Survivor’s Mystery Tiebreakers – Speculation on Production’s Biggest Secret (Part 1)

Anthony Bertollo, Staff Writer

Since May 31, 2000, the CBS reality TV phenomenon Survivor has been taking the world by storm with its intuitive game play, wild news making moments, social strategies, shocking blindsides, and a new batch of colorful casting choices with every season.

For 39 days, a group of 16/18/19/20 contestants (depending on the season), referred to as castaways, are marooned on an island divided into two/three/four teams, referred to as tribes, and compete for food rewards and safety while having to cope with the people around them and the harsh conditions of the island. Every three days, the tribe that loses the immunity challenge has to vote someone off and send them home.

After a certain amount of days, the tribes merge into one, and the individual game begins. During the merge, the castaways that are voted off and become members of the jury, who vote for the winner at the end of the season.

When only two/three castaways remain, they are questioned by the jury at the Final Tribal Council. After all is said and done, the jury votes for a winner out of the two/three left, and the person with the most votes is crowned the Sole Survivor.

In the case of a tied vote, the castaways vote again. If the tie isn’t broken at that point, the vote is considered deadlocked and the castaways will have an open discussion and must unanimously choose which of the tied castaways should go home. If a unanimous agreement can’t be reached, the tied castaways are immune and the non-tied castaways must draw rocks to determine who goes home. The castaway that draws the odd colored rock is then promptly sent packing. That is the protocol with a regular tied vote; however, that can’t be said for the Final Tribal Council.

For the first twelve seasons, the Final Tribal Council consisted of two finalists being questioned by a jury of seven, making a tie vote impossible. However, this format changed in season thirteen, Survivor: Cook Islands, when the Final Tribal Council consisted of three finalists being questioned by a jury of nine, making a tie vote possible. Although a tie vote didn’t occur in Survivor: Cook Islands, this new change in format left many fans asking, “What would happen if the vote was tied at Final Tribal?”

Throughout the years, the number of jury members frequently changed, as well as the number of finalists at Final Tribal Council, with the possibility of a tie mostly present, depending on the format being used. Part of the question was answered at the live reunion of the thirty-fourth season, Survivor: Game Changers, when host Jeff Probst revealed what would happen if two people tied in a final three.

When two finalists receive the same amount of jury votes, the lone finalist who isn’t included in the tie will cast the deciding vote between the two tied finalists, resulting in a winner. This rule would eventually be exercised two seasons later in Survivor: Ghost Island when Dominick Abbate and Wendell Holland each received the same amount of jury votes, leaving Laurel Johnson to cast the deciding vote between them, resulting in Wendell ultimately being crowned the Sole Survivor.

While it was great to finally get an answer to one of the biggest mysteries in Survivor history and see it play out, there’s still two pieces of the puzzle left unsolved: what would happen if all three finalists tied or what if there was a tie in the final two?