Wednesday is here again which means today we wrap up another Survivor Oz Top Ten series! This week, Ozlet Colin Hilding concludes his series on Survivor twists. Last week, Colin bought you the Top Ten Failed Twists and this week, he brings you the polar opposite – the Top Ten Successful Twists in Survivor! Ten twists have already copped Colin’s wrath so which ten does he approve of the most? You’ll have to read on to find out and don’t forget to leave your thoughts below!
Survivor has been full of twists over the past thirteen years. As I went over last week, many of these twists never lived up to their potential, or were poorly received by the fans. Just as often there have been Survivor twists that exceeded fan, producer and critic expectations. Whether they were game changers, or simply a fresh concept that creates some entertainment, all of these twists can be considered successes in their respected seasons.
10. First Impressions – Tocantins
At the start of the game, both tribes were told that they needed to vote for one person who would not make the journey. Much to the tribe’s surprise, the two they thought they voted out, (Sandy for her age and Sierra for her illness), were actually still in the game. They were given a helicopter ride directly to camp instead of making the four hour hike like the rest of their tribe. This could have been enough of a twist to stir up some cheap drama; however there was still a larger part of the twist. When they arrived at camp, Sandy and Sierra were given a choice between looking for a Hidden Immunity Idol, which would protect them against their tribe’s original negative impression, or the opportunity to set up the camp, thereby redeeming them from the first impression. Sandy decided to look for the Idol whilst Sierra took the redemption. The twist worked in a way for Sandy, as she did survive her first vote, but the real story was Sierra, who somehow mounted one of the biggest comebacks in Survivor history. It can be said that there are only two guaranteed ways to be the first voted out. Either be too aggressive as a leader, or be sick and weak. Sierra had strap throat and an elevated temperature, and everyone on her tribe knew it before the game even began. Her decision to reverse the negative first impression may not have been possible without the first impression twist that saved her. While this may not have been a huge game changing twist, it was a subtle twist that played out better than expected.
9. Fake Merge – Thailand
When the tribes met and Jeff uttered the line, “two tribes will now live together on one beach”, nobody seemed to doubt that it was a Merge. Two tribes merging at equal numbers either results in a tie or someone flipping. Up until Thailand nobody had ever flipped before. For the audience it was clear that if anyone would flip, it would be Shii Ann. She went right to work making a deal with Chuay Gahn, and even made it clear to her original tribe. Of course nobody was more surprised than Shii Ann when Jeff announced at the challenge that he had never said the words “Merge” and that they were only two tribes living together. As often happens with Survivor, you couldn’t script a more appropriate outcome. Sook Jai lost, and Shii Ann paid for her actions. Even as a huge Shii Ann fan, I loved how this episode played out. Everything from Jeff’s delivery of his lines to the tribes’ collective reactions makes this episode television gold. While many to this day criticize Thailand for being too predictable with Chuay Gahn’s eventual domination, at the time of airing there was nothing predictable about how this all unfolded and the mystery of whether there would ever be an eventual Merge kept the show interesting for several more weeks. In my opinion that’s much better than the standard “Pagonging” that would have happened with a regular Merge.
8. Schoolyard Pick – Palau
Producers have done a good job over the years of planning and controlling elements of the game to make for good television. At the same time, some of the greatest Survivor seasons have come as a result of the control being given to the players. Palau is perfect example of this. The setup for Palau was that all twenty contestants were mixed for the first two days before being instructed to choose their own tribes in a schoolyard pick. While Thailand had used the two eldest members to select tribes and Amazon used the two youngest to shuffle, this was the first time that ownership of the tribes was on every person. The story that came out of Palau wasn’t a social story at all, but a season long storyline of the much older and less athletic Koror tribe dominated over the young, strong and fit tribe of Ulong. If you mention Palau to anyone, the first thing that comes to mind is the Koror domination and Ulong destruction, and this would have never happened had the producers chosen balanced tribes in advance. Last week the elimination of two players during this schoolyard pick made the top ten failed twists, but the tribe selection itself defined the season in a good way. Sometimes giving the players the power to shape the game is the best thing producers can do.
