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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".
    • Which is subverted in Samoa when Russell Hantz's intended goat actually ends up pulverizing him in the Final Tribal Council, which repeats itself in Heroes vs. Villains when Russell's intended goat wins over both him and Parvati.
  • There's a difference between flying under the radar and staying out of harm's way, and simply riding coattails. Getting to the finals by stealth is rewarded. Getting there by being a total non-factor isn't.
  • Because Survivor doesn't have any Audience Participation (beyond a $100,000 bonus prize awarded by Sprint for a number of seasons), being disliked by the fans doesn't really count.
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    • For example: Richard Hatch, the original Sole Survivor, inventor of many people's strategies they employed in later seasons, was HATED by the fans. Not to mention Sandra, who won twice, likewise has a hatedom on several boards who tout the "Parvati should have won!" mantra.
  • 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.

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 caused 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").
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  • Kim Johnson in Africa. Was slated to be the eliminated in the final four, but 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.
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    • 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.
  • 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 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. When the merge hit, the Casaya alliance voted out two challenge threats over her. She was voted out at the final eight after Terry won immunity and didn't give her the Hidden Immunity Idol (which at the time worked like the Tyler Perry Idol).
  • Rocky in Fiji, disliked by his tribe but was kept around because they needed to win challenges, picking him over the more easily-swayed Anthony. Finally, with the merge around the corner, Ravu decided they had enough and sent him out.
  • Courtney and Denise did not make many strategic plays in China, yet both made it to the final four with no votes cast against them. (Courtney finished in second because Amanda goofed up at the Final Tribal Council.)
  • 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 initially 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 largely because of various players making dumb moves (Tyson voting against Parvati when he was supposed to vote for Hantz, J.T. giving him the idol and Candice flipping on the Heroes).
  • 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.
  • Sarita in Redemption Island managed to avoid elimination because Stephenie and Krista were less loyal to the Zapateras despite both being physically stronger.
    • Phillip had literally the most votes cast for anyone with 17 note . Contestants constantly thought he was going to be the first to go out of the Ometepe six, and were surprised to see themselves voted out instead.
    • Natalie, who seemed lazy and just sat around 90% of the game. Both Phillip and Natalie found themselves in the final three, effectively handing Rob a million dollars.
  • 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.
  • One World brings us Christina and Tarzan. Both of them were constantly considered for elimination for being seen as weak. Tarzan outlasted everyone on his tribe and finishes sixth. Christina Cha makes it to the final four - and even pulls a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass moment when she nearly beats Kim in the Final Immunity Challenge.
    • Troyzan knew that he was going to be targeted by everyone else, so his strategy was to win every single challenge from then on out. He was savvy enough to know that, but not savvy enough to know that strategy outright relies on you being able to win every single challenge.
  • Jonathan Penner in Philippines, who survived two Tribal Councils in a row where the entire tribe was targeting him, giving him the time he needed to sweet talk himself back into the game.
    • 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.
  • Malcolm Freberg in the first two seasons he played in. In Philippines, was targeted by Lisa three times, all but the last failed. In Caramoan, he's one of the biggest physical threats and forms his own alliance (which is outnumbered by the main alliance, however, he does manage to take out the leader of said alliance) and avoids eliminations on two separate occasions by using an idol. Though to be fair, the guy is really good at this game.
  • 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 poor challenge performance, she survived until episode four due to Garrett targeting David for deeming him the weakest. Then Garrett was blindsided for rubbing the tribe up the wrong way with his "no strategy lockdown".
    • Spencer. He is on the bottom pretty much the entire game before the tribe swap, only been in a power position for one round, he gets betrayed by Kass thrice at the merge, outnumbered 5-2 by the final seven. Yet he finished fourth, losing an immunity challenge to Kass in the finale.
    • Kass. She flipped on her alliance when she had the easiest numbers advantage at the merge, is on the bottom of her alliance, started on a tribe that never won immunity and she's only won one individual immunity challenge, where she miraculously pulls an amazing comeback despite being in dead last thanks to urging from her husband. Not to mention she's pissed off every single member of the jury that she had a hand in voting out, yet she's still around until the final three.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • CeCe in Millennials vs. Gen X received votes in the first three tribals she attended, was one vote away from being sent home twice, and managed to outlast nearly one-third of her tribe and survive until the swap.
