Survivor’s Mystery Tiebreakers – Speculation on Production’s Biggest Secret (Part 2)

Anthony Bertollo, Staff Writer

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The hit CBS reality show Survivor has been changing the world of television ever since its debut on May 31, 2000. Throughout its run, viewers have seen some of the most shocking and thrilling television that has kept them on the edge of their seats and craving for more. Every season comes to a dramatic conclusion in the Final Tribal Council where the jury of eliminated players votes for the Sole Survivor out of two/three finalists. With Survivor reaching its 20th anniversary, one of the biggest mysteries in the show’s history has yet to be answered: what would happen if all three finalists received the same amount of jury votes and what if the same happened in Final Two.

A Three way tie in a Final 3: Although highly unlikely, a three way tie has been possible in nine seasons of the show. Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly interviewed long-running host Jeff Probst about the topic and demanded an answer to the unknown scenario. Despite Ross’s efforts, Probst cleverly avoided the question with a huge smile on his face. However, Probst did shed light on the topic by stating, “but I can tell you this, of course there’s a plan. I mean it’s a million dollar game…we have to have an out.” Despite the fact the Probst thinks that a three-way tie will never happen on Survivor, one can make an assumption on how it might play out.

Speculation: After the jury cast their votes at Final Tribal Council, Jeff Probst informed the three finalists that he would collect the votes. What many people don’t know is that there are three executive producers filming the Final Tribal Council from afar and are aware of the winner and how many votes each finalist has. When Probst arrives at the voting booth where the votes are kept in an urn, an executive producer will inform him that the votes are tied, like what happened on Survivor: Ghost Island. At that moment, Jeff returns to the finalists and announces that he will read the votes on location. Usually, the jury votes are read at the live reunion months after the season has finished filming, but in the case of a final three tie, they are read on location. Probst will read the votes, revealing a three-way tie. He then states that in order to break the tie, the three finalists will compete in a three-way fire making challenge. The first two finalists to make fire first will stay alive, while the losing finalist will join the jury and cast the tie breaking vote between the other two finalists. This method of breaking a tie like this ultimately works in the show’s favor as it’s not too complicated, while also sticking to the formula of the show, ending in a deciding vote.

A Tie in the Final 2: In the first twelve seasons of Survivor, the Final Tribal Council consisted of two finalists and a jury of seven, making a tie vote impossible. In recent years, the final two has been ditched in favor of a final three. However, there have been three seasons that utilized the final two format after the final three was introduced. Out of those three seasons, only one had the possibility of a final two tie, the eighteenth season, Survivor: Micronesia. Survivor: Micronesia featured a final two between Parvati Shallow and Amanda Kimmel and a jury of eight. In the end, Shallow ultimately defeated Kimmel in a 5-3 vote. At the beginning of the live reunion, Jeff Probst held up a white envelope that he claimed held the tie-breaker, but its contents weren’t revealed as no tie occurred. Although Probst has stated multiple times that he’ll take a final three over a final two any day, one could only wonder what the contents of that envelope could be.

Speculation: As with the previous tie, Probst was informed of the tie before collecting the votes. However, unlike a tie in the Final Three, the votes won’t be read on location. Starting with the second season of Survivor, every winner is revealed at the live reunion to avoid potential spoilers. A fire making challenge wouldn’t work for a final two tie because the winner would have to be revealed on location and there’s no third party to break the tie with a vote. Although it might sound like production is stuck in a rut, there is one extreme opinion that just might work.

At the season finale of Survivor: Heroes vs Villains (season 20), losing finalist Russell Hantz ranted about how he felt the game of Survivor was flawed and claimed that the public should have a percentage of the final jury vote. Probst criticized Hantz and stated, “This isn’t a game in which you include America; that’s a different game.” Maybe Probst is right about a regular jury vote. However, in an extreme case such as a final two tie, drastic times call for drastic measures. Although Hantz played way after Survivor: Micronesia, there’s no shot that he’s the first person to bring up America having a say in the game. Besides, international versions of Survivor have given the opportunity for the public to have a say in the Sole Survivor. The Filipino version of Survivor included a public jury vote, where the finalist with the highest percentage of the public vote would receive an extra jury vote. Although that public vote wasn’t a tiebreaker, it can be tweaked to be one. It’s also common for international versions of Survivor to borrow ideas from each other.

After Probst is informed about the final two tie, he won’t read them to the final two like he would a final three. Instead, after the Final Tribal Council is finished filming, the executive producers will sit down and discuss how a public tie breaking vote will work. A week before the season finale and live reunion airs, an announcement will be made about a public fan vote between the remaining castaways in the finale, which varies from 3 to 6 people. It would be played off like a simple fan favorite vote rather than a tiebreaker in order to keep things under wraps. The only public votes that will count towards the tie breaker are the votes between the two finalists that only production knows about. After a week, the voting closes and the finale airs. Eventually at the live reunion, the votes are read to the final two, revealing a tie. Probst then pulls out an envelope with the results of the fan vote, revealing it as the tiebreaker all along. 

In conclusion, we may never know how an actual tie breaker will play out in these scenarios. Remember that these are mere speculations that are far from perfect but still give insight on what it could be. At the end of the day, Survivor still offers so much more to the table that’s still worth tuning into and getting hooked on. However, whenever Final Tribal Council rolls around, always keep the thought of a tied vote in mind because anything can happen in a game like this.

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