Survivor: Heroes v Healers v Hustlers

Historical Perspectives: How To Set Off A Ben Bomb

Andy Pfeiffer travels back into Survivor history to look at how a big threat can make it to the end.

It’s the home stretch, and once the game hits Day 36, you’re going to Tribal Council every day (in most seasons). At this point, every single player left is running scenarios in their head of which other remaining castaways they can beat, against what kind of jury, and what they need to do to get there. This often relates to taking out the biggest threat, whoever that may be.

Today’s Historical Perspectives will look from the point of view of that big threat to iterate what they can do to make the end despite the big bulls-eye on their back.


Around the final seven, players start finalizing their idea of who they want to sit next to at the end – since that’s when it’s realistic to put a plan to get to that final three in motion. A jury goat is an ideal partner because they can’t win, but what defines a goat differs drastically from jury to jury. One juror might see a player as a goat when another might actually respect their gameplay. Note how Chris Daugherty was apologetic for pathologically lying to half of the Vanuatu cast, while Amanda Kimmel was tearfully regretful of having been duplicitous at all in China. Chris was respected for owning up to his gameplay, and his apologies were accepted, while Amanda got lambasted by Peih-Gee and many jurors rolled their eyes every time she gave them her doe-eyed look. Sure, there’s a difference between a burly man and a pageant queen, but their performances were similar. It also helped Chris that he was against someone hated in Twila, while Amanda was up against one of the greatest Final Tribal Council performances of all time from Todd.

To get to know your jury, you need to have social bonds with those castaways. You have to also remember that juries will vote for someone they like regardless, which is why someone like the Survivor Voldemort aka Russell Hantz will never, ever win the game. Being evil to jury members is a great way to ensure they never vote for you. At the same time, someone beloved by the jury, such as Brett Clouser that same season, is a major threat themselves, and they often get voted out for that very reason. Usually, the only thing that person can do is win immunity, but there are other things possible, as Ben Driebergen proved.


Both Boston Rob and Kim Spradlin put on a clinic of how to masterfully manipulate an entire six-person alliance into doing their bidding, making conflicting final three deals with multiple alliance members. Once Rob was rid of Andrea, there was no possibility of Ashley Underwood and Natalie Tenerelli taking him out, and once Kim chose to take the side of Chelsea/Sabrina over Alicia/Christina, it was over. Neither of these iron-fisted rulers was ever threatened because multiple people bought that they were the true final three up until they got burned, at which point they were unable to do anything for vengeance.

Playing an idol can only get you so far at the endgame. A fantastic move with an idol can get you another day in the game, but it can also get you a big target on your back and just get you voted out the next time. Other times, a big threat will simply burn an idol at the final five just for safety purposes, a la Boston Rob in Redemption Island or Tony Vlachos in Cagayan, since that’s the last time to play it. They don’t always need to, but sitting on the idol can cause an arrogant look like Russell Hantz or Malcolm in Philippines. This does not go over well with the jury or swing votes, especially when both of them had flaunted their ammunition at Tribal Council.

Getting to the end despite the label of “threat” can be done via manipulation, by idol, or by an immunity run like Mike Holloway or Fabio, but once you have that label, it tends to stick. Since getting rid of it is impossible, convincing other people to take you to the end is tough, but doable if you do it right.



Ben Driebergen is a dead man walking, or so they say. He’s a mega-threat because he’s likable, charismatic, has a great story, and is savvy both physically and strategically. He’s been a target two Tribal Councils in a row, but at both, he saved himself with idols. The first time, he deliberately tried to attract votes onto himself so he could cast the sole deciding vote to get rid of someone who was intimidated enough by him to try to vote him out. The second, he pulled it out to flaunt it the way Malcolm would, only to give it to Probst preemptively when Devon said: “he still has to play it.” These were both Survivor firsts. Never before has someone been idoled out with just one vote and never before has someone played an idol before the votes were cast, except when that was a rule in Guatemala. That was changed because it was too weak.

But after making those two moves, Ben has made his target even larger. Nobody left wants to go against him in the end. His own alliance, the Rogue Knights, knew they had to cut him and were considering doing so prematurely at seven instead of waiting until six and allowing themselves a 3-2 majority in the final five. They also did not do a good job at covert ops, turning Ben against them. The two people spearheading his removal are now at Ponderosa, talking about… things.

There’s no question Ben is still public enemy number one as multiple castaways have acknowledged. Either this is pushing him forward to a million dollars or the bitter disappointment of coming up just short.



Just because someone is a threat does not mean they always win the game. Take Amanda’s second outing, in Micronesia, where her on-point social game scared both Natalie Bolton and Alexis Jones into targeting her after Erik, the last man in the Black Widow Brigade’s way, won immunity. There are multiple similarities between Amanda’s situation and Ben’s, in both edit and gameplay. The viewer was not shown Amanda obtaining her idol (this had not happened again until now), leading to a suspenseful Tribal where she hammed it up to a ridiculous extent, calling people out and acting like she was going home – until she played the idol after the vote. The best deception of all this was before Tribal, though, when she got Cirie to confirm 100% that she’d be with Parvati and Amanda if it weren’t going into a tie. Once Amanda surprised everyone, Cirie stuck with her moving forward.

