The Ultimate Survivor Glossary

All the need-to-know Survivor terminology.

Photo: Bill Selak via Compfight cc

Over its many years on the air Survivor has developed its own language and phraseology that has become ingrained in the very fabric of the show. While these terms make all the sense in the world to us hardcore superfans, there will be many people watching who have no idea what sayings like “Pagonging” or “Ulonging” mean. Below we try to compile the Ultimate Survivor Glossary to briefly define Survivor’s most used terms. If you can think of any more words or phrases to add let us know in the comments.


  • Advantage – a reward which can be won or discovered or even bought at an Auction. It will usually give the winner an increased chance of winning the upcoming Immunity Challenge (see Danni Boatwright in Survivor: Guatemala) or more recently it can be an extra game advantage (see the Vote Steal in Survivor: Cambodia and Survivor: Game Changers).
  • Aitu Four – a famous underdog alliance from Survivor: Cook Islands comprised of Becky Lee, Ozzy Lusth, Yul Kwon, and Sundra Oakley, created after the mutiny of two tribe members.
  • All The Fixin’s – a term often spoken by Jeff Probst to describe all the extra add-ons of a food reward.
  • Alliance – a group of people that join together and commit their loyalty to one another for strategic reasons, including creating a numbers advantage and controlling who is voted out at Tribal Council.
  • Alternate – the name given to a person who is flown out to location as a back-up contestant in case one of the official cast members drops out or is unable to compete due to medical reasons.
  • Alphabet Strategy – a “strategy” adopted by Dr Sean Kenniff in Survivor: Borneo which involved him voting for people in alphabetical order.
  • America’s Sweetheart – a term that was used in the early seasons to describe a hugely popular female player (see Colleen Haskell in Survivor: Borneo or Elisabeth Filarski in Survivor: The Australian Outback).
  • America’s Tribal Council – a special episode that aired a week after the Survivor: All-Stars finale in which viewers voted for one of the cast members to win a $1 million. Also known as America gives Rupert $1 million for being Rupert.
  • Applicant – a player that applied to be on the show by recording and sending in an audition video to CBS or attended an open casting call.
  • Auction – a Reward Challenge in which the remaining players can bid on various items such as food, advantages or even letters from home.


  • Banana Etiquette – refers to an incident in Survivor: Heroes vs Villains where James was accused of having bad “banana etiquette” due to eating the tribe’s supply of bananas whenever he wanted without asking permission or offering them to his fellow tribemates.
  • Barbecue Alliance – an opposing alliance which was built to counteract the Tagi alliance in Survivor: Borneo. This is the first alliance to have all of its members voted out one after another.
  • Black Widow Brigade – the dominant alliance in Survivor: Micronesia, comprised entirely of women, including Alexis Jones, Amanda Kimmel, Cirie Fields, Natalie Bolton, and Parvati Shallow. The alliance manipulated the men of the tribe, persuading them to vote with them, only to blindside them at Tribal Council.
  • Blindside – when the player voted out does not expect it.
  • Boot – a term often used by fans online to describe when a player is eliminated or to describe the eliminated player. For example, “Malcolm was given the boot last night” or “Ozzy became the latest boot”.
  • Breakdown (#SurvivorBreakdown) – when a player is worn out and collapses emotionally, either in tears or in anger (see Brandon in Survivor: Caramoan). The moment is sometimes accompanied by the onscreen hashtag #SurvivorBreakdown.
  • Buddy System – a strategy invented by Boston Rob Mariano in Survivor: Redemption Island in which each member of the alliance is paired up with a “buddy”. The buddies must stay together at all times in order to dissuade one of them from talking or strategising with the opposing alliance.
  • Buff – an item of clothing that the players must wear to identify which tribe they belong to. The buffs usually feature the season’s logo, the tribe name, and the colour of their affiliated tribe. While most commonly worn as a bandanna, players have customised their buffs into arm-bands, skirts and even bow-ties (see Bob in Survivor: Gabon).


