Challenges are a vital part of the game. As Jeff often says towards the beginning of the show: “there is only one thing you covet, immunity,” or something along those lines. The objective prior to the merge should be to win challenges to ensure your tribe’s safety. However, there have been instances in which a tribe purposely loses a challenge, in order to eliminate a bad egg or someone who was bringing the tribe down. This strategy has been generally panned by fans, claiming it always fails. While that is sometimes true, there have been a variety of different circumstances, making the results more complicated than initially thought. Join American Ozlet Patrick Gustavson for his analysis of all of these circumstances in which a tribe successfully, or, in a few examples, unsuccessfully attempts to throw a challenge.
Note: this will only include instances that were seen on screen; rumors of throwing a challenge that emerged after the game will not be addressed. Also, this will not include Manono giving away immunity in One World or the Bikal tribe forfeiting the challenge in Caramoan, because those are completely different stories.
In the fifth season in Thailand, the younger, more athletic Sook Jai tribe was dominating, winning the first three challenges, including both immunity challenges. However, a divide was forming within the tribe, with the threesome of Jed, Robb and Stephanie, who isolated themselves from the tribe by neglecting to work on the shelter and even sleeping away from the tribe, being on the outs. The tribe lost the third challenge and Jed was unceremoniously voted out by the majority of five. They later admitted at a later tribal, in quite a confident manner, that they threw it in order to vote Jed off. After winning the next immunity challenge, a free-fall ensued. They lost the next four immunity challenge, and with a little help from the fake merge, went into the actual merge at a five-to-three disadvantage, against the very tight Chuay Gahn five. This would be the first example of a dominating tribe unnecessarily throwing a challenge, which would then cause a tailspin that ended up costing them any shot at winning the game.
The first time viewers actually saw the plan to throw a challenge fall into place was in the Pearl Islands. Similar to Sook Jai, the Drake tribe was simply annihilating the Morgan tribe, winning every single challenge through the first three tribal councils. There was a bit of uneasiness in the Drake tribe and it appeared just about everyone wanted someone else gone. It was Burton who came up with the idea, proposing it to Rupert, who despised the idea. In a challenge based on brute strength with one-on-one matchups, Drake sat out Burton and Rupert, their two strongest members. They proceeded to lose the challenge, and thanks to a twist, Morgan kidnapped Rupert, who boosted morale to a whole new level, providing them with fish and even assisting them in winning the next reward challenge. In another twist of fate, Burton was the one voted out at the next tribal council. Morgan went on to dominate the remainder of the tribal stage, prior to the outcasts twist, evening the numbers at five to five. It is clear throwing the challenge was extremely detrimental to the Drake tribe in terms of losing their numbers. If it were not for the unpredictability of the season, namely the outcast twist, this could have and likely would have been catastrophic, but Burton and the Drakes were both bailed out in the end.
After two thrown challenges in the matter of three seasons, the next instance did not occur until the thirteenth season of Cook Islands. A major twist in the season was the four tribe format, with only five members per tribe, meaning there was truly no place to hide. This became clear in the Autitaki tribe, where Billy Garcia just didn’t seem to fit in, as well as not putting in much effort around camp. This prompted Ozzy to want to throw a challenge just so they could get Billy out, and being only the second challenge as well as only having five people on the tribe, seemed a bit much. However, Ozzy got his way and the Aitu tribe lost the challenge, rather embarrassingly too if I might add, and Billy was voted out. Due to a tribe swap immediately following the tribal council, it had no impact on the game in that aspect, but it was nice to see three members of the Aitu tribe get voted out in the next four tribal councils. With that being said, Ozzy still made it to the final tribal council, so it clearly was not a game ending blunder. #BringBackBilly
The most interesting scenario surrounding a challenge being thrown has to be in China. Following the tribe swap, the Xhan Hu tribe consisted of original members Peih Gee, Jaime and Erik, as well as James and Aaron, the two strongest members of the original Fei Long tribe. Out of the twelve remaining players, seven were original Fei Long members and five were original Xhan Hu. Peih Gee and Jaime came up with the idea to throw the next challenges in order to eliminate the two strongest opposing players, and secure their numbers. They did this in the first challenge, in a rather obvious and hilarious manner. They were laughing, throwing puzzle pieces, and Peih Gee even said her famous Sudoku line, all to James’ dismay. They opted to vote out Aaron at the next tribal council.
This scenario got even more complicated when Fei Long kidnapped James following their reward challenge victory. Todd used James’ clue to find the hidden immunity idol. He then came up with a plan to give James the idol and told him to throw the upcoming challenge so he could use the idol to vote out one of the three Xhan Hu members. The next challenge would be a gross food eating challenge, which seemed to be the perfect opportunity to throw the challenge. James pretended to struggle to eat the balut, but Denise could not eat the balut for the life of her in an extremely entertaining scene, forcing James to eat it and win immunity for Xhan Hu. Though this was not a successful thrown challenge, the circumstances surrounding the situation had the most layers behind it and would have made for an epic blindside if it had been successful. However, for Xhan Hu, Fei Long voted out Sherea that night, effectively killing their shot at numbers, not even mentioning that Frosti had defected. It was by no means a bad move for Peih Gee and Jaime to want to throw the challenges, it was actually a smart move, but due to bizarre circumstance, their efforts were not successful and the original Fei Long went on to dominate the game.
