Top 10s are back, and our favourite Kiwi Ozlet Nick Chester brings you his run down of the more exciting puzzle challenges we have seen in the history of Survivor. There's no doubt that sometime puzzles can be quite generic, but these 10 are without doubt some of the more interesting, challenging and make for better viewing that the average puzzle challenge. Do you agree with these 10 or are there other worthy puzzle challenges that should have made the list? Read on to find out which puzzle challenges rocked our socks off!
Puzzles are often maligned and arguably overused in Survivor challenges. Often, nothing drops my spirits whilst watching an episode like hearing Jeff tell the players they will be “retrieving a bag of puzzle pieces”. However, the puzzle can often be a great leveller – allowing the physically weaker players a shot to win, and a close challenge involving a puzzle is often far more interesting than a close physical race. And although I have little desire to dive into deep water or stand on a log for ten hours, I would love to have a go at many of these puzzles myself. Whilst puzzles can be boring and repetitive at times (often involving the construction of a puzzle based on the Survivor logo), there have been lots of variations and interesting puzzles along the way. Here are ten of the best.
10. Peg Puzzle – One World
This is probably an easily forgotten challenge in a forgettable season, but it is actually a very compelling one. The challenge involves a number of unevenly cut wooden pegs, when assembled correctly create a smooth even top like a box. The challenge was ironically won by everyone’s favourite model, Jay Byars. The best thing about this puzzle is that it can look as if they have got it right, up until the very last piece, which is worng. Then they have to completely start again. The result of this one is completely up in the air right until the end, with every opportunity for others to catch up. This makes it fun to watch.
9. Tree/flame puzzle – One World, Caramoan, Blood vs Water
The challenge that serves as Cochran’s ticket to the final three, this challenge is fun to watch as it looks so easy, but it is clearly confusing. Players struggle to make the pieces fit at the start of the challenge, but often once a couple of pieces are in, momentum builds. In both One World and Caramoan, the winner came from behind to win this challnege, building a large degree of tension throughout and making for an exciting finish. Its a good way to make an otherwise uninteresting puzzle a little more fun to watch.
8. “Star” puzzle – South Pacific, Cagayan
I can’t think of a better name for this puzzle, but it has been used a few times. I can only think of two, but both were very memorable. This is the puzzle with 8 star or flower shaped peices, each of which only fits in one place, and the frame has moveable sections. It is a puzzle that becomes increasingly easier as more pieces are placed, as options for the remaining pieces decrease and there is no doubt that the ones already placed are correct. Two challenges that used this puzzle were both incredible. The final challenge in South Pacific saw Ozzy start this puzzle with a decent lead, but Sophie put her intelligence to use and soon passed Ozzy to win the challenge, and eventually the game. The challenge was seen again in Cagayan where again J’Tia started the challenge with a handy lead, only to lose confidence when it didnt go well, and eventually was overtaken by both Sarah and LJ.
7.. “Trapped” puzzle – Borneo, Marquesas, Guatemala, South Pacific
Im sure there is an official name for this puzzle, but it involves players standing on tiles, and moving off them one by one. Each time they do, they have to turn the tile over and have to strategically box the other players in. Once you have no unturned tiles to step on, you are out. It doesnt sound that interesting on paper, but apart from being a puzzle from the very first season (won by Rudy), it was part of a fun family reward in Marquesas. Arguably its most important use was in Guatemala, where Danni used her advantage to win the challenge and change the game in her favour.
6. Puzzle log – China/Cagayan
Keeping puzzle challenges fresh and interesting is always difficult. You have to admire the ingenuity of the challenge producers when they came up with turning a battering ram into a giant puzzle in Survivor: China. For those that dont remember, the tribe was required to carry a very heavy battering ram along a course, using it to smash through a number of walls along the way. Then they had to thread a peg through the ram, using the maze design cut into the battering ram itself. I like that this is a team puzzle – it requires the players to work together on one giant puzzle piece, and it can be hard to think ahead too far as the maze is woven right around the log, meaning you cant see all of it at any stage. Im suprised it took 13 seasons to use it again, but it worked just as well in Cagayan, where the more physical tribe lost in a nail biting finish.
