One of the most important features in the game of Survivor are the challenges. Whether for immunity, reward or as part of a duel, winning challenges can give tribes and/or individuals a huge advantage in the game and be vital to their survival. Over 31 seasons we’ve seen challenges that have tested strength, endurance, logic, patience, balance, memory, aim and a whole range of other characteristics. In today’s feature article Ozlet Jarrod Loobeek looks at a couple of challenges that have been used across multiple seasons and gives his thoughts on what happened each time around. Click for more!
As a fan of the show, one of the main elements I love about Survivor are the reward and immunity challenges. While 31 seasons into the show it’s always nice to see the production team create brand new challenges that test the physical and mental ability of the castaways, it’s also interesting to see classic challenges return every so often. As part of a recurring feature article, I’ll compare challenges used in multiple seasons and look at what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved in the future. Make sure to take a look at Part 1 and Part 2 and leave a comment on what challenges you’d like to see compared in the future.
Used as both a tribal immunity challenge and redemption island duel, Jail Break has appeared in seven different seasons. In this challenge players are shut in a cell or behind a fence and must retrieve keys to unlock a series of padlocks and escape their prison.
Jail Break makes its Survivor debut in the infamous fake merge episode of Thailand, making it arguably the most important immunity challenge of the entire season. For the first version of this challenge the two tribes are locked in separate bamboo cells with a padlock on each of their wrists and another one shackling their feet together. Inside the cell there are several short sticks and planks as well as rope to help retrieve 15 keys hanging from poles out the front of their cells before the tribes must dig their way out of their cell. Each key retrieved can only be used to unlock a single padlock and all 15 keys must be presented to Jeff at the end of the challenge. Chuay Ghan get off to a quick start as the rain pelts down but it’s not long before Sook Jai get the hang of things and the two tribes trade key for key. While Chuay Ghan stick to conventional methods, Sook Jai try everything to increase their chances using their shoe laces as rope and having tribe members lean out of their cell (merely keeping one foot inside) to retrieve their keys. Both tribes reach their final key around the same time but Chuay Ghan is faster recovering theirs after it falls to the ground. Although Sook Jai only needs one key to catch up, Chuay Ghan are prompt in digging out of their cells and winning this vital challenge.
Challenge Highlight: Sook Jai’s thinking outside the box is great to watch. Shii Ann even builds a rudimentary grappling hook towards the end of the challenge.
Challenge MVP: Brian for Chuay Ghan and either Ken or Shii Ann for Sook Jai.
While keys are the main obstacle in the first edition of Jail Break, knots are the key barrier during The Amazon. Both tribes are boxed inside their cells and must untie a series of knots to retrieve a machete followed by a plank and finally similar to the Thailand edition they must use a wooden pole to snag 3 keys from outside their cage. These keys are used to unlock 3 padlocks and open a trap door escape in the roof of the cage. While both tribes are quick to untie their machete, the guys fall way behind when they can’t cut through their rope to release the plank during the second stage. The girls however fly through the second stage of the challenge and are quick to pluck their three keys, unlock their padlocks and escape from their cell while the all to cocky males can only sit back and marvel at their defeat.
Challenge Highlight: Every time the Tambaqui males lose this season it’s a whole heap of fun to watch and this challenge is no exception. What makes their loss even more of a highlight is the fact that they lose by such considerable margin and it’s all down to their poor machete use.
Challenge MVP: Joanna is a major player for the girls in all 3 stages of the challenge and she single-handedly retrieves all 3 keys for Jaburu.
