In celebration of Survivor’s 20th anniversary, over the next couple of months, Inside Survivor is publishing a series of articles looking back at the show’s history, best moments, and most memorable characters.
One of the great things about Survivor is that it rewards repeated viewing. A big part of that rewatchability factor is the many foreshadowing moments littered throughout a season. This is often done in the form of ironic foreshadowing, with statements and visual cues that take on a new context later down the line.
Today, I’m counting down the twenty best foreshadowing moments in Survivor history. This list only contains intentional foreshadowing and not coincidences like Stephenie talking about almost dislocating her shoulder in Palau, only to dislocate it in Heroes vs. Villains five years later.
20. Ken cuts David (Millennials vs. Gen-X)
There is some brilliant visual foreshadowing in this moment from the Millennials vs. Gen-X finale, though the set-up occurs much earlier in the season. It’s the final four, and David & Ken have been a duo for the entire game; at one point, David even played an idol for Ken. However, back at the pre-merge swap, Ken promised swing vote Adam that he would “have his back until the end” and “never write his name down.”
That brief scene between Adam and Ken beautifully foreshadows this final four dilemma. David doesn’t want to question Ken’s loyalty, but he makes it known he needs his vote to force a tie. Ken assures his long-term ally that, “we’re good,” all the while sticking a knife through a stingray. Later that night, Ken cuts David, thereby bringing Adam to the end as promised.
19. “No one ever remembers second place.” (One World)
Following a pre-merge reward challenge loss, in a closely fought battle, Sabrina laments her tribe’s failure. “We were seconds away from winning,” she says in confessional. “So it wasn’t a horrible loss, but, at the end of the day, it’s a loss. No one ever remembers second place.” Sabrina would go on to make it all the way to the end, only to finish in second place to Kim Spradlin, widely regarded as one of the best Survivor players of all time.
The ironic part of all this is that Sabrina’s quote was such a fantastic moment of foreshadowing that we DO remember her second-place finish. Also, while we’re here, let’s give Sabrina a second shot at Survivor!
18. “The winner is on this mat.” (Worlds Apart)
Lindsey Cascaddan might not have lasted very long during Worlds Apart, but she was all-in on the success of her Blue Collar tribe. From the moment the tribes hit the beach, Lindsey declares that “The winner of this show is on this mat.” It’s a refrain she later repeats at the Blue Collar’s first Tribal Council, and who supports Lindsey’s promise? One Mike Holloway, who goes on to win the season.
17. The Davids mount an insurrection (David vs. Goliath)
It’s the second post-merge vote, the Davids are outnumbered, and nobody thinks they stand a chance, especially not Mike White, who only sees Christian as a threat. “Carl and David, they’re not gonna be able to mount some insurrection,” the School of Rock writer tells Alec. “And Gabby is never gonna be able to get anyone to follow her into battle.” This foreshadowing statement comes back to haunt Mike in three stages.
At that night’s Tribal Council, Davie surprises everyone by playing an idol for Christian and helping to blindside John Hennigan. The next Tribal Council, Carl saves the day with his idol nullifier, sending home Dan, yet another Goliath. And the Tribal after that, Gabby leads the charge against Carl, convincing Mike, of all people, to jump on board with the vote! The three people he underestimated end up doing exactly what he said they couldn’t.
16. “You guys suck, you suck, she wins.” (Philippines)
The hard times of Matsing made for excellent viewing in the Philippines, and the tribe’s final Tribal Council together is certainly a highlight. When Jeff asks why it makes sense to get rid of Denise, Malcolm and Russell give a whole spiel about Denise’s great social game and how she would automatically win if she makes it to the end. “She gets in front of a jury, they’ll stand up and say, ‘You guys suck, you suck, she wins,'” Russell half-jokes.
Except this is no joke as that’s precisely what happens when Denise makes the final three with Lisa Whelchel and Skupin. Denise handily wins the million in a 6-1-1 vote, just as predicted all those episodes ago.
15. Eliza curses James (Micronesia)
It’s pre-merge in Fans vs. Favorites, and Eliza is not feeling well. However, she isn’t getting sympathy from her tribemates, especially not from Ozzy and James, who consistently make fun of her, literally laughing in her face. “Acting like that towards me doesn’t make me want to perform well in the challenge,” Eliza says. “You’re sick, and you got attitude?” James laughs.
Taking to confessional to vent, Eliza essentially puts a hex on her tormentors. “I hate these people, I really do,” she says. “I almost hope they get sicker than I am and have to be removed from the game.” Fast-forward a few votes, and what happens? James has a cut on his finger and has to be medevaced due to the risk of infection.
I’m not saying Eliza has magical powers, but I’m not NOT saying Eliza has magical powers.
14. “That’s when the sucker punch comes in.” (Winners At War)
It’s still hard to believe that Tony Vlachos won Survivor a second time earlier this year, but this early confessional brilliantly foreshadowes his Winners At War journey. “I want everyone to get nice and comfortable with me,” he explains. “Because their guards are here right now, and they’re slowly coming down as they see Tony’s around the camp all day, all night. It’s coming down like this, and when it gets down to here, BANG, that’s when the sucker punch comes in.”
