Some of the best challenges in Survivor take place in the deep blue, and over the years we've seen some of the most creative challenges integrate water in some way, shape, or form. Not only does a water challenge force many castaways to get out of their comfort zone, often their combined with land based elements, fitting perfectly into the island backdrop. This week in our first top 10 for 2016, Jarrod Loobeek recaps the top 10 best water challenges we've seen in Survivor. Do you agree with his picks? Read on and find out!
Float Your Boat is an interesting race to row to shore with a twist, the tribe boats start on the bottom of the ocean weighed down by rocks. It’s up to the tribe members to remove the rocks to free their boat from the ocean floor and then bail it out before the can head to the finishing line. This is a tough water challenge that supports differing strategies and highlights both strong tribe and individual performances. Do you remove the rocks one by one or do you use the combined force of the tribe to upend the boat early on? Float Your Boat doesn’t need extra gimmicks along the way or a puzzle finish to make it interesting or fun to watch. If you don’t believe me then just rewatch Saboga’s dismal performance in All-Stars and you’ll get what I’m saying.
9. Sprung A Leak – Pearl Islands
The basic premise of the challenge is simple, sink your opponents boat before they can sink yours but the way it plays out is really fascinating to watch. We saw a similar challenge in China with teams trying sink an individual sitting in a floating tub but in my eyes the original format from Pearl Islands is a far better setup. Divided into teams each tribe controls two boats with a series of plugs in the side that can be detached. There are so many different strategies available to the contestants in Sprung A Leak, from how they use the grappling hook to whether to go all in or hang back and attack from afar. It feels like this challenge will remain in the Survivor history books given that it hasn’t returned already but maybe given the right theme we could see it again.
The infamous challenge thrown by Peih-Gee and Jaime in China is a good well-rounded challenge and it’s perhaps surprising that it hasn’t returned more often. There’s plenty of room to mix things up with this challenge as seen in the two variations where either puzzle pieces or rings were collected and the contestants either swam or were towed back to shore. It’s great having the contestants switch out during the diving section of Plunge, Pull, Pop as it encourages a strong team effort and adds the extra struggle of getting back out of the water to switch with your teammate. It’d be great if the next time this is run they allow the tribes to barricade the rings in the cell for the opposing tribe, as that could add another layer of strategy and would be a good throwback to other past challenges.
7. Quest for Fire – Borneo, Australian Outback, Marquesas, All-Stars and Cambodia
The original Survivor water challenge is a great way to start a season and usually provides a neck and neck race to the finish. Quest for Fire has such an amazing legacy and it’s a great way to combine the reward of fire with immunity. Running the challenge at dusk provides some stunning visuals and there’s plenty of room for reinvention in relation to the course (with the added land obstacles for the raft in All-Stars a nice touch). While I found its recent return in Cambodia a little lack-lustre, the sense of nostalgia one feels watching it more than makes up for any disappointment with the running of the challenge. Quest for Fire deserves to make a comeback every so often and I’m sure it’s always on the list for all returning seasons.
6. Smash and Grab – Cook Islands, Micronesia, Redemption Island and Caramoan
I love a Survivor relay race where you’re only as strong as your weakest link and Smash and Grab is a high energy challenge that’s a whole lot of fun to watch. Plenty of intro shots have come from this challenge and it’s no wonder why as the contestants jump off a platform to obliterate a tile and retrieve a key. Finding where the key has landed after the players hit the water may well be the toughest part of the challenge but that’s all to the audience’s benefit as we get to see confusion reign as the contestants search while the tribe mates on the beach try to direct them. While the puzzle or “carnival game” ending to this challenge may be a little lacklustre, the initial portion more than makes up for a predictable finish. Having appeared four times already and most recently in Caramoan I think it’s only a matter of time before Smash and Grab makes another appearance on our screens.
5. Basket Case – Worlds Apart
Not only was this challenge entertaining to watch but it was also a real breath of fresh air given the lack of water challenges run in the unpredictable Nicaraguan surf. While similar versions of this challenge have taken place in previous seasons (mainly as individual challenges), the Worlds Apart edition is probably my favourite iteration and different enough to be considered as separate from the others. With plenty of lead changes throughout, an exhausting obstacle course and shooting baskets to finish things off, this is a great relay challenge for the tribal portion of the game. Hopefully we continue to see this challenge in future seasons with slight tweaks, different final stages and new obstacles to keep things fresh.
4. Dive Masters – Vanuatu
The beauty of this challenge is in its simplicity. Forget the similar challenges that require tribes to dive for a couple of puzzle pieces or buoys and bring back the original. This is one of those challenges where you can feel the struggle of the contestants as the gradually dive deeper and deeper to retrieve the next tag, becoming more and more exhausted with each trip. Suspense is created perfectly by the editors showing shots of the buoy bobbling on the surface as we wait to see whether or not the competitors will return successful or empty handed. Granted given a blowout this challenge could be extremely boring to watch but with evenly matched tribes like in Vanuatu it keeps your interest from start to finish.
3. Last Gasp – Palau, Micronesia and Caramoan
Used on three separate occasions, this is a great individual immunity challenge that really tests the contestant’s will to win. This challenge has provided many memorable moments and was part of the introduction of exile island in Palau, where after being the first to drop out Janu was sent to stay the night on her own. I can only imagine how awful this challenge feels as a competitor with the water slowly rising until you’re completely submerged and that’s when the challenge really kicks off. Who can remain calm? Who can hold their breath the longest? Who can fashion the best snorkel out of their hands? There are so many different strategies with this challenge that it’s difficult to predict who’s going to win and it really levels the playing field. To make things even better this challenge has come down to some really great showdowns, from Tom vs. Ian in Palau to Jason vs. Ozzy in Micronesia and most recently Brenda vs. Andrea in Caramoan. Hopefully we see Last Gasp again in the not too distant future.
2. Waiting to Exhale – Borneo and All-Stars
Another water challenge where simplicity really wins out and proves that you don’t need a massive build to create a great challenge. I’m a fan of elimination round style challenges and this challenge initially narrows the field via a basic who can hold their breath the longest contest. After the first round, the second and final round requires the castaways to untie buoys from a ladder on the ocean floor. What’s great about this challenge is that similar to Dive Masters you get the suspense from shots above the surface waiting to see if a buoy is untied coupled with some great underwater shots of the head to head action. This challenge is tense to watch and it’d be great to see it return as an individual immunity challenge to combat the surplus of stationary endurance challenges in recent seasons.
1. Lock, Load and Light – Cook Islands and Heroes vs. Villains
Puzzles are such a staple of Survivor challenges that it’s easy for them to become boring or predictable but when they’re done well they can be terribly exciting to watch. That’s the case with Lock, Load and Light which ingeniously requires tribes to use puzzle pieces to construct a boat which they must then row out to sea to collect fire and then return to shore to light their respective cauldrons. The versatility of the puzzle pieces is definitely the highlight of this challenge but I also love the mad scramble to construct the tribe boats and the struggle to keep them together throughout their voyage. The braces used on the boats being reused as ladder rungs to later climb a wall caps off a really great water challenge that pushes the boundaries of what the viewers expect of a Survivor puzzle. I’d be extremely happy to see this challenge return in a three or four tribe starting season as there’s plenty going on to keep your attention from start to finish.
Honourable Mentions: Basket Brawl, Blue Lagoon Bustle, Boats Brains and Brawn, Cell Block Sea, Flying Your Flag, In the Barrel, Keel Hauling, Raft Rescue, Rock Bottom, Sea Salvage, Sumo at Sea, Water Slaughter
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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