As each new season of Survivor begins, we are witness to an epic opening sequence that does everything from show us the players, the location and even sometimes the new twists that await us in the next 14 or so episodes. No doubt there are many memorable openings, but this week our New Zealand Ozlet Nick Chester analyses all of them and brings you the top 10 season openings! As always there are sure to be some choices on this list that will cause debate, so read on and find out and let us know which would make your top spot!
By the time you get to season 30 of Survivor, there are many established traditions. Anything from torch snuffing to buffs, bags of puzzle pieces to Jeff’s man-crushes, some things have been around forever and won’t go anywhere any time soon. One of my favourites is how each season opens. Jeff is usually standing in an outlandish place or vehicle and gives a brief overview of the location, or twist for the season, and a few players are introduced. And it has to finish with the trademark line “39 days, 18 people, 1 Survivor!’. It’s a feature I always like to watch as it gets me excited about what is to come over the season, I get my first glimpse at the location (back when there were new and interesting locations) and the players I will be following over the next few months. A good opening sequence really needs Jeff either in a dangerous place (like the edge of a cliff) or on a mode of risky transport (hanging out the back of an aircraft is a favourite). It also needs to play up either the dangerous locations or what the history or culture of the place is, or it should explain what new and unusual game twists await the players. Some openings smash cut to confessionals from players who may or may not turn out to be key to the season, and good openings give us great sound bites of what to expect next. They also may use music in interesting ways to enhance the visuals we get. So here are the top ten that hit on these ideas in different ways.
10. South Pacific
Not a favourite season for many, South Pacific nonetheless has a fantastic opening sequence. Jeff is in one of his most tame locations in terms of danger – situated at Redemption Island as the players, both new and old head towards him. Ozzy and Coach are both introduced with the minimum of fuss, but their respective storylines up to that point are well covered. Some of the players also have quick confessionals, and what I like about them is that we don’t just hear from the players who will become the key figures throughout the season (such as Cochran and Brandon) but also players who don’t make a big impact, like Rick and Elyse. This really throws viewers off, as its hard to go back and use this to predict a winner or big players. And although she doesn’t get a confessional, Sophie gets the focus of the shot just as Jeff says “only one will remain” – much like Richard and Vee did in their seasons. But what I like about this opening scene the most is the music. It really builds a sense of anticipation of a big battle ahead. It may not have come to pass (depending on your opinion of the season), but the opening did the best it could to build the tension all the same.
In many ways, the Vanuatu opening is no different from many others. Jeff gives an explanation of the area and the culture, along with explaining what the players will have to do to stay in the game. What makes this one unique is that Jeff delivers his speech from atop Mt Yasur, an active volcano with ash billowing into the air behind him. Following All Stars, Survivor needed to make a statement about the new era of Survivor, and nothing says this better than an epic location and having Jeff literally on the edge of a volcano. It is such a cool visual, and while I think that they could actually have done a bit more with the speech and explanation of the cast (and even forewarned about the ceremony and tribal split that was to come), its still a great opener for a season that needed to make a mark.
The opening sequence for Gabon is great because it showcases the location in really cool ways. You get to see the diverse landscape as well as the wildlife. Gabon is a very unique location for Survivor and the opening sequences ensure this is portrayed. This was the first season shot in high definition, and the opening sequence looks to showcase this to the best of its abilities. The opening sequence is also fun by who the quick confessionals choose to highlight. Bob is there, getting his first introduction as our eventual winner, and important characters such as Matty and Marcus are as well. Crystal’s declaration that she is going to use her athletic ability to win is a great ironic and funny moment given her ineptitude in challenges throughout the game. Ace and GC are also there, and it reminds me how much producers wanted the audience to hate Ace right from the beginning. Following on from a beloved season such as Micronesia, Survivor needed to make a big statement, and Gabon’s opening sequence showed they were ready to deliver.
The season opens up with African tribal singing, signalling that production will utilise the culture and location they are in to the full extent that they can. Jeff has used different modes of transport to give his opening monologue and perhaps the most underrated is the truck. The inland location in Kenya meant that a truck fit well thematically, and Jeff gave his speech in front of the players; something that doesn’t happen all that often. This must have been pretty daunting given his description of the land they were about to make their home. What sells the scene well is how the truck drives through a Kenyan Village, and the camera pans out to reveal a huge “Survivor: Africa” painted on the roof. Given the historical context of the season starting just a month after 9/11, many people didn’t care about Survivor when the real world could be so tragic and terrifying. This season had to start out with the right amount of grandeur and humility, and the Africa opening does this really well.
