Survivor challenges are as integral and iconic to the franchise as just about anything. Usually every episode features two different challenges, and the range and scope of challenges has been enormous; thanks to the challenge maestro John Kirhoffer we have seen challenges vary from complex obstacle course and puzzles to more niche challenges like kite flying and piranha fishing. Due to that range and scope there have been some serious flops when it comes to translating entertainment to our TV screens, and on the flipside some challenges that have been absolutely fantastic to watch. I’ve sat down and decided that there are some challenges that should be mainstays in most Survivor season. Here’s how I went about deciding what challenges should feature.
WHAT FACTORS DECIDE WHETHER A CHALLENGE IS GOOD OR NOT?
It is my belief that there are six crucial ingredients that make for a good challenge. These six ingredients are almost never all present; but in order for a challenge to be a success at least two or three need to be fulfilled. Those five ingredients are:
· Fun – the audience at home and the Survivors taking part derive enjoyment from the challenge, and finish watching or competing with a smile on their face.
· Character Moments – the challenge provides us with little moments and interactions unrelated to the game that enhances the audience’s overall perception of the contestant. These moments make the contestants, who are essentially characters in a big story, to become more dimensional and easier for the audience to relate to them, which is essential in order for us to become invested in that story.
· Intensity – this factor is hard to explain, but it is oh so important, and so obvious when it is or isn’t present. It can be derived either by the intricacies of the challenge itself or even by simply putting the correct challenge at the correct point of the game.
· Strategy – As Survivor is often seen as a strategic game, challenges that involve applying a strategy to ensure a tribe or individual has the best change of winning are often very entertaining, especially when there are contrasting strategies being employed by different people participating.
· Encourages a change in the overall path of the game – This is where the overall outcome of the challenge or the way the challenge played out has a direct effect on how the game itself. Challenges that lead to shake-ups in the game are always great because at the end of the day, I find sudden changes in dynamic almost universally entertaining to observe from the comfort of couch, usually accompanied by a bowl of popcorn.
· Tradition – After 29 seasons and 15 years of being on the air, Survivor has developed it’s own traditions and challenges are part of that. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I enjoy seeing challenges that were done in earlier seasons being repeated now by new contestants. And in some cases, the results of the challenge remain the same; despite the precedent they had to follow!
With all of that in mind, here are the challenges that I would like to see become a staple in the vast majority of Survivor season. I have decided to combine some challenges in order to fit them all in, and I believe the mergers would work well. They will also appear in the order I would like them to appear in the season, with a suggestion of the exact time. Just trying to help.
First Immunity Challenge: Quest for Fire
Factors included: tradition; intensity; strategy.
Seasons where it featured: Borneo; Australia; Africa; Marquesas; All Stars.
This was the first Survivor challenge that we ever saw, so naturally it provokes quite a bit of nostalgia for Survivor fans that have been watching from the beginning. But that’s not the only reason I advocate for it to make more regular appearances in Survivor seasons; with the first immunity challenge almost always combining with flint as a reward for the winner and the emphasis on fire representing life for the contestants throughout the game, it seems only natural for the challenge to involve a large fire related theme. This challenge obviously does that, and it also allows the challenge directors to set the scene for the season with an epic physical battle involving lots of teamwork and impressively large props. For me, this should be the first challenge of every season. It’s a complete no brainer.
Second Reward Challenge: The Mixer
Factors included: Fun; character moments
Seasons where it featured: Amazon; All Stars
Considering this challenge only appeared in two seasons, and early seasons at that, there might be a few people reading this that don’t remember what this challenge entails. Basically, every tribe member is given a box full of different items, and the contestants take it in turns asking another contestant whether they might have a matching item in their own box. This leads to lots of interactions between the contestants, and the tone of the challenge in both of the occasions it has appeared has been one of light-hearted fun, where the characters relax, crack jokes at each other’s expense and interact with the other tribe(s). It’s a great challenge as it really allows the audience to get to know the contestants as people, and because most people who are cast on Survivor are charismatic and funny, it’s as fun for us to watch as it is for the contestants to play. I’ve placed it as the second reward challenge but that might be too early, so I’m willing for that to be played with a tad. But it really should come back to a modern day season, and it’s a shame we’ve only seen it twice.
Second Immunity Challenge: Gross Food Contest
Factors included: Character moments; strategy; intensity; tradition
Seasons where it featured: Borneo; Australia; Africa; Marquesas; Thailand; Amazon; Pearl Islands; All Stars; Palau; Fiji; China; Samoa; Caramoan; BvW
I mean, who doesn’t derive a sense of guilty pleasure in watching strangers eat disgusting food for our amusement? The gross food challenge is one synonymous with the show; it appeared in the first eight seasons and was one everybody looked forward to. The fact everybody was so excited when we saw a teaser for it in the ‘Next time on…Survivor’ segment of an episode of Caramoan underlines how popular this challenge is and how much it was missed. It provides us with great character moments; we see who has the mental toughness to eat a partially formed duck foetus or pig intestines still full of faeces, and the reactions of people who can’t. It provides strategy in a pre-merge challenge; choosing who from the other tribe to eat in a tie-breaker situation can be the difference between winning and losing, whilst pretending to be horrible at it like Michelle intended to do in Pearl Islands adds another layer of strategy to it. And intensity? I know I squirm watching people eat gross food. Seems pretty intense to me. I’m choosing it as the second immunity challenge because as stated above, I believe it’s a better pre-merge than post-merge challenge, whilst it appeared as a second immunity challenge in the first four seasons and it worked very well in that spot. Again, for me this should be in every season. It’s a must.