  • Car Curse – from Season 2 until Season 14, the winner of a late post-merge Reward Challenge would receive a car as a prize. Every single player who won the challenge (and the car) would fail to win the overall game. This became known as the Car Curse (see Dreamz and Yau-Man in Survivor: Fiji). The car prize was abandoned after Season 14.
  • Casaya 6 – one of the most dysfunctional yet successful tribal alliances in Survivor history, from Survivor: Panama, comprised of Aras Baskauskas, Bruce Kanegai, Cirie Fields, Courtney Marit, Danielle DeLorenzo, and Shane Powers. Often referenced when a dysfunctional tribe is enjoying success despite their conflicts.
  • Castaway – no, not the Tom Hanks movie, this refers to the official name given to the contestants on Survivor.
  • Casual – a term often used in a derogatory way to describe fans of the show that have only seen recent seasons and tend to only like the CBS approved favourites (Ozzy, Rupert, Boston Rob).
  • Challenge – the name of the competitions in which the tribes or players compete for Immunity or Reward.
  • Challenge Dominator (Challenge Beast) – a player that is hugely successful in the physical aspect of the game, winning numerous individual challenges (see Mike in Survivor: Worlds Apart).
  • Chopping Block – a term used to describe the position of a player or players who are at risk of being voted out at Tribal Council.
  • Coattail Rider – a derogatory term given to a player who is seen as shamelessly following and leeching off the success of a better player.
  • Combo Idol – a term referring to the Hidden Immunity Idols in Survivor: Kaoh Rong which could be combined together to create a Super Idol.
  • Confessional – a direct one-on-one interview to camera, where a player speaks in private away from the other contestants about their strategy and thoughts on the game and the other players.


  • Day Zero – a twist used in the Blood vs Water seasons where prior to the game starting each loved one pair is left overnight at a separate location on the island. It serves as an introduction to each pair for the viewing audience.
  • Dead Grandma – a reference to an infamous lie concocted by Jonny Fairplay in Survivor: Pearl Islands, where during the Loved Ones Reward Challenge his friend Thunder D informed Jon that his grandma had died. This was a lie that Jon used to manipulate his fellow players within the game.
  • Drawing Rocks – if a tied vote at Tribal Council cannot be resolved by a re-vote then the players will have to draw rocks. The two players that received votes become safe, as well as the person with Individual Immunity, and every other player must draw a rock from a bag, the person who picks the rock that is differently coloured from the others must leave the game (see Katie Collins in Survivor: Blood vs Water or Jessica Lewis in Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X).
  • Dream Team – the name given to a group of production assistants who test the challenges before they are used by the players on a season.
  • Duel – a challenge that takes place at Redemption Island between the current inhabitant(s) of Redemption Island and the most recently voted out player for a chance to remain in the game.


  • Edgic – originally coined by members of the Survivor Sucks forum, Edgic refers to the analysis of the edit to determine the winner of a season. It can also be used to track character arcs and season storylines. Edgic is a portmanteau of the words Edit and Logic.
  • Endurance Challenge – a competition usually for Immunity that involves having to withstand a physically demanding test for the longest capacity of time (see the Final Immunity Challenge in Survivor: Palau).
  • Exile Island (or Exile) – a location where a player is temporarily banished from their tribe for a predetermined period of time, usually as a result of losing a Reward or Immunity challenge.
  • Extra Vote – a game advantage introduced in Survivor: Worlds Apart which allows the holder to cast a second vote at Tribal Council after all the other players have cast their votes.


