Survivor: Idol Island – Could It Work?

Idol Island Title

Survivor is a show that is constantly evolving and isn't afraid to push the envelope when it comes to new twists and variations to the game. While every variation to the show is bound to divide opinion, it's clear that production's willingness to shake things up has contributed to the longevity of Survivor. In today's feature article New Zealand Ozlet Nick Chester looks at a potential game changing twist aptly named Idol Island, where every player is given an individual immunity idol right from the get go. Read on to find out the specific details of how such a twist could play out on screen.

Old school Survivor fans: you may want to look away now. This one isn’t for you, and you are sure to hate it. For those of us who like some of the things seen in newer seasons, I think this idea has a lot of merit. Strangely, it’s an absurd idea that the more I think on, the more I like it. And it even addresses some of the concerns that long time fans have with where the show has started heading. What is my idea? It’s Survivor: Idol Island.

Idol Island

Given the filming of two seasons back to back, there will always be the need for seasons with a theme, rather than based solely on the location. My idea isn’t a new one, but its one I don’t think has been talked about in anything other than a joke. But I do think it could work for real, and that is Survivor: Idol Island. The premise: Be up front, and give everyone an immunity idol that they can play at any stage in the game. No more are hidden or otherwise given out.

This may sound like a crazy idea, but I think it actually could work really well and make for a really interesting season. And unlike other twists (Old vs. Young, Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn), it actually has season-long ramifications.

The Rules

I think such a season needs to have some ground rules on how idols can be used, just to guard against people being forever safe, and keep things as simple as possible. So consider these rules are in place on any season of Idol Island.

  1. One Idol per person. No more are given out, hidden or otherwise entered into the game.
  2. No trading of idols. You can’t give an idol away, but you can play it on someone else just as you currently do.
  3. All idols expire at the final 5.

2IdolsOne idol per person is more than enough.

Even the playing field

One of the problems I have with idols is that they inherently protect the players prepared to take big risks and play is a ballsy fashion. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that the same type of player inevitably ends up with the idol. Russell, Tony, Ozzy, Boston Rob. In other words, alpha males. Up to Mike’s find of the idol in Worlds Apart, 13 idols had been found by women – and 43 by men. This stat says everything. Furthermore, women looking for idols are often cast out quicker than men (think about Kristina in Redemption Island, or Christine in South Pacific). Giving everyone an idol actually starts the game on an even footing. It means the game isn’t about who happens to get a clue or look in the right place. Of course the obvious counterpoint is to take idols out of the game altogether, but that just isn’t realistic and production clearly likes the dynamic they bring to the game. Idols get a bit of a bad rap from lots of fans, but they have the potential to make the game and the strategic side of things really interesting. Let’s give everyone a fair chance to use one, for good or bad and see how it shakes out.

AlphaIdolIt could be fun to see how idols are used when it isn’t just Alpha Males finding them.

Increases strategy and blindsides

Strategy is sometimes a dirty word amongst long time fans – it can become the key ingredient in measuring a player’s ability and ignore their social skills. I believe they are often one in the same – a good player can’t really be without a good strategy and good social skills. I do feel that as the show has evolved, strategies have clearly become more intricate and I think the real meat of the show is now the strategic element. More likeable finalists can now lose to a player with a better strategic résumé.

One thing that most people enjoy about the show is a good old fashioned blindside. Yes, there is definitely more to the game than that and I certainly feel people’s frustration that the show seems to be built around them a wee bit these days at the expense of other aspects of the show. But my personal feeling is that the show is more interesting when the eventual vote is unexpected. I want to be shocked at the outcome as often as possible – the show isn’t nearly as much fun when I know what’s coming too often. Giving everyone an idol increases the chances of blindsides occurring, because the last thing you want is someone knowing they are going and playing an idol. So it would become even more imperative to keep them in the dark and ensure they leave the game with their idol in hand. Of course, the opposite could also be true, where players are told they are going, just to get them to burn an idol and then be without it going forward. Either way, I think this will lead to more surprises and shocks, which will make for entertaining TV.

But blindsides are only one part of it, and having strong strategic skills would be particularly important where every player has an idol on board to start with. Having a strong alliance and splitting votes, whilst still being able to catch good players whilst they are feeling comfortable would all be really important skills. Having an idol is a bit like having a gun with one bullet. It’s really valuable if you fire at the right time, but if you fire at the wrong time, or don’t fire it at all because you are waiting for a better time, its worth nothing. Watching this dynamic play out would be really fascinating.

BlindsideIdolBlindsiding people with idols is a smart move – so there will likely be more surprised evictees.

Less searching, more camp time

Given that many people hate the amount of idols in the game currently, why does giving out so many more make things interesting?

Well, my viewpoint is that what a lot of people don’t like is that an increasingly large number of idols are hidden throughout the game, and the inevitable screen time screen time given to idol hunts. For fans of camp life or strategy, this is a bummer as idol hunts are not really that interesting, but have to be shown. They are time consuming, but given the chaos that idols can bring to the game, producers are never likely to get rid of them. And quite frankly, I like the strategic element of idols – knowing when to use them, and how to mitigate for them when an enemy has one is a great part of the game. Having to split votes can cause all sorts of issues that make the game fun. And let’s face it, the idea of an idol being kept secret is very rare these days. What does it matter if everyone knows who has an idol? This could potentially make for a complicated but incredibly fun game, without having to spend time in the episode showing idol hunts. If you think of some of the seasons over the last few years, almost entire episodes have been given over to finding an idol – and you know pretty much as soon as someone starts talking about it, they find it so its not like it creates any suspense. Looking for idols is the most boring part of the game, even worse than watching meaningless reward challenges. This basically strips all the boring parts of the hidden immunity idol away, leaving only the interesting bits left. Sounds like a winner to me.

