Jeff Pitman's Survivor 39: Island of the Idols recaps
Running the Survivor numbers: A how-to guide
By Jeff Pitman | Published: June 3, 2019
Survivor General data analysis

The dog that didn't bark until the finale

Survivor contestants often talk about "the numbers." Brad Culpepper famously did some Brad Math to demonstrate his mastery of this skillset in Blood vs. Water. The Wardog was not shy about his love of calculations in Edge of Extinction. Chrissy Hofbeck took her actual actuary skills all the way to a second-place finish in Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.

Over this past weekend, I added my own set of numbers to the mix: My voluminous piles of spreadsheets with episode-by-episode tracking of challenge wins, voting records, and the like from all 38 thus-far aired U.S. Survivor seasons, plus three international seasons. These, along with a master spreadsheet of the totals from all the U.S. seasons, plus another one tracking hidden immunity idols across all seasons, are now available for viewing and/or download here, as Google sheets. If you're unsure what the various abbreviations mean, please check the scoring glossary.

So ... cool story, bro, but what's in it for me?

The most generally useful and/or interesting sheet for the average Survivor fan will probably end up being the spreadsheet with the overall totals ("Total voting, challenge stats: S1-S38", a.k.a. "Leaderboard: S1-S38"). The "Single season" tab lists total overall stats from each contestant for each season, so you can search for the single-season leader in whatever category most interests you. Want to see who sat out the most challenges in a season? That's there (the "SO" column). Wonder who has finished in 3rd place in tribal/team challenges the most times? Yeah, you can even check that, in Column AO: "TrCh 3rd." (Dude, don't get excited: Nobody has yet cracked the magical "Twice in one season" threshold.)

There's also the "career" tab, that further tabulates these same stats for every contestant who has made more than one appearance. Who has attended the most Tribal Councils, lifetime? Won the most reward challenges? That's where you go for that. (Shockingly, the more times people appear, the higher their totals go. Who'da thunk it?)

I'll update this sheet (as necessary) after future seasons end, to maintain them.

So what's the point of the single-season spreadsheets? Mostly just for showing my work. The "Pre-table 1" and "Pre-table 2" sections on the "season totals" tab are active counting sections, which accumulate the various data used to calculate the overall SurvSc and SurvAv functions. Then those totals are copied and pasted into the "Final Totals, Sorted by SurvAv" section (and sorted), which then gets copied into the master, multi-season spreadsheet. So if, for example, you take issue with my counting duels and hero challenges as half of an individual challenge, feel free to download them all, re-score those challenges as you see fit, and recalculate.

My overall goal with all this is to encourage consumption and analysis of the data itself, and to get people to work with it on their own, in new and creative ways. Neither my SurvSc nor my SurvAv scores are wholly satisfying as overall performance scores on their own. I can't say that either really serves as a reliable predictor of future performance, as they were intended.

Baseball sabermetrics didn't end as soon as someone came up with OPS. Nor did it stop evolving when people realized the importance of BABIP or xFIP. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to come up with new ideas. Those new ideas are more rationally grounded when everyone is working with the same set of data. (Not that this precludes adding your own, different scoring categories!)

So take what's there, crunch the numbers differently, and look for your own relationships between the numbers and overall Survivor success. Could it be that sitting out challenges is the best predictor of returnee placement? Unlikely, but who can really know for sure without checking?

(Or just go through everything and tell me where I screwed something up, in the comments. Which I've almost certainly done somewhere.)

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes