'Survivor' Showdown—What Occurs When the Winning Votes Tie?

Jamie Lerner - Author

Dec. 21 2023, Published 11:08 a.m. ET

Dee and Austin in 'Survivor 45'
Source: CBS

Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the finale of Survivor 45.

The Gist:

  • Survivor Season 45 saw a close Final Tribal Council, with Dee winning by just two votes, prompting speculation on what would happen in case of a tie.

  • In the event of a tie in Survivor, the third-place finalist serves as the tiebreaker, casting the decisive vote. We explore the different scenarios and the critical role of the tiebreaker.

  • Reflecting on Survivor history, Season 36 marked the only tie for the winner. The specifics of this tie highlight how tiebreakers have been instrumental in preventing three-way ties in subsequent seasons.

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Every Survivor fan knew Season 45 would end with a bang, but no one knew the vote would be quite as close as it was. Throughout the game, Dee and Austin dominated with the Reba Four alliance to make their way to the final three alongside Jake, the season’s Charlie Brown-esque underdog.

The Final Tribal Council was riveting—between Austin’s unexpected elocution of his strategy, Dee’s well-timed bomb, and the love for Jake, we didn’t think it could get any more exciting. However, when it came down to the final vote, Dee won by just two votes. If just one of the people who had voted for her voted for Austin instead, it would’ve been a tie! If that was the case, what would happen?

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Dee, Jake, Austin in 'Survivor 45'
Source: CBS

If ‘Survivor’ ends in a two-way tie, the third-place finalist places the winning vote.

It’s only happened once in Survivor history, but if there’s a tie, don't worry! The Survivor producers have a plan in place. Because the jury is made up of eight people, there are several possible outcomes. In the case of Season 45, there could have been four votes for Dee and four votes for Austin. If that were the case, Jake, who may have had no votes, would then have to go and place his vote for the winner.

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In fact, during the Survivor 45 after-show, Jake even revealed that after the final tribal council, he knew he wasn’t going to win, so he started contemplating who he’d vote for if it came down to that. No matter what, the math of the jury won’t allow a three-way tie. Another possibility would be a 3-3-2 vote, in which case, the two-vote finalist would still be the deciding vote for the winner.

Dee, Austin, Kellie, Julie in 'Survivor 45' Finale
Source: CBS
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Of course, if there’s a 4-2-2 final vote, the winner of Survivor is decided. Even still, the two runners-up ending in a tie would make a difference in the final earnings. While we know the winner of Survivor gets $1 million at the end, the runner-up also gets a decent monetary prize of $100,000. The third-place finisher gets $85,000. If the runner-up and third-place were to tie, we’re not sure if they would split the difference, both get $100,000, or both get $85,000.

There’s only been a tie for the winner one time in ‘Survivor’ history.

When Survivor began in 2000, there were only two finalists with an uneven number of jury members, so there was no way there could be a tie. But in Season 12, Survivor: Cook Islands, the format of three finalists began. However, there was a nine-person jury, so luckily there wasn’t a three-way tie. If there was, we’re not sure what would have happened.

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Dom and Wendell in 'Survivor'
Source: CBS

After that, the producers figured out that they had to make it impossible for there to be a three-way tie, so 7-person, 8-person, and 10-person juries have trumped the format since. In Season 36, Survivor: Ghost Island, Domenick Abbate and Wendell Holland tied for the win. They each got five votes from a 10-person jury, so Laurel, who was also in the Final Three placed her vote for the winner.

As a closer ally to Wendell than to Dom, Laurel sealed the deal for Wendell’s win. Both Dom and Wendell played excellent social, strategic, and physical games, so it really was a tossup. Perhaps the only thing worse than losing Survivor is losing by just one vote.

Luckily, that’s not what happened to Dee and Austin, although it was definitely close.

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