Third Reward Challenge: Shoulder the Load
Factors included: character moments; intensity; strategy
Seasons where it featured: Borneo (unaired); Australia; Pearl Islands; Tocantins; South Pacific
I love this challenge. There is something strangely fascinating about watching malnourished and dehydrated people exerting their last remaining energies in an attempt to hold an excessive amount of weight on their shoulders. It’s always intense, there is always a lot of strategy involved when deciding which other tribe’s member should be burdened with extra weight, and for character moments I cite the picture above; never have I seen such a perfect example of tribe leadership than when Andrew Savage responded to Jonny Fairplay’s subtle ribbing by singlehandedly winning the challenge for Morgan. It was such a great moment, and this is a challenge that can provide these moments. I was shocked to see it has only been shown in four seasons, as I have strong memories of each showing. Bring it back Survivor!
Third/Fourth Immunity challenge: Sumo Challenge OR Battle Dig
Factors included: Intensity; Strategy; Character Moments
Sumo Challenge featured in: Palau; Fiji; HvV; BvW; San Juan Del Sur
Battle Dig featured in: Palau; Panama; Micronesia; HvV; Caramoan
I like both of these challenges as they both have produced some epic moments, but I think that only one needs to feature in every season, as both are quite similar in nature. Both of these challenges are incredibly physical; both matching up contestants one on one or as a set of small teams, and watching how brutal some of the hits and wrestling is almost gladiatorial in its intensity. They’ve been the cause of injuries and the start of some infamous uncomfortable moments, with Stephanie’s dislocated shoulder and James shouting at Randy whilst laying in the mud springs to mind. Lastly, there is quite a lot of strategy involved in deciding who should be paired off with whom, and how best to approach the challenge to give yourself the best chance of winning. Survivor challenges don’t come much more physical than this, and I believe physical battles should be a staple in every Survivor season.
Fourth/Fifth Immunity or Reward Challenge: Hot Pursuit
Factors included: character moments; strategy; intensity
Seasons where it featured: Palau; Cook Islands; Gabon; Caramoan
This challenge is the perfect balance between physicality, strategy, teamwork and above all, sheer simplicity. I find running in knee-deep water to be quite draining with a full stomach and no weight on my back, so how the contestants do it under all the physical tolls that Survivor must have on the human body is quite something. This challenge is the perfect pre-merge challenge as it involves an incredible amount of teamwork and strategy; just when the slowest member should shift their weight to a stronger and quicker member can be crucial as if the shift happens too early, it can result in them slowing down in the long run. There are so many ways that a tribe can approach this challenge strategy wise, and I find that fascinating to watch. It also provides some great character moments, whether it be the woman who shows grit and determination to stay in the challenge when men double her size are pulling out due to tiredness, to leaders trying to take control either successfully or unsuccessfully. It’s a massive shame it has only appeared on four seasons. Please, please Survivor producers; bring it back more often.
Merge Immunity Challenge: Perch OR When it Rains, it Pours OR Last Gasp
Factors included: character moments; encourages change in game; strategy; intensity; tradition
Perch featured in: Australia; Amazon; Palau; Cook Islands
When it Rains, it Pours featured in: Africa, All Stars, Micronesia, HvV, One World
Last Gasp featured in: Palau; Micronesia; Caramoan
It’s pretty common for Survivor to feature some form of endurance trial for the merge immunity challenge, and I’m a big fan of this. However, in recent years these endurance challenges have moved away from a ‘who wants it more’ battle of sheer will power to challenges involving balance, steady hands and increasing difficulty in order to shorten them in length. This is a shame for me, as I personally enjoy seeing challenges the former battles of sheer will power for a number of reasons. First, I believe that the merge immunity is always such an important time in the game and allowing contestants to stay in the challenge for as long as possible provides insight into where a contestant thinks they stand in the game and just how strong their will power is. To test that will power, these challenges should always include temptations to step down; these again provide us insight into their mental psyche, and allow us to mercilessly to judge the weaker ones for succumbing to the pull of much needed calories, whilst it also sometimes leads to the contestants voting somebody off who they are annoyed jumped in too early. The second reason they should be allowed to be a battle of will power rather than other skills is it provides us with fun interactions between the contestants; we have seen the infamous clothes coming off for chocolate and peanut butter in the Amazon, and more recently Wes boasting about eating chicken nuggets in San Juan Del Sur. These are fun little character moments with no bearing or influence on the strategic game itself, but they always result in enriched enjoyment of the show as a whole. I believe that the first two challenges listed above provide exactly what I’ve described, whilst the third one is just so intense and scary I couldn’t leave it out of this list. So yes, please bring back sheer will power challenges at the merge. I’d much rather see somebody standing on a perch for 8 hours than somebody winning immunity by balancing balls on a mallet for 45 minutes.