  • Fake Idol – when a player creates a pretend Hidden Immunity Idol usually out of materials collected from rewards or props found around camp (see Bob in Survivor: Gabon) and attempts to convince their fellow players that the idol is a real Hidden Immunity Idol.
  • Fake Merge – a twist in Survivor: Thailand where the two tribes lived on one beach under the impression they had merged, only to be later told that they were still in fact two competing tribes. This twist would later be implemented as the defining theme of Survivor: One World.
  • Final Tribal Council – the last Tribal Council of the season where the final two or three players must face questions from the Jury and where the voting takes place to determine the winner.
  • Fire-Making Challenge – a challenge that takes place at the Final 4 should the vote be tied. The two players involved in the tie must compete against each other at Tribal Council in front of their tribe and the jury to see who can build fire the quickest to burn through a rope (see Carolyn and Rodney in Survivor: Worlds Apart). This challenge has also taken place when a tribe is down to its last two members (see Bobby Jon and Stephenie in Survivor: Palau).
  • First Boot – the position that every single player fears before they start the game, being the first person voted out.
  • First Impressions – a twist announced by Jeff Probst at the start of the game where the tribes usually have to make a “first impressions” vote. This could involve choosing the weakest members of the tribe (see Survivor: Tocantins). The victims of the first impression vote usually get some sort of advantage in the game (see Garrett, Morgan and Trish in Survivor: Cagayan).
  • Flint – a magnesium fire-starter that is usually awarded to the winning tribe(s) in the first challenge of a season. The losing tribe will be provided with a flint after their first Tribal Council session.
  • Flip – to turn on your original alliance to join an opposing alliance (see Cochran in Survivor: South Pacific).
  • Flush – when an alliance forces a player to play their Hidden Immunity Idol, either correctly or incorrectly, or when a player is voted out still in possession of a Hidden Immunity Idol, this getting rid of the idol is described as “flushing out the idol”.


  • Gamebot – a term used to describe a player who sees everything from the perspective of “the game”. They reveal very little emotion or personal connection because the majority of their content and confessionals are tied to strategy (see Kim Spradlin in Survivor: One World).
  • Goat – a derogatory term used to describe players that are deemed undeserving and have very little chance of winning a jury vote.


  • Hidden Immunity Idol (Idol) – an item that can be found within the game, with or without clues, that can be used at Tribal Council by a player to save themselves or another player. If the idol is played it will cancel any votes that were cast against that player.


  • Idol – see Hidden Immunity Idol.
  • Idol Out – when a player is voted out as a result of another player successfully playing a Hidden Immunity Idol.
  • Immunity (Immunity Idol/Necklace) – makes a player or tribe exempt from being voted out. Immunity is usually won by an individual or a tribe at an Immunity Challenge but Immunity can be transferred to another player or tribe should the holder(s) choose to give it up (see Erik in Survivor: Micronesia).
  • Immunity Challenge – a competition in which the players or tribes compete to win safety from Tribal Council.


  • Jeff Probst – the host of the show who has been with Survivor since Season 1 and is now also an Executive Producer and Showrunner.
  • Jury – the group of eliminated players that will observe the subsequent Tribal Councils, and eventually decide the Sole Survivor out of the final two or three after casting their votes at the Final Tribal Council.


  • Kidnap – a chance to “kidnap” a member of the opposite tribe for a limited period of time (see Rupert in Survivor: Pearl Islands). It was a staple twist of Survivor: China.


  • Legacy Advantage – a game power introduced in Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X which gives the holder immunity at a predetermined point in the game (Final 6 in Millennials vs. Gen X, Final 13 or 6 in Game Changers). If the holder is voted out they must will the advantage to another player still in the game.
  • Looting – a reward that allows the winning tribe to loot an item(s) from the losing tribe (see Survivor: Pearl Islands).
  • Losers Lodge – an alternative name given to Ponderosa, the sequester house where the eliminated contestants stay until the game has finished.
  • Loved Ones Challenge – a challenge that often takes place late post-merge where the winner(s) can spend a predetermined amount of time with a relative, spouse or friend, who is flown out to the island.
  • Loved Ones Letter – similar to above, a player(s) can win a reward in which they receive letters from their family or friends back home.
  • Luxury Item (Emotional Item) – an item that each player is allowed to bring to the island that has some sort of sentimental or personal value (see Rob Cesternino’s Magic 8-Ball in Survivor: The Amazon).


