Survivor Seasons: How Guatemala changed the game of Survivor


Survivor: Guatemala is the first season to have returning players up against first-timers. It also introduced a twist that would go on to change the game.

Survivor: Guatemala might just be the most underrated season in the show’s running. One reason why it’s not the most remembered season is that none of its first-time players have returned. That being said, the cast has some colorful characters that came together to execute some shocking blindsides. Here are three significant ways Guatemala shaped the future of Survivor.

Returning players have a huge advantage.

Season 11 brought back Bobby Jon Drinkard and Stephenie LaGrossa after their tribe got obliterated in Palau. It was Stephenie who stepped up her game, making it all the way to Final Tribal and losing because the jury was hurt by her aggressive gameplay. Her strong social game helped to solidify her position in the tribe instead of being labeled as an easy target.

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It seemed like everyone wanted to ask Stephenie questions about her time out in Palau, which allowed her to build strong relationships with the tribe. The great thing about Stephenie is that she understood that Survivor is game. When the time was right, she wasn’t afraid to blindside some of her closest allies including Judd, Jamie and Cindy. Although Rafe was her partner in crime for these moves, Stephenie took the brunt of the criticism.

The ability to make decisions based off of logic instead of emotion often comes easier for returning players, and we saw that with Stephenie. The only problem for her is that she played at a time where honor and truth were more valued in Survivor. Stephenie proved that she was ahead of her time in terms of gameplay, which is a trend we often see when returnees are up against new players.

The birth of the Hidden Immunity Idol!

It’s hard to imagine Survivor without Hidden Immunity Idols! It took five years, but production finally thought of this remarkable idea. The idol was first introduced in Guatemala, however, it functioned more like an Immunity Necklace as opposed to a typical idol. It had to be played before the votes, making the castaway that plays it immune.

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Gary Hogeboom was in the minority when the merge hit. He already won an Immunity Necklace, so it became clear that he was next to go. After searching the jungle for hours, Gary revealed right before the vote that he found the Immunity Idol! Although this only extended his life in the game by one Tribal, it showcased the power an idol had to shift the vote, and soon became a critical part of Survivor.

Playing an under-the-radar game can still win you the million.

Danni Boatwright is not considered an elite Sole Survivor, but she definitely earned her win. She came into the merge on the wrong side of the numbers, watching her alliance members getting voted off one by one. Instead of simply trying to suck up to the majority, Danni subtly began meshing with each of the castaways, especially with Rafe.

Her sneaky social game allowed her to infiltrate the majority alliance and become closest allies with Rafe, who had a lot of control over the game. For most of the post-merge phase, players overlooked Danni. That got her to the Final Three, where she took control of her own fate and won the final Immunity Challenge. She then wisely chose Stephenie instead of Rafe to sit with her at the end.

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Although under-the-radar players like Sandra and Vecepia have won before, they both made a key move earlier in the game that allowed them to sit beside weak competition. Danni sat beside a strong returning player. What really helped Danni’s case was her likable personality going up against someone who stabbed many people in the back. Since Guatemala, we’ve seen a few other castaways take that same route to the end including Michele Fitzgerald and Natalie White.