Surviving Modern Day Survivor (Part 1)

Aaron ConnTelevisionLeave a Comment

Jeff Probst

Surviving Survivor

survivor recapSurvivor was an instant hit when it debuted in the summer of 2000. The show took a group of Americans from all walks of life and stranded them on an island. For 39 days, they would have to adapt to their surroundings or face the chance of being voted off. The last person standing would be crowned Sole Survivor and given the prize of $1 million. It was such an intriguing concept for a TV show.

Now in 2018, Survivor is still going. While the show’s viewership isn’t anywhere near the numbers it pulled off back in the day, it’s still a fairly successful show. There’s bound to be change with any long running show, and when it comes to Survivor, this is certainly the case. The show is a completely different beast now, in various ways. While there are many people who do enjoy the current version of the show, there are those who now find Survivor almost unwatchable. What’s wrong with it? Is it worth saving?  If not, should it end?

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

Survivor Pearl Islands

Pearl Islands (Season 7) started with the contestants going into the game with the clothes on their back.

It should come as no surprise: Survivor is running out of ideas. However, Survivor is alreadyand by definition a repetitive format. The way they’ve been able to keep it fresh over the years is by changing the location with each season and adding new twists.

Since Heroes Vs. Villains, every season of the show now relies on a theme- which was not always the case with the earlier seasons. There were seasons with themes/twists such as men vs. women, the controversial race division in Cook Islands and the have-have nots twist in Fiji. Some of these ideas worked while others simply didn’t. Other seasons didn’t rely on a theme and just let the contestants and the location do the talking.

The themes for the most recent seasons of the show feel more like a gimmick. In fact, some of last few seasons are almost repeating note for note what another season did before. For example:

  • The show’s 33rd season, Millennials vs. Gen X, saw the tribes divided by generations. While some might see this as something new, it’s really just another season of young vs. old- which was the theme done in Season 21, Nicaragua.
    Survivor: Young vs Old

    Two different casts, same idea

  • This last season, Ghost Island, saw the addition of the titular “new” twist. It is there that a contestant will have to fend for themselves but also have a chance at finding an advantage in the game. Aside from the items featured in previous seasons being on the island, Ghost Island was nothing new and simply a repeat of the Exile Island twist.
    Survivor Exile and Ghost Island

    Left: Exile Island, Right: Ghost Island

Survivor Locations 2009-15

The four countries Survivor has traveled to from 2009-15.

Even though people may spot the repetition, host Jeff Probst will try his best to sell it as something new. As mentioned before, the show changing its location each season was one of the many things that kept fans watching. Starting with Samoa (Season 19) in 2009, the seasons started filming back-to-back in the same locations. From the production side of things, it made it easier to stay in one location for one year. While easier for production, this was a letdown for long time fans who enjoyed seeing new locations every season. This back-to-back deal would go on until 2015. In that time of 14 seasons and six years, Survivor filmed in only four different countries.   Since Millennials Vs Gen X, the show has been filming in Fiji. According to Probst and other sources, Fiji will likely be the show’s permanent location.

More strategy, less characters

The original cast of Survivor (2000)

The original idea of Survivor was to tell the story of sixteen Americans. From All Stars (Season 8) and onward, the show started to experiment with changing the number of the contestants. With the number of contestants increasing, it became harder for the editors to fit everyone in a single episode.

Survivor Erik and Natalie

Erik Reichbach giving his immunity to Natalie Bolton in Micronesia.

In these last few years, Survivor has been more devoted to showing us the strategic aspects of the game rather than focus on the people playing it. Looking back at the show’s history, fans can pinpoint Micronesia: Fans Vs Favorites (Season 16) as the season that started the show’s obsession with strategy. The season, which originally aired in 2008, featured many blindsides and made the victims look like idiots afterwards. The show now bases its story around the game and not around the people who are playing it.

Richard and Rudy

Richard and Rudy: the original Survivor duo

When the show was in its prime, a good majority of a Survivor episode was about the tribe dynamics and the survival aspects. One of the many things that people remember about Borneo is the friendship between contestants Richard Hatch and Rudy Boesch. Richard was an openly gay man and when he came out to his tribemates, this took Rudy by surprise. Rudy, a 71 year old retired Navy SEAL, thought that Richard was one of the nicest people he ever met. Outside of the game, Rudy didn’t have any friends like Richard. With that, on an island, a friendship was cemented.

Many other unique bonds  have formed in the game over the years.  Colby and Tina, Paschal and Neleh, Earl and Yau Man, JT and Stephen- just to name a few. While these unique bonds and alliances still exist in the newer seasons, it’s rare to see them play out on TV now. This last season, Ghost Island, didn’t really show us why people decided to align with each other. One of the most interesting things to note about Ghost Island cast is that after the show, there are two or three pairs of contestants from the season currently dating. In fact one of the couples, Sebastian and Jenna, are now living together. The season barely showed us anything of their bond.

Jenna and Sebastian

Okay- they at least showed this: Sebastian sniffing Jenna’s hair.

Contestants like Sebastian and Jenna aren’t alone when it comes to under edited contestants. Some players can go Survivor Chelsea for episodes without getting one confessional. For example, take contestant Chelsea Townsend- also from Ghost Island. Chelsea played a fairly good game: she won three individual immunity challenges and stayed in the game until the final 8. Chelsea was barely in the season despite playing a good game-  receiving only four confessionals in her twelve episodes. This is production’s way of telling the viewers that this person is not relevant to story being told. With there being a handful of non-relevant people per a season, it becomes more obvious as to who will win the season. At this point, this is no longer the story about a group of Americans. It’s all about the game.

Click here for Part 2.

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Aaron ConnSurviving Modern Day Survivor (Part 1)