Survivor: Heroes v Healers v Hustlers

Historical Perspectives: How To Lose A Swap In 3 Days

Andy Pfeiffer takes a look back into Survivor history to talk about tribe swaps and how to survive them.

The greatest – and probably only – problem with a tribe swap on Survivor is how it can destroy the fate of a player that had been playing fantastically up until that point. This was most recently seen in Game Changers when Queen Sandra got voted out for the first time ever because she didn’t have the numbers and, being a monarch, was a massive threat. Swaps have screwed people since the very first one when an idiot named Silas Gaither went from ruling his roost to being voted out when his new tribe threw a challenge just to get rid of his unpleasant, disloyal presence (the only time throwing a challenge is justifiable). This week’s entry of Historical Perspectives will examine how to survive a tribe swap.


The aforementioned Silas boot is an example of someone who was unable to do anything to escape the guillotine at a swap but at entirely the fault of their own. Silas was a total jerk to Frank and T-Bird after voting out their allies after a tiebreaker quiz tipped the cards in his favor. Telling them that they “had” to vote with him come the merge because they were “Samburu Strong” even though he and his friends had made it abundantly clear that the two of them were on the bottom. Because the three twerps in that posse ostracized their own tribemates (and were thus joined by Kim Powers), they doomed their own games – if not because of the first ever swap, because of the merge. It was entirely fair even though it was unexpected since it only delayed the inevitable.

This proves that, in order to survive a tribe swap, you have to build bonds with everyone on your previous tribe. If you can’t do that with someone, you vote that person out because they’re just as likely to flip on you the moment they’re on a new tribe as you are to flip on them. It’s best to be preemptive about such things – just ask Joel “Truck” Anderson of Micronesia, who can only wish he’d have gotten rid of Chet and Tracy instead of Mary and Mikey. Oops!

Winners of Survivor use a swap to forge ahead with new relationships in addition to their old ones, even if the new options are not the ones they ultimately exercise. In Blood vs. Water, Tyson picked up Ciera as a new recruit – a single number that made all the difference to ensure he made it to the end. Jenna Morasca found new friends in her swap in Alex Bell and Rob Cesternino (who was the better player and the one with options). Kim Spradlin made a second alliance with new Salani in One World – an alliance too oblivious to realize it wasn’t her actual plan until it was too late, but one that gave her more options and let her dominate the game.


Once you hit the swap, you’re in a new tribe. Your old one does not matter any longer. The numbers you had do not matter. It is Day 1 all over again, and you have to use three days of info to make a decision. You have to move forward with the majority of the new tribe and showing more allegiance to your old colors is betrayal – a maneuver that destroyed the games of Hali Ford and JT Thomas last season. That, however, was a unique situation with two tribes at one vote, as ordinarily your old allies are not present and can’t vote with you, but at the end of the day, those two still had to return to camp with their new tribes. It’s no surprise that both of them were voted out at their respective next trips to Tribal Council.

The concept of loyalty to the majority of the current tribe goes back to the very first swap when Silas showed no commitment to the new Boran while Frank and T-Bird did – since Silas would go back to his clique, they had no reason to keep him around. Vanuatu features the best contrast: On Yasur, Travis “Bubba” Sampson openly encouraged his former Fat Five partners on Lopevi to “think about the merge.” Those became his infamous last words, as he was voted out that night by a villain named Ami Cusack who did not appreciate his open disloyalty. Conversely, on Lopevi, Julie Berry flirted her way into the guys’ alliance and made promises with incredibly effective charm. Twila, whom the Fat Five had already made a deal with, backed Julie up – promises the pair wouldn’t keep once the merge hit but promises that got Sarge, Chris, and Chad to keep Julie around. If you’re loyal to the new group, you’re in. If you’re not, you’re out. The only exceptions occur in odd circumstances like a Blood vs. Water season – the kind that screwed over Kelley Wentworth in her first go when she had no hope of breaking Jon Misch out of Missy’s hypnosis.

Unfortunately, this swap is not easy to compare to prior seasons, seeing as they did something new and awesome in the first-ever switch from three tribes to three new tribes, but also did something new and awful with a vote nullifier that made the game entirely about luck as opposed to skill. Not only did someone have to draw the right buff to get it, but they also had to pick the bag of tricks as opposed to the bag of chips. Unlike an idol, it took no skill or time management to acquire it, even though it was a lack of skill that led to someone telling a known bonehead with diarrhea of the mouth about it.



Okay, Survivor, enough with these advantages! While it’s good that this one was only usable at one point in the game, it’s bad it was at that point in the game. The swap is a time where new alliances form – including a shocking forgiveness between Ashley and Alan – and screwing it up with a randomly-found piece of paper does not help those bonds form organically. This isn’t an ORG. This is actual Survivor, where these people live with each other.

Devon played his part very well, knowing he was the swing vote between two pairs. Joe made the wrong move of lying to Devon that Ashley and Alan had wanted him out, not realizing Devon would confirm that with Ashley later. He also chose to vote Alan out instead of Ashley, not figuring out that Ashley most likely reminds Devon of some of the women in his life. Both Devon and Ashley love the beach so much that they work at one (and live in towns with “Beach” in their name), so they’re going to bond over surfing, sea life, getting tan, and saying “man” or “bro” at the end of every sentence. This is exactly why Devon trusted Ashley more than Joe: He feels like he already knows her. She’s more trustworthy than a guy he described as a car salesman. But hey, a car salesman has won Survivor, so that’s not a knock against Joe or anything!