Of all the Survivor challenges throughout the years, this challenge surely had some of the highest stakes ever and the changes made to Jail Break just add to the tension. In this iteration of Jail Break, more and more players become involved in the challenge as it progresses. During the opening stage each tribe has a representative run and collect a flag before digging into the first cell and untying knots binding their second tribe member. In stage two, the two tribe members dig into an adjacent cell where they untie two more members of their tribe. The third stage involves the released tribe members working together to make poles to retrieve 3 keys so they can unlock a gate leading to the next cell and unshackle their remaining tribe mates. The final portion of the challenge requires the tribes to construct an even longer makeshift pole to retrieve a lone key that unlocks the final cell and releases them from their respective prison. Burton gets the Outcasts into an early lead during the running leg of the challenge before Drake catch up during the untying segments. The order then remains Drake followed by the Outcasts and then Morgan until the final cell where the Outcasts are the only tribe with a strong enough pole to retrieve the final key. There are some epic celebrations as they unlock the final gate and cross the finish line.
Challenge Highlight: There’s no real stand out moment in this challenge, rather the stakes of the challenge itself and the intensity throughout is the real highlight of this version of Jail Break.
Challenge MVP: Burton is a major driving force behind the Outcast victory, getting them into an early lead and retrieving all 4 keys needed to complete the challenge.
The first of three times Jail Break is used as a duel, the Redemption Island challenge tones back the complexity, simply requiring the castaways to make poles to retrieve three keys to open a gate. Say what you will about Redemption Island as a twist but regardless of your opinion this is actually a highly entertaining duel with Francesca quickly streaking ahead and retrieving two of her keys before Matt is able to snag a single one. The third and furthest key turns out to be Francesca’s undoing however as Matt is able to construct a longer and stronger pole that quickly nabs him all three of his keys in quick succession. Matt hastily unlocks his padlocks and so begins his quest to return back into the game.
Challenge Highlight: Matt’s comeback is definitely the most entertaining part about the duel, as it looks like Francesca has the win in the bag for the majority of the challenge.
Challenge MVP: As the victor it’s obviously Matt but overall we witness strong performances by both players in a duel that could have gone either way.
The challenge in South Pacific operates identical to Jail Break’s previous appearance in Redemption Island, except this time it lacks the suspense of its predecessor. Ozzy makes the bold move of going for the furthest away key first and while that proves tricky, once he retrieves that key, the duel is all but a foregone conclusion. While Christine struggles to construct a pole that’s strong enough and is forced to constantly rebuild, Ozzy calmly collects his final two keys and unlocks his gate for a spot back in the game.
Challenge Highlight: While technically it happens before the duel, one can’t go past Ozzy’s terrible acting as he tries to convince Upolu he was blindsided by Cochran at the past tribal council.
Challenge MVP: Ozzy dominates the duel from start to finish and it’s a shame Christine couldn’t put up a stronger fight after winning five back to back duels.
The third time Jail Break is used as a duel with the only change being that this time it’s contested between three players. As the challenge begins, Tina tries to offer instruction to Katie in the hope that they can knock Laura out of redemption island but this all too quickly proves to be futile as Laura flies through the challenge, breaking out before Tina can even hook her first key. Katie holds a handy one key lead on Tina but disaster strikes when she drops her second key into the sand, opening the door for Tina to overtake her. With all three of her keys Tina hesitantly opens her padlocks asking Katie for permission to beat her in the challenge. Katie acquiesces Tina’s request and is knocked out of the duel and the game as Tina opens her gate and moves onto the final duel.
Challenge Highlight: Watching Tina struggle with wanting to stay alive in the game but having to do so at the expense of her daughter.
Challenge MVP: Laura was a force to be reckoned with on redemption island and this duel was no exception.
The challenge in Cambodia simply tacks Jail Break onto the end of Quest for Fire, with a single key to collect to unlock a gate. Although Ta Keo had a slight lead courtesy of the quest for fire portion, golden boy Joe put Bayon right back in the game, streaking past Kelly Wiglesworth and unlocking their gate in no time.
Challenge Highlight: Kelley Wentworth’s gutsy idol grab right at the Jail Break portion of the challenge.
Challenge MVP: Joe.
Best Use: While Jail Break has worked well in both tribal challenge and duel formats, I would like to see it return as a full blown tribal immunity challenge. Given the stakes surrounding the challenge and how it came down to the wire, the Pearl Islands iteration is definitely one of the standouts.
