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 evening of Day 39, the Final Tribal Council will be held, in which the finalists are subjected to questioning by the jury, who 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 choose Sole Survivors that have credibly embodied the game's three-word motto:
Outwit: 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/management, the execution of blindsides, the use of Hidden Immunity Idols, advantages, or any other manifestation of guile, deception, or strategic command.
Outplay: 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.
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 the necessities of life. 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, and 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 of the rationale behind its decision, the jury in essence is deciding 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 in 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 $600,000.
Natalie White is the Sole Survivor who was eligible to be voted out the most times, with 14.
Eight winners have won without ever having a single vote cast against them: Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn, Brian Heidik, Sandra Diaz-Twine (in Pearl Islands), Tom Westman, J.T. Thomas, John Cochran, and Natalie Anderson.
Ben 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.