Given the significance of the season, it seems fitting that the opening was particularly epic and memorable. The Panamanian airspace was apparently closed down and the players were given a military escort into the game. The three tribes were each separated and, like Africa, the visual of the logo on top of each boat is a nice touch. Jeff gives his speech whilst circling above them and then his signature signoff is given as he leans out of the chopper. Pretty cool Jeff, and fitting for such a big season. Perhaps what lets this one down a bit is that there are no speeches from any of the players, and Jeff’s introduction seems to come quickly. Players didn’t really give confessionals during the opening back then, but it would still have been a cool touch to introduce exactly who was back. Still, its a great opening and you are really sold on what a big deal this season is to the producers.
5. Cook Islands
The music and camera work here really sells the moment, as the season opens on a wide shot of a Captain Cook style ship in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. The tribal singing works really well with the location, and the ship looks really quite epic as it cuts through the water. Jeff is once again placed amongst the Survivors during the introduction. However, instead of the players sitting in a solemn manner, this time they are desperately gathering supplies from on board a ship whilst Jeff yells around them. The opening is a nice call back to the original marooning in Borneo, and the tribes jump overboard and paddle off as Jeff gives his famous line. Although many people (myself included) dislike Cook Islands and see the twists on the season as a bad turning point in the show’s history, the opening sequence works hard to make the season feel “old school” in spite of this.
One thing that is clear about season 2 is that production were determined to do everything bigger and better than its predecessor, and this is clearly evident in the opening sequence. Starting with a wide shot of the Outback, an Australian Air Force plane comes into frame, carrying the 16 players on this historic season. The original plan was to have the players skydive out of the plane, which would have been something incredible, but this is still pretty awesome. Jeff once again delivers his lines standing amongst the castaways on board the plane. Compared to current seasons, its short and sweet but he explains about the Outback and its many dangers, intercut with stony faced players ready to embark on their 42 day adventure. The trademark moment of this opening sequence comes right at the end, where Jeff performs his first ever crazy moment, as he sits at the back of the plan with his legs dangling out, as it banks away from the camera. This may seem like nothing now but at the time, it was pretty extraordinary and really set the stage for season 2 to be bigger and better than Borneo in every way.
It makes sense that such an epic season has an equally epic opening sequence. Bringing the players in by chopper (New Zealand Air force choppers I might add), Jeff does a good job of recapping Survivor’s history up to that point and the significance of an All Star season to mark season 20. The Heroes and Villains then have a number of confessionals explaining why they play either way, and their plans for this new chance at the game. Personally, I think this is really good, but it is a bit overdone, with almost every player getting a confessional, which, when added to the Q&A session that happens on the beach later, its feels a little overdone, but its pretty hard to complain when it is these legendary players back for another shot at the game. One of my favourite moments is when Jeff gives the “One Survivor!” line, with all four helicopters in shot behind him. Production really do an amazing job of setting up the season well and so much of what is in this opening season builds anticipation and excitement, which any good opening sequence should do, not to mention when it is for an All star edition.
The first Fans vs. Favourites had a really fun opening sequence. Jeff starts in the helicopter this time, and briefly explains the island where the game will play out, then gets to the real interest: the cast. Starting with the fans, we then hear confessionals from several of the favourites. Penner’s is my favourite: ‘You can be a fan of the Boston Red Sox, but you don’t wanna play against the Boston Red Sex; you’re gonna get your ass handed to you!”. These confessionals are really cool, and not overdone. Its a shame we don’t hear anything from the fans though, even a couple of confessionals to really sell who these guys were would have been good, but this is captured pretty well in their reactions to the favourites on the beach, so you do get it later. Again, Jeff caps it off with a great action shot standing on the edge of the chopper, and this great season is underway after an excellent opening sequence.
The opening sequence in China is done so well, and is quite different from anything seen up until that point. Jeff monologues from the steps of a Buddhist temple while the Survivors are shown travelling from “ultra-modern” Shanghai to the temple through various forms of transport, which is just such a unique way of showing the remoteness of the area. I like how each player is given a very quick introduction without being named and it helps show the diversity of this particular cast. Jeff also explains about the lake that the players will be living on and showing the dangers of the area. Opening sequences had become somewhat predictable by this point and the China version just broke the mould, introducing a depth and showcasing the very unique location and culture of the area in a fascinating way. In a lot of ways, China is a season that combines the traditional aspects of the show with modern features really well, and the opening sequence is a good example of this. A great introduction to a great season.
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!
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