5. First immunity challenge – Thailand
The opening challenge of Survivor Thailand marked a change in tone for the show. Previous opening challenges had all been a “quest for fire” – very much a physical challenge that required little more than team work and physical strangth. Thailand instead opted for a circumnavigation of an island by boat – with pitstops to collect flags. At each pitstop there was a mini challenge – diving underwater to retrieve the flag, and puzzles – tabletop mazes and the good old-fashioned slide puzzle.
Apart from being a good representation of how useful a slide puzzle can be in changing the momentum of a challenge (slide puzzles are used often, and can easily swing backwards and forward so its no wonder they are used so often), the actual challenge itself is a great watch, with the older Chuay Ghan tribe beating Sook Jai in the physical element of paddling, only to see Ghandia completely fall apart at the puzzle and Sook Jai rowing away to an easy win.
There were many puzzles and mental challenges in Thailand, but quite a few of them were a little boring and forgettable. This couldnt be said for the opening challenge which was a great watch and such a good example of puzzles being a great equaliser.
4. Staircase from wooden crates – Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains and Caramoan
This is a cool puzzle, but the sheer size and scale make the challenge just as much of a physical exertion as a mental one. Players have to race out in pairs and retrieve a very heavy wooden crate. Once all crates are collected, they have to be stacked in a certain way that they create a staircase that has the tribe’s name spelled out along the side. When the tribe moves into the puzzle portion of this challenge, they are already exhausted. Having to move and lift heavy crates is not easy, and making a wrong move is a costly mistake, both in terms of time and energy. Both the Heroes and Bikal tribe failed to negotiate this challenge well, struggling with the organisation of crates. This is clearly a difficult challenge, but also a great one to watch due to the scale of it all.
3. Table Maze – Tocantins, Samoa, Heroes vs Villains, Redemption Island, South Pacific & Blood vs Water
Better known as “labyrinth” (or so Wikipedia informs me), the tilting maze that players have to negotiate a ball (or sometrimes coconuts) through, without falling in the wrong hole is a longtime Survivor favourite. What is great about this challenge is how many different ways it has been run – it has been used as a team challenge, and with blindfolded players, and it has also been done individually and as a Redemption Island duel. Some great Survivor moments have come out of it – Coach winning immunity (and celebrating in classic Coach style) in Tocantins, the Cochran vs Ozzy match up in South Pacific, and of course this was the challenge where Russell Swan passed out in Samoa. It is an easily forgotten but very good challenge in Marquesas, where Maraamu almost win their first challenge, only for Rotu to snatch a win right at the end. Its a Survivor staple, and rarely disappoints.
2. Puzzle staircase – Thailand, Redemption Island
This challenge requires players to collect puzzle pieces which fit onto gaps in staircases, allowing the player to move higher to the top. The first player to the top wins. This was a challenge that fit perfectly with the Thai theme in the fifth season, and teh steps led up to a Thai temple. It was a simple win for the smart and athletic Brian. It was definately an interesting one to watch. However, it really shone in Redemption Island, where the staircase was supersized and the difficulty increased. This challenge is remebered mostly for being the one where Rob was “literally carrying his family on his back” but it was an intense challenge, with Rob in pretty decent control most of the time, but Andrea and Grant nipping at his heels.
As this was the first challenge after the Zapatera tribe was “Pagonged”, the result was hugely important, thus ramping up the tension. Rob eventually won, but almost passed out with the effort. Much like the crate staircase, the scale of this challenge was so huge the it made for great viewing.
1. First immunity challenge – Micronesia
The reason this challenge is the best puzzle is just how it was utlisied. The clever decision to make the puzzle pieces into cart wheels made this fun to watch – the wheels then had to be placed on the cart and dragged through the course before being disassembled and used again in the final puzzle of the challenge. This was a really clever way to use the Puzzle pieces and keep them integral to the whole challenge, rather than a tacked on end stage to a challenge, as is often the case. It certainly doesnt hurt that the challenge itself was really interesting and the fan’s unexpected victory made it even more memorable. The idea of using the same puzzle pieces for various puzzles in one challenges should be used more often – it makes the whole challenge feel connected and a lot more interesting than it otherwise would be. Lets hope to see more of this in the future.
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!