Survivor has reached a point where it is exceedingly unlikely that production will put out a season where the twist does not dictate the entire season. Eight of the past eleven seasons have a “versus” theme whether by title or not. This includes divisions of age, gender, loved ones, personality, and employment. Even recent returning player seasons have resorted to being divided by a gimmick. If the rumors are correct, season 32 will be another Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty. Today brand new Ozlet Gabriel Swenson makes his feature article debut by looking at the three seasons based around male vs. female tribe divisions and what factors contributed to their positive or negative reception. Read on to find out what worked and what didn't.
*Panama is excluded from this article as the twist only lasted one episode.
Fans of the show may not remember that season six, Survivor: The Amazon, was the first occurrence where tribes were split based on the theme. The men vs. women theme proved to be so successful that production brought it back three seasons later in Vanuatu, similar to how Blood vs. Water returned so soon. While Vanuatu could not match the success of The Amazon, it is still regarded as a very solid season which is why it is surprising that the men vs. women theme was not brought back until fifteen seasons later for One World.* There is a small, staunch group of One World supporters, but it is generally classified as a lower-tier Survivor season which is supported by its 25th ranking in the 2015 Ozcars.
Survivor: The Amazon holds a special place in my heart as it was the first season that I vividly remember watching as a child. Some people may think Vanuatu was the better season, but I am not one of those people. What are these articles if not subjective?
Survivor is all about entertainment; however, everyone has their own definition of what that means. There was nothing about The Amazon that was not entertaining, and that all began with the men and women’s interactions. The male Tambaqui tribe spent the entirety of the opening episode talking about how the women would not be capable of accomplishing anything without a man present. Any of these comments today would be ripped apart by Jeff Probst as being misogynistic, but at the time, they were treated in jest which made Jabaru’s victory in the first challenge even more ironic.
The fun continued with the men talking about which girl was their favorite and the classic bathing scene with Jenna, Heidi, and Shawna. Once the tribe swap occurred, the flirting was taken to a degree that not many seasons can match. Much of this revolved around Shawna’s affinity to Alex which helped bring Rob and Deena together as a power to be reckoned with.
The men had a 6-4 lead at the merge, but Rob, Matt, and Alex joined the women to take out Roger who Deena claimed would never vote for a woman if he was on the jury. This was the same episode as Jenna and Heidi’s classic “I would take my clothes off for chocolate and peanut butter” moment. The Amazon is one of the most unpredictable seasons ever due to how well the theme fit the cast.
Three seasons after The Amazon, Survivor announced that they were heading to a new location with the same theme as season six. Although not as often lately, the older contestants usually struggle at the beginning of the game, but Vanuatu saw the opposite. Chris Daugherty led the older men against the younger men while Ami and Leann, for the most part, did the same.
Where the young characters brought comedy to The Amazon, Vanuatu was left with a majority of older contestants that gave the season a much different feel. There were some fun moments like when Julie tanned nude on the beach, but nothing compared to the first men vs. women.
Before the merge, the men had a chance to go in even at 5-5 if they voted out Julie instead of John K., yet they put their faith in Twila and Julie instead. Ami’s alliance of women dominated the game until only six women and Chris remained. He would have been a goner if he had not known how to play off of the other women’s emotions to let him stay around long enough for the game to change. Not only did his vulnerable persona help him reach the end, but it also helped him secure votes from the jury during the final tribal council.
By the time season 24 came around, Survivor was a completely different game from what it was in the first ten seasons. Casting in modern Survivor plays into extremes of each character. For example, the hot girls have gotten hotter and the nerds have gotten nerdier. With a cast that looks like they came straight out of a fashion magazine, you would expect a lot of the same flirtatious interactions that occurred back in The Amazon. The One World twist fits perfectly with the gender division. In spite of this, it squandered its potential.
The season had animosity between tribes from the start after Michael stole all of the women’s items from their mat when they were looting a truck for supplies. The tribes stayed segregated with the exception of Colton whom was promptly told to stick with his own tribe by the women. Some of the women eventually came to the men’s camp in desperation for fire, but it was irritating instead of enjoyable.
Salani voted off their older members whereas Manono eliminated the younger “roosters”. Going into the tribe swap, it seemed inevitable that the young, good-looking contestants would flirt with each other, but it never happened. Jay, Troyzan, Chelsea, and Kim formed an alliance which Kim used post-merge to deceive the men into eliminating each other.
The post-merge game of One World is a breeze due to Kim’s domination of every aspect of the game. Her gameplay was arguably impeccable. The entertainment value though was lacking. In terms of the theme, it is hard to see the interactions between the men and women when there are no men on the island. Kim is one of the strongest players ever but is not animated enough as a character to engage the audience.
What made the gender division in The Amazon so great was the way the players handled it. Some of Rob’s best confessionals come from him talking about his favorite women on Jabaru. If this happened on the other seasons, then it was not shown. Dolly was called “Barbie” by the Lopevi tribe which implies that the same banter may have been taking place off of our screens. It also did not help that their favorite girl was gone by day six. It would have been like if Heidi was voted off second from The Amazon.
The lack of flirting in One World is astonishing when there were women like Chelsea, Kim, Alicia, and Kat and men like Matt, Michael, Bill, and Jay. In the beginning at least, it seemed like no one was particularly enjoying themselves out there.
Production can control the ages of the people they cast, but they cannot determine who sticks around. The age segregation intensifies when tribes are split by gender as evidenced by these season. Each pre-merge game turns into the young against the old with few exceptions. It is important to have a variety of ages in most Survivor seasons, but in gender divided ones, the younger characters make for better viewing. Chris and Scout do not embody the intentions of the men vs. women theme as well as Rob and Shawna, for example.
As opposed to usual, some challenges stood out in these seasons in positive and negative ways. There is no challenge more fitting to the theme as the “Matchmaker” challenge in The Amazon. For those who cannot remember, this was where each player was given a box full of toiletries and had to guess who had the match from the other tribe. It was like the other memory challenges except it offered the contestants to introduce themselves and mingle with the other tribe.
Survivor seems to add some elements as an equalizer in men vs. women challenges, specifically puzzles and balance beams. There always seems to be someone that struggles with the balance beam like Ryan and Daniel in The Amazon or more famously Chris in Vanuatu.
One World strayed from this a little bit and used “do it yourself” challenges which were first used in Samoa. These have the same intentions of mingling between tribes as the matchmaker challenges but do not yield the same results. Survivor should return to its roots and bring back the matchmaker challenge.
Although the format is mostly similar, Survivor is a very different show now than it was over a decade ago. The editing focuses a lot more on strategy than the entertaining things that happen around camp. A season cannot thrive without both. Men vs. women seasons are made better by the camp interactions which are not as prominent in the show now as they used to be. This could mean that a season divided by gender would never be as fun as before.
One weakness to the format is that a season can become boring whenever a tight, dominant alliance takes over the game, and gender is an easy way to assemble an alliance like that. Flipping from a regular alliance to another is far more likely than flipping to the alliance of the opposite gender. It is even less likely that a comeback like Chris Daugherty’s could happen again. By putting the castaways in this format from day one, it could lead to a predictable season.
At this point in Survivor, is is inevitable that we are going to see a men vs. women season again since production feels the need to have a prominent theme every single season. Two of the three seasons were exceptionally strong, so that alone warrants another shot at it. As long as the cast is decent and the social game is not overshadowed by strategy, it should not disappoint.
What are your thoughts on Male vs. Female seasons? What’s your favourite season using this format? Would you like to see the men vs. women tribe division again? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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