Tony spells out exactly what goes on to happen. He lowers his threat level to the point where his opponents drop their guards, and at the merge, he switches things up. His big sucker punch coming at the Sophie blindside which sets the path for his victory lap.
13. “You will still give me that million-dollar vote.” (Heroes vs. Villains)
Some people might call Sandra’s voting confessional at the Rupert vote cocky, but I call it 100% perceptive. The Queen shows no hesitation in writing down her friend’s name when she steps up to the voting booth. “I’ll write your name again, and if I’m up there in the final three, you will still give me that million-dollar vote,” she says as she flashes her Rupert vote the camera. She was right.
“I’m honored, and I get to write down your name again and give you a million dollars,” Rupert says when casting his vote at the Final Tribal Council.
12. Paschal gives Neleh his word (Marquesas)
It’s the final four of Marquesas, the votes are tied between Kathy and Neleh, and all Paschal has to do to survive is verbally agree to vote for Neleh. He can’t do it, and so, for the first time ever, the castaways draw rocks, which sees Paschal exiting the game unceremoniously.
What makes this dramatic moment that much better is that it’s foreshadowed earlier in the season when Paschal talks about how he gave Neleh his word and would never go against her. “If it costs me the game, so be it,” he says. So be it, indeed.
11. “I will never write your name down.” (All-Stars)
This entry has already appeared in our 20 Most Iconic Voting Confessionals list; however, I couldn’t help but rank it again here. It’s an example of full-circle foreshadowing that Survivor does so well. After Boston Rob temporarily loses Amber in a surprise swap, he makes a pact with Alicia to stay true until the end.
“I will never write your name down. There’s no way,” Alicia tells Rob emphatically. The pair work together for most of the game until Rob eventually betrays her after the merge.
Come Final Tribal Council, Alicia makes her way to the voting booth and reminds us of that fateful moment. “Rob, do you remember back in the middle of the game when you and I shook hands, looked each other in the eye, and I promised that I would never write your name down? I’m a woman of my word,” she says before flashing up her winning vote for Amber.
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10. James Miller’s failed gut (Palau)
James Miller is the king of ironic foreshadowing. Every time he makes a proclamation, you know it’s foreshadowing the opposite. After the first challenge loss, James declares the tribe is “gonna win some matches.” Ulong never wins an Immunity Challenge all season.
He continues to predict challenge wins and vote-offs and is wrong every single time, even on the night of his own elimination. “My gut told me no one was gonna vote me off, my gut failed me,” he says in his post-vote-off confessional.
9. Lex gets dysentery (Africa)
In Lex’s opening confessional of the season, he warns of the potential dangers of living in the Kenyan wilderness. For example, what happens if you don’t boil your drinking water. “If you don’t boil your water out here, you wind up with amoebic dysentery,” he explains. “Which basically has you puking and crapping your guts out.” Wise advice from the tattooed marketing manager.
Flash forward to day 38, it’s the final Immunity Challenge, and Lex falls from his perch. Why? Because he’s sick with amoebic dysentery and spent the past couple of days puking and crapping his guts out. Probably due to that gnarly elephant poop water.
8. Erik isn’t crazy (Micronesia)
We can all recite word-for-word the Tribal Council where Erik gives up the Immunity necklace to Natalie—the show reminds us of it every season. But it’s the foreshadowing of Erik’s blunder earlier in the season that makes it that much more delicious.
At the Tribal Council where Jason is voted out, Jeff asks Erik if he wants to give Immunity to anyone else. “I’m not crazy,” Erik says. “I’m gonna keep it.” This ironic foreshadowing is made even better by the final five Immunity Challenge being a puzzle that spells out the words: “Guaranteed Final 4.”
As a bonus, which I can’t believe wasn’t shown on TV, there’s a deleted voting confessional from the Ozzy boot episode where Erik says to Jason, “There are no guarantees in this game, only immunity, you should know that.”
7. Cirie can’t go back to her job (Micronesia)
Another wonderful moment of foreshadowing from Micronesia happens post-swap when the tribe critiques how real-life builder Tracy failed a building a challenge. “If there was an Operating Room challenge and I lost, I couldn’t go back to my job,” laughs nurse Cirie. It’s one of those quotes that seems nothing more than a witty aside on first viewing but becomes so much more by the end of the season.
It’s day 38, and Cirie just has to win this one challenge to guarantee her spot in the final two. And it’s an ideal challenge for her skillset—all she has to do is balance a ball on some cylinder blocks. Cirie even points out beforehand how her job makes her perfect to win this challenge.
“During surgeries, you have to hold, like, retractors or instrumentation,” she explains. “And you can’t really move; if you move, somebody might get hurt.” Cirie goes on to drop her blocks and lose the challenge, crushing her chances of winning the million. (She kept her job as a nurse though).
