Why A ‘Back To Basics’ Season Could Backfire


For some time now there’s been much discussion in the Survivor fan community about a new season of the show that goes back to basics. That means a season with no hidden immunity idols, no tribe switches, no themes or any twist at all for that matter. It would also mean there season wouldn’t rely on a certain theme, or division of tribes by physical attributes (i.e Brains vs Beauty vs Brawn.) In theory it might sound like a smart idea to go back to a classic ‘no frills’ version of Survivor but in practice there are more than just a few reasons why it could be fraught with problems. In today's feature article Ozlet Julian Groneberg looks at the many reasons such a season could backfire. Read on for why creating a back to basics season might be a production decision that we’d later rather forget.

 Get Ready For A Pagonging


Without any tribe switches, the chances of a ‘Pagonging’ are far more likely going into the merge, making for a predictable and boring end game. In Survivor more often than not, one tribe dominates in the pre-merge section of the game, leaving uneven numbers come the merge, and a string of predictable episodes as the smaller tribe are picked off one-by-one. Even crafty editing would do little to save a season where one tribe was completely decimated before the dominant alliance is finally forced to turn on each other.

Survivor Tocantins was the last time that we had the closest thing to a classic season of Survivor, with 16 players, a final two and no tribe switches. It was something of an anomaly that the former Jalapao tribe managed to overturn the numbers of Timbira tribe. Expect that to be the exception not the norm if we were to go back to a classic season. As we saw in season 31, the three tribe format, coupled with tribe switches meant there was limited loyalty to tribal lines and that meant a much more open and unpredictable came going into the merge. An unpredictable merge is the secret to a successful season of Survivor with tribe switches and early merges helping facilitate this unpredictability and shifting of tribe loyalties.

A 16 Person Cast Leaves Little Room To Move


16 person casts might work well if the entire cast is memorable (e.g Survivor China) but unfortunately having only 16 castaways leaves the show with very little wiggle room if one of the contestants were to quit or be medevaced. This would mean we’d be left with an episode without a tribal council, and while this has been dealt with as best as possible in the past, there’s no doubt that when it happens it can be a bit of an anticlimax and an unfortunate way to end an episode.

Also, with a larger cast such as 18 or 20 people, if some of the cast are to quit or be medically evacuated, we can still have a tribal council in the same episode. One more thing: a larger cast means that if there are a few dud contestants that are boring on screen they can be given fewer confessionals. Better than having a cast of 16 with 3 or 4 boring characters who manage to make it deep in the game, and giving us little to work with. A smaller cast forces production to more to rely on the same characters for confessionals and narrating the story.

Would Be Difficult To Promote


Without a point of difference such as a new twist of division by gender, social class or physical attributes, a classic style season of Survivor could be difficult to promote. Its a long time since the days where a new location offered enough intrigue to promote the next season of Survivor in its own right. Having a theme like White Collar, Blue Collar and No Collar, or a new twist (ala Blood versus Water) makes for a massive talking point pre season – and we all know how well received Blood vs Water was.

Each time there is a new twist or theme such as White Collar, vs Blue Collar vs No Collar, these are always front and centre in the promotion of the season, giving less serious Survivor viewers more incentive tune in. Its easier to entice people to view a season which promises to pit members of different social classes against one another than just promising ‘16 regular Americans.’ While promoting a classic season may ge the more hard core fans excited, the show’s casual viewers may be left wondering why they should care.

Would Mean Less Dramatic Tribal Councils


Without hidden immunity idols, tribal councils would undoubtedly be a lot more predictable. There’d be no reason to split votes, and none of the risk that that strategy involves. Also, without idols, there’d also be none of the suspense of wondering whether people are going to play their idol or not, and we’d miss out on the excitement and drama of someone being completely blindsided as they are ‘idol-ed’ out of the game, ala Andrew Savage.

A classic season with no idols would also mean less strategy in regards to whether people choose to keep them a secret or share their idol information. When you have a season with idols in play, there is always an element of uncertainty in each vote, less safety, and that can mean people need to consider different strategies. Like it or not, idols are here to say, and generally speaking Survivor is more exciting because of it.

Why Survivor Needs To Continue to Change Things Up


I can understand the criticism between such twists such as Redemption Island, the Blood vs Water format and Exile Island in how they affect the purity of the game and take screen time away from camp life. The fact is however is that Survivor is a game that has always been evolving. If we were to suddenly go back the classic format that we had seen in the early seasons, we’d likely be lamenting that there’s a lack of action and strategy, and everyone is too comfortable. A lack of twists would mean the show would have to focus more on day to day camp life. I don’t know about others, but after seeing 31 seasons of the show there’s only so many times I can watch people search for fish, cook rice or moan about who’s not doing enough work around camp. We’ve seen it before.

So to those wishing for a ‘no frills’ Survivor season, I say, be careful what you wish for. The audience’s tastes have evolved and Survivor is a far more fast moving game than is was back in the first five years of its production. After the excitement, the twists and the turns of a season like Survivor Cambodia, going back to basics could make for the most boring season we’d see in a long time. When it comes to the audiences appetite for unpredictability, the twists keep the show fresh almost 16 years on. The show’s ability continue to adapt and evolve is the main reason the show remains on the air today.

Are you a fan of a return to a back to basics season? What possible benefits or problems would we see? What’s the biggest reason it could backfire?


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9 Comments on Why A ‘Back To Basics’ Season Could Backfire

  1. As much as I would like to see an old fashioned season, I completely agree with this article. I also believe that no tribal switches would cause certain great survivors to be voted out earlier. Spencer is an example of someone who has been saved by a tribal switch but had there not been one in Cagayan, we could’ve easily missed out on one of the best underdogs ever in my opinion.

