The best way to dance around an idol is to split the vote. If nobody has sticky fingers, it is an unfailing way to ensure an overwhelming majority will not be blindsided by being on the wrong end of the idol. The thing is you need the numbers to do it – if you don’t have them, you’re screwed. If someone flips, you’re screwed. If you choose not to split the vote because it’s “too difficult to coordinate” and think someone is too unassuming, Kelley Wentworth is going to shoot a missile at you.
This week’s edition of Historical Perspectives will examine how a vote needs to be split to make it work.
SURVIVOR 101: SPLITTING A VOTE
Let’s forget the twist involving no revote in Game Changers ever happened. In regular Survivor, if there’s a tie, it immediately goes to a revote. This process allows an overwhelming majority to split the vote between two people to hopefully goad out an idol. As discussed last week, goading out that idol means voting for the person you think has it first and foremost. Many apologies to Laura Alexander, but you don’t make someone “choose” between two allies if you know there’s a bulge in their pocket. They’re going to choose to keep the idol to save their own skin unless it’s one like Ryan had on Day 3.
The history of split votes dates back to before the idol became its true self, in Cook Islands. Anh-tuan “Cao Boi” Bui, who thought of himself as a shaman, had an odd vision that connected him to the line “three and three.” It dawned on him that this could apply to trying to force whoever had the idol to play it. So he came up with “Plan Voodoo” and immediately ran to Yul to propose his idea to split the vote between Penner and Candice and get whichever one of them had the Super Idol to play it to avoid being the revote target. Unfortunately for Cao Boi, Yul was less than enthused, seeing as Yul happened to be the one who had the idol. Oops – Cao Boi was voted out for being too kooky for anybody else to connect to. However, he left a permanent mark on Survivor despite his lack of longevity in the game.
Cao Boi’s mechanics on his idea continued to apply after the idol rules were reformed to compensate for its overpowered nature, though they did not become commonplace until Heroes vs. Villains, with it recurring in some form every season thereafter (the only other one before being the merge vote in Tocantins). If you had a majority at least twice that of the minority, you could feasibly split the vote – provided you trusted everyone enough to do so. If you trust somebody you shouldn’t and split the vote, that allows that one person to flip and 4-3-2 or 3-2-1 a vote and cause a ruckus, a la how Spencer took out Fishbach in Cambodia or how J.T. blindsided Cirie and Tyson blindsided himself in Heroes vs. Villains.
Due to that moronic play by Tyson, there are instances where a majority does not want to split a vote because they feel it’s too hard to get six or eight people on the same page and ensure none of them are dumb enough to do that. In other instances, there’s someone that needs to prove their trust first. If you pile all your votes on one person, you need to choose the least likely target. Jenn Brown and Kelley Wentworth both whipped out idols that blew the game open with a majority that didn’t split the vote, once where a person who shall remain unnamed was a variable and the other when a 9-3 majority was inexcusably lazy. Therefore, splitting the vote is always preferred if you trust everybody enough to do it.
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING, BEN?
The first thing you need in order to split a vote is numbers. Ben did not have these. He had seven on his side, and there were four on the other side. With that seven, the vote would need to be split 4-3. If Joe played an idol and took out four votes on him, Desi would have only three – three votes that would be inferior to the four Ben would’ve gotten, sending him home for a reckless split. This is why Ben had to pursue Dr. Mike to flip, and it’s a bad idea to do that because Ben has yet to verify that Dr. Mike is trustworthy. They’ve only been to Tribal once together and didn’t vote on the same side. How did Ben know that Dr. Mike wasn’t going to take out a hit on him? Fortunately for Ben, Dr. Mike decided to flip and convinced Cole to join him, to establish himself as more trustworthy to the majority moving forward. Typically, a majority waits until they can affirm that before they attempt any split vote shenanigans – look at the aforementioned anon and Dreamz in Fiji.
Survivor history has a lot of split votes, but never once has someone suggested they split the vote when they didn’t have the numbers to do so… and been given the green light by their alliance. This is worth pondering in the editing department, as one can only wonder if Ben proposed that idea after getting a promise from Dr. Mike. It makes zero sense as to why anyone would suggest a split vote without a large enough alliance to do so… or why math wizard Chrissy wouldn’t immediately point that out to one of her closest allies.
That said, Ben should have entered Cole’s brain to discern which Healer he was most likely to play his imaginary idol on. With Cole’s showmance having a blast with Ali and Roark on the pre-jury trip, this leaves Desi, Joe, and Mike. Ben should have targeted whoever Cole wasn’t going to save. Desi would be the most equivalent to the “inconspicuous blonde, ” but Joe is the biggest threat. Of course, Cole didn’t actually have an idol, so none of that would have mattered unless they targeted the sex doctor, who IS armed.
Idol paranoia leads to a split vote quite frequently. Even in Game Changers (with the no revote rule in effect), Fan Favorite Sheriff Sierra Dawn Thomas thought Hali had an idol, but for some strange reason chose not to target her outright. It wasn’t until Zeke told her he didn’t understand why they weren’t going to put more votes on Hali if she had an idol. This was a smarter decision than Ben’s, seeing as if a Healer that isn’t Cole is going to have an idol, it would be Joe, who knows how they’re hidden this season. Ben also hates Joe’s guts after the provocation of fabricating a story that he swore on the Marines. Based on both of these, Joe should have been the revote target. The convoluted and likely inaccurate edit did not provide enough evidence to understand why it was Desi.
