Something is happening on Survivor. Something, I mean, beyond the terrifyingly ginormous statues of Boston Rob and Sandra Diaz-Twine clearly intended to give Island of the Idols contestants like Tommy Sheehan nightmares. And that something is this: Women are no longer winning the game.
A quick look at the numbers shows that a gender gap has definitely emerged on Survivor. And while battles are currently being waged to ensure gender parity in a variety of areas in our society, the disparity on Survivor (which producers like to consider a microcosm of society itself) is only getting larger. It didn’t used to always be that way, though.
In terms of winner distribution, the show’s first 25 seasons could not have been any more even, with 13 men and 12 women taking home the million-dollar prize. But then, something changed. Ten of the last 13 seasons — including each of the last four — have been won by men. Here is the list:
Survivor: Caramoan winner — John Cochran
Survivor: Blood vs. Water winner — Tyson Apostol
Survivor: Cagayan winner — Tony Vlachos
Survivor: San Juan del Sur winner — Natalie Anderson
Survivor: World Apart winner — Mike Holloway
Survivor: Cambodia winner — Jeremy Collins
Survivor: Kaoh Rong winner – Michele Fitzgerald
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X winner – Adam Klein
Survivor: Game Changers winner – Sarah Lacina
Survivor: Heroes v. Healer v. Hustlers winner – Ben Driebergen
Survivor: Ghost Island winner – Wendell Holland
Survivor: David vs. Goliath winner – Nick Wilson
Survivor: Edge of Extinction winner – Chris Underwood
There have been many theories as to why males have dominated the winner’s circle in the last seven years of the show. Hidden immunity idols play a major role in how far people get and how they are judged at the final Tribal Council, and men have found way more of them than their female counterparts have. There have many theories floated as to why this is, and several female former players have chimed in saying that life around tribe camps often mirrors society in that the men often fall into the gender stereotypes and become the gatherers (making it easier for them to also search for idols), while the women are expected to stay back and tend to camp (thereby losing opportunities to procure idols) .
Vince Moua, who was eliminated on last week’s episode of Island of the Idols, referenced this very thing taking place on the Lairo tribe when I spoke with him last week. “The first day that we got onto the beach and we are going to make the shelter — one of the first things that Aaron did was, he started dictating and saying, ‘Okay, the guys are all gonna go gather stuff and the women are gonna stay here and you can prepare this and that,’” said Vince. “And I cut it immediately and said, ‘Nah, like the women can go get the things that they want to gather. Ladies, if you want to gather things, go for it. There’s no need for us to put the gender expectations on people, and the guys can also stay here and clean.’”
The topic of gender disparity in found immunity idols has even made it onto the show itself, with Angelina Keeley and Alison Raybould talking openly in David vs. Goliath about wanting to reverse the trend, and Angelina doing exactly that. Thankfully, more women have been finding more idols since then. Lauren O’Connell, Aubry Bracco, and Kelley Wentworth all found them last season, and Chelsea Walker discovered one in last week’s episode at Lairo’s beach while, yes, out collecting firewood. But when will those idol finds start translating to wins?
There is also the feeling among many viewers (and former players) that men are rewarded by both tribemates and juries for playing aggressively, while women are punished for the exact same behavior. If you look at the numbers, there is no question that male players have received a disproportionate amount of the jury votes. Thirty-eight people have made the final three (or final two in the case of Survivor: Cagayan) in the past 13 seasons. Twenty-two of them have been men, while 16 have been women.
But the gender gap in terms of jury votes awarded to male and female players is even greater. Of the 120 jury votes that have been cast (and this includes Laurel’s tie-breaker vote) at a final Tribal Council over the past 13 seasons, 94 have been for male finalists and only 26 for women. So while men make up 58% of the finalists from Survivor: Caramoan until now, they have received a staggering 78% of the jury votes. And while women have made up 42% of the finalists from that same period, they have received only a meager 22% of the votes.
And the discrepancy is only getting worse. Not only have men won the last four seasons, but each season has featured two male finalists and only one female. The starkest example is how the jury voted in those four seasons. Including Laurel’s tiebreaker vote, 40 final votes have been cast for a man to win, while only two have gone to women. Again, 40-2. Chrissy Hofbeck (who finished her season by winning the last three individual immunity competitions) received both of those votes, while Laurel Johnson, Angelina Keeley, and Julie Rosenberg were all shut-out with zero.
All of which makes what is happening so far on Island of the Idols that much more refreshing. Not only have most of the breakout characters been women, but it is the women on both beaches that have been making the power moves in the game. “The tribe is being run by the women and the guys don’t even realize it yet,” said Chelsea in last week’s episode. The guys may not realize it yet, but viewers do. It was the women who came together to oust Ronnie, and all we have seen since then on the Lairo tribe is folks like Missy, Elizabeth, Elaine, and Chelsea calling the shots and finding idols.
Meanwhile, over on the Vokai beach, it was Lauren who flipped the script in the biggest move of the game so far to upend everything and take out the person who was seen as the biggest threat in the tribe. And who was that? Another woman in Molly. And Kellee won herself an idol for passing Boston Rob and Sandra’s memory test, putting her into a good position as well.
And with all the talk about the necessity of male strength for challenges, it was two women — Elizabeth and 59-year-old Janet — who tore through the water last week on the longest swimming leg we have seen on Survivor in years. (Yes, Janet had trouble retrieving the key after, but that swim was seriously impressive and she had every right to be winded. And remember, we’ve seen just as many men have trouble diving. Remember James Lim on Ghost Island?)
There’s really no doubt about it: Island of the Idols has been all about the women so far. But the question remains: Will one of them finally be rewarded for their efforts?
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
- Vince Moua of Survivor reveals what he told tribe about Island of the Idols
- Survivor host Jeff Probst on the show’s most diverse cast in years