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 second of a two part series Ozlet Colin Hilding steps up to question the frequency of reward challenges in the game and outlines their many downsides. Read on to find out the cons of reward challenges.
You can read part 1 on the pros of reward challenges here.
In many ways Survivor has changed over the years. One of the few consistent elements that remains in tact to this day, with few alterations, are the reward and immunity challenges. These are important for different reasons, and the biggest reasons have nothing to do with how much enjoyment the audience gets out of watching them. Immunity is there to keep strategies fresh, preventing predictable results in the weekly vote-outs. It gives the players something to fight for whether they be on the bottom or top. The rewards are equally important to the players, as a season with no hope of a pick-me-up, whether it be food or visits from home, would make for a miserable and depressed cast. The rewards themselves are just as relevant as they have ever been, but there are two questions I have been asking myself for years. Do we really need two challenges every week, and do the rewards themselves still have to take up so much airtime. All of the points I’m going to cover in this feature will make an argument for removing reward challenges from Survivor, or at the very least limiting them to special appearances.
After 16 years and 22 seasons, Survivor is running low on original challenges. I can revise that and say they started to run low on original challenges a decade ago at least. Even with variations being put on challenges from the past it always seems to come down to Generic Race Type Challenge, Generic Mental Puzzle Challenge and Generic Endurance Challenge. We can’t change the fact that after hundreds of challenges the options are limited in each episode, but by eliminating one challenge per week it means every immunity will feel a little more special and unique. By eliminating one challenge per episode the gap in between challenges being reused is instantly doubled. On top of this there will be more time every week for the build team to spend putting these together. Focusing on one per week means the challenges may become memorable again.
Airtime Better Spent Elsewhere
Strategy is huge in modern Survivor, and it takes up a huge chunk of every episode. During the early days of Borneo and Australian Outback only a few people would show up to each season looking to play the game. Nowadays everyone is there to play the game, and the game grows more complex every year. There is so much strategy that never makes it to air, and I believe the more we are able to see the more interesting and unpredictable the show will become.
Gone are the days where only a select few came to play
While most would assume eliminating a challenge would be used to free up more room for strategy, it’s the other side of the show that I find more appealing. Strategy will be there one way or the other. A story has to be told every week to explain how the votes fall, so while eliminating reward challenges may free up some air time to expand on the strategy, I find it more plausible that personal stories, character moments and the survival elements of the show will make their way back onto our screens. The show has made a conscious effort in the last few seasons to return to this classic character driven storytelling, but there’s only so much room when two challenges have to be included. Another improvement in recent seasons is a balanced edit. Everyone is being given a chance to shine at least once in a season, but back in the early days of the show it felt like everyone had a chance to shine once per episode. I’ll say it again, you can’t take the massive amount of strategy out of the show, but the development of characters needs to be more of a focus. The trade off is a simple one as far as I’m concerned. A few extra minutes every week where we can get to know the characters is worth losing another generic challenge.
Losing A Challenge Does Not Mean Losing A Reward
Just because the challenges would go that doesn’t mean we have to lose the rewards themselves. Immunity can be grouped in with rewards, as they already are in many episodes. I would assume that the rewards themselves are a must have on any season, as it’s the only way the show can have any positive control over the contestants. Making miserable contestants makes for a miserable season, so the reward itself should remain. This does get harder to manage post-merge, as the individual rewards themselves are an afterthought to the idea of taking the characters away from the tribe, thus opening up new chances for strategy. If it’s a matter of a big reward, and the show didn’t want to risk losing that away from camp time for game-talk and mingling, I’d say simply move the immunity challenge a little earlier in the episode.
Even if we were to lose these reward mingling sessions, would that really be such a bad thing? Strategy is going to happen one way or another, and more times than not these scenes exist to give the audience a sense of a shake-up that in all actuality will never occur.
Rewards, Like The Challenges, Are Becoming Dull
Gone are the days of unique and memorable rewards. This is of course no fault of the show itself. Like I said about the challenges themselves, we are 32 seasons in with these rewards, and there are only so many combinations of “Burgers….. fries…… hot dogs…… kabobs….. and all the fixins” that we can see before it all becomes a blur. “What was the reward this week?” if the second question I end up asking myself as we cover and recap the weekly episodes. That question of course comes after “What were the challenges this week?” No show can keep rewards original for as long as Survivor has been on the air. Recycling of rewards happens as much, if not more than the recycling of challenges.
When I think of great reward experiences to watch as a viewer, almost every one that comes to mind is from the first few seasons. As I said earlier, I am against removing rewards completely as this runs the risk of contestants and the show itself of becoming miserable to watch, but does a big deal need to be made about the reward experiences this many seasons in? Just because something is necessary to keep the cast lively doesn’t mean we need several minutes each week dedicated to airing it. I don’t need to see them take their multivitamins, and while rewards can still be fun to watch, the amount of entertainment is so minuscule that I wouldn’t mind if we only saw a few each season.
Good Moments Are Few And Far Between
As was mentioned in Part 1 , there are without a doubt specific instances where having a reward challenge provided great moments for the show. We all have our favourite challenge, reward, cultural experience, or strategy shake-up over the course of 32 seasons. The real question is do these memorable moments outnumber the forgettable challenges or rewards we have seen over the years? I would be willing to bet if a list were to be made of every challenge and reward, any fan would have an overwhelming majority in the forgettable category. Is it worth keeping reward challenges around for those great moments when they are so few and far between? If Survivor were to cancel this portion of the show we could be robbed of the next Frank and Brandon movie date, or Rodney birthday meltdown. At the same time it’s possible we’re already being robbed of a deeper understanding of the strategies at play or stronger character development across the board (ie no more Purple edits). Bonus scenes every week show us that there is decent footage that we aren’t shown in the standard 42 minute episode.
The greatest fear in losing a reward challenge is ultimately the loss of strategy. One challenge a week is enough. Most competitive reality shows only feature one challenge. A show like Big Brother may feature up to 3 challenges each week, but they also air three episodes a week, so breaking it down even Big Brother sticks to one challenge per episode. I refuse to believe that there is more drama, strategy, or entertainment going on in a Big Brother house every 2-3 days than Survivor has in every 2-3 day cycle. Like I alluded to earlier, if we really were to look at the last few seasons, I’m sure we’d find that strategies that originated in a reward session were a very rare thing. I struggle to think of one in this current season. In the end if the positives of the rewards themselves were the driving force in keeping them, there are plenty of ways that I outlined above that would keep the rewards while losing the challenges themselves. And airtime is an important thing. 50 seconds of 60 second opening credits has already been sacrificed for additional airtime. The next obvious cut would have to be reward challenges. One a week means less repetition, more originality, higher stakes, and plenty of extra time per season to develop the characters out there.
Are you a fan of reward challenges or would you rather see them limited? Should they stay as they currently are or operate in a different capacity? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
ALL IMAGES USED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE COPYRIGHT CBS. IF YOU WISH TO READ OUR DISCLAIMER IN REGARDS TO THE USE OF IMAGES PLEASE CLICK HERE