Post merge Reward Challenge: Touchy Subjects
Factors included: character moments; strategy; intensity; encourages change
Seasons where it featured: Amazon; All Stars; Panama; Fiji; Micronesia; Tocantins; One World
This is a challenge with so much potential to shake the game up post-merge that I am always surprised to not see it featured. Making the contestants answer questions about each other, with some being complimentary and others downright unflattering, allows both the contestants and the audience an opportunity to see where they stand within the game. Combining that with contestants being directly responsible for each other’s downfalls by making them chop each other’s ropes until they are eliminated means that the insight is amplified. It is a challenge that always leads to hurt feelings and drama, which as a viewer is both intense and oh so entertaining to watch. Due to the delicate nature of the challenge, the way in which to approach answering questions is also a very strategic decision, as the contestants are trying not to annoy their fellow tribe mates in a game specifically designed to provoke annoyance. I personally would never want to play it, but I absolutely love watching it!
Post Merge Reward Challenge: Auction
Factors included: Fun; Character moments; strategy (unfortunately); tradition
Seasons where it featured: Australia; Africa; Thailand; Amazon; Palau; Guatemala; Cook Islands; Micronesia; Gabon; Tocantins; Samoa; One World; Philippines; Caramoan; Cagayan
Like the gross food test, this is usually a challenge that when featured in the ‘Next Time on… Survivor’ section, it provokes outcries of joy from the audience. It’s the one challenge my ten year old sister asks me every week without fail whether it’s going to feature. Lets face it; Auctions in Survivor just rock. They’re so much fun for the contestants and their joy at all of them being able to relax and potentially fill their bellies is something that translates so well on screen for the audience. They are absolutely filled with fun character scenes; who can forget the ‘he can’t eat the ham’ scene from Africa or the ‘See you back at camp’ quote from Tocantins? I do, however, have a massive bone to pick with Survivor producers over the path auctions are taking though. PLEASE, for me: eliminate advantages in the game and hidden immunity idol clues from auctions all together. The auction in Cagayan would have been so much more fun to watch if people were bidding on plates of food rather than clues. Auctions were so much fun nine seasons before hidden immunity idols even existed; so don’t change something that isn’t broken. I sincerely hope that auctions in the future go back to what they were originally intended to be: a fun break from the game where everybody has a chance to get fed. And besides, the one in Cagayan kind of broke the auction the way it is anyway. So fingers crossed!
Post Merge Reward Challenge: Blindfold Challenge COMBINED with Loved Ones
Factors included: fun; character moments; strategy; intensity; tradition
Blindfold Challenge featured in: Australia; Marquesas; Thailand; Amazon; All Stars; Vanuatu (twice); Guatemala; Fiji; Micronesia; Tocantins; HvV; Nicaragua; Redemption Island; South Pacific; One World; Cagayan.
Loved Ones Visit featured in: Every season barring Fiji, Samoa, BvW.
The blindfold challenge is one that is always entertaining to watch; again, there is some black humour in watching people quite badly hurt themselves whilst walking around looking silly in a blindfold. The loved ones visit is always emotionally intense and full of rich character moments, plus it’s a Survivor tradition as old as tribal councils. Combing the two I believe makes perfect sense. They actually have done this before in Vanuatu and I believe it made the challenge far more interesting; we had the complete contrast of moods between Chris and Lorie, who were absolutely desperate to win and ended up in tears afterwards due to their failure to do so; and Leanne and her loved one, who stopped competing mid way through due to being so far behind without a care in the world, laughing heartily throughout. Watching the contestants and their loved ones interact through the stress of a challenge I think enhances the loved ones visit as a whole, and I think the blindfold challenge is the perfect way to test just how good their communication is with somebody they hold nearest and dearest to them. So I’d combine the two on a more regular basis. It might be controversial, but I think if you really thought about it, it makes quite a bit of sense.
Final Immunity Challenge: Hand on a Hard Idol
Factors included: Strategy; intensity; tradition
Seasons where it featured: Borneo; Africa; Marquesas; All Stars
Like the first challenge of the season being Quest for Fire, I think the only appropriate challenge for the final immunity necklace to be the Hand on a Hard Idol. It involves sheer will power, strategy to the extreme as seen by Richard stepping off in the very first season and Vecepia dealing with Neleh when Kathy fell and the tradition and nostalgia with the challenge is entirely appropriate for what is the most important challenge in the whole game. I will never be convinced that the final immunity challenge should be anything different, and it just makes so much sense to me that I can’t even explain why any further. An absolute, bloody must Survivor producers!
So there you have it. Eleven challenges that I believe should be a feature of the vast majority of seasons. The one that I was debating extensively whether to include was Fallen Comrades, and chose not to include it as I think that challenge was broken by Vecepia in Marquesas; if it was included in the vast majority of seasons, everybody would know to extensively research their tribe mates about everything in their lives. So I decided to leave it out. But let me know what you think!
What do you think of these challenges? Do you feel these are the best challenges to be used on a season of Survivor? Let us know below!
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