Survivor Winners at War episode 6: Did Denise waste an idol?

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Hidden Immunity Idols are treasured in Survivor for good reason. Several Winners at War castaways won thanks to smart idol plays, but if an idol voids no votes, is it always a waste?

If there was one Survivor contestant that popped out at you in last week’s episode, it had to be Denise Stapley. In an epic stunt, Denise shocked Sandra Diaz-Twine and made the queen look silly in the process. She played to Sandra’s ego, which moved the queen to give Denise her expiring idol. Denise used the idol against Sandra by blocking four votes with it and then throwing her stray vote on Sandra.

This was a huge move from someone that was going vastly under the radar, even from her own tribe members. Beyond using the idol Sandra gave her, Denise also played her own idol for Jeremy… who received no votes. As great as a blindside this was, our over critical couch potato side of our brain is shouting at Denise for wasting a perfectly good idol. But was it really a waste? Here are three reasons why it was actually a brilliant decision.

Saves a vital ally

Entering a tribe in the minority, Denise desperately needed something to shift the power. If she simply used the idol to save herself, I’m sure Jeremy would still want to work with her, but that’s nothing compared to actually playing an idol for him. The fact that she used a second idol on him cements the relationship between these two old Sele members.

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Jeremy is one of the best allies you could have in this game for several reasons. Even though he played in a shifty season, Jeremy was loyal to his core group, even playing an idol for them. He understands how to play with returning players and he’s already shown that he can take control over this game. With many of the Survivor legends sitting on the Edge of Extinction, Jeremy is also one of the bigger targets remaining, providing a great shield for Denise.

Prevents an unfavorable tie-vote

Although Sandra surprisingly didn’t end up voting for someone else to tie the vote, if you’re Denise, you have to anticipate that she will do that. This might get a little confusing but let’s run through a couple of scenarios.

If she didn’t play her idol for Jeremy, and Sandra put a vote on him, it would have been tied, one vote Jeremy, one vote Sandra. That would leave Denise still in the minority to revote with Kim and Tony who were siding with Sandra. So Denise would have saved herself, but her chief target in Sandra would still be in the game.

On top of preventing that disaster from happening, playing an idol for Jeremy secures a favorable outcome in the case of a tie vote. If Sandra for some reason decided to throw a vote on Tony or Kim instead, on the revote, only one old Dakal member would be eligible to vote. That would give Denise and Jeremy the power to still take out Sandra in a tie-vote scenario.

Guarantees her big move will work

When Denise played that second idol on Jeremy, she essentially put the queen in checkmate. Except for the highly unlikely situation of Kim playing her idol for Sandra, there was absolutely nothing she could do to prevent another Day 16 exit at that point. When you’re planning to make a big game-changing move, you want to make sure nothing goes wrong in the process, especially if your target is the only two-time winner in the show’s history.

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Denise would be in a much more vulnerable position if they left Tribal Council with Sandra still with them. By playing both idols, Denise guaranteed that she could pull off her big move without a hiccup. It’s true, it would be nice to have an idol going into the merge, but having loyal allies instead of angry tribe members with power is a more beneficial trade-off.