6. Malcolm’s shaky hands (Philippines)
This one is sort of a companion piece to the entry above, as it involves the same Ball Drop challenge. In the penultimate episode of the Philippines, Malcolm is on a luxury yacht reward with Lisa and Skupin. There is a brief but beautiful moment where the group gets into the ocean to swim beside a whale shark. But during all this beauty, Malcolm says something that foreshadows how his game will ultimately end.
“You’re actually going to put me in the water with the world’s biggest fish?” Malcolm says in confessional. “My hands started shaking.” This quick little line tells us everything we need to know. When Malcolm is nervous and excited, his hands shake. And what happens in that Final Immunity Challenge? Malcolm can’t stop his hands from shaking, and he soon drops the ball and, with it, his chances of winning the game.
5. “I don’t know about thaaaat.” (Heroes vs. Villains)
“I’ma use Sandra for ME to win a million-dollars; she can’t beat me,” declares Russell towards the end of Heroes vs. Villains. At this point in the game, Russell’s ego knows no bounds. He’s so confident he can win that he straight up tells Sandra to her face that he wants her in the final three because he thinks he can beat her. Sandra’s reaction is priceless as she brings us one of the most iconic foreshadowing quotes of all-time.
“I’m feeling wonderful because regardless, Russell’s keeping me around because ‘I’ll never get a single vote’,” she explains before delivering the killer line. “But I don’t know about thaaat.”
Again, Sandra is on the money, as she goes on to beat Russell and Parvati at the Final Tribal.
4. A game of rocks (Blood vs. Water)
If having the first rock draw in eleven years isn’t crazy enough, the foreshadowing of this moment in Blood vs. Water is even crazier. It’s post-merge, and the tribemates are in the shelter playing a game with rocks.
“Pick a rock,” says Laura Morrett off-screen as we see Ciera gleefully take a stone from the coconut. “Look at how happy Ciera is,” Tyson points out, unaware that this situation will play out for real in just a few days.
“It was so perfect, we had it until we told Ciera we’re voting out her mom, that was the mistake,” Tyson says in confessional. “Ciera, smarter than we thought originally, is making moves as well.” We then cut back to the rock game as Ciera shouts out, “Let’s do this.”
It’s such a perfectly foreshadowed sequence that it’s no wonder some people think Survivor is scripted.
3. Lil’s flame won’t die (Pearl Islands)
Another moment that is almost too good to be true. When Lil is voted out in Pearl Islands, she takes the walk of shame towards Jeff to have her torch snuffed. Except, the flame on her torch doesn’t go out.
“Let’s try that again, they don’t want you to go,” says Jeff with a smile. “Yeah, right,” replies Lil sarcastically. But this turns out to be symbolic foreshadowing when Lil earns her way back into the game as part of the Outcasts twist and makes it all the way to the final two.
In reality, I’m sure unsnuffed flames happen a lot on Survivor and are just edited out of the final cut. But when it happened to Lil, there was no way the editors could leave that on the cutting room floor.
2. “I’ve got the million-dollar check already.” (Borneo)
There was no Edgic or in-depth edit analysis when Survivor first premiered. Sure, fans would start looking for clues later into the season, but there was no precedent of what to look for, no idea of how the producers operated. So, when Richard Hatch made his bold claim in Borneo‘s first episode, people didn’t take it as a foreshadowing winner quote. If anything, people expected Richard to lose because it was so blatant.
“I’m good to go survival wise, people wise it’ll be a little more challenging,” says Richard. “But I’ve got the million-dollar check written already. I mean, I’m the winner.” Remember, this is day one, mere moments into the game. And Rich knows he’s coming off as arrogant. “It’s that kind of cocky attitude that really makes people hate your guts,” he laughs. “So that’s the thing I’ve gotta keep under wraps.”
Everything Rich predicts comes true, turning this into a legendary foreshadowing confessional, and perhaps cementing the beginning of in-depth Survivor edit analysis.
1. “I got a mil that says she won’t be the final one.” (Pearl Islands)
This quote from Jonny Fairplay in Pearl Islands is almost the antithesis of Richard’s statement in Borneo. Where Richard guarantees victory for himself, Fairplay denounces Sandra’s winning chances, which we know from earlier in the list, is never a smart thing to do.
There’s a couple of reasons why this is my choice for best foreshadowing moment and my favorite winner quote of all-time. Firstly, it’s said with such conviction and condescension that you can’t help but smile when watching it back.
“Her days are numbered,” says Fairplay. “We have bigger threats to get rid of first, but she’s not one of the final four. And I got a mil that says she WON’T be the final one.” This quote comes after one of the many blow-ups at camp between Sandra and Fairplay. And it follows Sandra’s hilarious, “Screw Jon; he’s an ass” confessional.
It beautifully sums up their relationship and foreshadows their journey together. Not only do Sandra and Fairplay make final four together, but they also go on to the final three Immunity Challenge, where Fairplay’s game goes up in smoke.
In the end, in a deliciously ironic twist, Fairplay has no choice but to cast a winning vote for Sandra, making her the final one.
Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more 20 Years of Survivor content over the coming weeks.