It’s halfway through the week, so treat yourself to another Survivor Oz Top Ten! After twenty-seven seasons, it’s only natural that Survivor has evolved through the years, with new twists, strategies and more bizarre characters coming with each season. However, Survivor fans often find themselves nostalgic for the good old days and missing some of the features of those early seasons that got us hooked on the show in the first place. This week, our favourite (and only) New Zealand Ozlet, Nick Chester, lists ten ‘old school’ aspects of Survivor that he thinks should make a comeback. Which features would you bring back, if any? Read on and leave your thoughts below.
At twenty-seven seasons in, there is no doubt Survivor has evolved and changed. Some things that used to be commonplace are now consigned to Survivor history. Other new twists and concepts have come along. The debate about whether ‘old school’ or modern seasons of Survivor are better is one that will rage on for some time to come yet. But there is plenty to love about the older seasons, and many great features have been lost in a desire to create a show more geared around strategy and drama, and made on a more affordable budget. But what are some of the things from older seasons of Survivor that should return?
10. Introduction Shots
For the first five seasons, audiences were introduced to the cast with an introductory shot of each player at home or in their work environment. This helped to set up who they were, what they did and gave everyone a chance to be seen. This hasn’t been used since Thailand, and is a real shame. It was cool to see these people in their home environment before being thrown into the game, and set the scene nicely for what was about to happen. Some current seasons might not give a player a confessional for many episodes, and you never really get a chance to see who they are. These opening introductions helped ensure people were known even if they weren’t playing a major role in the action.
9. Greater Use Of Location/Theme
One of the unfortunate impacts of Survivor shooting back to back is the loss of seasons with a distinctive location or theme. Early seasons worked hard to have the Tribal Council set, challenges, tribe names and music fit with the location, and tied to the indigenous people of that area, or in some cases like Pearl Island and Palau, a theme linked to the areas, such as pirates or the military history. This gave each season its own individual style. Sadly, this seems to be lost and it almost feels like current seasons could all have been filmed on the same island. The theme is reduced to tribe names and maybe some set decorations that fit with the location a bit, but challenges are now recycled from other seasons and usually revolve around bags of puzzle pieces or carnival type games. I’m not sure if this can really be remedied, with seasons being shot back to back and only four locations and three countries used to film the last eight seasons. This seems to be something we have to accept as the reality of cost cutting if we want to see Survivor stay on the air. Still, it’s a shame to see this aspect of the show slowly disappear.
8. Inland Location
Another issue with filming back to back seasons is that it seems to put an end to any location that isn’t a beach or island. Presumably this is because it makes the second season in that set harder to market. A generic beach is easier to set a ‘gimmick’ season on as you need no explanation of where you are, but a distinctive inland location is harder to explain. While I think most fans wouldn’t care in the slightest, it does cut down quite significantly on places Survivor can go for locations, and means we are likely to see the same scenery over and over again. It’s amazing what a different location can do to freshen things up and keep people interested. It’s also sad to think that we may never see another location as cool as China, Gabon or Guatemala again.
7. Camp Life/Social Interactions
Current Survivor is very much about set pieces – challenges and Tribal Council – with the stuff happening at camp really geared around these events. Discussions at camp are almost all about strategy now and light hearted moments where the viewer gets to know the players on a more personal level are rare. This is a shame as it’s not how it used to be. The first few seasons really built up the players and their characteristics, and looked very closely at the interpersonal dynamics that were happening within the tribe. Getting to know these people on a more personal level made their eventual fate in the game much more intriguing. Now, it is harder to invest in most players as we get only a very superficial look at who they are, for the sake of more time at challenges. Would the show be better if this was addressed? I believe so.
6. More Maroonings
Survivor would typically begin with tribes having to make a hike or paddle to shore to reach their camp. This immediately showed who leaders were, which players were physically strong, and where weaknesses were. It showed which personalities got on the nerves of others and allowed good players to sit back immediately and let others make mistakes. It’s also a chance to show that these players really have been thrown out into the wilderness to fend for themselves, making the experience more real. This has been all but lost in recent seasons, with One World and Philippines having to make at least some effort to get to their camps, but other than that, a full-on ‘hike to camp’ hasn’t occurred since Tocantins. Perhaps it’s not needed every season, and with returning players, it’s probably not as necessary as we already know who they are. But it would be good to see it used a little more frequently.
