Flipping a Coin: Breaking a Tie in Survivor


Throughout Survivor's 32 seasons we've witnessed many a tribal council that has ended in a tied vote. The process of breaking a tie has evolved over the shows history and provided many stunning tribal councils. However despite the progression of tiebreakers, there is still contention over which process is the best and whether they are entirely fair. In today's feature article Ozlet Alec Culver takes a look through the many different tiebreaker methods used by the show and focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of each. Read on to find out which tiebreakers are the most entertaining and fairest of them all!

There have been many forms of tie breakers from drawing rocks to making fire. We have had a total of 28 ties in 32 seasons of survivor so far, most of which have been decided by a revote. The real question is which one is the best form of breaking a tie.


Survivor: Cambodia brought us one of the craziest tribal councils ever. There was a double idol play canceling all votes, a tie and eventually the tie breaker came down to choosing one of the voters to go home or by default Keith would go home. The real question about that, is that really fair? Today I am going to break down all the types of tie breakers there have been over the years.

The Revote


The tiebreaker method introduced in the first season. This is obviously the fairest way to break a tie and most of the time it has done so. Out of the 28 ties, 16 have been decided by a revote. This is one that doesn’t really need much of a debate but very rarely does a revote change the inevitable. Probably the only shock value with a revote was the very first time it happened in the first season with Wigglesworth and Sue. Now it just seems people use revotes to their advantage as recently saw in the Darnell vote, it is only used to try to flush an idol. The only revotes with any shock value are the ones where people flip such as when Cochran flipped.

Conclusion: This is by far the fairest way to settle a tie and so that is why they always have a revote.

Previous Vote Counter


The newer fans of the show won’t really know what this one is. In the 2nd and 3rd seasons, Australian Outback and Africa, this was the way to break ties. If you had gotten more votes in previous tribal councils then the person you were tied with, you were sent home. This decided 3 ties and they were really big votes too. First one that was decided this way was early on in the Outback with Mitchell, he had one previous vote against him, which was the previous tribal council vote of Keith, the guy that stayed because of this tiebreaker. The next one, and probably the most famous occurrence was later in that season with Jeff Varner. So basically earlier in the season Tina was told that Jeff had a previous vote against him from Kimmi. Well come merge time when the original tribes were even and Tina and her tribe used that to their advantage and sent Varner home. The third and thankfully last appearance was in the 3rd season, Africa right before the merge. It was the first time that tribes got swapped and the Samburu tribe was even with three original Samburu and three original Boran. However, only one person on that whole tribe had even received a vote against them and that was Lindsey and well the original Boran people, Tom, Lex and Kelly, used that to their advantage and sent her home based on the tiebreaker.

Conclusion: This one was obviously a little bit unfair. The producers must have thought so to replace it with other methods. I mean it affected the game so much on who you would vote for during tribal and it was just a little bit too easy to exploit.

Survival Quiz


This was only a one and done thing for a reason. It was the first tribal council for Samburu and they were dead locked and since neither of them had previous votes against them, Carl and Lindsey went to a survival quiz tiebreaker which surprisingly Lindsey won.

Conclusion: I feel there was a reason this one was only used once. It isn’t that great of a tiebreaker.

Rock Drawing


Ah now we are on to the most infamous of tie breaking situations. This one has only been done twice in 32 seasons of Survivor but both times have been very iconic. The first time was in season 4, Marquesas, which is in itself one of the most unpredictable seasons in the early going of Survivor. It is the infamous purple rock scenario where at the final 4 there is a tie between Neleh and Kathy with Vecepia having immunity. Since the producers had gotten rid of the previous vote counter tiebreaker then we at home were wondering how they would break this tie. Well then Jeff mentions how Neleh, Kathy and Paschal would draw rocks and the person with the purple rock would go home. In a fitting turn of events, Paschal, the guy with no votes against him ever in the game, was sent home. The second time this happened was super recent in Season 27, Blood vs Water, at the final 6 tribal council where Gervase had immunity, Ciera flipped a tribal too late and so we were deadlocked at 3-3 with nobody budging. So Hayden and Monica become safe from the rock draw and Ciera, Katie and Tyson have to draw rocks. Now the rock has magically turned white but Katie draws it and gets sent home.

Conclusion: This tiebreaker is seen as a way to punish players for not making up their minds. The first time it was used by definition of the rule Paschal should have left before the rock drawing. This tiebreaker has affected the game so much as it has made people, such as Cochran and John in Samoa, flip because they are afraid of the results. This is a unique way of breaking a tie and while it might not seem that fair it does attempt to keep the game fair and change the game.

Fire Making Challenge


This challenge was first brought about in Season 10, Palau, as a way to send Stephanie or Bobby Jon home, but it made an appearance later on in the season at the final 4. So the understanding up to this point was a deadlocked tie would lead to a rock draw, which is why there had been many ties before but a revote always broke that tie. However, because of Ian’s truths coming out Tom had flipped on him and well it lead to Ian and Jenn being deadlocked in a tie at the final 4. So when everyone thought there was going to be a rock draw, Jeff brings out the fire making challenge, something we had missed for a whole 5 episodes or so. This has now become the tiebreaker in the final 4 vote now, such as Cirie and Danielle in Panama, Sundra and Becky in Cook Islands, Matty and Bob in Gabon, and most recently between Rodney and Carolyn in Worlds Apart. This tiebreaker, although only used in the final 4, has turned out to be a nail biter, million dollar challenge such as with Matty and Bob, or has provided some of the most hysterical moments, such as Sundra and Becky and Rodney and Carolyn.

Conclusion: It’s a shame this is only used in a final 4 scenario because it could be used so well in any tiebreaker situation. The rock draw makes people flip where as this one I feel is a lot more old school mentality of a tiebreaker. It’s a lot of the ‘hey we aren’t going to change our votes so lets fight it out and let the best man win’ kind of mentality. This would have been much better for a Varner versus Colby in the Outback then the previous vote counter and well with this one we have never had a bad moment with the tiebreaker. Yes, sometimes it is between two people that will never win but that one time it provided arguably the most memorable moment from a sub-par season. This tiebreaker has a lot of other possibilities.

Final Conclusion

So in short the fairest one of the tiebreakers in my opinion is making fire. It takes what the survivors should know with fire making and challenges them and it is between the people who got the votes. The rock draw is just kind of a random way to get people to make up their mind and it has the possibility to change up the game but no one wants to even make that risk because they might go home. It makes a lot more sense to test the Survivors on what it takes to survive then to just put their fates up to chance on a strategic basis. So, the fire making challenge in my mind should have been what happened in Survivor Cambodia between Kimmi and Tasha and frankly besides the obvious revote should be what always happens if the vote is dead locked.

What do you think of Survivor’s tiebreaker methods? Are they fair? What’s your favourite tiebreaker? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!


About Survivor Oz (2110 Articles)
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  1. Tie Breaker: Why Past Votes May Be The Best Option – Survivor Oz

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