Escape mutant (EM) virus that evades CD8+ T cell recognition is frequently observed following infection with HIV-1 or SIV. This EM virus is often less replicatively “fit” compared to wild-type (WT) virus, as demonstrated by reversion to WT upon transmission of HIV to a naive host and the association of EM virus with lower viral load in vivo in HIV-1 infection. The rate and timing of reversion is, however, highly variable. We quantified reversion to WT of a series of SIV and SHIV viruses containing minor amounts of WT virus in pigtail macaques using a sensitive PCR assay. Infection with mixes of EM and WT virus containing > or =10% WT virus results in immediate and rapid outgrowth of WT virus at SIV Gag CD8 T cell epitopes within 7 days of infection of pigtail macaques with SHIV or SIV. In contrast, infection with biologically passaged SHIV(mn229) viruses with much smaller proportions of WT sequence, or a molecular clone of pure EM SIV(mac239), demonstrated a delayed or slow pattern of reversion. WT virus was not detectable until > or =8 days after inoculation and took > or =8 weeks to become the dominant quasispecies. A delayed pattern of reversion was associated with significantly lower viral loads. The diversity of the infecting inoculum determines the timing of reversion to WT virus, which in turn predicts the outcome of infection. The delay in reversion of fitness-reducing CD8 T cell escape mutations in some scenarios suggests opportunities to reduce the pathogenicity of HIV during very early infection.