A Look-Back At The Advantage Era

No one show should have all these powers…

Photo: CBS

As we enter a new era of Survivor, the 30s seasons can trust that they will leave a lasting impression on the show. During this era, we left the location format and made a permanent home in Fiji and focused on social themes. The rate at which the strategy game is played jumped lightyears compared to previous periods. But more than anything, the 30s will most likely be dubbed the “advantage era.” 

More twists and advantages were introduced in the last ten seasons than in the first 29 seasons combined. The multitude of advantages in play became so outrageous that, in 2019, Survivor began labeling who had what advantages in each player’s chyron. Some of these were great and made for incredible television… others, not so much.

Today, I look back at all the game advantages introduced since season 30 up to (and including) season 40 and the impact they had on the show. 

The Extra Vote (Worlds Apart)

In the final Survivor auction we ever saw, the first new advantage of the era was introduced. Dan Foley bought the Extra Vote in a controversial move that splintered eventual winner, Mike Hollway, from his Blue Collar alliance. At the time, the Extra Vote seemed groundbreaking—never had the core base of the vote been altered in such a way. And while it didn’t have a drastic effect on the season, it was the first clue of the route Survivor was going.

The Extra Vote has made reappearances since Worlds Apart with various tweaks. For example, in Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, where the holder could place the advantage in the voting urn in lieu of a vote and take a blank parchment, allowing them to vote twice at a future Tribal Council. I would expect to continue seeing variations on the Extra Vote throughout the 40s seasons.  

The Steal A Vote (Cambodia)

“For the first time in Survivor history, someone will not be casting a vote.” – Stephen Fishbach.

One of the better parts of Survivor’s Second Chance season was the walking encyclopedia that is Stephen Fishbach giving commentary both in the game and on the jury of “Survivor firsts” happening. And he was right! Stephen played the first Steal A Vote when he took Joe Anglim’s vote, voted for Joe with Joe’s vote, and ended up getting voted out simultaneously. The Steal A Vote would show up again in multiple seasons, with Sarah Lacina in Game Changers (and Winners At War) perhaps putting it to its best use.

Idols at Challenges (Cambodia)

While idols were not new by any means, how they were hidden and their appearance shifted drastically in Cambodia. In the 20s, idols were typically found at camp in foliage. In the opening episode of Second Chance, we saw Kelley Wentworth grab the first hidden idol at a challenge. This would be the first of many idols hidden at challenges throughout the next ten seasons, adding more risk for the chance to obtain great power. 

It should also be noted that Cambodia was the first time that no two idols looked identical, making it much easier to fashion a fake idol and make it believable—another prominent move in the modern-day era.

Kaoh Rong
Photo: CBS

Paired Idols (Kaoh Rong)

One of the most underrated twists Survivor has ever done—the paired idols of Kaoh Rong played an incredible role in how the season played out. To refresh your memory, idols in Kaoh Rong were played like any regular idol, EXCEPT, when paired with another idol, the two would become a super idol and could be played after the votes were read. Now, the “god idol” was nothing new to Survivor lore (see Terry Dietz, Yul Kwon, Tony Vlachos), but this was the first time it required two players to put their idols together. 

In a classic good vs. evil storyline, villains Scot Pollard and Kyle Jason, along with Tai Trang, were set up perfectly with two idols in their pockets ready to become the super idol. Rather than play the idols individually, Scot and Jason tried to get flashy with the super idol. However, after the votes were read, Tai backed out, sending Scot home with Jason’s idol in his pocket. Often, idols are a huge shield for players to blanket themselves with, almost making it impossible for them to be voted out. In Kaoh Rong, the extreme power ended up costing the idol holders dearly.

