Survivor is a numbers game. Stay in the majority, and survive the vote. But what happens when there is no majority, and two alliances are deadlocked? Tied votes were pretty fashionable in early seasons of the show, and we saw several forms of tiebreakers in the first few seasons. That changed for a while, as the purple rock acted as a dissuading factor for people to go to a deadlock. However, the hidden immunity idol inadvertently saw a resurgence of tied votes, as majority alliances could split votes to avoid getting stung by an idol. However they have happened, tied votes have provided some of the most intense, nail biting moments in Survivor history. They have surprisingly also provided a few moments of comedy too. This week Ozlet Nick Chester brings us ten of the best.
10. The Final Four – Borneo
The first season’s players made it almost the entire way through the game without forcing a tie, which is probably just as well, as apparently the producers didn’t have a plan for how they would break one. This seems either a massive oversight in planning the show, or perhaps not the entire truth, and there was a plan, they just didn’t tell us. So the final four arrives and Kelly is in the sights of her alliance. She wins immunity and they are forced to turn on each other. Kelly has stuck by Sue to this point, even though the alliance between them has disintegrated.
Kelly was basically left with a choice to out-stubborn Rudy, as seemingly no tie breaker was developed, meaning they would have just re-voted countless times until someone changed. Knowing Rudy would never change his mind, Kelly made the only realistic choice available and switched her vote, sending Sue home. The vote is historic – the first ever tied vote and for that reason alone, it is really interesting to watch it play out. What is more interesting is Sue’s satisfied reaction to it, happy to leave only to come back two nights later and verbally destroy Kelly. It was a tense vote, and set the scene for many more interesting tied votes to follow.
9. The Gods are Angry – Africa
Tied votes before the merge are extremely rare, and this one was at the very first tribal council that the Samburu tribe attended. It had been a long time coming – the tribe was split by age and neither side was going to budge. Given that Samburu seemed to be on paper the stronger of the two tribes, and with no knowledge of the impending tribe swap, the alliance that came out on top had reason to believe that they had an excellent chance of running the game from that point forward, so the outcome of the vote was huge. The older four predictably chose Lindsay as their target, with the young group somewhat surprisingly choosing Carl due to his wealth.
What is really interesting about this tied vote is that whilst players knew from watching the Australian Outback that previous votes would break a deadlocked outcome, this was of course not an option because the tribe had never been to tribal council. When the vote came down the a trivia contest between Carl and Lindsay, the older people had to feel good that the dentist would outsmart Lindsay, but this wasn’t the case. Carl’s loss meant he went home, and the “Mallrats” took the power.
Although most fans probably hated having Silas and co. in charge, it really was the best thing for the show, as it made people really want to see this cocky group get their comeuppance. We didn’t have to wait long to see it. Having such high stakes and big drama so early in the game made this a really great tied vote.
8. Lets Make a Move – San Juan del Sur
Tied votes involving idols are always risky and this tribal council was one of the more tense ones for a variety of reasons. Jon had managed to remain in charge of the game for an extended period of time and was very open and honest with his alliance members. This included telling them he had an idol, and when he didn’t win immunity at the final 6, Natalie and Baylor saw this as an excellent opportunity to take Jon out. There were a few snags in the plan however, including the fact that Missy was very attached to Jon and convincing her to vote against him would not be easy.
Keith was also a wild card and prone to verbalising plans best kept secret. Their votes were important though because of Jon’s idol. All four needed to be in on the plan and split their votes between Jon and Jaclyn to ensure any idol play didn’t completely ruin the plan. The resulting plan did in fact work, with the vote being split 2-2-2, and Jon not playing his idol, and removed from the game on the re-vote. This vote really did have it all – real tension, difficult moral decisions to be made by players and the need to keep plans secret. Had Jon managed to sniff out the plan and play his idol, there is a very real chance he would have gone on to win, so Natalie’s brilliant play here was totally warranted, and a risk worth taking.
7. One Armed Dude and Three Moms – Blood vs. Water
Since Marquesas, there have been a number of votes where the first round of voting has been tied, only for someone to change their mind at the second round, to avoid going to rocks. It is a game of Survivor Chicken – where the first person to blink ultimately changes their vote. Great examples include John in Samoa and Cochran in South Pacific. But potentially the most interesting is in Blood vs. Water, where the Tadhana tribe are down to 6 members, with Brad in control of the votes of the men and ready to send Ciera home in a 4-2 vote. But Caleb had other plans, and announces at tribal council that he is going rogue and casting vote for Brad.
