It is often debated among Survivor fans how many different 'eras' there have been across the history of the show and how they should be separated. Old school, middle school, new school? They are always put out there and hotly debated. But as we enter the 16th year of the show and head towards the 32nd and 33rd seasons, the eras might just be a little easier to define coming off the back of another full returning player season. In today's feature article, Survivor Oz host Ben Waterworth brings you his definition of the eras of Survivor and takes a look at what we can expect from the show's 'fourth chapter'. Read on for a look at the different periods of Survivor's history.
The Classic Era (Season 1 – Season 8)
Every single TV show has that one period where everybody remembers it being the best. The ‘glory days’ you could call it, when everything was fresh and new and it was the ultimate water cooler discussion point the next day. There was no bigger show like that than Survivor when it first started back in 2000. Each of the first eight seasons brought with it talking points for endless weeks and drew the viewers back for more. It was the highest rating show on TV for the first two seasons and then was always in the top ten with every single contestant becoming a household name. Each season brought with it a new fresh appeal. Where was it heading to next? Who would be the most memorable players? Who would dare go against the evil ‘alliance’ to try and actually win the game and who would have the ability to backstab and lie in order to win themselves a million dollars? It was incredible viewing, and for anyone who was there when the seasons were fresh would know the feeling of being glued to their TV each week wanting to know more without the risk or fear of social media spoilers or any form of vitriol from discussion. The discussion that had to happen in person and wasn’t reliant on Twitter and Facebook to generate controversy or add fuel to any simmering fires. The contestants were actual celebrities too, and to this day are still highly regarded in the fan community as ‘the originals’ based on the era they were from. Sure the gameplay in some seasons when compared to today is stale and things like ‘pagongings’ were always frowned upon which lead to changes such as tribe switches and tribe pick ’ems. But this is the era that can never be touched for sentimental value and quality. Every single season in the first eight seasons is held in high regard, even the ‘black sheep’ of the bunch in Thailand and All-Stars. It was the early years of Survivor that set out the foundations for the show we still watch to this day.
The Experimental Era (Season 9 – Season 20)
I had always had a mindset that the second era or ‘middle school’ started in either Guatemala or Panama but I feel it is perfect to bookend all the eras with the full returning player season in which it concludes with. Perfect example here is the middle or ‘experimental era’ of the show. Post All-Stars the show had to try something different. It came off a very controversial season in which many peoples view of the show they had loved for seven seasons prior had changed. We had seen a new way of playing the game. No more was it purely reliant on relationships and friendships to move forward. There was some real dark and personal ways on getting to the end and some would say ‘villainous’ tone that the season took shaped how the game would move forward. Heading into Vanuatu, those changes were already there. We had a different tone of play. There were players willing to lie on family members in order to go far into the game. It was different, it was dark, but it was shaped off the end of that first era and moved into the next. We also would see other changes such as more than 16 new players in a season. We would see things like Exile Island come and go, we would see the introduction of the hidden immunity idol, new players mixing with old players, different ways of changing the tribes up and even making tribes live in luxury against tribes who lived in dour conditions. It was an era of experimenting with the format with some ideas that worked and others that failed miserably. The game also took an extremely notable detour from showcasing every one of the characters and players to only focusing on the stand outs with large portions of each of the subsequent casts slowly getting forgotten. Ask any long term fan to name every single player from the first eight seasons and they would have no trouble. Get them to do it from Vanuatu onwards and their memory might get a little cloudy. Not to say this isn’t entirely a bad thing. Editing is done in a way for the most part to move a story forward and pay true focus on why some players make it far, some don’t and why one player wins each season. But from a show that celebrated each player for the first eight seasons to make some just a background character was a slow pill to swallow. The experiments also occurred when it came to casting overall. It wasn’t now all about the actual applications. The trend towards recruiting was there and the more the seasons moved forward the lesser applicants came and the more recruits were on. Again, not always a bad thing depending on how you look at it but for the original fans of the show it was also hard to swallow. But one thing this period definitely sold on the show was further development. The strategy changed. A different way of playing the game was on hand and using every single possible way to get forward on each season was a constant theme. From using ‘powerful’ idols to get to the end, making fake idols, playing up being a victim of natural disasters to even over exposing a persons faith and honesty in a group of people to give up immunity showed its hand and brought in countless entertaining moments and some cringe worthy ones along the way. It also saw us finally define the difference between a ‘hero’ and a ‘villain’ in a bookend that to this day could be the best bookend of them all with the best season of them all. It was different. It was new. But it kept the show alive and that was the main thing.
