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Elimination Houdini / Survivor

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General:

  • It's actually a common strategy to take the worst player (meaning, in most cases, the most unlikable person out there) and protect them on the grounds that if it's you vs. them in the Finals, it's an easy win. This is called a "Goat"note 
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  • There's a difference between flying under the radar and staying out of harm's way, and simply riding coattails. Several people have houdini'd their way out of eliminated by simply doing the former.
  • Because Survivor doesn't have any Audience Participation as far as eliminations go, being disliked by the fans doesn't count.
    • For example: Richard Hatch, the original Sole Survivor, inventor of many people's strategies they employed in later seasons, was HATED by the fans. Sandra (who won twice), likewise has a hatedom on several boards who believe that a more visibly strategic player should have won.
  • You should also consider that contestants like these were often constantly gunned for as weak and/or considered for elimination (sometimes because of this), but were often spared because a) they simply played as a vote in the alliance, b) they talked their way out of it, c) the other players instead decided to take out a bigger threat and ignore them for the round because they were weak or they needed a throwaway who could easily be beaten.
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People who kept houdini-ing their way out of elimination include:

  • Gervase in Borneo. Charmed his tribe mates enough to not get voted out of Pagong in the early stages despite being lazy and causing Pagong to lose at least two challenges due to his weaknesses (such as his fear of bugs in the "Bugging Out" challenge and his inability to swim during "In From The Deep").
    • Richard Hatch is almost a subversion. At the time, viewers were completely perplexed as to how this (as he was perceived) fat, arrogant, naked man had outlasted so many stronger competitors, not realizing that he was strategically maneuvering himself into a powerful position within the tribe (and was a surprisingly competent survivalist as well). Where he indeed becomes this trope, is the final 8 and 7, where he avoids being voted out despite being the target for potential coups that (luckily for him) never quite manifested.
  • Keith Famie from The Australian Outback outlasted almost everyone and became one of only three players to ever see day 41 in Survivor note , despite virtually everyone seeing him as extremely "undeserving". This normally wouldn't be enough to qualify him, but several people in the majority alliance were targeted and eliminated for being "undeserving" throughout the entire season.
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  • Kim Johnson in Africa. Despite being a visible weak link in challenges, she was roped into the majority alliance and slated to be eliminated in the final four, and even prolonged that stay when she won two consecutive immunity challenges and finished second. (It's likely she knew she couldn't win and simply picked who she believed deserved to win.)
  • Jonny Fairplay in Pearl Islands. Managed to finish third despite Sandra telling others not to trust him from early on, and everybody was fair game. He was outnumbered 3-1 at the final four, but managed to talk Lillian and Sandra into voting out Darrah because she could potentially win the Final Immunity Challenge and that was probably their only chance to do so.
  • Eliza in Vanuatu. Almost every Tribal Council she attended, she was in trouble. Yet despite this, she made her way to the final four, thanks in part to her alliance screwing up.
    • Interestingly, Chris became this (and the eventual winner) for that exact same reason: he should have been a goner when he became the last man remaining in the game and even sadly accepted that he was going home after he failed to win immunity, but thanks to Ami and Leann suddenly deciding that Eliza, who was loyal with them, was so annoying that she needed to go before him, he was able to split up the women's alliance with help from Twila and Scout.
    • Vanuatu was a particularly weird season because the final four were all the sorts of people who were usually eliminated first in earlier seasons: the outsider, the old lady, the immunity challenge scapegoat, and the irritant.
  • Stephanie in Palau became one after her entire tribe was decimated and she was relocated to the dominate Koror. They wanted her gone because they feared she would win based on sympathy, only to survive the next two tribal councils thanks to Colby being untrustworthy and Janu quitting in the middle of the game. She made it to the final seven before finally being voted off.
  • Danni in Guatemala, after Stephenie's alliance decided she wasn't a threat and even thought it'd be a better idea to vote out the more easily-beaten-in-an-endurance-competition Lydia over her. That proved to be a fatal mistake on Stephenie's part, as Danni ended up crushing her at the Final Immunity Challenge and Tribal Council.
  • Sally in Exile Island. She lost her tribe's newly won spear in the second episode, which caused the tribe to struggle with food. However, she was spared in two Tribal Councils due to Misty (who was also deemed a strategic threat) & Ruth-Marie (who was loyal) blowing immunity challenges and was exiled once. She made it to the final 8 despite being such an early target.
  • Chet in Micronesia. Just about every Tribal Council he attended, people were saying that he was weak. Survived about three Tribal Councils with people trying to get him out for weakness before finally being voted out.
