Survivor: Island of the Idols definitely lived up to its name as season 39 broke the record for the most Hidden Immunity Idols possessed in one season.
The theme: Island of the Idols was meant to be a play on words, highlighting the fact that the “idols of the game” were actually Survivor legends acting as mentors. Jeff Probst even stated in a preseason podcast that the focus of this season wasn’t going to be on Hidden Immunity Idols, but on Boston Rob and Sandra’s expertise instead.
There was a little problem with this thought process though. Island of the Idols ended up getting overwhelmed with idols. Season 39 featured a record-breaking twelve Hidden Immunity Idols! Even if you exclude the three temporary idols won at Island of the Idols, it still breaks season 35’s record.
Why were there so many idols? One reason definitely had to do with idol management. To say that this cast didn’t use this powerful tool effectively is an understatement. Five Hidden Immunity Idols were never used and four were played incorrectly. That created a high turnover rate for idols, as production continued to keep up their unwritten policy of replacing an idol once it was played or out of the game.
I can understand the idea of replenishing idols, but when it’s happening that often, it doesn’t make sense for Island of the Idols to infuse more of them into the mix. Plus, some of Boston Rob and Sandra’s tests were comparatively simple to win, namely flipping a coin and answering a few easy questions. Flushing another idol into the game through a fluke twist really waters down the significance of a Hidden Immunity Idol.
With that being said, the pre-merge game didn’t feel too idol-ridden. It made sense to put temporary Hidden Immunity Idols on the table during the pre-merge game. Playing one that early into a season poses far less of an influence than getting one late in the game. However, it was towards the end of the season where it got a little out of control.
Each of the final six episodes featured at least one castaway discovering an idol, making it feel almost like a scavenger hunt. It’s true that a majority of contestants didn’t end up playing their idols correctly, but that doesn’t erase the fact that season 39 had an insane amount of idols, putting it alone in the record books.
Having that many Hidden Immunity Idols devalues this great advantage, especially when production is still putting them out at the Final Seven and Final Five. I understand that new advantages and twists are a part of the evolution of this great game, but simply increasing the number of idols doesn’t promote smarter gameplay. Let’s hope that production won’t continue this trend in Survivor: Winners at War.