The Gimmick Era (Season 21 – Season 31)
Say no more about this period being ‘new school’ because moving forward into 2016 we can close the chapter off and officially label it the ‘gimmick era’. Every single season between season 21 and 31 had some form of gimmick and long gone was the idea of the true base of the show being 16 strangers on an island battling it out for 39 days to win a million dollars. No no. Now we had to have a theme of some sort. A gimmick to really sell the season. From young vs. old, to an island where you had the chance to come back and play again, to all the players living on the same beach, injured players returning to have another shot, fans once again battling it out against favourites, family members playing with returning players, beautiful people playing against smart people and tough people, players playing from their respective ‘collars’ and right up to the fans voting players back on the have a second chance. The show had gone from having the location being the selling point each time a new season came around to what the theme of the season would be to really help make it. And just like the experimental era this wasn’t always a bad thing. Gimmicks would often work and make the season what it was and there were several strong standouts in this era. But while the first era was filled with entirely classic seasons and the second era only had a couple of fizzers to debate over the third era will be remembered for having as many misses as it did hits. But when a show has been around as long as Survivor this is entirely understandable. You don’t have that instant audience the way you did in 2000. You need to do what you can to keep the long term fans on board and attract the new fans to a show that is often regarded as the show that is ‘oh still on’. This can also be seen in the large proportion of returning player seasons to really try and bring back that nostalgia factor of the fans too. More than half the seasons featured returning players which had its positives and negatives in doing so. And TV has also changed. It is not consumed the same as it was in 2000. Now there is the prospect of downloads, streaming, catch up services. And it’s not just how we watch its how we talk about the show. Social media is king in the world of TV shows such as Survivor and while contestants 15 years ago were instant celebrities based purely off being on TV, now it’s a case of fighting for the fame to stay around with social media and other ways of interacting with fans. Again, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a different and developing world of TV that has changed the fabric of the TV and Survivor. Ending this era with Cambodia is a perfect way to move forward into a new era as it has given us a new way of not only getting contestants on the show but also playing the game once more, with the desire to get that ‘second chance’ now always in the back of a players mind it will be interesting to see how the new period will further shape the game.
The Fourth Chapter (Season 31 Onwards)
So what will the next era of Survivor bring and just how long will the era last? That will be the defining question over the next few years as although it’s a question that has plagued the show for the last decade, there are several factors now which really will play into the future of Survivor. The first being Jeff Probst. How long can he continue to front the show? Pushing further into his 50s, the man shows no sign of slowing down and is on top of his game as much as he ever has been. But for many the show will end the day he leaves, so if that day comes will that be the case? Ratings too continue to drop each season, will this play a bigger factor than many let on? As discussed earlier there are many reasons why due to TV watching habits changing over the years. But ratings still are a key factor in deciding a shows survival. Looking outside America though, the show you could argue is enjoying a revival of fortunes and in markets such as Canada and Australia it is as strong as it has ever been. Here in Australia the show has enjoyed a massive boost since Go decided to fast track it to the same day it airs in America and this was also recently showcased with their decision to air the finale live with the US for Cambodia. And with a new local version coming this year, will that also help propel it into further living rooms across the nation? Season 33 looks to be the real start of how this era will play off. Given season 32 was actually filmed before Cambodia it makes it slightly difficult to really judge it on a new era. But whatever season 33 brings in September this year will define how the future of the show will look. Will the gimmicks continue? Will there be more room for new twists and turns along the way? And can the magic of the show live on through the fans heading into the next period of Survivor? It will be interesting to watch, and for one we will all be there to see just exactly how it turns out.
How do you define the eras of Survivor? Are we entering a distinct fourth chapter? What can we expect from the coming era? Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts!
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