Remove A Juror (Kaoh Rong)

The three medical evacuations really hindered the storyline and timeline for Kaoh Rong. Going into the finale, there was a final four, similar to Cagayan, preparing for a final two. However, at the final three challenge, presumably for immunity, Jeff announced that a player will not be eliminated from the game. Instead, a jury member would be kicked off the jury, thereby not casting a vote for the winner. Michele Fitzgerald went on to win the challenge and chose to eliminate medivac and first jury member, Neil Gottlieb, who was almost a guaranteed Aubry vote. Michele would go on to win Kaoh Rong. This twist has been used over in Australian Survivor since but has yet to make a reappearance in the US.

Legacy Advantage (Millennials vs. Gen-X)

While not groundbreaking, the Legacy Advantage was the first attempt of “willing” or “bequeathing” something to another player as you’re leaving the game. The premise was pretty simple. You could not open the Legacy Advantage until there were six people left in the game; if you were voted out before that time, then you would pass it on to another player. Jessica Lewis found the Legacy Advantage on the first day but would will it to Ken after she was “rocked out” of the game. On day 36, the Legacy Advantage revealed itself as an “idol-like power,” advancing Ken to the final five. 

The Legacy Advantage would alter slightly in Game Changers, giving the beholder the power to play it at 13 (merge) or six (finals). It would go on to be a part of the infamous “Advantagegeddon” after Sarah Lacina cajoled it from Sierra Dawn-Thomas and then played it in a Tribal that saw Cirie Fields eliminated with zero votes. The Game Changers Legacy Advantage would later appear on Ghost Island and ended up in the hands of Domenick Abbate, who played it at the merge.

Photo: CBS

Steal A Reward (Millennials vs. Gen-X)

The “Medallion of Power” of its time, the Steal A Reward is one of the more puzzling twists Survivor has ever introduced. The one and only time that it appeared was in Millennials vs. Gen-X. Adam Klein found it at the early merge and then told this information to Taylor Stocker, who then exposed it to the entire tribe. At the family reward, the presumptive time to use the advantage, Adam pledged not to use it and gifted it to Jay Starrett, who brought Adam on the family reward. Jay then used it at the final six, stealing David Wright’s Immunity feast, though he still took David on the reward anyway. Despite it causing some at camp drama, as an advantage, the Steal A Reward was rather pointless. 

Block A Vote (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers)

In the 35th season, we began to see the sending of advantages and powers to others via production (i.e., “I looked in my bag and what did I see?”). In the first episode, Ryan Ulrich sent over a hidden idol to Chrissy Hofbeck for the first Tribal—a move that would pay many dividends for him in the future. But it’s in the fourth episode where a player anonymously sends a power to be used against another player on the opposing tribe, the first of its kind. After the Extra Vote and the Steal A Vote, the only logical next step would be to block someone from voting. 

After the tribe swap, Jessica Johnston found an advantage in her reward bag that could only be used at the next Tribal. Since her tribe won the Immunity challenge, she decided to play the advantage on Devon Pinto, a member of the losing tribe, blocking him from voting. “That is… not an advantage,” was Devon’s famous line. The blocked vote prompted a two vs. two showdown between the Healers and the Heroes, ultimately sending home Alan Ball after Joe Mena’s correct idol play. 

The Block A Vote would return in Island of the Idols when Elaine played the power against Jason, ultimately sending him home with her other Lairo alliance members.

Mandatory Final 4 Fire-Making Challenge (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers)

Outside of the Edge of Extinction, the forced final four fire-making challenge is easily the most controversial twist of the modern era. Introduced as an “advantage” in season 35, Chrissy thought she had the game all-but won when she won the final Immunity Challenge and the advantage that came with it. However, it was a dirty trick, as the power she won told her she could select one player to take to the final three, forcing the remaining two to battle it out in fire for the final spot. 

