13 US Survivor Moves You Need To See in Your Lifetime

This week on Australian Survivor: Blood V Water we saw a historically devious move when Sam voted Jesse out with his Idol in her pocket (or sarong).


It’s a move that had Survivor fans everywhere talking, and it joins a vast and proud list of epic, strategic and sometimes brutal moves that highlight Survivor lore.

The move made me think about the franchise plays that make you ask where you were when you saw them, and which can be identified in a single quote, image or moment.

Going back to where it all began, US Survivor, this list is a non-exhaustive, necessarily spoiler-laden, ever-expanding (seriously, I had to stop myself somewhere) list of innovative moves that stand tall in the medium, and structure the evolution of the game. Warning: villainy, savagery and anarchy lie ahead.

Richard Gives Up Final Immunity (Season 1)

When 16 castaways were dropped in Borneo, there was no manual that told them how to play. It was the players themselves, specifically on the Tagi tribe, that decided alliances, strategy and gamesmanship would define the show, and assure its 22-year longevity so far.

This was apparent when Richard Hatch stepped down from the iconic final Immunity Challenge, not wanting to win and send the final juror out of the game, and knowing both other players would pick him to sit next to them anyway. In the end, Kelly did win the challenge, vote Rudy out and lose to Richard 3-4, on Rudy’s vote, and so, strategy was born.

The Outsiders Flip On The Rotu 4 (Season 4)

Alliances were made in the first season but two years into the show’s run, flipping on them was still being toyed with. In Marquesas, the Rotu 4 ran the game, so much so that at the famous Chop Challenge, where players answer trivia questions and then cut the three lives of the other players to send them out of the running for immunity, they visibly worked together in this transparent top four.

The other five – Vecepia, Sean, Kathy, Neleh and Paschal – saw the writing on the wall, flipped the script and blindsided John, turning the whole hierarchy on its head and becoming the final five instead.

Rob Takes Out The Swing Vote (Season 6)

“The smartest player to never win”, Rob Cesternino, had already flipped on his alliance at the final 7, leaving himself and former allies Jenna and Heidi campaigning for Christy’s vote at the final 6.

As the factions warred and Christy remained non-committal, putting them all in an equally precarious position, Rob realised they could all be safe if they just took out the swing vote instead. It’s a move that’s been replicated since and is a personal favourite – there’s no further fall than powerful swing to walking down the path.

Cirie’s 3-2-1 (Season 12)

At the final 6 of Panama two things were happening: two of Cirie’s allies, Danielle and Aras, were being targeted, and everyone wanted to sit next to presumptive goat (read: easy final tribal council beat) Courtney.

Cirie pioneered two strategies at once – the 3-2-1, where her and the two former targets’ vote won the day on a plurality vote, through sheer social connection, knowledge and numbers, and goat hunting, where Courtney was sacrificed for a free seat at the end and clear path through the game. Pure magic.

The Third Idol Option Vanquishes the Four Horsemen (Season 14)

In the early to mid-teens of US Survivor, the introduction of Idols also welcomed the advent of ways to deal with them. In Season 13 the popular idea of vote splitting came to Cao Boi in a dream, but if the numbers aren’t there Stacey came up with another plan – to vote not the primary, or even secondary, target out, but the third option, who definitely won’t be protected. As such, Edgardo took the fall for the Four Horsemen, in a moment of realisation later GIFed to perfection.

James Goes Home With Two Idols (Season 15)

We’ve spoken a lot about leaving with Idols lately, but James still stands out in this increasingly crowded field as the first person not just to leave with an Idol, but with two, when he was blindsided at the final 7 by his own alliance. Fun fact: when James played on Heroes V Villains, these souvenirs were his not-so-luxury items.

READ MORE: Who Has Been Voted Off Australian Survivor With An Idol In Their Pocket?

Erik Gives Immunity to Natalie (Season 16)

Largely touted as the most iconic moment in Survivor history, ice cream scooper Erik was on an immunity run when he came up against The Black Widow Brigade, one of the most lethal groups of players the show has ever seen.