Other times, when someone is known to have an idol, they can get punked. Troyzan, for example, got played hardcore by Kim Spradlin in One World, leading him to waste his idol when it was his idiot ally getting voted out instead. However, Kim knew Troyzan was paranoid and figured that he had an idol, so she made the presumption that he was going to play it, which his closest ally, a class-A moron confirmed later that day. It is difficult to ensure someone who has an idol wastes it, but Kim is a masterful player, so she was able to play Troy hard and vote out a Survivor Darwin Award winner.
Another recent split vote was in Millennials vs. Gen X that sent Taylor packing over Jay, who was suspected to have an idol (which was confirmed by Will the next day). Much like Cole, Taylor was gluttonous and was hoarding the tribe’s food, which got them to dislike him very quickly, so they voted him out hoping Jay would waste his idol anyway. Jay did not, of course, due to his innate omen-reading superpowers. An idol holder isn’t always going to play it if they read the room and determine that their friend is the target instead. The group there had an opportunity to take out a threat with an idol, but they were thinking with their stomachs because Taylor stole their food.
IF THE HEALERS VOTED BEN OUT
It’s entirely possible that Dr. Mike would have taken this opportunity as a window to burn Ben if he felt sticking with the Healers was better for him long-term, even if there would only be four of them against six. While that is precisely why he did not, what if he was certain to have Lauren’s vote down the line… and her extra vote? If Lauren had told him that information, that means she’s with him. She told Ben because she didn’t want the split vote to go awry and Ben to go to Ponderosa. If Dr. Mike had sent Ben packing by playing his idol on Desi and, in the following vote, convinced Lauren to gun for Chrissy, it’s not without precedent for a split vote to go crazy. Tyson was only one example, and that was because he was stupid, not because he was conned.
J.T. took the initiative to use such a split to betray his alliance in Heroes vs. Villains, switching his vote to Cirie while Tom played his idol to ensure that Cirie would go home. This was a similar dichotomy to Tyson’s self-blindside, which caused this vote to be quickly forgotten. While J.T. would flip back to Amanda, James, and Rupert in the following vote, he was the first to show that splitting the vote isn’t always the best plan if you think you have a rat in your midst – unless the majority’s advantage is too big for one person’s vote to change that much. This would be something Russell Hantz would later try to exploit in Redemption Island, but the musty old crone he attempted to flip didn’t budge.
Caramoan was a crazy festival of split votes, with at least seven occasions where a split vote went down. Hope, Julia (who?), Snowy, Phillip, Malcolm, Reynold, and Andrea all went out in vote splits, though one of those was a farce and another was taken down by a double-idol stunt. In that double-idol stunt, Erik Reichenbach decided to troll everybody by calling Malcolm’s bluff about playing both idols, then change his vote to “Fillup!” anyway (hilarious). If Malcolm had not played an idol on himself, he would’ve been safe, which never crossed his mind after Erik called the bluff.
Similarly, Aras and Vytas tried to orchestrate a split at the merge in Blood vs. Water, thinking they had eight votes out of eleven, but they were betrayed by Tyson, Gervase, and Monica, who went to the singles’ alliance and partook in blindsiding Aras. In the next season with that format, San Juan Del Sur, Reed attempted to con Jon Misch into not playing his idol by orchestrating a fake split vote between Keith and Wesley Nale. But because Keith infamously uttered “Stick to the plan!” in the middle of Tribal, Natalie Anderson picked up on it and urged Jon to play his idol, which foiled the plan and sent Wes packing instead. It is important to have tight-lipped allies when you are attempting to blindside someone through the ruse of a split vote, unless for some strange reason the entire minority is as oblivious as Jon Misch.
While split votes are not always necessary, they ease the paranoia of a majority’s alliance that an idol might be played. People keep tight-lipped about idols because they don’t want an associated target – like Ryan might be earning himself very shortly by blabbing. In modern Survivor, allies will appreciate someone whipping out an idol to preserve the entire alliance since it means their status in the game has improved. There’s no reason to tell people because that means everyone else is just going to split their votes to avoid being on the wrong end of it, or, if they don’t have numbers, they’ll vote out the inconspicuous blonde or big-threat lieutenant of the idol holder.
Dr. Mike could have faked going along with Ben’s plan and instead blindsided Ben. The way the numbers fell, Desi would have had four votes had Mike and Cole not flipped, so Mike would have needed to spend his idol. It was this plus him still being at a numbers disadvantage in the aftermath that led him to not flip at this point. He instead chose to keep his idol and show the majority that he could be trusted as a number going forward. He has made them far more likely to gun for known idol hog Joe or blabbermouth glutton Cole, two individuals they already don’t like or trust, before they vote any sex doctors out. Because of this, there’s no question he made the right move. If anybody is going to be able to pull the Daugherty/Boatwright strategy to a win, it’s Dr. Mike. He’s the dark horse, but can he pull it off?