This unprecedented twist allowed Ben, who was a dead man walking at that point, to win his way into the final three and the million-dollar prize. The sudden nature of the twist and the fact the players weren’t made aware of it upfront led to a lot of backlash in the Survivor fanbase. And yet it looks to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

An Added Layer of Risk (Ghost Island)

Ghost Island was an entire season based off of poor decisions from previous players. While all the advantages and idols of the season were “ghosts” and nothing new to the Survivor toolbox, there was an added layer of risk to obtaining these powers. Players often had to wager their votes to get a chance at winning an advantage. This was the first time players wagered their power with production to try and advance their game. This wager was also used to build up the power of an idol. Chris Noble lost his vote in an attempt at making an idol stronger (able to use for more Tribals), then got voted out at the Tribal where he couldn’t vote (with the idol in his pocket!). This layer of risk would also be a big component of the Island of the Idols twist in season 39.

Idol Nullifier (David vs. Goliath)

It was only a matter of time before an idol’s power could be blocked, and after Australian Survivor did it, it only made sense that America followed. The idol nullifier is exactly what it sounds like—the opportunity to block an idol play. It must be played before an idol is played, placed in the voting urn with the correct name written on the nullifier. 

In David vs. Goliath, one of the defining Tribals of the season was when the Davids came together to use their advantages and take down the Goliath with an idol, Dan Rengering. First, Nick Wilson played his Steal A Vote on Alison Raybould, giving the David’s a 6-5 vote advantage. This prompted Dan to play his idol for himself, correctly assuming he was the target, only for it to be blocked by Carl Boudreaux’s Idol Nullifier, resulting in Dan’s votes counting and him being eliminated from the game. 

It was the first time a Nullifier had been introduced and ended up playing out as perfectly as it could have done. The power would make a return on Island of the Idols, late into the game, where Dean Kowalski used it to take out Janet Carbib at the final five. It also briefly appeared on Winners At War when Tyson Apostol sold it to Parvati Shallow, though she never had the opportunity to use it.

Photo: CBS

The Split Idol (Edge of Extinction)

How many different ways can we play with the rules of the idol? Quite a few apparently. With season 38’s twist of a player returning to the game, Survivor made a few alterations to its reentry method. The first returnee from Edge of Extinction, Rick Devens, was given an idol… but with a twist. To activate the idol, Devens had to give half to another player, who ended up being David Wright. They both had to survive the first merged Tribal and put the two pieces back together to make an idol with full power. This eliminated the possibility of a player holding an idol without anyone knowing. This was controversially repeated again at the final six when Chris Underwood returned with the same split idol advantage. 

Winners At War adapted the split idol by making the sharing of said idol a prerequisite for the first idols found at the starting camps. This could sometimes help form trust (as with Ben & Denise and Sarah & Sophie, but other times, suspicion, as with Kim & Sophie). The split idol appears to be something that could pop up again in future seasons.

Timed Idols (Island of the Idols)

One big complaint about idols was that players could basically sit on them all the way through the game, guaranteeing their spots in the final five. To counteract this, in Island of the Idols, the first timed idols were introduced. After a stint with Sandra Diaz-Twine and Rob Mariano on the IOI, Kellee Kim earned an idol good for her next three Tribals. At her last Tribal where the idol could be used, just before the merge, Kellee got antsy and gave the idol to Dean to be played against Jack. “I don’t want it to go to waste,” she said. At the very next Tribal, Kellee was voted out with two idols in her pocket, in large part thanks to Dean, the guy she saved with her timed idol! Had her idol not expired, Kellee may not have idoled Jack, and the story of Island of the Idols could have been very different.

The timed idols would make another appearance in Winners at War and would be a big curse on Queen Sandra—her timed idol taking her out on the last night it could be played. (I’d like to note that Chrissy had a one and done idol in HvHvH, and Chris had a two Tribal idol in Ghost Island. But this twist was built with the premise of getting idols played before the merge and having a set number of Tribals—a different format than the previous two.)