Like a well-oiled machine, Cirie designed the plan and Parvati, Natalie and Amanda followed it to its manipulative peak, leading to Erik giving away his only protection in the individual immunity necklace, witnessing every awe-struck voting confessional in succession and this iconic closer from Jeff Probst: “that is what you call a life lesson”.

JT Goes Home By His Own Idol (Season 20)

The show’s landmark returnee season saw some familiar faces wanting to play a different way, no more so than former good ol’ boy and winner JT, who came to shake it up. Wrongly predicting the reincarnation of the Black Widows on the Villains tribe, he passed his Idol Russell, wrapped in a love note, to vanquish them and specifically presumptive leader Parvati.

Instead, Russell and Parvati were working together, mocked the move and letter and then used JT’s own Idol to vote him out at the merge, with Parvati’s exceptional read and double Idol play definitively winning the war between good and evil.

Natalie Plays Immunity for Jaclyn (Season 29)

In the show’s second Blood Vs Water season, Natalie played the last few rounds like a ladder, with a fake vote, then a blindside leading her to this final 5. Thinking ahead, Natalie saw the dangers of going to the final 4 with a pair, who would turn on her if challenge beast Keith won immunity.

Playing the idol for Jaclyn with the power line “Jaclyn did you vote for who I told you to vote for?” split the mother daughter pair, insulated her through to the final tribal council and took Baylor out with an Idol they had found together.

Aubry Dismantles The Super Idol Bomb (Season 32)

In Kaôh Rōng two Idols could merge to form a Super Idol to be played after the votes are read and, as such, the alliance of Scot, Jason and Tai and their two Idols were like an unyielding wall.

Spending weeks on alternate options to avoid this fate, Aubry eventually was able to dismantle the bomb from the inside, connecting with Tai personally and socially and drawing him and his Idol from the trio to negate the power of the Super Idol completely. When Scot asked Tai for his half after being voted out, Tai refused, and Scot walked away with Jason’s half in his pocket.

The Davids Slay The Goliaths (Season 37)

Down in numbers and in the crosshairs, just as the legend foretold, the literal Davids were without slingshot but with a vote steal, idol and all-new Idol nullifier, which combined to take down the Goliaths and momentarily wrestle control of the game. You couldn’t script it better.

Denise Votes Out Sandra With Her Own Idol (Season 40)

Fire Tokens changed everything for the all-winners season of Survivor, shifting strategies for a pay out that never really came. The Queen was looking to add to her purse when she sold a near-expired Idol to Denise for two tokens, with the instruction to Idol out one of the guys.

Assuming the role of Queen Slayer, Denise instead sent Sandra home with her own Idol 20 seasons after Sandra witnessed this fate for JT, keeping the one token she had promised her for after the vote. Now that’s a bargain.

READ MORE: The Survivor History of Sandra Diaz-Twine

Tony Beats Extortion (Season 40)

Eventual winner Tony was dealing with a lot in the mid-merge of season 40. He had been extorted for six tokens from the Edge of Extinction, with the missed payment to cost him his place in the Immunity Challenge and his vote.

Taking advantage of a strong social game that would ascend him to the win, Tony cobbled together the tokens from allies across the aisle, played the challenge, won the challenge, then picked up the people on the bottom to send home power player Sophie with an Idol on a 4-3-2 plurality vote that came over the top of the majority’s vote split. You’re unlikely to see so much success in one day ever again.

This list could be dozens of examples longer, and that’s before even expanding out into the world of global Survivor, but these 13 moments are history, strategy and mastery personified. Seek them out if you’ve missed any.

Hear more of Shannon's expert takes on this season of Australian Survivor in the latest episode of Australian Survivor Talking Tribal above.

Australian Survivor: Blood V Water continues Sunday - Monday at 7.30 on Network 10 and 10 play on demand