Survivor’s Back

Nakul Suresh, Contributor

Old enough to drive. Old enough to vote. Even old enough to drink. I’m not talking about your college roommate who just turned legal, but perhaps one of the greatest reality game shows to have existed on TV: Survivor.

Survivor is 21 years old and is on its 41st season. The program has certainly evolved from its early days as an adventure game for 16 marooned strangers. While the core purpose of outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting everyone in the game has not changed, several dimensions have been added to the game to keep it fresh for the players and viewers.

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, players are marooned in a remote location, only given basic materials like a pot or machete. They must make their own shelter and find their own food in the woods too. Furthermore, players compete in challenges every episode, where challenge wins can result in rewards or safety. Those unsafe are at risk of being voted out, having to navigate the social politics between players to stay in the game. If you’re playing Survivor, you better hope there isn’t a group of people conspiring to eliminate you.

We can normally expect a season of Survivor every fall and every spring. However, Survivor has not been on TV for the past year and a half due to the pandemic. There were complications with the local laws of the filming destination, restricting the ability to produce the show.

Fortunately, Jeff Probst, the host of the TV series, welcomed viewers back in a recent jam-packed premiere episode. He introduced the slew of changes and twists we can expect to see in this new era of Survivor.

The biggest change we can expect is the duration of the game. Survivor has traditionally been a 39-day game since its inception, apart from Survivor: Australia which was 42 days. However, this season will only be played for 26 days and it’s rumored next season will follow suit. This is likely due to contractual issues in the filming location due to the pandemic. But what are the implications of this change?

We can expect a much faster pace in terms of game play because the time between voting players out has reduced. Players will have to actively scramble to stay in the game more often, which could potentially lead to some intriguing strategy. As a huge Survivor fan, this was initially disappointing because Survivor being 39 days is iconic. But it’s grown on me, as the number of episodes to watch will likely stay the same.

In addition, this season is intended to be more physically and mentally grueling than past seasons, likely making up for the reduction in days. Players started out with less resources than normally given. Furthermore, losing a challenge doesn’t just mean having to vote someone out, it can also result in additional punishments.

Besides increasing the intensity of the physical and mental game, this season will likely expand on the trend of recent seasons to include several advantages in the game. Therefore, we can expect to see the players find or win advantages that could heavily impact the outcome of the game. I hope these advantages are less luck based and last shorter in the game. There have been questionable advantages in the past that guarantee players safety for long periods of time. It’s boring TV if you see players cruising through the game due to an advantage. Adversity is always more compelling!

A more subtle change in the game is incorporating current cultural values like “wokeness”. CBS reality game shows are now required to cast at least 50% BIPOC contestants, resulting in this season having the most diverse cast yet. This includes players who are LGBT as well; there’s a contestant who is a gay man married to his pregnant transgender husband! Jeff Probst seemed to have embraced the sociocultural shift as he asked the cast if it was alright to use his typical catchphrase before a challenge: “Come on in guys!” “Guys” might be interpreted as exclusively men to some. It’s going to be “Come on in” from now onwards.

Come on in guys!” “Guys” might be interpreted as exclusively men to some. It’s going to be “Come on in” from now onwards

While the wokeness might be perceived as a breath of fresh air to some and cringeworthy to others, I give this new era of Survivor the benefit of the doubt. If players have compelling story arcs and fascinating strategy, you have me sold. The pandemic has kept Survivor fans waiting for too long; I am so ready for what this season has to offer.