note: Survivor: Cagayan, in which five players remain at the time of this writing, triggered my inspiration for this article. Tasha and Spencer won most of the Individual Immunity challenges so far. Who saw that coming? According to the strong male theory, shouldn’t LJ, Jeremiah and Tony have been the biggest individual threats? Yet they’re sitting on the Jury or in the game without a single win. LJ excelled at puzzles, Jeremiah was good at being invisible and Tony… is Tony. When will the madness of this “strong males are challenge dominators” concept end?!

KristanKnarrFooter.jpgDo you agree or disagree with Kristan about males being threats in Immunity Challenges? Has the stereotype changed over the seasons? Comment below to let us know! 

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14 Comments on Strong Males as Immunity Threats

  1. Add Tony to the list of winners without winning individual immunity

  2. Totally agree, every time we see these bigger males targeted post merge I’m baffled. James Clement, the epitome of “strong male”, is the only three time male player never to win individual immunity. What does that tell you when the grave digger can’t do it!

  3. Honestly, alot of the Survivor contestants are idiots, because they vote out the bigger guys. They fail to realize that to make most of the challenges gender neutral, it is usually going to be about memory, balance, endurance and puzzle building. The only truly physical challenge I remember seeing post merge is the one with the knotted rope, and as you move down, more weight is on the end, but that challenge is based on body weight. If Survivors were smart, they would get out the strategic, puzzle makers first.

  4. Great article 🙂

  5. This is why I think Tony’s win is especially impressive. He won the game without individual immunities, I always think that it’s more harder and thus more impressive to win the game without an immunity streak at the end like Boston Rob, Kim etc who were too big of a targets and might not have ended in the final 3 had they not won.

    Also when we are talking about challenge threats, Burton should be definitely in the top3, he was a challenge God in Pearl Islands. He lost 2 challenges the whole game, one which Drake threw and voted him out pre merge and the other when he lost individual at top5 and was voted out. The Outcast twist did no good to his legacy I guess.

    • Actually that is incorrect. Darrah won two immunities before that third that she won when he was voted out. He also lost a couple of rewards. But I get what you are saying.

  6. great article!
    in general, i believe the way the contestants label “threats” and the way the game is played are cyclical, influenced by what kind of strategies and types of players prevailed in the latest seasons (and maybe the most famous seasons the contestants get to watch on dvd before going to the island). most are either trying to emulate them, and therefore prolonging the cycle, or trying to combat them, starting a new one. these cycles are loosely intertwined and not so clear cut.
    the main reason the strong males were seen as immunity threats for so long, is because “normal” people are intimidated by them and assume they’ll have a better chance of winning immunity, in case they might need it, against people perceived to be weaker or at their level.

  7. I think the main thing that contestants fail to realize is that challenges are incredibly varied, with puzzles, balance or memory used in almost every challenge to make challenges fairer for men and women. CBS is trying to neutralize the advantages of strength by reducing it’s importance in challenges, yet contestants continue to vote people out based on something that isn’t even helping. In Cagayan, there was no challenge in which Jeremiah’s strength would have helped him (after part of the reason he was voted out was because of his physical figure). Contestants should realize that individual immunity challenges are supposed to be balanced so that anyone can win them, and targeting strong males really serves no purpose and that targeting strategic threats is a much better idea.

  8. Another point could be made that big, strong men can be an incredible asset in pre-merge challenges which tend to be more strength related. You can look at James in pre-merge challenges in any of his seasons and compare that to his zero post-merge wins.

  9. Speaking of the latest season Luzon was not last in only one team competition but lost only two individual immunities and every remaining player from that tribe won an immunity challenge. If that doesn’t show the difference between the two I don’t know what does. The members could all do puzzles well and just lacked an overall physique to win the team challenges. I think Kass especially process this as she was terrible in the premerge challenges and the endurance ones later however she won the f4 challenge and was seconds from winning the f3 challenge.

    Also I sometimes wonder whether some of the strong players in the majority alliance (like Woo this season) just throw some of the early immunities to avoid a target on their back. I mean some of those emdrance challenges that Tasha/Spencer won you would think a martial arts instructor should have won.

    • Great point! This season was definitely a great example of that and an interesting addition to the thoughts I had.

    • Is Woo really smart enough to throw a challenge? But I do agree with your point that people don’t try as hard in some challenges so they don’t seem like threats.

  10. Welllllll….you make some good points. As the game has evolved, those in charge have made the challenges more fair and less physically based, meaning that there is a greater chance of having a weaker person win. However, strength is often an asset, and it doesn’t hurt to take out the physically best (all else being equal, which it often isn’t).

    One of the reasons that it may not seem that the big strong males dominate that much is that they are often taken out before they can go on a run. How about Boo in Fiji? He won a couple and could have won another if they had kept him. If James had stuck around longer in his seasons (and lord knows he could have if not for stupidity and bad luck), he would have nabbed a couple, I’m sure. Keith could have beat anyone in South Pacific…but didn’t, because Coach and the gang were afraid of him. Marcus knocks off Bob in a lot of challenges in Gabon. JT or Tyson could have gone on a run against a physically weak Yin Yang tribe in HvV if they’d been allowed to stay–they’re better at challenges than Parvati, who was taking advantage of weak opponents (Sandra! Russell! Jerri! Colby 3.0!)

    Here’s my point: one of the main reasons that there aren’t so many male challenge dominators is because many strong males simply don’t have the chance. In the end, I think that the players are smart for taking them out–who knows what kind of damage they would do?

  11. Despite Colby’s record in wins, I always had a hard to putting him in the same class as the other “challenge beasts”. Lack of competition had more to do with his winning streak than overall physical strength. Only one person in the final 10 merge players would even be considered a physical threat, and that was Alicia who went out in 9th place. With Rodger, Elisabeth, Tina, Keith, Jerri, Amber and Nick as his competition I feel he had a much easier time than someone like Terry and Tom, who were constantly battling with other challenge threats in Aras and Ian. It will be interesting to see in future seasons if strong women start to become the targeted threat. After Kim, Monica and Tasha the perception of what a threat is could very well change

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