Joe’s lie is a Tony Vlachos move, but unlike Tony, Joe was fidgeting and neglected to look Devon right in the eye. He cannot pull a Kim Spradlin and lie directly into someone’s soul. This plus the existing knowledge of the “Vlachos Hit” make Joe very hard to trust. While Tony was making new friends at his swap in LJ and Jefra, Joe is only making enemies, and it would be a compliment to call him a Vlachos wannabe. Vlachos comparisons notwithstanding, Joe’s play is most similar to Dr. Marcus in Gabon, who made illogical promises to Susie in a switched tribe of 5 with a 2-2-1 split. This did not go well for Marcus because that one vote (Susie’s) ended up going against him when it became clear he was being untruthful. Like Devon, Susie found out the truth and picked her poison that way, and it was inarguably the right move for her.

But unlike Susie, Devon didn’t get to vote, because Jessica planned to force Joe to play his idol into a 2-2 tie. If Joe plays that idol incorrectly, they would revote 1-1, and it would deadlock, meaning Ashley would have to acquiesce to voting out Alan to save her own rear end – similar to the scenario that unfolded at the Final 6 Tribal Council of Cambodia, only with Devon also drawing a rock. He wouldn’t have gotten to say anything in a tie, would he? That is also unusual in this situation.


It has happened several times when a swing vote finds themselves stuck between two groups at a tribe swap. Sure, some of those instances were editing trickery (the aforementioned Wentworth boot in SJDS, for example) to falsify drama that was not there, but word of that gets out in exit press. There have been many instances when someone is the swing vote in a swap situation in recent times; it’s most common in a three-tribe season.

Once the Saboga tribe was dissolved in All-Stars, their players immediately became free agents on their new tribes. This prompted Colby to take out Hatch (who was creeping on him, much like Sugar Kiper would twelve seasons later) with Ethan’s help, and they later recruited Colby’s archrival, Jerri, much to his chagrin. Once Jerri thought to use this plan as leverage to get revenge on Colby for blindsiding her their first time playing, she became a swing vote. She got Colby at their next tribal and, like him, made a move too early and got voted out not long after. Lex, by the way, was an idiot, even if his logic made sense.


In Philippines, both Malcolm and Denise were assigned to the other two tribes as Matsing was dissolved for being the worst tribe in Survivor to not live on the cursed Ulong beach. While Malcolm never went to Tribal Council with Tandang, Denise was immediately treated as a swing vote by the two alliances of Kalabaw that were eager to vote each other out. While Dana’s illness made it unclear who Denise would have sided with had the numbers stayed 3-3, she opted to go with the greater numbers after Dana left. Why go to rocks for people you just met? It makes no sense. What differentiates Devon’s situation from Denise’s is that Devon is aligned with someone he had an immediate bond with, plus he’s up against someone from the Healers group right now, as opposed to Tandang being the opposing tribe. That someone so happened to lie to him before doing anything else.

If Devon DID get to vote, he would have most likely voted with Ashley and Alan, who did not lie to his face and who he had a better rapport with. It would not have changed anything because of Joe’s idol, but it would have been the right decision for him as there were only five Heroes compared to six Healers, plus he didn’t connect with Joe or Desi the way he did with Ashley. Going forward, however, Devon needs to recognize it will be a 2-2 tie if Joe and Desi get their way – unless can somehow convince Desi that Joe would never have used the idol on her (not true). What is being loyal to the tribe going into this vote and what that is at the next one may be entirely different things. While Ashley is a better ally for Devon moving forward, he has to realize that drawing a rock for her isn’t worth it this early.



Because a swap forces you to start from scratch, it’s where the contenders separate from the pretenders. Except in circumstances when you have the two-time winner label or a pair of duos that there’s no way to break up because of the theme, players that can win the game can utilize their skills to build new bonds on top of their existing ones. Some players this season chose to do this. Some did it better, like Chrissy and Ryan connecting over his kind donation on Day 3. Some did it stupidly, Cole’s idiotic attempt to build trust with the minority of his tribe, something he absolutely didn’t need to do and something that burned his existing relationships. He’s also fraternizing with Jessica a bit too much. We all know how well that worked out for Figgy and Taylor a year ago.

Joe is a pretender, seeing as his very first move was to alienate the swing vote by telling an unnecessary blatant lie sloppily. Devon is a contender since he used the swap to build trust with a new alliance, though rewards changed his ability to do so. Cole is a pretender since he chose to betray a strong alliance he already had for no reason by leaking information that he should not have let out. Lauren is a contender given how she utilized Cole’s foolish strategy to drive a wedge between the Healers, and it worked though not in the way she initially thought. Roark is a pretender because casuals have no idea who the hell she is. Ali is a contender even though we didn’t hear from her in the swap, but she has Ryan, and that should be enough. Ryan and Chrissy are contenders since they are gathering options – options that, with the connection between them, could build an alliance that could challenge the Healers and just annihilate them.

The jury’s out on Ashley, Desi, JP, Jessica, Dr. Mike, and Ben, who all need to build relationships to survive their current situations with the numbers they need moving forward. It is those relationships that will determine who wins this game and given the hectic edit this season; it’s anybody’s guess.

Written by

Andy Pfeiffer

Andy is a 30-year-old from Wisconsin, having an English major from UW-Whitewater. He has watched Survivor from the very first episode and can't go a day without running Survivor-related thoughts in his head. When he's not entranced by a computer at home or work, he's probably playing a video game or out and about somewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @IAmAndyPfeiffer.

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