In 2000, when 16 strangers were marooned on a beach in Borneo, TV changed forever. Survivor set the template for competitive reality TV shows that would follow it, while continuing to evolve over the past 20 years. Perhaps nothing has changed the game more than the introduction of the hidden immunity idol.
I was 11 when I saw Survivor for the first time. I was instantly hooked. At the time, what captivated me most were the show’s gorgeous locations and fantastic challenges—but over the years, I began to appreciate the strategic and social dynamics that tested contestants far more than the elements ever could.
Coincidentally, the first season I ever watched—Survivor: Guatemala—was also the first to introduce the hidden immunity idol, a life-saving token that made the game faster-paced, more cutthroat, and increasingly chaotic.
At the time I made this chart, 92 hidden immunity idols had been found on Survivor. Initially, my plan was to simply lay out how many idols had been found on each season of the show, illustrating how they became increasingly common over time. After looking through my notes, though, I realized another interesting pattern: All 92 idols had been played in one of four ways. I decided to color code my chart to add an extra layer of interest.
This is a niche infographic—it likely won’t make sense to people who don’t watch Survivor. But for fans, I believe it tells a compelling story: While idols have become increasingly common since they were introduced, the way that they’re played has been inconsistent from the beginning. As the show continues, it will be interesting to see if these trends remain consistent or not.