The Most Surprising Survivor Moves That Actually Worked, Ranked
Survivor is a reality TV show that is all about strategy. Contestants must combine mental, social and physical skills to win a million dollars. It's not just about playing the game, but also playing the players.
There is no universal strategy that guarantees a win; what works in one season will not always work in the next. The moves needed to win can sometimes be quite surprising, which keeps both players and viewers on their toes.
30. Eyes Off Sandra— Pearl Islands, 2003 and Heroes vs. Villains, 2010
Diverting attention away from yourself is an unusual move for a Survivor contestant, but it did lead to a two-time winner. Sandra Diaz-Twine's motto was "Anyone, as long as it ain't me," and she followed it to victory.
29. Denise the Bonding Queen — Philippines, 2012
In a reality show called Survivor, the act of bonding with other players often isn’t an asset. Nevertheless, that was Denise Stapley’s road to victory in the Philippines season. Her ability to build trust with others was uncanny.
28. Natalie's "Accidental" Vote Against Alec — San Juan Del Sur, 2014
In Season 29, Survivor: San Juan del Sur, Natalie Anderson decided that she had to go against her five-person alliance and vote against Alec instead of Keith, but she knew that betraying her team would create problems down the road.
27. The Coconut Bandits Bring in Monica — Blood vs. Water, 2013
In Survivor: Blood Vs. Water, contestants had to compete against their own loved ones. Gervase Peterson and Tyson Apostol, the so-called Coconut Bandits, formed an alliance with Monica Culpepper after each of their respective loved ones was voted off the show.
26. Tina Leaves Emotion Out of It — The Australian Outback, 2001
Sometimes, it pays to be nice on the outside but a bit cutthroat on the inside. That's how Tina Wesson won Season Two of Survivor: Australian Outback. Her moves were calculated and goal-oriented even as she maintained her friendly exterior.
25. The Aitu Four — Cook Islands, 2006
Survivor: Cook Islands switched things up by allowing players to switch tribes. The Aitukai tribe took a hit when two of its members did just that. Afterward, only the Aitu Four — Oscar "Ozzy" Lusth, Yul Kwon, Sundra Oakley and Becky Lee — were left, putting them at a numerical disadvantage.
24. Tony the Entertainer — Cagayan, 2014
Recklessness is not usually a beneficial trait, but it sure worked out for Tony "Tasmanian Devil" Vlachos in Survivor: Cagayan. Luckily for Tony, his wild moves were outweighed by how entertaining he was, which made him likable by some of the strongest players that season, namely Kass McQuillen and Trish Hegarty. They helped him successfully navigate his way out of bad decisions.
23. The Public Defender — David vs. Goliath, 2018
The fact that Survivor has a jury puts a public defender like Nick Wilson in a good position walking into the show. He already knew how to hold his own in front of a real jury in a courtroom and used that to his advantage. Nick's public-defender side also knew that throughout the game, he had to be secretive.
22. The Power of Prayer — South Pacific, 2011
Sometimes, a little faith goes a long way. In the opening episode of Survivor: South Pacific, an immediate alliance formed between returning contestant Benjamin "Coach" Wade and newcomers Brandon Hantz, Sophie Clarke, Albert Destrade and Rick Nelson. The majority of this group was Christian, and their commitment to faith and prayer led to a rock-solid bond.
21. Nonthreatening Yourself to Victory — Koah Rong 2016
Michele Fitzgerald took the Survivor: Koah Rong prize in 2016, but many people think Aubry Bracco should have won instead. On paper, Aubry worked the hardest to get to the end and played the best game. But was she really better than Michele?
20. Fall of the Rotu Four — Marquesas, 2002
The air-tight alliance of the Rotu Four led by John Carroll during Survivor: Marquesas seemed like an unstoppable force, but their arrogance — and failure to hide it —proved to be their downfall.
19. Abi Over and Out — Cambodia, 2015
Abi-Maria Gomes lasted a long time in Survivor: Cambodia, especially considering that she was often among people's first or second choices for ousting. However, at a certain point, it became obvious to other contestants, namely Tasha Fox, Spencer Bledsoe, Kimmi Kappenberg and Jeremy Collins, that giving her the boot would really work to their advantage and make their path to victory easier.
18. Sisterhood — One World, 2012
All-women alliances on Survivor have rarely been successful, but when they are, they knock it out of the park. One such alliance occurred during Survivor: One World with a powerful five-woman crew: Alicia Rosa, Chelsea Meissner, Sabrina Thompson, Kim Spraldin-Wolfe and Christina Cha.
17. Ties That Bond — Africa, 2001
In all its seasons, Survivor hasn't seen a bond as strong as the one Ethan Zohn, Lex van de Berghe and Tom Buchanan made in season three, Africa. A case must be made then for the power of true relationship-building in this often cutthroat game. During the show's initial tribe swap, Ethan purposefully lost a challenge in an unprecedented move to save Tom and Lex.
