Survivor has a secret plan for a final three-way tie

With nine-person juries and three finalists in recent seasons, Survivor has the possibility of ending with a three-way tie. Host and executive producer Jeff Probst says producers actually have a plan to resolve such a tie, but it is secret.

That’s what he told Xfinity’s Gordon Holmes, and although he said “I can’t tell you” what it is, Probst insisted, “It’s not even a big deal, but until we use it, we don’t want to give it away. We always have it, we are always ready for it. And I hope we get to use it.”

We’ve actually know that for a while, ever since I published the Survivor rule book: Normal ties are handled with a re-vote and, if that fails, random chance (see page 7 for a ridiculously complicated explanation of the procedure). The rules say that a final Tribal Council tie will be resolved by an unspecified method: “In the event of a deadlocked tie in final Tribal Council, the tie shall be resolved in a manner solely to be determined by Producer” (see page 8).

Two things that are interesting about that: First, the rules say “deadlocked tie,” which suggests they’d at least attempt a re-vote first in the event of a three-way tie. Second, Probst’s response to Holmes reveals that it’s something they’ve predetermined yet not chosen to reveal. Why is the stupid purple rock not secret, at least to the players, but the final tiebreaker is? Maybe it’s because it’s something really simple, like Probst just picking his favorite man.

Update: An anonymous commenter (only comments with real names appear on the site) notes that after Survivor Fans vs. Favorites in 2008, Amanda Kimmel said in an interview I linked to that a two-way tie would have been resolved by the contents of “a white envelope. I don’t know what was in it, but that was supposed to be the tie-breaker if there was one.” So clearly, we knew four years ago–two years before my publication of the rule book in 2010–that there was a mysterious tie-breaker. I regret the error, my forgetfulness, and my rush to give myself credit.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.