    • Like CeCe above, Adam received votes at most of the Tribal Councils he attended, was ousted for having an advantage and was thought to have helped Taylor and Jay hide food, as well as nearly being sent home with no votes due to drawing rocks, and yet he made it all the way to the end and won unanimously.
    • Zeke is on the same boat as Adam and CeCe. He was on the bottom and a swing vote (which if you know Survivor, there's plenty of instances where people think to target the swing vote over their arch-rival to prevent them from flipping). Zeke also heavily antagonised David with Bret about his neurotic behavior and was easily the most bitter remaining Millennial after the final ten with the possible exception of Jay. Had David played his idol for Hannah instead of Ken (who was in no danger that night), Zeke would have gone home and David's alliance would have had the majority. So it's amazing it took this long for people to even consider voting for him.
    • Similar to Chet above, David feared he'd be voted out early due to being seen as a strategic threat and physically weaker than other male castaways, and he always seemed to get by even after getting a few votes thrown his way. In the late game stages, Ken and Hannah constantly kept him in the game despite him being the biggest threat to win thanks to the former being David's closest ally and the latter not wanting to upset Ken. It took until the final four for them to finally get their heads together and vote him out.
    • Jay can also be viewed as this. Come the merge, he only has three allies putting him in the minority. While he regains numbers at the final ten, he loses them at the next Tribal Council thanks to Will flipping on Jay's alliance and voting out Zeke. After Zeke was voted out, Jay wins immunity at the final eight and plays an idol at the final seven, making him immune from those votes. By that point, he survived so many Tribal Councils despite being in the minority alliance for a lot of them, so when he had no Immunity Necklace nor idol at the final six, he was finally voted out.
  • 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.
  • Joe Mena in Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, to an almost comic degree. Despite being a huge troublemaker who is widely disliked by everyone, he was kept around despite everything. This is even stranger because Joe is a genuinely dangerous strategic force with a remarkable ability to turn the tables. However, Joe mellows into Laughably Evil about 5/8 of the way in and Villain Decay sets in fast. He got tricked by Devon into letting himself get comfortable and that was all she wrote. But at least he became halfway likable.
    • 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.
    • Chrissy Hofbeck has become the subject of RAGE to many fans for being extremely mean-spirited, a "Stop Having Fun" Guys player to the max, a person who saved almost nobody in peril (she finishes them off most of the time or draws attention to other players just get the target off her) and directing the eliminations of nearly all the Healers, removing three likable female players (Katrina, Roark, and Jessica), and siding with self-admitting weasel Ryan. Each one of the three aforementioned eliminations was a situation where her name was up for the chopping block and she nearly went home. Other times where she would have been a target, she won Individual Immunity. She won it four times, to be exact, tying the record for most wins by a female with three others out of 258 females at the time, a feat which is no joke considering she was 46 at the time of the competition. And each time, Ben targeted her and would have sent her out of the game if she hadn't won immunity. She was vindicated by her sympathetic side and the fact she made it to the final three as the second place runner-up, always tailing right behind Ben.
  • Michael in Ghost Island. After two tribal swaps, he is constantly on the minority alliance and he would have been voted out at the final twelve if he didn't play his idol. He was finally voted out at the final nine despite Kellyn's best efforts to screw that up (see below).
    • Kellyn also deserves special mention as she manages to be a Horrible Judge of Character on the show. Around Desiree's boot episode, Desiree was plotting to get rid of Kellyn, which may have succeeded if Laurel did not tell Domenick. However, when Domenick told Kellyn this information, the latter ended up believing that Domenick was just acting paranoid and fully believes that Desiree was with them. It also should be noted that the following episode had Michael lying to her about him having an idol in which Kellyn bought that lie hook-line-and-sinker despite how Domenick told her to not believe it, and Michael didn't even show her the idol he claimed to have. This had her wasting her extra vote on Laurel (a close ally of Domenick and Wendell), causing Wendell and Domenick to consider voting for Kellyn soon afterwards. She makes it all the way to the final seven.
    • 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.
    • As mentioned above, Laurel is considered to be an idiot for constantly helping keep Domenick and Wendell in the game even when she knows she can't beat them in the end. Despite this, she constantly escaped elimination, and when she was brought to the final three, she became a goat at the end.
    • Angela was perceived for doing almost nothing the whole season and yet became the final member of the jury. If she won the fire-making challenge at the end, it is very likely that she would have received zero votes at the end.
  • 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 what was 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 was 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 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
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