  • Mactor – a derogatory term used by fans to describe recruited players that are often aspiring models and/or actors.
  • Mark Burnett – Executive Producer and the man responsible for bringing the format of Survivor to U.S. television.
  • Marooning – the start of the game when the players are dropped off by Jeff Probst, usually via boat, at some isolated location and begin their adventure.
  • Medallion of Power – an often maligned power that was introduced in Survivor: Nicaragua. The Medallion was a tribal power that gave the tribe that owned it an advantage at challenges if they decided to play it. When a tribe used the Medallion, ownership of the Medallion would then be transferred to the opposing tribe. It was retired at the merge of Survivor: Nicaragua and hasn’t been used again since.
  • Medevac – a situation where a player has to be medically evacuated from the game due to injury or sickness.
  • Merge – the halfway point of the game when the two (or more) opposing tribes join together to form one tribe and the game becomes individual based.
  • Message In A Bottle – a twist in Survivor: Cook Islands in which the losing tribe of the Day 24 Immunity Challenge were given a sealed bottle to open after the Tribal Council elimination. The note in the bottle informed them that they had to immediately vote out another tribe member.
  • Mutiny – an opportunity offered to the players to switch tribes immediately (see Candice and Jonathan in Survivor: Cook Islands).


  • Necklace – shorthand used by the players to refer to the Immunity Necklace.
  • Newbie – a term describing a new player, became a common expression after Survivor began mixing returning players with new players.


  • Old Schooler – generally used to describe a player from an earlier season, particularly Seasons 1-10. Often used when one of these earlier players returns to play on a recent season.
  • Outcasts – a tribe from Survivor: Pearl Islands comprised of the first six people voted out, who were given the opportunity to return to the game in a special Immunity Challenge against the two active tribes.
  • Outwit, Outplay, Outlast – the famous Survivor tagline that is often quoted by host Jeff Probst and the players themselves, especially at the Final Tribal Council when describing how they played the game.


  • Pagonging – when an original tribal alliance sticks together at the merge until they have voted out every single member of the opposing tribe. This first happened in the first season Survivor: Borneo when the Tagi 4 voted out all of the Pagong members, hence the term “Pagonging”.
  • Parchment – the piece of paper on which the players write their votes on.
  • Pecking Order – describes the hierarchy of an alliance and the order in which each person is predicted to be voted out.
  • Perfect Game – a player that wins the game with a unanimous vote and had no votes cast against them the entire game (see JT in Survivor: Tocantins).
  • Plan Voodoo – another version of Flushing Out the Idol originally created by Cao Boi in Survivor: Cook Islands who came up with a plan to split the votes between the idol holder and another player, forcing the idol holder to play their idol.
  • Player of the Season (or Sprint Player of the Season) – a fan-voted reward once sponsored by Sprint where viewers could vote for their favourite player of the season. The winner would receive a monetary prize, usually $100,000. The Player of the Season vote has been retired in recent seasons.
  • Ponderosa – a sequester house on the island where the eliminated players stay until the game is finished. The pre-jury players stay here until the jury phase begins, after which the pre-Jury people are taken to a different location.
  • Pre-gaming – when alliances and strategy talks happen in secret before the show even begins filming. This happens in returnee seasons when the cast of returning players reach out to one another.
  • Pre-Jury Trip – the players that are eliminated before the Jury phase are taken on a Pre-Jury Trip with assigned handlers, usually to a nearby country. The trip begins when the Jury phase begins, this is so that they don’t mix with the eliminated players that will be part of the Jury.
  • Power Duo – an alliance of two that are more committed to each other than anyone else in their wider alliance (see Amber and Rob in Survivor: All Stars).
  • Purple Edit – a term given to a player that is invisible throughout the majority of the season, given little air-time on the show and has very few confessionals. Named after “Purple” Kelly Shinn in Survivor: Nicaragua who was edited as an inconsequential character that later quit.
  • Purple Rock – see “Drawing Rocks”, the colour of the losing rock was originally purple in Survivor: Marquesas.


  • Quit (Quitter) – when a person voluntarily exits the game without being voted out (see NaOnka and Purple Kelly in Survivor: Nicaragua).


