Former Survivor Players Aren’t Happy With Producers Over Fake Idols, And I Agree With Them

survivor's jeff probst
(Image credit: CBS)

We’re only three episodes into Survivor 44, and there has been no shortage of things to talk about. From all the medical issues to the vibrant personalities to three women walking out the door first, Survivor Twitter has been abuzz with hot takes, but I’d like to talk about one that’s been flying under the radar at least comparatively: fake idols. This season, producers have essentially handed some castaways a ready made fake idol, and the potential long-term repercussions of that are already worrying some former contestants... and also me.

Let’s back up real quick and outline what’s going on before we get into the reaction and the possible implications. This season, each of the three tribes had a locked birdcage placed near their camp. In it was a hanging bag with unknown contents. Well, as individual players have found the keys, we’ve discovered the bag contained a real Immunity Idol and a separate keepsake made by production with no value. Players were told they could do whatever they wanted with it, but the obvious implication is producers were hoping contestants would make a fake idol, which is exactly what Danny did, tricking Matt into thinking he found an idol.

Now, fake idols are not a new phenomenon on Survivor. Players sometimes make them to trick other people into using advantages, to deflect suspicion or to trap a player they don’t like. But those previous examples felt like individual players going rogue and trying something. In fact, Matthew, aka Plant Daddy, did exactly that to poor Jaime when he made one earlier this season, but there’s something that feels very different about the one Matt found, which contained an authentic note and was made by producers. How could he possibly know it was fake? 

That’s essentially what some former contestants were saying last night during the episode. Popular ex-castaway Stephen Fishbach said the origins of the fake idol “rub” him “slightly the wrong way.” Here’s a look at his tweet…

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And he’s not the only one who thought it. Former contestant Zach Wurtenberger also wasn’t happy and talked about how it feels like producers engineered the entire thing to make certain cast members look stupid, when it’s exactly what they planned the entire time. If someone finds a real note with an idol that looks legitimate, why would they be foolish for thinking it was legitimate? Isn’t that what every player would naturally think?

He focused on the way the show presented the whole thing to us and the tone it took. Here’s a look at his tweet…

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I like that Survivor is an ever-evolving game (even if some of the twists they try are objectively horrible). You have to experiment in order to find the next great thing, and as much as I love Survivor 1, I’m not interested in going all the way back to that era. But the producers have to create a game that rewards good play. Yes, there will always be elements of luck involved. The best player rarely wins, but finding an idol made by producers with a real note and assuming it’s an idol isn’t bad game play. It’s exactly how the show has taught people to think for more than a decade.

And let’s set aside the concern over individual cast members getting screwed this season. What are the long-term implications of no one ever being able to trust an idol they find? That is inevitably what is going to happen if this sorta thing keeps happening, and the result, in my opinion, is going to be idols are going to become less valuable. Players are going to be less confident playing them as part of a complicated tribal strategy (because they’ll always be doubting if they’re 100% real), and making a fake idol is just going to become the natural step two every single time someone finds an idol. 

Given some of the backlash and the implication we’ll likely see as this game unfolds, I don’t think it’s likely Survivor producers will make fake idols for players again on a future season, but there may be an opportunity to make a larger change here that has bigger implications. I’d like to see Survivor create a rule in which contestants must immediately destroy any notes they get from production, whether it be about idols, advantages or anything else. That would mean the player themselves would always know if what they had was real (provided they found it themselves), but the other contestants would always have some level of doubt since they could never see the notes for themselves. 

Regardless of whether they use my idea or not, Survivor producers need to take a hard look at fake idols after this season. That doesn't mean they should always listen to former players or even fans who complain about a certain change, but when those complaints point out a very real concern that creates an unfair playing field, they need to go back to the drawing board.

Mack Rawden
Editor In Chief

Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.