Since its inception reward challenges have been a staple feature of Survivor with particular emphasis during the post-merge portion of the game. While immunity challenges are a vital component of the show, reward challenges are seen by some as pointless exercises that waste valuable episode time that could be better spent focusing on strategy talk and relationships at camp. This begs the question, what do reward challenges bring to the show and are they worth the time dedicated to them? In the first of a two part series Ozlet Jarrod Loobeek steps up to defend the inclusion of reward challenges in the game and outlines their many merits. Read on to find out the pros of reward challenges.
While on the surface reward challenges may be viewed as pointless or something simply to be tacked onto immunity challenges, a closer look at these challenges highlights their potential to complement the strategic flow of a season and bring out important character moments amongst the cast. The five points listed below vary in importance and will likely resonate differently with each reader depending on what they look for and enjoy while watching the show. However, I hope they are able to convince you of the importance of reward challenges in the game and give you a renewed appreciation of what they bring to the table.
Alliance Shakeups and Strategic Quandaries
Perhaps the biggest advantage of reward challenges is the potential they provide for alliance shake ups during the individual portion of the game. As Ciera voiced multiple times in her confessionals in Cambodia, rewards allow you time away from camp in a relaxed setting to try and change things up. The great thing about rewards splitting up the tribes is that they make it harder for the dominant players to keep a lid on their alliance and keep tabs on what everybody is doing. Paranoia has a tendency to run rampant as the group at camp wonder what’s going on at the reward and while the players on reward are concerned by the camp time they’re missing. Time and time again we see strategy talk flourish on rewards and while not always successful, these talks stand a much better chance of taking root than when everybody is together at camp where the dominant alliance can watch every move.
Far from simply shaking up alliances through the game talk that occurs on rewards, reward challenges bring about a whole complicated strategy revolving around who the winner chooses to include or exclude in their reward (provided it’s not a team challenge). Throughout Survivor’s long history we’ve seen relationships fractured when players have had to make the tough decision on who to bring with them on reward. Deals have been made and broken when it comes to rewards and the ensuing drama is always fun to behold. In Worlds Apart we had the running joke of Rodney not being selected to go on reward and having to stay back at camp and do dishes on his birthday.
Reward challenges also add a layer of complexity to strategy and there are certain challenges where throwing the reward challenge may be in a player’s best interest. Loved one and car reward challenges have placed players in lose lose situations where they either act selfishly and disgruntle the other players e.g. Cindy in Guatemala or they sacrifice their reward for the majority and are then painted as a jury threat a la Brenda in Caramoan.
Unique Rewards and Cultural Experiences
While many survival rewards are paired with immunity in season premieres and three tribe seasons, big ticket items and cultural experiences work best as individual rewards and can be a real highlight of Survivor seasons. Immunity is a huge reward in itself and in my opinion shouldn’t be attached to a whole bunch of asides (particularly during the individual portion of the game). It almost feels major rewards need to be earned on their own and not piggybacked with immunity. For some players the thought of winning a car or being given an opportunity to give back to the local community on a reward trip makes them push even harder than in immunity challenges (particularly if they’re in a majority alliance at the time). These amazing experiences need their own time in each episode and it would severely disrupt the flow if we had a challenge for individual immunity and a cultural reward at the start of the episode, then went to the cultural visit, then went back to camp for the strategising before tribal council. Unique reward challenges like the Survivor Auction wouldn’t even work tagged onto an immunity challenge or at the very least would have to be drastically altered to make sense.
Fun Light Hearted Moments
While reward challenges are still competitive and can be cutthroat depending on the reward on offer, they’re nowhere near as serious as their immunity challenges counterparts and as such they provide a whole lot more light hearted moments. It’s hard to imagine Survivor without reward opportunities that make the contestants feel a whole lot more relatable and allow them to put the game to the side for a while if the timing is right. Some of the funniest moments have happened during Survivor rewards and it’s during these times that the players tend to let their guards down and act more naturally. Yes, we may get some of these character moments at camp or during immunity challenges where Jeff offers temptations to the contestants but if we didn’t have separate reward challenges they’d be few and far in-between and I for one would miss them.
The great thing about having separate reward challenges from immunity is that it allows for a greater change of momentum throughout both the tribal and individual stage. When reward and immunity challenges are combined it ensures that the strong keep getting stronger and the weak keep getting weaker. Immunity is a huge reward in itself so why should anything else be up for grabs in the same challenge? Winning a challenge, plus receiving some form of nourishment or comfort makes sure that you’ll not only come to the next challenge feeling confident but you’ll also be stronger due to the reward you received. Sometimes one big reward challenge win is just what a tribe needs to gain confidence, refuel their bodies and begin a comeback. I shudder to think how some of the dominant tribes in Survivor could have been even more impressive if reward and immunity challenges had been combined throughout the entirety of the tribal phase of the game.
This last point will largely depend on your viewing preferences but for many audience members Survivor challenges can be a real highlight of the episode so having a separate reward and immunity challenge means double the fun. Particularly in more recent seasons immunity challenges tend to follow the trend of standing still in one position for as long as possible while balancing some form of pole or ball. Reward challenges offer a lot more variety with some run as individuals some as pairs and others dividing the remaining cast into two even teams. Like with the Survivor Auction mentioned earlier, some of the more interesting Survivor challenges are better tailored to being for reward. Coconut chop style challenges and touchy subject challenges in my opinion should be exclusively used as reward challenges to prevent an underdog being immediately eliminated to prevent them winning immunity.
The main argument against reward challenges is that they suck up unnecessary amounts of screentime that could be spent back at camp getting to know players and their strategies. While this can be a legitimate concern on three tribe seasons, in two tribe seasons and during the post merge stage reward challenges are a worthy inclusion in my opinion. These challenges inject a whole new level of strategy and drama into seasons with their difficult decisions and character driven moments. If you took out these challenges you’d remove a major catalyst for change in the game and you risk creating a stale bored environment in the game. While some may lobby for reward challenges to be permanently tied to the immunity challenge this idea has the potential to disrupt the flow of an episode and make matters unnecessarily convoluted. Rewards more than merit their own challenges and time in the spotlight.
Are you a fan of reward challenges or would you rather see them axed? Should they stay as they currently are or operate in a different capacity? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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