There was a bit of a drought until the next time a challenge was thrown. That would end in Redemption Island. The Zapatera tribe won the first two challenges convincingly against Ometepe, and it was clear they had the edge in terms of strength. However, they also had Russell Hantz, who was deemed a cancer by his tribe in the early stages due to his reputation, lack of work ethic and evidence that he was idol hunting. Despite second guesses from Julie, fearing bad karma, the tribe went on to throw the challenge, with a pathetic display of effort by David Murphy on the puzzle. This opened up a massive can of worms at tribal council, with the majority being called out by the minority of Russell, Stephanie and Krista. Even though Russell was voted out, a massive divide formed within the tribe, killing tribe unity. It also did quite the contrary for the Ometepe tribe, causing them to unite, almost more than any other tribe in the show’s history. Zapatera went on to lose three of the next four challenges, putting them at a six to five disadvantage, with Matt being put in the middle following his return. They attempted to sway Matt to their side but he wound up being voted out that night, putting the Zapateras in the clear minority, and there was no way to break the Ometepe alliance, and the five were consecutively voted out. Zapatera was clearly the stronger tribe and it was so unnecessary to throw the challenge, even though it was to get rid of Russell. This, in my opinion, is the worst instance of a tribe throwing a challenge: worse than Drake, worse than Sook Jai. It was simply poetic justice to see their arrogance get turned around on them.
It took six seasons for the next challenge to be successfully thrown. The Brawn tribe in Cagayan attempted to throw a challenge in order to eliminate Cliff, the likeable alpha-male, but failed due to the Brains tribe’s inability to win a challenge at the time and Cliff’s basketball ability. There didn’t seem to be a strong reason behind potentially throwing the challenge. Cliff did not appear to be a mastermind; he just appeared to be a nice guy who was threatening to others. He was certainly not a detriment to the tribe.
The next time a challenge was successfully thrown was one season later in San Juan del Sur. This took place in the famous “let’s make Drew Christy look like as much of an idiot as possible in one hour” episode. Drew came out of nowhere with his beliefs that Kelley Wentworth was a huge threat and needed to go in order to keep the women from taking over, even though the men outnumbered the women. At the challenge, Drew took charge of tossing the rings on the post. He was very lazy with his tosses and nearly broke the rules several times. Hunaphu would go on to lose the challenge, and Drew’s master plan backfired, badly. He rubbed all of the women the wrong way, and none of the men could agree on who to vote for, allowing the women to in fact unite, exactly what was predicted, and vote Drew out. This was one of the funniest, most ironic sequences in Survivor history, which all starts with Drew’s ridiculous, out of the blue idea to throw the challenge. This was clearly the end of Drew’s game, but it was followed by a tribe swap, so it really did not affect anyone else’s game, but it sure was very interesting and entertaining viewing.
That leaves us with the most recent occasion which was in the most recent season of Worlds Apart. Thanks to a tribe swap, there were four blue collars: Mike, Dan, Rodney and Sierra, as well as Tyler, Joaquin and Joe. They were far and away the stronger tribe, and easily won the first immunity challenge against the new Nagarote tribe. However, prior to the second immunity challenge, Rodney and Mike contemplated throwing the challenge in order to eliminate Joe and ensure Kelly’s safety. What ensued at the challenge was something not seen before. The objective of the challenge was to recreate a number of objects in the order it was shown, and Mike took it into his own hands to throw the challenge. In his matchup against Kelly, he was telling her that he was throwing the challenge for her, and even trying to help her win. It was so bizarre to see Mike secretly working with the opposition in order for them to win the challenge, without anyone else catching on. Nagarote went on to win the challenge. The initial idea to throw the challenge was honestly not a bad idea. Joe was clearly on the outs in his tribe and the biggest physical threat with a merge looming. It would also ensure their ally Kelly’s safety, even though it appeared she was in with her new tribe, but there was no way for them to know that. However, what ensued after the challenge is what makes the decision questionable. Mike and Dan realized that Rodney was growing too close to Joaquin and feared they were forming a power couple or dare I say “bromance.” They used Joe, with Sierra to turn the tables on Joaquin and vote him out. While Rodney and Joaquin were growing closer, it is likely that Joaquin would have been on their side due to his relationship with Rodney and Tyler, and was quite frankly lucky that they stayed with them. To make matters worse, Joe almost threw a wrench into their plan by winning the first two challenges, and could have realistically split up their alliance. The initial plan to throw the challenge was a good one, but the result was almost detrimental to the games of Mike and the blue collars.
There has been seven times in which a challenge has been successfully thrown in order to eliminate someone. There have been a variety of results, with the most prominent or remembered being the times in which a dominant tribe threw a challenge and it wound up ruining their hopes, a la Thailand, Pearl Islands (pre-merge) and Redemption Island. However, what mostly occurs is that a tribe swap takes place so it is impossible to determine whether or not the decision was detrimental or not, examples being Cook Islands, San Juan del Sur and Worlds Apart. And the one instance in which it was so in depth and the result could not be determined solely based on the decision to throw the challenge and that is in China.
Overall, it appears that throwing a challenge is becoming more relevant, with three challenges being thrown since season twenty two and at least an attempt in the last three seasons prior to Cambodia. In the early days, challenges were thrown to get rid of someone who was bringing the tribe down one way or another. Now it seems like people will do it just to get rid of someone they don’t want around or find threatening. The reasons behind throwing these challenges are becoming less credible and rational. It’s becoming more a part of the strategic aspect of the game, even though it has a limited success rate. I’m sure as the strategy of the show evolves, so will the reasons and circumstances behind throwing a challenge.
Is throwing a challenge always bad move or can it be smart gameplay? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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