  2. redwolftamer // December 14, 2015 at 3:22 pm // Reply

    Wow, imagine that, a season based on actual character development instead of shiny sparkly “events” and where we can actually get to know the players as people rather than caricatures. Sounds like an awesome season to me. And if you’re worried about duds in the cast, well how about the casting department do their job and find actual interesting people instead of brainless bimbos looking for exposure.

  3. I agree with the arcticle, but also with both of these comments.

  4. You’ve sold me. After years of yearning for a classic, no-frills, back-to-basics season, I have come around to the fact that format is outdated and would not work in today’s TV landscape. I think the show’s last four seasons would easily out-rank most of its “old school” seasons in terms of great TV.

    I agree with what a previous commenter said in terms of casting. The main reason the show has been so watchable the last four seasons is because of great casting. We have seen more interesting characters and less “brainless bimbos looking for exposure” ala Samoa, Nicaragua and Redemption Island.

  5. I think that a back to basics game could work for an all-star season but with regular people it would probably end up with one alliance dominating to the end due to numbers. I would like to see a season with out a theme and no recurtes for once where they just pick the best 18-20 candidates.

    CBS BvBvB was good because the whole cast was FANS and they were all ready to play hard (besides woo lol but he was good entertainment) It had nothing to do with the Brain Brawn Beauty theme

    What I like about the early seasons (I just watched season 1-8) is that they really made the host country part of the season. I liked them adding the culture to the season and making it feel like you were in that country.

  6. I don’t think a completely back to basic season would work since they castaways have become to smart and savvy for that. So maybe a compromise is order, focus on casting, character development and cultural theme but still have a few twists thrown in there like a tribal swap (to prevent “pagoning”) and hidden immunity idols (to keep the castaways on their toes). So, a tone down on the twists but not a complete abandonment of them is what I am saying, castaways have become increasingly savvy to the game and a complete back to basics will not work since it’ll be predictable and strategically easy.

  7. What they need to do is make a season where the cast doesn’t KNOW that they are going “back to the basics” and they can include footage of castaways searching for immunity idols,which I think would be very entertaining.

  8. At this point I just don’t see the harm in doing a back-to-basics season.

    “Get Ready For A Pagonging”

    Pagonging is the most basic strategy in Survivor. By it’s nature it’s also extremely predictable. With the caliber of players we have now I’m not convinced a Pagonging would actually happen, because I don’t think players would be incapable of recognizing that they’re on the bottom of an alliance.

    This is also why I think a back-to-basics season would be a good thing: It would show us how far strategy has evolved. Only one season has ever used the Borneo ruleset: Borneo. Australia was a 42 day game and since then there have been twists. And since Borneo strategy has evolved in an extreme way. So it would interesting to see how players would function without having idols to fall back on.

    “A 16 Person Cast Leaves Little Room To Move”

    While having more than 16 players makes sense from a logistics reason accounting for medevacs, quits, etc, having only 16 players can also lead to a lot of drama because those things carry so much more impact. Who can forget moments like Mike Skupin falling in the fire? That was a major moment not just because of the accident itself but because of the impact it had on the game. Theres more drama when there are fewer people in play.

    As for the quality of the cast, thats casting’s responsibility. It’s their responsibility to find 16 great characters, not just a few great players and a bunch of bums who just want to be on TV real bad. The first seven casts are seven of the most legendary casts in reality TV because they searched for characters, not self-proclaimed know-it-alls.

    “Would Be Difficult To Promote”

    Aside from the obvious solution – which is that something like Brains vs Brawn isn’t in contradiction with the original rules – it can’t be forgotten that Survivor was once a show watched by 40 million people every week. “How it was when it ruled TV” isn’t a bad gimmick. Also, how many of the big theme seasons suck? A lot. Themes don’t matter and by this point nobody should be falling for it. If anyone turns off Survivor because it’s got a “White collar vs Blue collar vs No collar” gimmick instead of a “Brains vs Brawn vs Beauty” gimmick isn’t really invested in the show anyway.

    “Would Mean Less Dramatic Tribal Councils”

    I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as a benefit. Tribal council is where players reap what they sew. And transforming it into a battleground to see who can negate the most votes and blindside someone gets away from the core concept of the show, which is summed up in four words: The tribe has spoken. With less focus on bombastic tribals the show might actually get to focus on how the players interact with each other and develop storylines that aren’t about people stumbling through the bush looking for idols.

    “Why Survivor Needs To Continue to Change Things Up”

    Think about this for a second: Whats the bigger change-up? Doing yet another casting gimmick where the tribes are divided along a theme that was used four seasons ago? Or going back to basics? Introducing a new way of getting idols into the game? Or focusing on interpersonal drama?

    Survivor has gotten formulaic, simple as that. They keep slapping fresh coats of paint on it but it’s the same thing over and over. “Oh, we’re splitting the tribes into three!” “Oh, we’re combining the tribes again!” “Oh, we’re merging at 13!” By this point the biggest change-up, by far, would be a season with retro rules. I’d much rather see more human drama after years and years of idol searches.

    And when it gets down to it, Survivor is here to stay. There have been amazing seasons and there have been terrible seasons. One World is considered one of the worst ever and it was followed up by a season that many are calling one of the best ever. The ups and downs are radical. So really, wheres the harm in doing one more old school game? Best case scenario, it’s a refreshing twist. Worst case scenario, nobody likes it and they don’t do that anymore. Either way a long standing curiosity is satisfied, and theres the possibility of seeing something really cool.

  9. I agree with this article, although if they can make another season like Tocantins it would be pretty great. But if you think about it Tocantins isn’t exactly a “back to the basics” season. Sure it has the 16 players and no tribe swap, but it still has Exile Island and hidden immunity idols. So even if they did do a “back to the basics” season, I think it would be fine as long as they included some more modern elements to it.

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