Survivor David vs. Goliath: Idol Nullifier is perfectly balanced

Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

The Idol Nullifier was introduced in an amazing way in Survivor: David vs. Goliath, showing its strengths and its potential drawbacks.

Once Carl won the first-ever Idol Nullifier on Exile Beach and remarked that he hoped it would be the slingshot needed to take out Goliath right between the eyes, it was clear that it would be used successfully. Survivor: David vs. Goliath episode 9 introduced the game to an advantage that allowed a player to place a trinket in an urn, naming a player that they wish to prevent the usage of a Hidden Immunity Idol.

If that player does play for themselves, or has played on them by another, a Hidden Immunity Idol, then the Idol Nullifier will be revealed, blocking the usage of that Idol and have all votes remain counted against them. This season, we saw the Davids use the Idol Nullifier, as well as a Vote Steal against a third-party player, in order to bait Dan Rengering to use his second idol on himself, taking out one of the biggest Goliath threats in the game.

It worked perfectly in Survivor: David vs. Goliath, bringing the latest perfect TV moment in a series that have defined this top 8 season (don’t @ me). However, it could have easily gone all wrong, helping make it a perfect new advantage to introduce to the game.

Let’s go through the scenario to get to this perfect play. Firstly, five David players got together to discuss the powers they collectively had; a Vote Steal, a Hidden Immunity Idol and an Idol Nullifier. They were also armed with the knowledge that Dan had another idol. With five of eleven players aware of a plan, they could strategize the perfect move to guarantee a win; steal Alison’s vote, trick Dan into playing an idol and nullify it while throwing all their votes onto him.

It’s so easy to screw this up. The Davids were the minority in numbers, meaning they needed two advantages to take out one player. If they didn’t have the Vote Steal, they could have still piled all their votes on Dan and be outnumbered. They could have used a Vote Steal and Dan try to play an idol on Alison. Even if it guarantees Dan’s loss, it could have guaranteed a more impactful elimination than the third juror.

Most importantly, Dan could have told nobody he had an idol. In that case, it hardly becomes a fathomable idea that he would have one, hence the 3D chess-like move five players came together to create and flip the game in Survivor: David vs. Goliath.

This is what makes the Idol Nullifier a perfect advantage in Survivor overall; it marries the perfect balance of strategic prowess, social knowledge and moves the game forward. Sure, Dan had this advantage sprung on him, and he played his idol perfectly, but once again, he didn’t have to tell anybody about his idol.

Because the Idol Nullifier is now a known commodity in the game (except for those competing in Survivor season 38, potentially), it changes the dynamic of how players will share information about their powers going forward. What was once a tool to gain trust socially can now become someone’s Achilles’ Heel, as that allows them to be targeted in the future.

Furthermore, if Dan didn’t waste an idol on Angelina at the previous Tribal Council, he likely would have played another on himself after having his first nullified. It’s not a foolproof plan, as very few players have had two idols and willingly brought both to Tribal Council. However, it shows that the Idol Nullifier isn’t the ultimate trump card.

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This advantage could have been much worse if you think about what we’ve seen before. Survivor has introduced Super Idols in various forms, including those that can be played for anyone after the vote, for themselves only or in combination with two Hidden Immunity Idols. They become more powerful as threats than in practice, as they allow those who hold them to make moves and threaten the majority vote against them if taken out early.

Not only that, but we’ve seen an in-lieu Idol Nullifier in action before. In Australian Survivor 2017, a player named Anneliese Wilson used a Hidden Immunity Idol to void eight of the eleven votes against her, which would have been enough to send Locky home. However, a Super Idol was used to negate her regular idol after the vote tally was revealed, allowing the majority to maintain their numbers and send her home without strategic acumen or forethought.

I do not deny the likelihood that a majority alliance could use the Idol Nullifier to halt any sort of uprising in a future season. It’s entirely possible that we will see another Survivor version of “Goliath strong” or “Naviti strong” and see another Domenick or Wendell maintain the numbers advantage and steamroll to the end and make a boring season even more predictable.

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However, if Survivor is going to be an advantagegedon of powers going forward, at least the Idol Nullifier affects all aspects of the game. It changes the value of knowing who has a Hidden Immunity Idol, the strategy in overcoming a numbers disadvantage and the social merit of sharing information to solidify alliances. Whereas Vote Steals, Extra Votes and Legacy Advantages are purely strategy trinkets, I look forward to how the Idol Nullifier shifts the entirety of Survivor going forward.