Survivor Seasons: How Cook Islands changed the game of Survivor

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It’s crazy how one of the worst tribe arrangement ideas in Survivor history led to one of the best seasons of all-time!

The thirteenth season of Survivor started off in an awkward way. The twenty castaways were divided into four tribes based on ethnicity. The point production eventually tried to make after a tribe swap was that alliances didn’t revolve around race. However, it was the skill level and the dynamic personalities of these castaways that saved this season from being swallowed up by controversy. Here are a couple of ways Cook Islands changed the game.

Using an idol as a tool to build trust.

At this point in Survivor, a Hidden Immunity Idol’s power was still on the drawing board. For the second season in a row, it was basically what we now refer to as a Super Idol. It had the power to be played after the votes were read. Yul Kwon, the master strategist of the season, found the idol on Exile Island. After the infamous Mutiny, Yul’s tribe Aitu was down to only four members while the Rarotonga tribe was sitting pretty at eight! However, the Aitu 4 went on a clutch Immunity run, entering the merge with their four members against five from Rarotonga.

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They were still in the minority, so Yul made an incredible move. He decided to speak to Jonathan Penner, who was one of the castaways that voluntarily left the Aitu tribe. Yul showed Penner the idol and told him that if he voted with the other tribe, then he would play the idol and send him home instead. This use of the idol was brilliant, as Penner felt that he had no choice but to side with Yul.

This move changed the entire season, shifting the numbers to the Aitu 4 and letting them run the table. The idea of using an idol to gain the trust of others began here. Since then, many great players including Russell and Tony have used this same strategy.

Splitting votes to flush an idol.

Cao Boi only lasted 15 days in Cook Islands, but that was enough for him to leave his unique mark on the game. From telling war stories to curing headaches by pinching people’s foreheads, Cao Boi was one of the season’s greatest personalities! More than that, one of his dreams inspired him to create a revolutionary strategy.

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At this point in the game, Cao Boi’s tribe had eight castaways. In each episode, the tribe that won the Reward Challenge got to send someone to Exile Island, where an idol was hidden. Penner and Candice both were on Exile, so Cao Boi theorized that one of them found the idol, but he didn’t know which one.

So after having an odd dream of a banker offering him three different credit cards, Cao Boi thought of Plan Voodoo. He can flush the idol by getting three people to vote for Candice and three to vote for Penner. If one of them has the idol then the other will go home and the idol is now out of the game! Although Cao Boi wasn’t able to swing the votes his way, this was a surprisingly brilliant strategy. Since Cook Islands, splitting the votes to flush out an idol is at least considered in nearly every season.

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Those are the two main ways Cook Islands evolved the game of Survivor. There are a few other key elements that made this season standout including the shocking Mutiny, the first time three people made it to Final Tribal, how strategic play is respected more than winning challenges, and the importance of learning how to make fire! All of these entertaining aspects came together making for one of the most memorable seasons of Survivor.