The Sole Survivor is the title held by the winner of the reality TV show Survivor, as determined by a plurality of votes from the jury. It is the task of the jury to award the title to the castaway it believes to have most thoroughly embodied the game's three-word slogan: "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast."
On the final evening of the game, the Final Tribal Council will be held in which the finalists are subjected to questioning by the jury. The jury may ask any questions or make any statements that they feel will help them make the best decision possible. As there is no objective definition of 'best' in this case, the methods by which castaways have won the game, and the reasons adopted by the jurors in voting for them, have varied widely throughout the history of the series.
Jury members are expected, however, to elect a winner that have credibly embodied the game's three-word motto: "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast."
Outwit: The social element; the ability to bring about one's desired strategic goals without sacrificing one's social standing or alienating other contestants emotionally. A strong candidate will remain respected while playing an efficacious game.
Outplay: The strategic element; the ability to outmaneuver other contestants and eliminate them in a manner conducive to one's own long-term success in the game. This component of the game may include alliance formation and management, execution of blindsides, use of Hidden Immunity Idols, advantages, or any other manifestation of guile, deception, or strategic command.
Outlast: The physical element; the ability to literally survive the harsh realities of the game, such as harsh weather, grueling challenges, and the overall deprivation of necessities and luxuries. It is expected that the Sole Survivor will have not only endured the physical difficulties of the game, but indeed will have borne them with enthusiasm and grace.
It should be noted that in the game of Survivor, likability and respect are not always fungible qualities. In some cases, the winner may have played a game strategically dominant enough to overcome the fact that other finalists were more likable. At other times, the opposite may be the case, where a more sociable player may win due to the quality of their character even in the presence of a more strategically "active" but socially inept competitor. It is up to the idiosyncratic interpretation of the jury to determine who has fulfilled all three elements of "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast," and it is up to each finalist to present a compelling argument in their own favor, emphasizing their strengths and eliding their weaknesses at the Final Tribal Council. Regardless the jury's reasoning behind their vote, they fundamentally choose which finalist they feel comfortable losing to.
The Sole Survivor receives a check of $1,000,000, to be received after the season finale. Earlier winners additionally received a car that is usually similar to the one given at the Reward Challenge where a car was also given, though this has been abandoned since Survivor: Cook Islands. The winner, and all contestants present at the live Reunion Show will also receive an extra $10,000 appearance fee, which immediately follows the finale broadcast. From Survivor: Panama to Survivor: Caramoan, the Sole Survivor was also eligible to win the Fan Favorite Award. All cash prizes are taxable at the U.S. rate of 35%, leaving the winner with $650,000.
To commemorate the series' 20th anniversary and 40th season, 20 of the 38 champions returned to compete in an all-winners season. Tony Vlachos emerged as the winner, becoming the series' second two-time winner, following Sandra Diaz-Twine, who also competed on this season.
Ten winners have won without ever having a single vote cast against them during their winning season: Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn, Brian Heidik, Sandra Diaz-Twine (in Pearl Islands), Tom Westman, J.T. Thomas, John Cochran, Natalie Anderson, Nick Wilson, and Tony Vlachos (in Winners at War).
Ben Driebergen has the most votes cast against any winner in a single season, with 11. This includes 9 votes that were negated by Hidden Immunity Idols.
Aras Baskauskas has the most non-negated elimination votes cast against a winner in a single season, with 9.
Natalie White has the most votes cast against any female winner in a single season, with 8. This includes 3 votes cast during a revote.
The most common decision for Sole Survivor by the jury is a 4-3 vote, occurring a total of 5 times. This count does not include the 4-3-0 Final Tribal Council of Survivor: Gabon.
Nine winners voted against the person who was ultimately eliminated at every Tribal Council they voted in: Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn, Brian Heidik, Amber Brkich, Yul Kwon, Todd Herzog, Parvati Shallow, Natalie White, and Tony Vlachos (in Cagayan).
Yul Kwon is the first Sole Survivor to have found a Hidden Immunity Idol.
Yul and Kim Spradlin are the only Sole Survivors to find a Hidden Immunity Idol and keep it until it expired.
Mike Holloway, Jeremy Collins, Ben Driebergen, and Chris Underwood are the only Sole Survivors to use a Hidden Immunity Idol successfully in their winning season. In addition, Sarah Lacina successfully used a Legacy Advantage to save herself.
Ben Driebergen has found and played the most Hidden Immunity Idols in a winning season, playing three idols in consecutive Tribal Councils. Two of the three were played successfully; the third was played before votes were cast.
Sarah Lacina and Nick Wilson are the only Sole Survivors to have used the Vote Steal.
In both "Fans vs. Favorites" seasons, a Favorite won.
While Tyson was never sent to Exile Island nor Redemption Island, Aras was sent to Exile Island twice in his first season and was voted out and sent to Redemption Island before being eliminated in his second season.
Yul Kwon, Parvati Shallow, Tyson Apostol, and Natalie Anderson are the only Sole Survivors who have competed with both Exile Island and the Edge of Extinction, with everyone but Tyson having been sent to both.
Tom Westman won the most challenges in a single season, with 17. Natalie Anderson and Michele Fitzgerald are tied with the most challenge wins for a female winner, with 13.
Tom Westman and Mike Holloway are tied with the most individual immunity wins out of any winner, with 5.
Jenna Morasca and Kim Spradlin are tied with the most individual immunity wins for a female winner, with 4.
Natalie White and Chris Underwood won the fewest challenges out of all Sole Survivors, with 3; in Natalie's case, none of them were from individual challenges.
Ten Sole Survivors have won without ever having won an individual Immunity Challenge: Tina Wesson, Sandra Diaz-Twine (both times), Yul Kwon, Earl Cole, Todd Herzog, Natalie White, Tony Vlachos (in Cagayan), Sarah Lacina, Ben Driebergen, and Tommy Sheehan.
Nine winners have won the game as returnees: Amber Brkich, Parvati Shallow, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Rob Mariano, John Cochran, Tyson Apostol, Jeremy Collins, Sarah Lacina, and Tony Vlachos.
All were second-timers, except Tyson (third time), Tony (third time), and Rob (fourth time).
Twenty-five Sole Survivors who have competed more than once have experienced being voted out, either prior to or after the season that each of them had won.
Voted out once: Richard Hatch, Tom Westman, Danni Boatwright, Aras Baskauskas, Yul Kwon, Sophie Clarke, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, Denise Stapley, John Cochran, Tony Vlachos, Natalie Anderson, Adam Klein, Ben Driebergen, Wendell Holland, and Nick Wilson.
Voted out twice: Ethan Zohn, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Amber Mariano, Parvati Shallow, J.T. Thomas, Jeremy Collins, and Sarah Lacina.
Voted out thrice: Tina Wesson* and Rob Mariano.
Voted out four times: Tyson Apostol*
Jenna Morasca and Michele Fitzgerald are the only Sole Survivors to play multiple times and never be voted out, as Jenna quit in Survivor: All-Stars and Michele made the Final Tribal Council in both her seasons.