HuntIdolEnding treasure hunts but keeping idols in the game? The best of both worlds.

 What are the downsides?

 This definitely has some risks, the first being it could get pretty confusing. Whilst I like the idea of complicating strategy, it could also lead to multiple vote splitting which could get hard to follow, and leave many players being voted out in a complex way and possibly with next to no votes cast against them. If multiple people play idols, and all votes are made null and void, what would happen? These issues are I think pretty easily solved, but would need to be done in a way that made sense on TV, and that players knew in advance. There is also the possibility that players who use an idol early become easy targets because they are now vulnerable, which could end up making for pretty uninteresting TV, although this seems unlikely. Most people would probably not use their idols in early rounds, and blindsiding people with idols would make a lot more sense. Even so, Survivor still needs to be reasonably simple to follow and some of the vote splitting that has happened in recent seasons can lead to head scratching moments, and increasing this would be the main risk with such a twist. It could also result in social skills becoming far less important, which I don’t think would be a good thing.

PlanVoodooPlan Voodoo becomes commonplace, and even more confusing.

Worth a Try?

 Having said all of that, other ideas have been tried and it turned out that they didn’t really change strategy all that much. Things like One World and Redemption Island didn’t really register much of a change in how people played the game, whereas Blood vs. Water did, so there are really only vague ideas on what works to go on. Personally, I think the idea of creating a strong alliance and utilising idols as a team to keep you and your allies protected could really work. The permutations are potentially pretty complex, but good players figure it out. To my mind, this is going to lead to more unpredictable play and a lot of upsets at tribal council. Many fans will tell you that the blindside is overrated, but a predictable season where you can anticipate the result of most tribal councils is pretty boring, regardless of how great the cast are. If this mixes things up and reduces time spent looking for idols and constantly questioning who has the idol, it could also open up more screen time to tell more stories, and better. To my mind, this makes it a cool twist that is worth a shot.

What do you think about a potential Idol Island season? Is it something you’d like to see? Do you think it’d work? Let us know your thoughts below!


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17 Comments on Survivor: Idol Island – Could It Work?

  1. Honestly, I can’t tell if I love it or hate it. All I can say is that it’s interesting. I really wouldn’t mind this if it was the theme for a season.

  2. I feel like this would be similar to make previous twists such as Outcasts, 4 Tribes, Medallion of Power, Redemption Island, One World and Blood vs Water, great in concept but just doesn’t work.

  3. I agree Nick, this is something I’ve thought Survivor should have done years ago (as a one-time thing though, not as a permanent change). The one thing I wonder about though is if players should be informed of who has/doesn’t have an idol at a tribe swap or merge. On the one hand I think it should to continue the fairness and honesty about idols. While on the other hand seeing players telling (and presumably lying) to others about who does/doesn’t have them looks promising as well.

  4. My fear is that people would get nervous at tribal and if one person played their idol an entire team of members would play theirs also. What would happen if an entire team was to play their idols, who would go? It’s an interesting idea that I have contemplated trying in my own Survivor I do every summer, however I have been too afraid to try it. If things went wrong they would go really wrong

  5. What they should do is tell each person that they were randomly selected to be part of this seasons twist and that they are given an idol that they can share of keep secrete from everyone else and that there are no hidden idols at camp. That would keep the suspense up.

    • I agree. Give each person an idol, but don’t let them know everybody has one. It might be tricky but it could make for a great season.

    • I feel like this wouldn’t work because somebody would tell somebody they had an idol and everybody would figure it out quickly.

  6. Zach Chong // May 11, 2015 at 12:27 pm // Reply

    I like it.

  7. although I’m not an idol fan, this idea sounds novel. Although I did like the one world concept but that was a bit tainted by the nastiness. I think the second chance vote will be successful and they would do a second chance II

  8. That would be crazy, but I don’t totally agree with that twist.

    What I think would be a good idea for a season in the future would be to give every player the Dan Double Vote from the beginning of the season. It’s not too much of an advantage like the idol is, but still it would totally increase the paranoia in the game and could lead to great blindsides if the advantage is smartly used.

  9. wilburdes // May 11, 2015 at 8:49 pm // Reply

    I think this is one of those situations where you don’t know if it will work until you try it.

  10. Your case and argument are solid, but not polarizing. This type of concept is one that sounds good on paper but the execution is what determines its fate. The only way this could ever work is to test it out with returning players because they know what the hell they’re doing. Other than that, it’s a great article.

  11. Zach Chong // May 12, 2015 at 12:56 am // Reply

    I think idols should expire at final 6

  12. “If multiple people play idols, and all votes are made null and void, what would happen? These issues are I think pretty easily solved…” what if everybody plays an idol? a re-vote with idols void?! it would negate the point of having idols in the first place.

    • I doubt that would happen, because it would really have to be something that everyone on the tribe agrees to do. This type of move would be idiotic pre-merge (since the tribe that did it would be at such a disadvantage post merge) and I highly doubt it would happen post merge, both because it’s unlikely all the idols would still be in the game and because it just seems impossible that everyone would agree to make a move like that post merge.

  13. One problem could be that this rewards self-aware Sandra-type players, and penalises players who make big moves and strategy play, since it is very difficult for them to vote their target out.

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