  • Susie in Gabon was targeted as a challenge liability several times; but her loyalties, keeping her mouth shut, and immunity wins made her finish in second thanks to votes from jurors who simply disliked her less than Bob or Sugar.
  • Sierra in Tocantins managed to reach the final seven after avoiding elimination numerous times, despite being widely disliked by the rest of the cast and being targeted for weakness (having been on antibiotics prior to the show due to strep throat).
    • Also, Erinn from the same season. She would've been voted out very early on if one of her tribemates didn't get sick, was almost voted out numerous times towards the end of the game and somehow managed to outlast all of her former Timbira tribemates before becoming the final member of the jury.
  • Russell Hantz in Heroes vs. Villains made it to the final three despite rubbing almost everyone the wrong way and constantly being up for elimination, mainly because of various players making dumb movesnote .
  • Dan in Nicaragua had a bad knee from recently having surgery. Went from being a target all pre-merge for his weakness to making it to the finale.
    • The diabolical Fabio was targeted for being a threat, but was targeted last because his elimination was a feat deemed easy, as Fabio seemed to be rather dumb. Unfortunately for the majority alliance, this was Obfuscating Stupidity, and he easily won the last batch of immunity challenges, some of which were puzzles, before winning the season.
  • Redemption Island had Natalie T, who who seemed lazy and just sat around 90% of the game. Phillip from the same season was despised by everyone. Rob managed to get them both to the final tribal council with himself, practically forcing the jury to vote for him.
  • Cochran in South Pacific, who was constantly on the chopping block early in the game and extended his stay after the merge by flipping on his alliance.
    • Ozzy, who was talented and/or lucky enough to survive Redemption Island and return twice. And he likely would've won the whole season if Sophie didn't pull an upset and win the Final Immunity Challenge.
  • Jonathan Penner in Philippines, who survived two Tribal Councils in a row in which the entire tribe was targeting him.
    • Michael Skupin, but not because he was poor at the game, because he was an absolute klutz who had some people assuming he'd get evacuated again, or voted out because he was injured.
    • Special mention goes out to eventual winner Denise, who holds the distinction of being the only winner to attend every single Tribal Council in the whole season and was close to being voted out a couple of times in the post-merge.
  • Eddie in Caramoan. Every Tribal Council, he's prepared to go home, casts his vote for someone random, and somehow survived many votes until the final four. He even has a completely stunned look on his face after every vote when he's still there.
  • J'Tia in Cagayan. Despite her attitude and her abysmal challenge performances, she survived her first tribal due to Garrett targeting David for deeming him the weakest, then despite intentionally dumping the rice into the fire survived her second as Garrett was blindsided for rubbing the tribe up the wrong way with his "no strategy lockdown". She was slated to be next, but her tribe managed to pull their only immunity win, saving her again. To make a long story short, she survived being the target three times in a row despite being on a very weak tribe.
    • Spencer managed to outlast tons of people despite being in the minority for almost the entire time, a huge challenge threat, rubbing people the wrong way, and nearly being eliminated over the rice arsonist J'tia of all people. He was in power for all of one vote, before Kass sent him straight to the bottom at the merge. Despite this, he made it to the final four through immunity wins, deals, and an idol.
    • Kass would have made the final two with a player of her choice, had Woo not won immunity and inexplicably voted her out. This impressive third place finish came despite flipping on her tribe, being at the bottom of her new alliance, and aggravating almost everyone else in the game.
  • Keith in San Juan del Sur, a guy who had absolutely no sense of strategy, broke the flint on the first day, responded to finding the Hidden Immunity Idol by flinching, and accidentally revealed his plan to survive at Tribal Council on one instance. He ended up coming one challenge short of winning the whole game.
  • Mike in Worlds Apart, who won the season after winning the final six immunity challenges in a row despite being unanimously targeted by his tribemates.
  • Alecia in Kaôh Rōng, a complete klutz who annoyed and fought with everyone and was terrible at challenges, but ended up surviving elimination due to a change in plans at Tribal Council... twice.
    • Joe Del Campo in Kaôh Rōng as well. He's the second oldest competitor in Survivor history, wasn't particularly strategic and was somewhat of a physical hindrance. But he was kept all the way to the final five due to his loyalty and goat status, and probably would have made it to the finale had he not been medically evacuated.
  • In Millennials vs. Gen X Adam received votes at most of the Tribal Councils he attended and was ousted for having an advantage and was thought to have helped Taylor and Jay hide food. Despite all this, he made it all the way to the end and won unanimously.