This takes everyone by complete surprise – and this is what makes this such a great TV moment. Tribal councils can often feel a pointless event as the players have agreed to a plan in advance and nothing said by then will change it. This was very different and in the end made it a complete scramble right there at tribal council. You can tell Jeff loves watching this unfold. Suddenly the best laid plans have been torn to shreds and left everyone hurrying to catch up. The vote ends up being tied 3-3 between Brad and Ciera, and it is Vytas who blinks, not prepared to potentially exit on a rock draw so early in the game, when he still sees time to piece and alliance back together. He switches his vote and sends Brad to Redemption Island, helping create one of the most unexpected but entertaining votes in what had already been a fun season to that point.
6. This Tribe will Self Destruct in 5, 4, 3… – Cook Islands
There isn’t much about Cook Islands I can honestly say I enjoy. But it did give us the most unintentionally hilarious tied vote of all time at the final four. The Aitu tribe, having overcome enormous odds, found themselves as the final 4 on day 38. With only 3 continuing to the final day, the last vote was always going to be a difficult and emotional one, but this isn’t what the tied vote is remembered for. This is of course the vote that is deadlocked between Becky and Sundra, as both Ozzy and effectively Yul were immune.
The resulting tiebreaker was a fire-starting challenge that went on for several hours. I just love how Jeff gets so angry and eventually has to resort to giving the players matches, which Sundra runs out of, leaving Becky only having to start a fire in her own sweet time to win and advance, which she eventually does. I love both the shots showing Jeffs exasperation and the jury and Yul and Ozzy’s disbelief and boredom at waiting for the vote to be settled. Its so funny and probably what makes it even more amusing is that the result is meaningless, as its pretty clear that the vote the next day will come down to Yul vs. Ozzy anyway. These two were effectively playing for 3rd and 4th spot, and the inability to make fire after 38 days playing Survivor is both unbelievable and hilarious at the same time.
5. The Killing Fields – The Australian Outback
Another early tiebreaker, this one was an example of the brutal and aggressive gameplay that Tina had that often gets overlooked by her critics. Following their third immunity challenge loss in a row, Ogakor were in a desperate state and blood was beginning to flow. Tina had already cut the throat of her good friend Marilyn, and was now going in for the kill on Jerri and her alliance. Jerri, Amber and Mitchell believed they had Colby with them so were really not too worried about the vote, but Tina was working Colby hard and, knowing that a tied vote would be enough to take control of the tribe, as Mad Dog’s previous vote for Mitchell would be enough to break a deadlock.
The vote was incredibly tense, but had a few strange moments, from Tina’s voting confessionals (referencing the recent Sydney Olympics, and then her pretty bitchy “I didn’t come out here to starve” in the re-vote) and Mitchell’s lame answer at the deadlocked (“I’m drained”), it was a bizarre ending but also marked the beginning of Tina and Colby’s tight alliance that would take them all the way to the end. This was not the last tied vote of the season, and the merge vote is probably more well remembered, but this one was more intense and also more important, as this is what set the tone for the remainder of the season.
4. Keep Hope Alive – Redemption Island
The most divisive figure in Survivor, Russell’s first time being voted out was both a shocking and euphoric moment for the fan base, and it came about in strange circumstances. Russell was a clear target in the game, given his past actions, but he didn’t help himself by trying to play the exact same game that made him notorious in his first two seasons. Gathering two girls and idol hunting may have worked in the past, but it was enough to turn the other 6 tribe members against him so much, they threw a challenge to get rid of him. With such a majority, they could split the vote to negate a potential immunity idol (which Ralph had but didn’t tell anyone). For his part, Russell did try to swing Julie over to him, which would have cause a 4-3-2 vote and kept him safe for at least another round. How seriously Julie considered this option is really anyone’s guess, but had it happened, it would have been another miraculous escape for Mr Hantz. However, this time it was not meant to be, and with the votes tied after one round, the re-vote saw Russell get his torch snuffed for the very first time in his Survivor career. Whether you celebrated or commiserated this turn of events, it certainly marked a big occasion in Survivor history and showed how a tight group can successfully split voted to get their way. There isn’t much to recommend about Redemption Island, and in fact Russell’s exit coincides with a massive downturn in the quality of the season (this is coincidental I must say), but the magnitude of the moment where Russell feels the cruel sting of a vote gone wrong had been a long time coming, and was an important moment for the series, to show that Russell’s tactics didn’t always work.
3. Rustle Feathers – Blood vs. Water
It may have taken 23 seasons, but the second ever rock draw was worth the wait. Tyson and his alliance seemed to have a tight hold on the game, with a final 3 in place, and Ciera along for the ride as an easy vote off at the final 4. However, Hayden, with his neck on the line proved his strategic and social ability by persuading Ciera to re-think her plans. Which is no small feat – Ciera had a certain spot in the final 4 and a 25% chance of winning immunity to get to the end. Those aren’t bad odds, but still not great and left her totally at the whim of Tyson and his alliance. Being prepared to risk going home that night was a massive gamble, but one that ultimately was worth taking to give Ciera a real chance to win the whole thing.