  • Recruit – a player that didn’t apply to be on the show through the usual channels and instead was found and invited to audition by a casting agent or perhaps recommended to casting by a former contestant.
  • Redemption Island – a location where the player(s) that have been voted out stay and await their upcoming Duels for a chance to return to the game.
  • Returnee – the term given to a former player returning to the game for another shot.
  • Reunion – an hour-long special that airs after a finale, where Jeff Probst reveals the winner and talks to the players about key events that happened throughout the season. Sometimes Probst will waste time at a reunion show talking to small children in the audience or interviewing Cochran, even when he wasn’t on that particular season.
  • Re-vote – when a vote is tied at Tribal Council the players who didn’t receive votes will be given the opportunity to vote again to try and break the tie. The re-vote rule was scrapped in Survivor: Game Changers in favor of drawing rocks unless a unanimous decision could be made by the the tribe.
  • Reward Challenge – a competition in which the players or tribes compete to win a reward. A reward could include luxury items, food or camp equipment.
  • Rites of Passage – a ceremony in which the final remaining players pay tribute to the players that were eliminated before them, usually taking place before the final Immunity challenge. The Rites of Passage has been retired in recent seasons.


  • Schoolyard Pick – a twist where two players are chosen as captains for two opposing tribes and must alternate between picking men and women until each tribe is filled evenly (see Survivor: Thailand). Schoolyard Picks are also often used to determine teams in post-merge Reward Challenges but take place off-camera.
  • Scrambling – when a player knows they are at risk of being voted out at that night’s Tribal Council and tries desperately to find any way to survive.
  • Shelter – a structure built by the players where they eat, sleep and keep dry during harsh weather conditions.
  • Snakes and Rats – a reference to Susan Hawk’s infamous Final Tribal Council jury speech in Survivor: Borneo directed at runner up Kelly Wiglesworth. Sue described the island as been full of two things, snakes and rats, and compared winner Richard Hatch to a snake, who knowingly went after his prey, while Kelly was the rat, who tried to run away from the snake. This terminology has stuck within the Survivor lexicon as many players over the years have been described as either snakes or rats.
  • Snuffing – the act of extinguishing the flame of an eliminated player’s torch by Jeff Probst.
  • Social Game – one of the most vital components to a winning Survivor is having a solid social game, this means being able to get along and relate to your fellow players.
  • Split Vote – an extension of Cao Boi’s original Plan Voodoo strategy where an alliance will split votes between two separate players as a back-up in the event of a Hidden Immunity Idol being played.
  • Sole Survivor – the official title given to the winner of each season.
  • Strategy/Strategic Game – another important facet is a player’s tactical approach, how successful they are at planning and controlling the direction of the game. This is referred to as the Strategic Game and can be just as crucial as having a good Social Game.
  • Sub-alliance – a smaller alliance within a larger alliance, usually plotting to take out the other members of the alliance at a later stage of the game.
  • Superfan – a term to describe a hardcore fan of the show who has seen every season, some multiple times, and is actively involved in the online Survivor community and probably reading this glossary right now.
  • Super Idol (God Idol) – a term often used to describe the old version of the Hidden Immunity Idol originally from Survivor: Panama and Survivor: Cook Islands where the idol holder could play the idol for themselves after all the votes had been read. The rules were changed from Survivor: Fiji onwards but the Super Idol has popped up again in recent seasons such as Survivor: Cagayan and Survivor: Kaoh Rong (via the Combo Idol).
  • Swing Vote – a term to describe a player who is caught between two opposing alliances and whose single vote will determine who is voted out at Tribal Council.