Ben tried to do this. He tried to get people to confirm allegiance to him, but nobody budged. This forced him to put on a show of a different kind at Tribal, one that involved intimidation tactics and preemptive idol playing. He had hoped to cause discourse, but it didn’t work since they already had a Plan B. Unlike Amanda, Ben does not have a clear path to Day 39 because nobody pledged allegiance to him and he’s already burned idols twice, and he can’t pull a Natalie Anderson alliance-shattering play without one. This does not bode well for his odds.


This might mean that Ben, being an alpha male with military training, has to beast it up on the immunity challenges. This is the point in the game where physical strength is an asset since there’s always some sort of mega-maze or back-and-forth staircase adventure awaiting, in addition to the possibility of another balance challenge or the disc-stacking (Operation Balance Build) or the ball-in-the-chute challenge (Simmotion). Ben could do what Fabio did in Nicaragua, and Mike Holloway did in Worlds Apart, and win out. He certainly has the tools to be able to do so with the typical late-game challenges, even though he has yet to win immunity. It’s these last two that matter the most.

Ben can also find an idol and play it at five if one is hidden, but there’s only one day to find it, so that is unlikely. Using Cambodia as precedent, one can assume it’s either not present or too hard to find in a few hours that could be spent strategizing. Since the Cambodia idol wasn’t there, an immune Kelley Wentworth was forced to use tricks to try to shatter the majority threesome, but since Keith Nale is Keith Nale, it did not work due to the approach she took in giving him a fake idol to wave around (as opposed to waving it herself). However, Ben has already done the fake idol ploy and everyone has seen what it looks like, so unless he has the means to modify it, the Statue of Liberty Play isn’t going to work.



Like Wentworth, multiple big threats have failed to make the end despite having made it to Day 36. Brett Clouser in Samoa had the entire Galu tribe on the jury at the final five, and he managed to win that immunity to force Russell to turn on his Foa Foa alliance. Because of Monica, it ended up being Jaison taking the walk. Brett was one challenge win away from a million dollar cheque, but he was defeated by the villainous Russell in the final immunity, extinguishing his torch because he was a guaranteed victor with that jury – a jury that went on to award Natalie White the million over Russell anyway. Nine seasons later in Cagayan, Spencer Bledsoe was voted out on Day 37 because his entire alliance was on the jury and would have given him 4/9 of the needed votes unquestioned. Like Brett and Spencer, Ben is recognized as a threat with the jury because of the spectacle he’s put on at Tribal Council two weeks in a row, and it would not be a shock if the jury were to reward him for making the end despite being marked for so long.

Big threats being the final juror has been a thing for ages, all the way back to Borneo with Rudy Boesch being too intimidating for Kelly Wiglesworth to face in the end. This was followed by Lex van den Berghe in Africa and, more notoriously, Rob Cesternino in Amazon, both of whom would have received a probable five jury votes over either of the others in the final three. Both of them were inarguably the best players on their seasons, but losing the final immunity challenge was the one and only thing that cost them a million dollars. This later happened to Terry Deitz in Panama, which prompted Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett to switch the finale format to three finalists facing the jury, in hopes to prevent another high-caliber player from being voted out on Day 38. This format did not change that, as Yau-Man joined the Day 38 Club in Fiji, and was voted out one day shy of winning the game because of the selfish actions of one of the goatiest goats in history.

A much more recent example is David Wright in Millennials vs. Gen X, who had been labeled as the biggest threat by multiple people for days, yet Hannah was too reluctant to pull the trigger to get him out. Her strategy of being the one that decided when David would go backfired since the jury did not understand it. Nobody in this cast is playing that way. It would not be surprising if they just ganged up on Ben at five and booted him out.



There’s no doubt that Ben beats anyone at the end unless Devon can articulate to the jury that the spy plan was his, Ryan can use his likability to his advantage, or Dr. Mike can come up with a better “against all odds, I am here” story. Devon is the most likely person to shock everyone the same way both Michele Fitzgerald and Kristie Bennett did in 2016 and pull off the upset. But Ben can always rebut that though the spy idea was Devon’s, Ben was the one who pulled it off with aplomb and fooled everyone. Chrissy cannot beat Ben at the end under any circumstance, and her chances are not good with a jury that clearly doesn’t like her – unless that’s a taste of bitterness toward a wrong decision, like the San Juan Del Sur jury would’ve felt giving Missy the W.

Moving into the finale, threats are going to be taken down, but this season is a treat since all five people remaining are threats in their own way. We don’t have a Dreamz, a Christina, or a Lill that has zero chance of winning due to strategic nonexistence. JP got voted out in Episode 10 and things like that. We have five people who would all be acceptable winners at worst, and that makes the winner anyone’s guess. Ben is the one with the hardest road ahead, but if he can make it to Day 39, he might be a million dollars richer.

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.

4 responses to “Historical Perspectives: How To Set Off A Ben Bomb”

    • Likewise. It was so great I absolutely had to reference it in some way, but one that would not spoil the utter hilarity of it. That’s ten minutes of my life that I’ve lived over again twice already. I never do that with Ponderosa videos, so that’s saying a lot. Anybody that hasn’t seen it absolutely must!

  1. Perhaps one could counter the observation that Ben has been a target for so long. Another party in this game has been painted as being in danger since episode one.

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