That tribal council was the one major flaw in Tyson’s winning game, where he did a poor job of convincing Ciera to stay solid, and then didn’t play his immunity idol, meaning he stood a very real risk of going home himself that night. The eventual vote was indeed deadlocked, leaving Hayden and Monica immune and leaving Tyson, Ciera and Katie to draw rocks (black and white this time, not yellow and purple). The whole game could have changed in how those rocks were drawn, but eventually Katie picked the wrong rock and got sent to Redemption Island, much to Tyson’s relief. It was an epic moment for the show and elevated an already very solid season into one of the best in the new era of the show.
It also has a big legacy in showing that sometimes there is a good reason to go to rocks, if you are willing to take a risk. Ciera could have stayed solid and ensured herself a 4th place finish, but the risk meant she had a real chance of making the final 3 and even winning. This is sure to have an impact in future seasons. The only complaint I had was that the marketing department spoiled the surprise, advertising a rock draw all week. How awesome would this have been if no one knew it was coming?
2.Going Down in Flames – Heroes vs. Villains
The merge episode in Heroes vs. Villains is one of the most memorable episodes, mostly for how it ends. It is a legacy that is fully deserved, as the tied vote and resulting ejection of JT ending a 3 episode story arc involving the immunity idol. It also sets the rest of the game up perfectly. In case you somehow forgot what happened, the eventual showdown really begins when JT finds the hidden immunity idol at the Heroes camp. As he is discovered finding it, he really had little option but to try to use it to benefit the whole tribe. Somehow this ended in a convoluted plan to give Russell the idol to use to save himself on the Villains tribe.
Some people have tried to claim this as a kind of wise move that just happened to not work out for JT. Lets set the record straight – this is not a great strategic move. It was too high risk and is only considered a somewhat smart move because he was in such a bad position to start with, that he had nothing to lose. The tribes merge and Russell gives the idol to Parvati, sensing she will be targeted at the vote. Russell doesn’t know Parvati already had an idol so she now has two. The next few scenes involving Parvati, Amanda and the other heroes still defy logic.
How they didn’t put 2 and 2 together and realise they were being hoodwinked is still lost on me, but they go into tribal council planning to vote for Jerri, but telling Russell to vote for Parvati to “prove his loyalty” to them – they expected to win the vote 5-4-1. That doesn’t turn out to be the case and the vote is in fact a 5-5 split, with the heroes voting for Jerri and the villains voting for JT. Of course, Parvati’s bold move saw her play both her idols, but neither for herself, instead keeping Sandra and Jerri safe – thereby nullifying Jerri’s votes and sending JT packing. The pure nerve needed to pull that one off still baffles me and I have nothing but respect for Parvati’s move. One of the great tribal councils in Survivor history – and even though Russell came out on top, he still was unhappy to lose his idol to someone who already had one, and didn’t tell him. This really was Survivor at its best.
1. The Sole Survivor – Marquesas
There really was only one option for the best tied vote ever, and it is of course the dreaded purple rock vote in Marquesas. After being outside the majority vote, Vecepia knew she had to win immunity, and does just that, forcing Neleh, Pascal and Kathy to turn against each other. As the immunity challenge was at tribal council, there was no time for private strategy sessions and its really fascinating that this all plays out publicly in front of the jury. Eventually, Vee convinces Kathy to turn on the other two, and a deadlocked vote between Neleh and Kathy is the result. It is worth noting that the players were told prior to voting that it would come down to a rock draw, and Pascal could have turned on Neleh to save himself at that moment. But he doesn’t and Jeff brings out the bag of rocks.
What really sells the drama of this moment is that it is Pascal, who received no votes against him that night, and in fact at any stage in the game, who draws the purple rock that sends him home. If one of the girls had picked it, this moment would not have packed the same punch that it does, and probably not proved to be such a powerful deterrent for future players for well over ten years. This really set in stone just how dangerous going to a rock draw can be, and the impact of this moment on Survivor history can’t be underestimated. Of course there has been intense debate over how fair this form of tie breaker is, but to me, nothing is fairer than random chance if you can’t beak the deadlock. Pascal is often thought of as unlucky to go home despite never receiving votes against him, but he knew the risks and took the chance anyway. He had every opportunity to wake up on the beach in the morning and come up with a new plan, but his loyalty was worth more to him.
I love how the purple rock works, and I’m so glad that this is now a constant threat to players who chose to go to a tie. As seen earlier in this list, it doesn’t mean you should never go to rocks, but it really is a very fair way to settle a deadlock. “Purple Rock” is such a famous part of the Survivor vernacular now, and for good reason. This vote is not only a great tied vote, but one of the most influential moments on the history of the show from a strategic standpoint.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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