  • From Game Changers, Sandra came in as a two-time winner who was notoriously abysmal at challenges, making the target on her back massive. Despite going to four Tribal Councils in five episodes and having two close scares (one with Tony targeting her, and one where J.T. tried to get New Mana to idol her out), she somehow survived with no votes cast against her. She was finally taken out in episode 6 after the second swap, but not before outlasting both previous winners, securing her place as the only two-time winner once again.
  • Ben Driebergen, who carried the nickname "King Arthur" in the game, might very well be the king of this. He is the guy who stands out as the first person to ever play an idol and negate a unanimous vote against him, forcing his choice alone to go home, Lauren (though also due to some Idiot Ball-holding on her part and Mike punishing her for it, too). This is after becoming an increasingly bigger target and shifting into the role of an Anti-Villain. He then follows up by nabbing a second idol less than an hour before the sun sets and the following Tribal Council convenes, and preemptively plays it just to show everybody there's no way he's going out of the game yet. Then he picked up a THIRD idol in the morning after that tribal and played it, too, making three in row saving him from an otherwise one-way ticket to the Jury. And THEN when he lost the final immunity challenge after a very close heat with Chrissy, a surprise twist in the form of a won final secret advantage did away with the vote and allowed Chrissy to choose a person who she wanted to join her in the final three. She picked Ryan, and Devon and Ben went to a fire-making challenge to see who took the third and final spot. Ben won, and was once again for the fourth consecutive time in a row saved by a twist. He went on to win the whole season.
  • From Ghost Island, Wendell and Domenick were heavily considered to be the biggest threats in the game with many people attempting to get rid of them. Unfortunately, thanks to Laurel constantly keeping them in the end despite the very fact that she admits she can't beat them in the end, they made it to the Final Tribal Council together, and thanks to the tie at the very end, they effectively became the final two in a way.
  • Angelina in David vs. Goliath. Since the merge, she made some very questionable moves regarding her original tribe, even outright telling Elizabeth to her face that she was going home, a message that the latter shot back come Tribal Council. And yet, despite the Goliaths no longer trusting her, she is still around come the final ten as they needed the numbers over the Davids. Not to mention how she received votes for four Tribal Councils in a row yet those votes were not enough to send her packing. Eventually, she makes it all the way to the final three, mainly due to everyone else deciding to want to keep her around as a potential goat.
    • Christian Hubicki was nearly voted out three times throughout the game, but he was able to stick around thanks to idols and advantages being used to save him. In an interesting twist on this trope: just when it seemed that he was heading straight for the finale, his luck finally ran out in the penultimate episode in a Shocking Elimination.
    • Alison broke Angelina's record for the longest streak of having votes cast against a player on David vs. Goliath as her name was written down in five Tribal Councils in a row. Not to mention that she usually ended up surviving those Tribal Councils by just one vote. It wasn't until the final five where she was voted out unanimously.
  • Kelley in Edge of Extinction. Since the beginning, she has been targeted by her tribe multiple times due to her history as a power player during Cambodia, along with the fact everybody wanted the returning players gone. Despite receiving votes in almost every Tribal council she participated in, she has survived to the merge due to other targets popping up before eventually being eliminated in 9th place.
    • Rick Devons became one after reentering the game. Being an outsider after spending a few days on the Edge, everybody seemed to want him back on the island (especially his former tribemates who sadistically wanted him out the moment he came back). Despite that, he survived when bigger targets were voted out, and when those were gone, he kept winning immunity challenges and finding idols to protect himself. He made it all the way to the final four before losing to Chris in the fire making challenge.
  • Karishma in Island of the Idols. She's had her name written down at three pre-merge tribal councils in a row, is terrible at challenges but somehow survived due to her tribemates overplaying and passing her off as an 'easy' vote they can take out later... twice. After dodging multiple eliminations, Karishma was voted off around the final eight.
    • Janet became a target beginning in the merge due to her likability and strong connections with the jury. While she was targeted a few time in the Tribal Councils after Kellee's elimination, she made it because the others saw more viable threats in the competition. She made it until the final five where a dangerous gamble got her voted out.
    • A particularly dark example (to the audience at least) would be Dan (IOI), who many viewers thought should have been kicked off of the show by the producers many episodes before it happened.
  • In Winners At War, Michelle became a pretty major example, being one of two people (out of an initial 20) to survive the entire game without being voted out, despite constantly being on the wrong side of the numbers.
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