Survivor wouldn’t be the show it is without its challenges. Immunity, Reward and Redemption Island challenges make up major set pieces on the show and play a big role in how a season plays out. Throughout 30 seasons, the show's challenge producers have come up with many different ideas, some of which have worked, and some that haven’t. There have been close finishes and some epic set designs. Moments of glory and moments of defeat. However, a challenge can be effective without too many bells and whistles, as simple endurance or gross food challenges shows. In all honesty there are a few clunkers; challenges that are either boring or just so bizarre that they raise the eyebrows. This week Ozlet, Nick Chester recaps some of the of the weirdest and often not-so-wonderful concepts we've seen in Survivor challenges.
10. Survivor Witch Project – Borneo
Although the general concept of Jeff telling a story and then players running to stations to answer questions about it has been used many times with great success, the inclusion of a massive handheld video camera and the actual referencing of the Blair Witch project movie really time stamps this challenge, and dates the show making this just plain odd. Of course the weirdness is only increased by the “clue” about the challenge left in treemail is a Jeff Probst selfie video, running through Pagaong beach. Yeah, I’m sure this sounded good on paper but ended up just being silly and strange.
We could count on Rudy to inject some humour into it with his “I don’t know” answers, but other than this, its a challenge remembered for all the wrong reasons. There is also the odd way of finishing a challenge, where Jeff has to watch through the tape. The basic concept here is good, and is improved upon in later seasons, but this is a bit of a fail in Borneo.
9. Great Balls of Fire – China
I have to give credit to the producers in China – they really wanted to ensure the location and culture was injected into the game as much as possible. Unfortunately, where this worked well in seasons such as Palau and Pearl Islands, China’s “cultural” elements often felt cheesy and clichéd. This was evident in more than a few of the challenges, but perhaps the most cringe worthy involved players transporting fireballs across the ground using giant chopsticks.Yeah, not exactly a subtle wave to Chinese culture there. Not only that, it was a weird challenge that didn’t really work on TV. Which is a shame, as the idea to hold it at night, next to tribal council was a good setup and should have made for a pretty fun challenge. Sadly it just came across as bizarre and tacky, yet still strangely enjoyable. Which probably sums up the season well. China’s challenges were pretty hit and miss; this is definitely a miss.
8. Piranha Feast/Hungry for Love/Pig Out – Amazon, Fiji and South Pacific
Whilst some people get sick watching the gross food challenge, this one makes me feel much more queasy. A quick reminder – this is where players have to bite chunks of meat off some roasted piece of animal and spit it into a basket. The tribe with the most meat after an allotted time wins. Whilst the first two iterations of this challenge were bad enough, for me the worst one comes in South Pacific and its where this gets particularly weird and disgusting.
The fact that producers lathered up the dead pigs with barbeque sauce didn’t help and just made players look revolting. I really just don’t need to see players pulling bits of meat out from each other’s teeth, whilst covered in sauce. This is of course very fertile land for inappropriate out of context remarks from Jeff, and he doesn’t disappoint (“Coach has to pull his piece of meat out of Edna’s mouth” and “Ozzy has a HUGE piece of meat!”).
The disgusting cherry on top is that after Upolu win the challenge, they get to take their meat back to camp, covered in each others spit, and eat it. I guess when you’re starving, you don’t care, but its just not a nice mental image. Rob Cesternino has said that the smell of the meat and sauce was on his clothes for weeks afterwards in the Amazon, as it slowly got worse and worse in the heat. Just an all round disgusting challenge, weird to watch and really not even involving much skill of any kind. Almost enough to make a vegetarian out of me.
7. Go Fly a Kite – Marquesas
In all fairness, Marquesas had more than its fair share of odd challenges, including stilt walking and popping popcorn. However, nothing is quite as strange as a kite flying challenge. The whole thing just feels like a complete waste of time, and something to give the players to do rather than any kind of real test of skills. The whole thing really is just weird – players are delivered supplies to make a kite, most of which make a substandard kite (Zoe’s is a particularly mangled masterpiece), meaning Kathy pretty much wins the challenge by default, given she’s the only one with a kite that’s able to fly for an extended period of time. The real legacy of this challenge is that it gives us both fabric that becomes a fashion accessory for many players throughout the season, and we also get the weirdly orgasmic sounds of Zoe eating a piece of Snickers bar from Jeff’s hand. Truly a strange few minutes of TV, and pretty much instantly forgettable.
6. Get Crackin’ – South Pacific
Any challenge that involves players carrying things in their mouth seems like a bad idea, on a number of levels. This challenge required players to beak open coconuts then carry the juice in their mouth as they ran an obstacle course, then spat the contents into a tube. Apart from being fairly uninteresting, it was also incredibly weird watching players running around with puffed out cheeks as they tried to carry coconut juice around without swallowing.