7. Kidnapping – China
Variations of the kidnapping twist briefly appeared in Pearl Islands, All-Stars, and Cook Islands, but it was always a onetime deal, with no major impact on the game. In China every single Reward Challenge would end in the winning tribe selecting a member of the losing tribe to join them at camp. This kidnapped player would also be given a note containing a clue to a Hidden Immunity Idol, which they had to give to someone on the winning tribe. This forced players to make deals and align with people on the other side. Pairing up the social aspect of the kidnapping with the sharing of knowledge on the Hidden Immunity Idol was a brilliant idea, because it added an extra layer to what could have been dull twist. As is often the case, the unpredictability of how this twist played out is why it worked so well. Watching the pre-merge episodes of China, specifically how Todd used this twist to his advantage, is like watching a person put together a very complicated puzzle in am unexpected way. If nothing else about the kidnapping twist had worked, the series of scenes where James is kidnapped, let in on a plan, the clue is shared, and the Idol is finally found is enough to land it on this list. One of the most exciting scenes in Survivor history, and only made possible by a well planned twist.
6. Mutiny – Cook Islands
The Mutiny was obviously a twist that producers had been toying with for many years. The idea presented was that any player could switch tribes voluntarily. It was actually offered all the way back in Thailand, and apparently again in Pearl Islands, but there were never any takers. It seems surprising considering how many seasons begin with a strong alliance dominating pre-merge, with a select few clearly on the outs. Why wouldn’t a loner with no allies take the opportunity to change tribes? What was most surprising in Cook Islands wasn’t that somebody acted on the Mutiny, or even that two people did. What was surprising was that it wasn’t even someone who was a loner, or on the outs of their alliance. Both Candice and Penner were in a very solid position within their tribe and Aitu was arguably the stronger and more dominant tribe at that point. Candice’s reason for switching was obviously not related to any strategy, and just about getting back to her showmance with Adam. Penner on the other hand felt compelled to Mutiny only after Candice did, as he didn’t want to lose her as his biggest ally. While on the surface the actual mutineers put the nails in their own coffins by switching, the real success of the twist was in the storyline it set up for the remaining Aitu Four. The primary storyline of the entire season was the comeback the Aitu alliance managed to mount, as a result of this Mutiny that suddenly left them at an eight-four disadvantage. Another great result of a twist that played out much different from what producers thought.
5. Past votes tie-breaker – The Australian Outback
Last week I explained how the Purple Rock tie-breaker was both a success and a failure as a twist. This week I’ll tackle the tie-breaker twist that it replaced. Again a case could be made that it was both a success and failure. All the way back in the finale to Borneo, the first ever tie occurred, and the rules at the time stated that a re-vote would continue again and again until the tie was broken. To change things up in Australia, a new twist was presented in the event of a tie. Whoever has the most votes cast against them in previous Tribal Councils will be eliminated. Seeing as Tribal Council is the place where you are held responsible for your actions, and the parting line is always “the tribe has spoken” this tie-breaker is still the fairest and most relevant to the game. Putting those points aside, it also provided for the greatest level of drama. Each time there was a tie in Australian Outback and Africa it was a highly dramatic moment. This tie-breaking twist even dominated strategies in each episode it occurred in. Players not only had to hide their past votes if they could, they also had to pull out all the stops to discover who else had past votes cast against them. As great as these ties were, any future seasons after Africa would probably have become predictable and stale. The one thing that can never happen in Survivor is to let the game become predictable or easy to manipulate, much like is currently happening with vote splitting. As much as fans hate it, a new twist was needed to discourage ties. While the past vote rule did run its course and needed to go, it provided two seasons worth of unforgettable Tribal Council moments.
4. Hidden Immunity Idol – Guatemala
The Hidden Immunity Idol has been around for so long that many fans have grown tired of its use in every season. While I personally believe it still has a place in the game, I think the greater argument to make is how important and necessary it was in the earlier seasons. Sure… the rules of how and when to play an Idol definitely needed some work from Guatemala through to Cook Islands, but when and how to play it was not the point. Like most great twists, the point of the Hidden Immunity Idol was meant to prevent the game from becoming predictable. Whether an Idol is played or not, the threat of it being used keeps strategies constantly changing. A good twist comes down to several things; adding excitement to the game in the way it was created for, having a lasting effect throughout the season and providing entertaining scenes of television. Even in Guatemala alone the Hidden Immunity Idol accomplished all three. It added unpredictability to the game, possibly forcing the majority alliance to change their votes when it was played. It also had a lasting effect on the season when you consider that Judd was the one who had the clue, lied to everyone about it, and was caught in that lie by Gary. A large part of Judd’s overall storyline was his refusal to accept the fact that he lied during the game. Lastly it provided a great moment on the show when it was discovered. The spying on Judd, the search, and the mystery of whether or not it was found. It was a scene so good that we didn’t even need to see the discovery to feel the impact. While the use of the Idol has had its ups and downs, it was a game changing twist that has provided so many memorable moments over the years.