  • Tagi 4 – the first ever alliance on Survivor from the first season Survivor: Borneo, comprised of Kelly Wiglesworth, Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch and Susan Hawk.
  • The Three Amigos – an underdog alliance in Survivor: Caramoan made up of Eddie Fox, Malcolm Freberg, and Reynold Toepfer.
  • Throwaway Vote – when a player casts a vote towards another player knowing it will not be significant to the overall result (see Coach voting Courtney in Survivor: Heroes vs Villains).
  • Throwing a Challenge – when a player or tribe intentionally loses a challenge for strategic reasons, often to appear non-threatening or because the tribe wants to vote somebody out.
  • Torch – an item that each player takes with them to Tribal Council, the torch carries a flame and when voted out this flame is extinguished by Jeff Probst.
  • Tree Mail – an area of a tribe’s camp where they receive letters notifying them of upcoming challenges.
  • Tribal Council (Tribal) – an area designed by the Survivor Art Department usually located somewhere which is an equal distance from each tribe camp. This is where the voting and elimination ceremony takes place.
  • Tribe – the official term given to each of the competing teams.
  • Tribe Dissolve – when one or two tribe(s) are absorbed into the remaining tribes before the Merge (see Denise and Malcolm in Survivor: Philippines).
  • Tribe Swap/Switch – when members of a tribe are switched to the opposing tribe and vice versa (first happened in Survivor: Africa).
  • Tyler Perry Idol – a term coined by Jeff Probst to describe the Special Hidden Immunity Idol in Survivor: Cagayan. Jeff Probst announced the idea was given to him by actor Tyler Perry. The Tyler Perry Idol could be played like an Overpowered Idol, after the votes had been read.


  • Under The Radar – used to describe a player whose strategy is very subdued and in the background and doesn’t appear as an immediate threat.
  • Ulonging (or Ulong’d) – a term that refers to a tribe that consistently loses Immunity Challenges, named after the Ulong tribe in Survivor: Palau who lost every single tribal Immunity Challenge until only one player on the tribe remained. When a tribe nowadays is on a losing streak it will often be referred to as an “Ulonging” or the tribe being “Ulong’d”.
  • Urn – the container where the players place their votes. Jeff Probst removes the votes from the urn one by one when he is reading the results.


  • Vote – the act of deciding who goes home or who eventually wins. Each player will cast a vote in secret at Tribal Council.
  • Voting Bloc – basically another term for “alliance” but was used prominently in Survivor: Cambodia as a reference to frequently changing smaller alliances.
  • Vote Steal – an advantage introduced in Survivor: Cambodia which allows the holder to steal a vote from a fellow player at Tribal Council, thereby allowing the holder to cast two votes.


  • Winner’s Edit – when it appears that the producers and editors are portraying a certain player in a very positive light. Fans read this as being a sign that this player wins the game, hence the term Winner’s Edit.
  • Wishy-Washy – a term often used to describe a player that won’t give a straight answer or refuses to commit to one particular alliance or strategy (see Chase in Survivor: Nicaragua).


Thanks to the Survivor Wiki page for some of the above terms.

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

10 responses to “The Ultimate Survivor Glossary”

  1. I wonder if it wouldn’t be appropriate to add edgic terminology to this, such as OTTN/M/P and MOR and UTR.

    other things:
    Snakes and Rats – this is so important to the game that maybe it deserves to be in the Glossary
    Bottle Twist
    Pregaming/Pregame Alliances – the forming of alliances prior to the start of the game, which happens in All-Star seasons.

    also, is the Glossary only in-game terms, or is fandom terminology also welcome?

    • Those are great suggestions, thank you. I will include fandom terminology as long as they are widely used, yes.

      • Would this work?:

        Oldschooler: a player from an earlier season. Also used as a term for an older player who hasn’t competed recently (See Shii-Ann from Thailand and All-Stars.)

        Casual: a derogatory term for fans of the show who have only seen the recent seasons or favor the newer players (Joe, Shirin, Woo, Tony, etc.)

  2. Great list!

    Suggestions to add:
    Other names like Mark Burnett, Lynne Spillman (sp?) as they get mentioned a lot

  3. I wouldn’t call “Dead Fish” one of Survivor’s most used terms. Besides Shirin, who else is using it?

  4. Re: “Mutiny”.

    The term is defined above correctly as Probst used it but in reality, the proper nautical term is “jumping ship”.
    How he got it so wrong baffles me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.