And yes, this is rife for terrible jokes about swallowing, choking and dribbling. Jim would go on to win this incredibly bizarre challenge, but the scenes of Sophie half choking, half coughing up the contents of her mouth are pretty disturbing and disgusting. I’m not sure on what level this was meant to be entertaining TV. It also seems incredibly unsafe – you can imagine a player choking that down the wrong way and having to be resuscitated or worse. Hopefully this was a one off.
5. Bocce in a Box – Samoa
How do you make a challenge immediately unusual? Just have Jeff not show up to referee. This challenge in Samoa is a bit of a throwaway, despite the close finish, unless you enjoy watching Bocce ball. Much like many of the challenges in Samoa (baseball, skittles), it really feels like nobody in production gave a crap, to the point that Jeff didn’t show up. The players get no warning about this and seemingly just turn up with no clue what to do, then start running around with the intended prize (chickens) in a cloud of confusion. Once they finally figure out what’s going on through the note left with the prizes, the challenge plays out, and is actually pretty interesting, with a close finish. Well, as interesting as Bocce ball can be anyway.
The really weird thing about this challenge is it seemed to spawn the idea of the “do it yourself” challenges that appear in One World, which are just as confusing and no more entertaining. However, on the plus side, this challenge does have Danger Dave Ball in great form, which is its saving grace. But anything involving Dave is not likely to be saved from being weird (in fact it just increases it), so it really does belong on this list.
4. A Numbers Game – Redemption Island
For a final five challenge, this seems so underwhelming and uninteresting that I have to make one of a few assumptions. Either: Production blew its budget on the massive maze featured in the next challenge, production were misguided that this would be in any way interesting, or (I really hope this one is true), production simply miscounted how many challenges they needed and forgot about the final 5 challenge. To refresh the memory, the challenge required players to walk over a “balance beam” which was about 6 inches off the ground, and collect bags of puzzle pieces. These had small numbered tiles. Players then had to sort through the tiles and place them in numerical order, before collecting the next bag. First player to sort their tiles from 1-100 won. As mentioned, underwhelming doesn’t even cover it. If this had been a final 10 or 11 challenge, it still would have sucked but you could have given it a pass. Or maybe make the balance beam taller, or set over the water, or anything really. The fact that this was a final 5 challenge, with the stakes so high makes this a very weird challenge indeed.
3. Super Golf – Gabon
Gabon was a season that was prone to a few odd challenges, mainly because of the producer’s gallant efforts to incorporate the location into them. This is admirable, and sure beats boring old bags of puzzle pieces. But one in particular which was just a bit weird all round was the giant golf course that players had to use oversized slingshots to guide the ball into the holes.
Its actually a pretty interesting idea, but just seems so out of place. Something tells me there aren’t a lot of traditional Gabonese golfers, and when the season had worked pretty hard to integrate the culture of the local people into the show, oversized golf just didn’t really fit. It isn’t helped by Fang having a massive shouting match in the middle of a challenge they were about to win. All round, it was just a strange setup and one you are unlikely to see again, as long as Survivor stays at the beach. Definitely an A for effort, but in execution, the whole things just didn’t quite work.
2. The Game is Afoot – San Juan del Sur
The perfect challenge for anyone with a foot fetish, weird doesn’t even come close to describing this challenge. I love how Jeff explains the challenge and proudly announces the foot element of it as some kind of historic moment for the show. Yeah, nice work Jeff, you’re such a pioneer in foot-challenge equality. In case this one has been wiped from your short term memory (and who could blame you), this challenge required players to stack blocks using only their feet, whilst sitting on a perch.
This was actually a pretty close challenge, and the music cues make it out to be some sort of epic, but then you remember they are doing this with their feet and suddenly its pretty hard to take it seriously anymore. Nice job on the producers part to try and find something new, but it’s not a challenge I need to see again in a hurry (which probably means it will be back soon). Call me old fashioned but this seemed weird for the sake of being weird without any real purpose.
1. Spit it Out/Spin Cycle – Nicaragua and Redemption Island
I don’t know who decided that vital components to a challenge that had been missing so far were waterboarding and spitting, but that’s what we got from this bizarre contraption that appeared in two consecutive seasons. Three players were strapped onto a wheel, which then dunked each of them into a water trough, where they had to take a mouthful of water and then spit it into a tube. I simply don’t know where such an odd idea came from, and quite frankly I don’t think I want to know.
This of course led to many inappropriate comments from Jeff about how good the women were at spitting. Perhaps the funniest part of all of this is that this was the challenge Zapatera threw to vote Russell out, so this big dramatic moment happened in the strangest possible challenge. Its no wonder we haven’t seen this one again, weird doesn’t even begin to describe it. Surely when this challenge was being tested, the producers either looked at it in puzzlement or cracked up laughing because the whole thing is like something out of a Japanese game show. There really is no wonder this one got retired after this, it’s a crazy idea and seemingly the result of a producers drug induced mutterings.
What do you think of the top 10? Do you agree? Disagree? Is it in the wrong order or are there challenges 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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