Not all Survivor eliminations are the same. Personally, I always feel bad for folks who get voted out just before a tribe swap or a merge because those are the points at which everything can change. All it takes is for Jeff Probst to utter those magic words — “Drop your buffs” — and you can have an entirely new lease on life.
Similarly, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Dan Rengering, who had his torch snuffed on last week’s pre-Thanksgiving episode of Survivor: David vs. Goliath. No, the SWAT cop wasn’t voted out right before a swap or merge, but his exit seemed almost crueler in a way, because it was due to a twist he had no way of knowing even existed.
Yes, Dan became the first victim of the Idol Nullifier, a new power unleashed this season that gave its owner the right to nullify a hidden immunity idol, as long as the owner played it on the right person at the right time. And that’s exactly what Carl did, using the Nullifier to render Dan’s idol useless and send Dan out of the game.
Host Jeff Probst gave us an in-depth account of how the wild scene unfolded in our episode Q&A, but there have been some questions about what would have happened had Dan still had his second idol and tried to play it after having the first one nullified. Remember, Dan actually had two idols and used one at the previous Tribal Council under duress to save an alliance member he didn’t even particularly feel like saving in Angelina. What if he had not used it then? Could he have then used it after his first idol was nullified?
Fans have been debating that point ever since, and even the Nullified Dan didn’t seem to know the answer when we spoke to him about it, believing that to have any chance of that strategy working, he would have had to play both idols at once before the Nullifier was used. To clear up the confusion, we reached out to Probst to get the final word. So, Jeff, if Dan still had his second idol, could he have played it after the first one was nullified and still been safe?
“You are correct, sir!” confirms Probst. “The Nullifier blocks the use of one specific idol played for one specific person. If Dan had a second idol, he could have played it, and barring another Nullifier with his name on it, he would have been safe. So that attempt to save Angelina by playing his first idol, thus maintaining the numbers advantage for the Goliaths, proves very expensive.”
Ooof. For Dan, who admitted to us he really didn’t want to play that first idol in the previous Tribal Council, that answer from Probst is sure to induce a few more sleepless nights about what could have been had he kept that idol in his pocket. (It also means Christian would have been eliminated instead with the next highest number of votes, with three, unless he then played his idol, in which case Angelina would have been voted out with two.)
As to Dan’s belief that he would have had to play both idols at once to escape nullification, Probst notes that “He certainly could do this, but there would be no need since he could wait and play it after a Nullifier was played. This is the great thing about the Nullifier: Its mere existence adds another layer of uncertainty to the game.”
It also adds another level of strategy and makes hoarding — and holding onto — idols that much more important moving forward because you may need a second one if your first is rendered powerless. There will presumably be no more Idol Nullifiers this week, but there will be back-to-back installments of Survivor as CBS presents a double dose of episodes Wednesday night.
For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.