5. Less Jeff
Now, Jeff Probst is great and his increasing role in Survivor has been discussed and written about endlessly. I’ve always enjoyed what Jeff brings to the show and its hard to imagine the show without him. But a little bit less commentary in challenges and arguing with people at Tribal Council wouldn’t go amiss. Although watching challenges in earlier seasons is somewhat disarming when you don’t hear Jeff at all, his overenthusiastic commentary in recent seasons (“Boston Rob, literally carrying his family on his back!”) is just a bit too over the top and distracting. He also becomes less of an interviewer and more of a critic of players at Tribal Council, which starts to interfere with what is going on. I give Jeff full credit for his enthusiasm for the game, but I think less is more sometimes and a slightly more back to basics approach could work well for him.
4. Sixteen Contestants
When it comes to a Survivor cast, less is more is again an apt description. Sixteen is a good number for a cast. Eighteen means that unless you start men versus women, you have an uneven gender balance. And twenty is too many, meaning some people get pushed to the side during the edit. Seasons with sixteen people have tended to be more evenly edited, with many people getting to be seen instead of seasons with twenty people that by necessity have to exclude people from being shown just because of time. Early episodes can feel rushed in an effort to show everyone, but this doesn’t tend to be the case when the cast has only sixteen people in it. Tocantins is an example of how sixteen people can work well. Even with Coach getting such a lot of screen time, almost all the other characters had plenty of time in front of the camera too. I’m not saying that having only sixteen people is the sole reason for this, but it has to be a contributing factor. It also saves the need to have double elimination episodes and rapid-fire vote offs, which sound great but actually aren’t all that interesting.
3. Fallen Comrades Challenge
The first four seasons of Survivor featured a challenge that quizzed players on what they knew about the players they had voted out. This was done in front of the Jury and was a unique challenge in that it tested the players’ social skills, where most other challenges test physical and mental skills. Unfortunately, it wasn’t used again after Marquesas because production used an incorrect answer in Africa, which may have changed the outcome of the challenge and the season. Then Vecepia brought a notebook as her luxury item and used it to write down everything she knew about other players, anticipating that such a challenge might occur. There is no reason that producers couldn’t use such a challenge again, ensuring to ask questions with very clear answers and just making sure no one has the ability to take notes during the game. The challenge itself reveals a great amount about who understands the social side of Survivor, and could help or hurt people in front of a Jury.
2. Final Endurance Challenges
Survivor’s Final Immunity Challenge was traditionally an endurance-based event that simply asked the remaining players how much they wanted to make it to the end. They had to stand/hold something for a prolonged period of time and prove their willpower was greater than the others. This was after thirty-eight days of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion and was the final test in an ultimate game. Sadly, this element has become lost in current seasons. The last Final Immunity Challenge that was truly about willpower was Palau. Since then, endurance challenges have been run in stages of increasing difficulty, presumably designed to avoid the lengthy drawn out challenge seen in that season. Players had to start removing sections of a perch they were standing on, or increase the angle of perches in order to end the challenge more quickly. Then came challenges where players had to stack a higher number of items on each other, making the challenge more about balance than willpower. Lately, final challenges have devolved into running a maze or completing a puzzle. The epic nature of holding on for dear life after making it so far into the game is all but gone. Did what happened in Palau just scare producers off? As seasons like Thailand and Vanuatu show, you can make a good challenge based on willpower without having to make it last for hours. Hopefully this idea of willpower and “who wants it the most” will return to the endgame as it should.
1. The Final Two
Survivor’s decision to end the game with a Final Three instead of a Final Two still baffles me. The game is much more interesting when it ends with two people battling it out for the title. Having three just causes a weird dynamic. Having three left at the end has never really worked, as there is usually someone who gets no votes anyway. Having a Final Two really makes it a one-on-one battle, proving you are better than the person sitting next to you. In a Final Three, it is much easier to just claim to be the best of a bad bunch. Even one-sided Final Twos have been more interesting than most Final Threes (J.T. versus Stephen in Tocantins being a prime example). It also makes the game less cut throat, as I think players will more readily accept a Final Three deal, because even if they see a tight pair of two, it’s easy to assume you are the third and will get to the end anyway. In a Final Two, there is a greater necessity to make a move to break this pair up. One of the claims by production is that a Final Three makes for a more suspenseful end to the game, because in a Final Two, the person who wins the Final Immunity Challenge has all the power and can take a “goat” to the end and easily win in an uneventful vote. But the results that have occurred under a Final Three structure have been just as one-sided, if not more so. There seems to be no good argument to stick with the Final Three. Let’s get back to what worked well for so long and never needed changing in the first place.
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!