On Survivor, the editors often misdirect during the episode so that the vote-out arrives as a shock to the viewers. Sometimes, the surprise lands. Other times, the audience sees it coming. On rare occasions, as with the legendary Roger Sexton in Amazon, the embattled Alecia Holden in Kaoh Rong and, most recently, the instantly quotable Reem Daly in Edge of Extinction, there is no audience suspense whatsoever as to who will be voted out. Generally, the lead-up to the climax of nearly every episode involves the tribe deciding between two or more targets as a way to keep things interesting until the very end. More often than not, fans can see the writing on the wall. There have been a few eliminations in Survivor history, however, that have come straight out of left field for those watching at home. Not to be confused with the Top 10 blindsides, these are the most shocking eliminations that fans never saw coming:
10. Paschal English, Marquesas
One of the three rock draw casualties to make this list, Paschal was a victim of the very first season that featured this type of tiebreaker. In the final four of Marquesas, the series' fourth season, Paschal was forced to pick a rock alongside fan-favorite Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien and eventual runner-up Neleh Dennis. The votes had been split 2-2 between Kathy and Neleh (Vecepia Towery, the soon-to-be winner, had the immunity necklace), and the rules at the time stated that everyone who was not immune had to draw rocks. When Paschal picked the purple rock, he literally fell out of his seat. Since this iconic moment, the fire-making challenge has become a staple of the final four and the final two has been replaced with the final three. One must wonder how it would have shaken out had today's regulations been in place and Vecepia had chosen who she wanted to accompany her to the final two while the other two battled it out with fire.
9. Brandon Hantz, Caramoan
It was no secret that Brandon Hantz was a ticking time bomb before his eventual exit, but it was the way in which he went out that was shocking. He couldn't even make it to tribal council or give his favorites tribe a chance to throw the challenge before he erupted on Phillip Sheppard. This scene was the nadir of one of the most disappointing pre-merges in Survivor history, and it ended with Jeff Probst giving Brandon a soothing massage to calm him down while his tribe emotionally voted him out unanimously while standing on their challenge mats. The "fans" tribe, who had endured a weak start to the season, were just relieved they didn't have to cut one of their own.
8. Sarah Lacina, Cagayan
Known for being one the wildest merge episodes of all time, Sarah was hardly on the elimination radar throughout most of the episode. The future Game Changers winner was a bystander at tribal council, as LJ McKanas and Tony Vlachos played idols on each other. The drama centered around whether Kass McQuillen would flip on her own alliance. She did, and Sarah was the collateral damage of the vote. Her early ouster helped her be less of a threat as she manipulated her way to the million-dollar prize in her next season.
7. Caleb Reynolds, Kaoh Rong
From the start, Kaoh Rong was billed as the season with the most medical evacuations ever. But even the previews couldn't have prepared viewers for the havoc this pre-merge reward challenge would wreak on the contestants. Caleb's elimination was shocking not only because he literally almost died, but also because he was one of three people to suffer from dehydration from the grueling challenge. With salt and pepper on the line, pushing himself to the edge of death probably wasn't wise for Caleb, but at least it provided some juicy entertainment for the audience.
6. Katie Collins, Blood vs. Water
Also known as the tribal council where Ciera Eastin flips on her alliance, Katie had not been brought up as a candidate to go home. When Ciera joined forces with fellow first-timers Hayden Moss and Katie, leaving Tyson Apostol's crew behind, the lines were etched 3-3. Twenty-seven seasons in, Survivor faced only its second rock draw. Not only did Katie wind up going home despite not being voted against; she was officially taken out of the game by losing to her mom, Tina, on redemption island.
5. Malcolm Freberg, Game Changers
If you're a Survivor fan, you remember where you were the night Malcolm was screwed. After coming so close in Philippines and falling short in Caramoan, Malcolm was a sexy winner pick in Game Changers. He appeared to be playing a solid game until the twist that ruined everything. When Jeff announced that the two losing tribes of the immunity challenge would both be attending tribal council, together, anything seemed possible. The tribal itself was a game-changer, as it was the first time players got up out of their seats to discuss the vote. The name "Malcolm" never came up to us watching at home until Jeff read the votes, painfully, over and over again. Malcolm said he felt sick as it happened, and many of us shared in his anguish.
4. Jessica Lewis, Millennials vs. Gen X
Though it was the third rock draw in Survivor, this one was the craziest because of how many contestants remained in the game. At the final 10, Jessica found herself involved in a 5-5 deadlock, with neither side willing to budge. Considering these alliances crumbled as soon as the next vote, it's somewhat odd how many people gladly left their fate up to rocks. Nonetheless, it created one of the most unforgettable endings to any tribal council, the unfurling of rock-clasping hands like a slow dagger for Lewis, who was sent home much earlier than she likely would have had fate not played a role. Today, she spends her free time podcasting about why each Survivor lost the game. Sadly, in her case, there is no easy explanation.
3. Gretchen Cordy, Borneo
There has never been a tribal council like the merge in the first season and there will never be one like it again. Back then, the word "alliance" was still taboo for at least half the field and it was never more apparent than during Gretchen's exit. Seven people received votes, but Gretchen was the only person to garner more than one. The eventual final four all wrote down her name, a now-obvious sign that planning with others on who to vote for before tribal is actually a sound strategy (Who knew?). Needless to say, it was anyone's guess who the first one to go at the merge would be. After Gretchen went home, it set the stage for the former Tagis to Pagong the Pagongs.
2. Ian Rosenberger, Palau
Palau felt like Tom Westman's game to lose all along, but it was still surprising when Ian, after 11 hours and 55 minutes hanging on a pole in the final immunity challenge, decided to step down and make a deal with Tom to take Katie Gallagher to the final two instead of him. Of all the Survivor quits – and it's certainly a debate whether this one qualifies — Ian's move was the most shocking because he essentially had a chance to plead his case to the jury and essentially jumped off the mountain right as he approached its peak. He never returned to play again, but the moment he dove into the water to preserve his friendship with Tom remains seared into the minds of lifelong Survivor watchers.
1. Erik Reichenbach, Micronesia
All the suggestive editing in the world wouldn't have swayed fans into thinking that Erik would give up individual immunity at the final five. He was so clearly on the outs that he'd have to be a fool to do anything but keep that necklace. But alas, the women's alliance played him like an orchestra, and he became widely known as the dumbest Survivor in the game's history immediately afterwards. When Survivor fans close their eyes and think of the most memorable scene in the show's 39-plus seasons, this one is most likely to surface first.
Survivor: Island of the Idols airs Wednesdays at 8 pm on CBS.