Suggested Improvements: While the key and pole element of the challenge is tense and fun to watch, it’d be great to see some more variation in how the tribes break out of their respective cells à la The Amazon. Bring on some knot untying, grappling hooks, climbing and puzzle locks.
A Crate Idea
Used as a tribal immunity challenge in three seasons, A Crate Idea involves pairs running out to retrieve giant crates before using them to build a staircase with the tribe name or theme spelled out along the side.
In the first edition of A Crate Idea, all the crates are located at the far end of a field opposite the tribe’s puzzle area. Although J.T. and Taj get Jalapao out to an early lead, Timbira are quick to overtake on the later legs and they maintain a lead going into the puzzle segment. Initially it looks like Timbira’s quick crate retrieval could be the deciding factor as they start well on the puzzle but as they approach the final stages they begin to bicker as a tribe. While Timbira argue, Jalapao work well as a team and bridge the gap between the two tribes. The challenge comes down to a race to get the final crate ontop of the stairs and it’s Jalapao’s cooperative effort that ensures they’re the first to complete and surmount their staircase for immunity.
Challenge Highlight: It’s funny to watch how the stronger players like J.T. and Brendan don’t even need their partner to help them bring their crate back to the starting line.
Challenge MVP: There are plenty of standouts for each tribe in the challenge. J.T., Joe, Tyson and Brendan are huge helps in bringing back their tribe’s crates while Erinn is really on top of Timbira’s puzzle until the others try to get involved.
Apart from a slightly different staircase configuration, this challenge operates identically to the challenge in Tocantins. The Heroes get out to an early lead thanks to the strength of their members and they have a one crate lead on the Villains for the duration of the collection phase of the challenge. However, similar to Tocantins the puzzle section all comes down to the team with better teamwork coming from behind as the Villains quickly eat up the Heroes lead and work together on the heavy lifting. While the Heroes self destruct and start calling out one another, the Villains remain calm and waltz their way to their second straight immunity challenge win.
Challenge Highlight: In terms of drama the whole Heroes blowup while stacking their crates is frightening. If you’re looking for something more lighthearted, Randy telling the Villains to roll their crate over Rupert’s broken toe is pretty funny.
Challenge MVP: The entire Heroes tribe all absolutely demolish the crate returning portion but as so often was the case this season, Boston Rob proves to be the MVP for the Villains tribe in the puzzle section of the challenge.
The Caramoan challenge operates similar to the Heroes vs. Villains edition with the same staircase configuration but the tribe crates laid out at varying distances from the starting line and more interspersed with one another. Having this challenge directly after a random swap was very risky (though not the initial plan) and the physically superior Gota tribe dominate the challenge from start to finish. Gota quickly build a one crate lead on Bikal and power though the retrieving section of the challenge. Unfortunately for Bikal unlike previous editions Gota just build on their lead and never falter as they build their staircase before the other tribe can get in a single crate in its proper spot.
Challenge Highlight: Jeff comes out with some great lines during the challenge from “Bikal appears to be on some sort of medication they’re moving so slow” to “you can put this one in the deep freeze, this one it over” it’s some standout commentary.
Challenge MVP: Gota are such a cohesive unit it’s hard to pick a standout. Perhaps Malcolm but anybody from Gota would be worthy of the title.
Best Use: Two out of the three times this challenge has run its been a close race to the finish and it’s great to see a challenge that equally combines physical and mental skill. Simply due to the star power of the players and the dramatic events that unfold, Heroes vs. Villains is my favourite edition so far.
Suggested Improvements: I think it’s key that in future seasons this challenge is used early at a point where tribes are more likely to be physically evenly matched. The puzzle element could definitely be made harder than the season theme or tribe name, perhaps a jumbled word phrase or intersecting words that have to make sense both vertically, horizontally and diagonally.
What’s your favourite version of each of these challenges? What do you consider to be the highlights? What other classic challenges would you like to see compared? Let us know your thoughts below!
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