Survivor: The Super Idol is better in theory than practice

There’s a good reason that the Super Idol has never been used in Survivor history; the threat is more powerful than its action.

Death, taxes and twists in Survivor. Those are the three universals to Survivor fans, as Jeff Probst and the production crew have done a good job at throwing wrenches into players’ plans by creating chaos within the traditional outwit, outplay and outlast gameplay. In recent seasons, secret advantages, extra votes and outright vote steals have made post-merge gameplay exciting, varied or, sometimes, game-ending. However, none have been as powerful as the Super Idol.

The Super Idol, which allows its user to use it after the votes have been read and eliminate all votes against them (finder only in Cagayan), gives the player comfort in seeing how things play out before playing their hand. However, what owners have either learned beforehand (or have discovered in defeat) is that a Super Idol is better in theory than it is in practice.

Warning; the following will discuss end-game details about Survivor seasons in Panama, Cagayan, Cook Islands, Kaoh Rong and the first episode of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.

Let’s look at the best examples of using the Super Idol as a tool for strategic play. Back in Cook Islands, Yul found the hidden Super Idol while on Exile Island. Knowing he would only use it when push came to shove, he kept quiet about it until absolutely necessary. With the absolute betrayal of Candice and Penner at the hand of a Mutiny, Yul did everything he could to keep the Aitu 4 together against the opposing Raro 8.

Three straight tribal Immunity wins brought the numbers to 5-4, but even then Yul knew that a Super Idol play after the votes would only result in a tie at 4-4 after the merge’s Tribal Council, causing too much variance for the logical Yul to be comfortable. That’s when he approached the logically-likeminded Penner with the possibility of him having an idol, letting him realize that if he doesn’t flip back to the Aitu 4, they’re all going to vote him home.

In that instance, the Super Idol becomes a social and strategic manipulator in Survivor, as it gave Yul the power to mastermind a brutal blindside in a way that made people more sour with Penner than afraid of him. When people complain about the Super Idol being overpowered, they underplay just how strategic Yul was with it. His manipulation was a big reason why he ended up winning the season.

As Tony Vlachos proved in Survivor Cagayan, you can have the Super Idol in your pocket as an extra shield to let you go wild with your gameplay as a means of winning the game. Tony was always brash even without the Tyler Perry Idol, as he almost always had a regular one he could use instead. However, after receiving a clue from the Auction after holding off spending any money in all previous rounds, he uncovered a Super Idol he could only use on himself.

By that time, Tony was taking out the strongest targets once they stopped winning Individual Immunity Challenges. As Tasha was voted out and Tony was about to blindside his closest ally, Trish, had already revealed that he has a Super Idol with “special powers” that he could use after the votes were cast. He was actually bluffing when he first said it, but eventually, he found one. He even wore another around his neck at Tribal Council to remind others he could end their game.

Even after his legit Super Idol had expired in usage, Tony lied about how he could use it at Final Four. The fact that he could send whoever voted for him home with Spencer, Kass and Woo still in the game was a huge deterrent and showed how strong Tony was at getting into peoples’ minds. He played just crazy enough that he could follow through on any threat, making his Super Idol bluff a play that kept him in the game long enough to win.

As we’ve seen in Survivor, things don’t go as well as intended when trying to play a Super Idol. In Kaoh Rong, only when two idols were combined together could a post-vote negation of votes for a user work. It’s very likely two players would find an idol by themselves in the way keys were hidden up in trees and buried in chests around the islands, meaning co-operation was likely.

With Tai and Scot in possession of hidden immunity idols and Jason safe with the Individual Immunity necklace, the vote came down to 4-2-2 with Aubry and Tai in the minority. As re-votes were allowed, a Super Idol play would have kept Scot, Jason, Tai and Julia in control for the rest of the game. However, three didn’t see Tai going against them, even as they played mean and didn’t take his say into consideration. By trying to play the Super Idol, Tai stayed put, and Scot went home, thus taking those three out in succession shortly after.

The only player that didn’t have the Super Idol affect their game at all was Terry Deitz. With pre-merge votes going in his favor and winning all the Individual Immunity Challenges before the Final Four, Terry played a straight-up comp beast game and never tailored his gameplay to save his La Mina alliance. His only downfall was losing the Final Immunity Challenge, as Danielle reneged on her Final Two promise and cut him on Day 38.

Why is this important? As I brought up earlier this week, Chrissy Hofbeck of Survivor season 35 has already decided not to use her Super Idol, which was effective only at the first Tribal Council. While I defended her inaction within the context of this season’s various options of what she can do, a closer look at the numbers over the course of this show, the Super Idol has many uses beyond actual play in a lengthy individual game.

Out of five possible instances in Survivor, the Super Idol has not been used for its intended post-vote-nullifying purpose once. Even though Chrissy could have flipped the tables at the Heroes tribe by using it, an opportunity remains to get effectiveness out of a now-defunct tool.

The Super Idol is better in theory than in practice; its power is strongest when it lays as a dormant threat.