3. Unexpected Start – Pearl Islands
In all earlier seasons of Survivor, players knew exactly when the game was going to start, and they were at times very well equipped for the survival experience. Looking back on the early seasons, the one thing that awkwardly stands out is how prepared they could sometimes be. After six seasons, one thing that was desperately needed was a return to the survival aspect of the show. There was no better way to do this than how Pearl Islands began, with the players being thrown into the game without any warning. They would go only with the clothes on their back, which in most cases was not much. Women were stranded in dresses and no underwear. Men were stuck in designer suits. In reality, no stranded castaway is going to pack a change of clothes, a warm jacket, and a furry ear-flap-hat, (I’m looking at you Colby Donaldson). Pearl Islands offered a true survival scenario. As an added bonus, the tribes would not be provided with food and materials from the start. Each tribe was given a small amount of money to purchase supplies in a village. If they failed to get what they needed to survive, the blame was all on them. As I said with Palau, sometimes the best Survivor seasons come when producers avoid interference and let the players dictate their own game. The repercussions from the unexpected start continued far beyond the opening episode. This twist not only provided countless scenes of entertainment later on, but it helped Pearl Islands feel like something different and unique.
2. Tribe Switch – Africa
The first two seasons of Survivor developed a very clear and almost comfortably predictable format that was carried out from week to week. Africa shook that all up in a big way. What’s interesting to look back on is how comfortable the audience had become and how fooled they were at the episode five twist. When the teaser aired the week before, message boards were flooded with comments about how the teaser was probably just a desperate attempt to boost ratings. What nobody expected at the time was that the shake-up to come was the first of its kind to truly be a game changing event. Three members from each tribe were instructed to meet at their original starting location. Once there, Jeff Probst asked for their Buffs, and presented them with new Buffs for the opposing tribe. Not only did this change the entire game, but it sealed the fates of several players who had been coasting by on the already predictable rules. What played out over the next few episodes could not have been planned any better had it been scripted. More than a decade later, the Tribe Switch is the longest running twist in the history of the show. There are endless possibilities to how a Tribe Switch can impact the game. New alliances can be made, majorities can shift, or in the case of Africa, underdog players can be given new life in the game. Had it not been for the decision to try a Tribe Switch in Africa, it is entirely possible that Survivor would have fizzled out after only a handful of seasons. The Tribe Switch helped keep the show unpredictable and entertaining, and it continues to do so to this day.
1. Men vs. Women – The Amazon
Amazon featured the first ever clear division of tribes As far as twists go the concept of Men vs. Women turned out to be everything that a twist should be. Right off the bat, it provided the shock factor for the audience and contestants and unlike many other failed twists, the repercussions of this division continued throughout the entire game. Ultimately the biggest factor in this twist working came down to the casting choice. There’s no doubt about it, the sixteen contestants chosen for Amazon were picked with the twist in mind. You had a much higher concentration of young and single players, maximizing chances for flirtation and jealousy. There was Matt and Alex competing for Shawna’s affection. Then there was Rob Cesternino’s frustration over Heidi’s attention to Dave. This was clearly what the producers had in mind when casting the season. Even in the opening episodes, Jeff took every opportunity possible to bring up the opposite sex at Tribal. They wanted a mix to be on the players minds. By the time the men and women could interact in the Reward Challenge of episode three, it felt like we were watching a hilarious study of hormones in high schools. That’s not to say that the twist was one dimensional. Putting the youthful flirtation aside, you also had extreme the competitiveness of the older contestants. Rob summed it up best at the Merge when he said, “Roger thinks that women are stupid, and Deena thinks that women are better than men”. Plus, the Merge didn’t mean the battle of the sexes was over. In a lot of way, what happened post-merge was the most fascinating to watch. There were a lot of high school high antics from the younger people and a lot of intense power struggles from the older ones. As I covered last week, there are countless twists where the producers hoped for something to develop and nothing ever came of it. That was not the case with Amazon. The Survivor ‘Battle of the Sexes’ was everything they could have hoped for and more. Amazon is a prime example of how a good twist not only has to work in conception and planning, but also with the right players on screen to carry it out. This was the right concept, at the right time, with the right cast pushing it.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there ones that didn’t make the top 10 that you feel should’ve? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!