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In Review — Survivor


By — Joey Hudson

Photo curtesy — CBS

Survivor is a CBS reality TV competition that has been around since 2000 and has recently ended airing it’s 40th season of the show, the theme being a highly requested and anticipated one among fans of the show to have a cast of 20 previous winners throughout the seasons of the show. With Survivor: Heroes vs Villains and Survivor: Cagayan, two of the most popular seasons in the franchise being released onto Netflix, many are starting to experience watching the show for the first time. While the show has been around for 20 years, the complex concept of forcing strangers to live on an island together and having to survive while at the same time having to vote each other out in order to win the grand prize of $1 million still manages to have fans coming back every season. 

Survivor first premiered on May 31, 2000 with a total viewership of 15.51 million, the season being known as Survivor: Borneo. The show was the first of its kind that hasn’t been seen at all. It involved 16 ordinary people being separated into 2 tribes, or teams, and having to live together on a deserted beach or forest and having to build a life together in order to survive. This meant that the tribes would have to build their own shelter and find their own food and water source. The tribes would also compete against each other through challenges. If a tribe lost the challenge, they would be sent to Tribal Council, while the winning tribe would be immune from having to attend tribal. At Tribal Council, the tribe would have to decide to vote someone out, permanently eliminating them from the game. After a couple tribal councils, the two tribes would eventually merge together, starting the jury phase. If someone were to be voted out during the jury phase, that eliminated person would become a part of the jury, which would allow them to vote for one of the two people that managed to survive the tribal councils without being voted out. The person with the most votes from the jury would be declared the winner of the show and would be granted $1 million. In this case of Survivor: Borneo, Richard Hatch, a man from Rhode Island, managed to beat his opponent Kelly Wiglesworth at a vote of 4-3 by the jury. 

Over the course of the show, Survivor evolved in gameplay and strategy. The first few seasons, the jury usually awarded people that had the overall best social game, meaning that they had good connections with everyone and didn’t cause a lot of drama with others. In modern Survivor, the jury takes in all aspects of the game, which is Outwit (strategy), Outplay (physical), Outlast (social), with the majority of the time being the most well rounded player sitting at the finals being crowned the winner of the season. The show has also evolved with twists thrown at the castaways, the most iconic twist to the show being the introduction of hidden immunity idols in the 11th season of the show Survivor: Guatemala. A castaway can search around the camp or sometimes at the challenges to find an idol. If one were to find an idol, they could play it at Tribal Council before the votes are read and cancel any votes cast against them and the next person with the highest amount of votes would be voted off instead. The show also introduced other advantages such as the Legacy Advantage (Season 33), Fire Tokens (Season 40), Vote Stealer (Season 31), Juror Removal (Season 32), Idol Nullifier (Season 37), etc. 

In order to keep the show from being repetitive, Survivor originally would visit different parts of the world and film there. Now, the show mainly films in Fiji. Another way the show stays away from being repetitive is by doing themes or adding in twists that revolve around the theme of the show. An example would be Survivor: Redemption Island, the twist of the season being that eliminated players being given the chance to compete against each other for a spot back in the game. Similar to tribe challenges, the loser of the challenge would be eliminated permanently. A newer and more similar twist to Redemption Island would be Edge of Extinction, which would be the twist of the 38th season of the show. Eliminated players would be sent to another island known as Extinction Island, there, they would have 2 opportunities to reenter the game, one at the beginning of the merge, and one of the Final 5. Unlike Redemption Island, the losing players would be sent back to Extinction and await for the final challenge at the Final 5 that would allow them to reenter, if they were to lose there, they would then be a part of the jury and will not have a shot at winning. The show has done themes such as fans of the show being able to play against some of the show’s most favorite players (Seasons 16 & 26). Survivor: Heroes vs Villains brought back former players and split them into 2 tribes based on the type of gameplay they played in their other season(s). If one were to play a loyal game, they would be put on the Heroes tribe, and if one were to play a cutthroat game or were just rude to the other players from their season, they would be put on the Villains tribe. 

With the show being on the air for 20 years, the show has obviously faced it’s share of criticism. Some fans complain that the amount of advantages and twists on newer seasons of the show take away the social aspect of the game and allow players to get by with only advantages. Others complain about the repetitiveness of how the show only takes place in Fiji and no longer visits other parts of the world, which was a huge aspect of the show in its earlier years. Most recently, Survivor was criticized during its 39th season, Survivor: Island of the Idols for the way the producers handled sexual harassment from one of the players on the show to the women on the cast, as well as some of the other players on that season excusing the harassment and using the harassment as gameplay. Because of this, the show implemented strict rules involving sexual assault and harassment and forbidding sexual assault and harassment from being used as gameplay. 

Despite the critiques, the show continues to maintain a respectable amount of viewers. From introducing fans to some of the most memorable players of the show such as Boston Rob, Parvati Shallow, and Sandra Diez-Twine, bringing together a new group of players and including different themes, and bringing awareness to sensitive issues like social injustice, the show has kept fans engaged with the show and has made a lasting impact on reality TV competitions that will be hard to replace.

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