Safety Without Power (Island of the Idols / Winners At War)

While the Safety Without Power was introduced in Island of the Idols, it was not awarded and played until Winners At War. This advantage gives the power to leave Tribal before the votes are cast, thereby removing yourself from the voting pool. In the showdown of champions, Jeremy Collins bought the Safety Without Power from Natalie Anderson, who send it from the Edge of Extinction, and he holds on to it for a while.

At the Tribal post-family visit, the winners were split down the center 5-5, or that’s how it was positioned in the storyline. Sarah, Nick, Sophie Clarke, Ben Driebergen, and Tony Vlachos were targeting Jeremy, while Kim Spradlin, Denise Stapley, Michele, Tyson, and Jeremy were targeting Sophie. However, like all things modern-day Survivor, nothing was concrete. When Jeff announced it was time to vote, Jeremy and Sarah had a staredown of who would play their advantage first (Sarah was playing the Steal A Vote). Jeremy correctly guessed that he would be the recipient of the other side’s votes and used his Safety Without Power to leave Tribal and head back to camp. 

Given the chaos this then prompted, with Sarah stealing Denise’s vote, Kim playing her idol on Denise, and the eventual elimination of Tyson for the second time in the season, I would expect to see the Safety Without Power return in upcoming seasons.

Photo: CBS

50/50 Coin (Winners At War)

There’s always that advantage that when you first hear of it, you kind of tilt your head and go, “Huh?” That was my reaction to the 50/50 coin. The set-up is exactly what it sounds: you flip a coin before the votes are read to determine if you are safe or not safe. The coin, should it land on safe, acts as an idol and blocks any vote cast against you. While I can see the potential drama of it for TV, the 50/50 coin didn’t exactly have a major impact on its first time out. 

In Winners At War, Michele Fitzgerald bought the 50/50 coin from the Edge of Extinction. She then played the advantage at a later Tribal, where the coin landed on safe and blocked two votes against her. While the votes were blocked, it didn’t affect the eventual outcome that saw Michele’s greatest ally, Jeremy, voted out. Watching someone flip a coin just isn’t that exciting. 

Extortion Advantage (Winners At War)

In arguably the best episode of Winners At War, Tony was extorted from Edge of Extinction for six fire tokens. If he didn’t pay the fee, he would not be eligible for Immunity or be able to vote. In what could have been a massive hindrance to his game, Tony ended up as the perfect architect for how this power could be played in the future. Tony had to rely on outside financial assistance via Jeremy, Ben, and Nick. He paid the price, allowing him to still play in the Immunity Challenge, which he won, and then went on to make his 4-3-2 vote split, which blindsided Sophie.

Fire Tokens (Winners At War)

If there is an advantage that will come to define the 40s, it will likely be the fire tokens, the first monetary system within Survivor. Fire tokens allowed a player to buy luxuries, advantages, and they can also be “bequeathed” to another player. In Winners at War, the tokens were mostly a mechanism with which a player could purchase advantages from the Edge. But they also ignited fear in the players, not knowing what was to come of them. We saw a lot of the winners, especially those that won in the advantage era, try to manipulate and hoard the fire tokens to use later. 

The fire tokens didn’t really live up to their full potential in Winners At War, mostly because of how tied they were to the Edge. But there is a lot of potential there for the future. And with Jeff clearly a big advocate of this new twist, there is no doubt that we are only just starting to see the influence that fire tokens will have on Survivor

What is your favorite advantage of the Advantage Era? Which do you think we’ll see again? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by

Cam Kuhn

Cam Kuhn is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas and proud super fan of Survivor. He works as an education consultant for a technology firm and blogs in his spare time. Cam has applied for Survivor 4 times since turning 18, written his college thesis on the communication styles of Survivor, and won Corinne Kaplan's season 32 cast assessment via auction.

2 responses to “A Look-Back At The Advantage Era”

  1. Honestly fire has to go first. I hate vote steals, vote blocks and the idol nullifier. I’m alright with tokens depending on how they evolve but let’s be honest they’ll probably all be back in every single season!!!

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