16. Too Good to Be True — Philippines, 2012
The three main skills needed to be named Survivor's Sole Survivor are strategic ability, social skills and physical dominance. When a castaway contender on the show has all three, they are a force to be reckoned with. That's exactly what Malcolm Freberg was throughout Survivor: Phillippines.
15. Lesson Learned — Caramoan, 2013
Malcolm realized that playing the nice guy didn't work so well during his first try on Survivor, so he changed things up when he returned for the following season, Survivor: Caramoan. The time came when he felt his fellow competitors were about to oust him again, so he convinced his ally, Reynold Toepfer, to use an idol for him.
14. Tony the Player — Winners at War, 2020
Most Survivor fans thought Tony wouldn't make it far in Winners at War after proving himself to be a true threat in earlier seasons. Instead, he adapted to his new status and learned to play the teams against each other, an intelligent — if dangerous — tactic.
13. Forced Tie — Blood vs. Water, 2013
A tie is a rare thing to witness on Survivor, mostly because it puts everyone uninvolved at risk. A tie means that all players outside of the tie must pick a stone, and the one who picks the off-colored one must go. Despite the riskiness of the situation, it does happen occasionally.
12. Parvati Power — Heroes vs. Villains, 2010
Parvati Shallow is a Survivor legend, so it was no surprise to see her in the second returning player season, Heroes vs. Villains. Of course, all of her great qualities made her a clear target, yet she used that to make one of the most epic plays the series has seen.
11. The Double Tap — Redemption Island, 2011
Robert "Boston Rob" Mariano finally managed to win Sole Survivor after his fourth try, and in that season, he committed a truly memorable act of deception. Rob sent Matt to Redemption Island in Week Two of the Redemption Island season, but Matt managed to fight his way back as a contender.
10. Vote Thieving — The Amazon, 2003
Rob Cesternino's excellent strategy of malleable alliances proved that deviousness can really get you somewhere on Survivor. His rotating alliances always included low-ranked players who helped him stay in the game despite all the enemies he created.
9. Cydney Takes Destiny Into Her Own Hands — Kaoh Rong, 2016
Cydney Gillon didn't seem to be a strong contender at first during Survivor: Kaoh Rong. However, she made up for it with a truly devious mind. Cydney's move to take out Nick despite telling her allies Kyle and Scot otherwise proved her cleverness that season.
8. Spencer Blindsides Fishbach — Cambodia, 2015
Stephen Fishbach seemed like he was in it for the long haul in Survivor: Cambodia until Spencer proved to be his undoing. Stephen and Spencer were allies, so when Spencer flipped and voted against him, he was suddenly out.
7. Todd Reveals All in a Final Power Move — China, 2007
The final Tribal Council of Survivor: China presented Todd Herzog with a unique opportunity. His strategic options included taking the honorable path of apologizing to those who lost along the way because of his backstabbing tendencies or to stand by his carefully crafted actions, come what may.
6. Kindness Does Not Always Lead to Survival — Micronesia, 2008
Erik Reichenbach got severely outwitted despite having a clear path forward with his immunity idol during the final five Tribal Council. In his defense, he was a newbie up against a crew of Survivor veterans during Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites. The veteran Black Widow alliance was led by Cirie Fields.
5.The Birth of the First Alliance — Borneo, 2000
The first winner of Survivor, Richard Hatch, paved the way for a series that has now gone on for 40 seasons. He may have been outspoken, but he seemed to be the only one with a real plan to win. The rest were just making it up as they went along.
4. The Advantage of Lying About a Dead Grandma — Pearl Islands, 2003
John P. Dalton, better known as "Jonny Fairplay," would have been voted out long before the final day of the season had he not come up with a brilliant strategy regarding his dead grandmother. Survivor infamously brings family members to the set for a challenge each season, and knowing that, Fairplay made his move pre-season.
3. Ozzy Lusth Goes For Broke — South Pacific, 2011
Ozzy Lusth was so confident during Survivor: Micronesia that he willingly gave up his idol and convinced his tribe to vote him off. He knew that once he got to Redemption Island on the South Pacific season, he'd be able to earn his way back to the game. And he was right.
2. Yul's Genius Idol Use — Cook Islands, 2006
During Survivor: Cook Islands, Yul Kwon went from being very unlikely to win to being very likely to win with a brilliantly strategic use of his idol. He used it to persuade Jonathan Penner to change sides, gaining Yul a five-person alliance with a fallback four-person alliance and trusted single ally — Becky Lee — to boot.
1. Ian and Tom Outwit a Double-Crosser — Palau, 2005
Survivor: Palau included what many consider to be the ultimate strategic move of the entire series, which was pulled off by Ian Anthony Rosenberger and Tom Westman. The powerful duo caught wind that their ally, Gregg Carey, was about to double-cross them, so they had to make a serious decision: move forward with a very risky strategy or do nothing and hope for the best.