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 32 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 32 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, Part 2 and Part 3 and leave a comment on what challenges you’d like to see compared in the future.
Used as an individual immunity challenge and redemption island duel, Domino Effect has appeared in four separate seasons debuting in Gabon. In this challenge players must stack a row of dominoes along a platform while avoiding a series of obstacles. The first player to successfully topple their dominoes from one end of the platform to the other wins the challenge.
The first ever running of Domino Effect saw seven contestants verse in an initial balance beam competition for the right to join Corinne (who automatically advanced thanks to an advantage she bought at the auction) in the final domino stacking portion of the challenge. Domino Effect’s debut set the difficultly bar high, using a peak and valley track with a multitude of trip ropes attached to the unsteady structure. While Corinne and Matty work methodically from the front to the back of their lanes, Kenny takes a different approach and places his dominoes from the finish all the way back to the start. In a close challenge Kenny is the first to give toppling the dominoes a go but his run stops almost immediately and he has to realign his dominoes, opening the door for Matty and Corinne. With all three players now ready, they start their runs almost simultaneously. Corinne’s effort is the first to buckle with Matty and Kenny’s designs both working well. Eventually, Matty’s run peters out as well, leaving Kenny jumping up and down as his dominoes fall perfectly to release a ball and raise a flag signally his victory.
Challenge Highlight: The best thing about this challenge is just how down to the wire it is. The three sets of dominoes falling side by side is exactly the type of competitiveness you want in a Survivor challenge.
Challenge MVP: Although Kenny proves to be the best at domino stacking, Corinne and Matty both hold their own and Matty’s domination during the balance beam portion of the challenge probably earns him the title.
Russell’s Survivor swan song sees Domino Effect run in much the same way as Gabon, except with fewer trip wires the competitors need to avoid. In a back and forth duel, Matt takes the early lead and is the first to attempt a run which falls short half way. This opens the door for Russell, who is able to overcome a big gap between his dominoes at the start only to fall short on a similar incline to Matt moments beforehand. After making the necessary adjustments, Matt is ready to give it another shot and this proves to be the nail in Russell’s coffin as Matt’s dominoes flow perfectly from one to the next releasing a ball and shattering a tile to signal victory.
Challenge Highlight: While a tense duel, it’s somewhat overshadowed by Russell’s exit and the events that follow its completion. That being said, the sheer determination and will to win of both competitors is probably the main takeaway from this challenge.
Challenge MVP: Matt was always such a force in the duels and this one is no different. While Russell scrambles and sweats, Matt remains cool calm and collected throughout, working methodically with haste to stay alive.
In the third running of Domino Effect, the main difference is the use of trip bars instead of ropes to wobble the contestant’s tracks. In what eventually becomes a grueling battle between Marissa and Rachel, Candice is quick to complete the challenge as if she’s been stacking dominoes her whole life. 45 minutes into the duel and neither Marissa or Rachel have had any luck despite multiple attempts to trigger their domino runs. As both of them give it one final go, Rachel’s dominoes fail to line up as Marissa wins the duel and survives another day.
Challenge Highlight: Gervase’s support from the sideline and his reaction when Marissa stays alive takes the cake.
Challenge MVP: Candice by a country mile. She dominates this duel.
In perhaps the biggest deviation from the original design used in Gabon, the Kaoh Rong challenge utilises a flat course and switches out the rope tripwires for a wooden frame obstacle. With nine players competing there are plenty of lead changes throughout this challenge which makes for an incredibly interesting affair. Michele takes the early lead but falls agonisingly short as her final couple of dominoes don’t trigger which opens the door for Debbie who has a couple of failed attempts at knocking her dominoes down. As the challenge progresses, Jason gets in on the action but he too is unable to finish a complete run. In the end it’s the slow and steady Julia who comes up trumps with her dominoes falling one by one and for the most part remaining on the beam after they’ve toppled.
Challenge Highlight: Plenty to choose from here as it was great to see the challenge contested by such a large bunch of players. For me the camera shot that accompanied Julia’s victory was a truly beautiful piece of cinematography.
Challenge MVP: Although Julia walks away with immunity, Michele is impressive in nearly taking out an early victory while Debbie works fast enough to get in a couple of shots at winning the challenge.
Best Use: While the tension is present in all versions of this challenge, running it with more players seems to be all the more exciting in Kaoh Rong and the wooden barrier adds a higher degree of difficultly, with dominoes potentially bumping it as they fall and sending ones further down the line toppling to the floor.
Suggested Improvements: This challenge is really strong at building suspense and providing opportunities for come from behind victories and room for different strategies to take shape. In future iterations it’d be nice to see the design team continue to tweak the obstacles for the players so there’s enough variation to keep things interesting. Perhaps instead of a single straight track for the dominoes we could see a spiral pattern or even a multi-tiered design that requires some strategic domino placement as they fall from one level to the next.
Caught In The Web
Caught In The Web has appeared in three seasons as either a tribal reward or immunity challenge. In a relay format tribes send out one member at a time to climb a web of ropes and retrieve either a bag or basket. The first tribe to collect all their items and complete the final component wins the challenge.
The first appearance of Caught In The Web is arguably its simplest with tribe members racing up a ramp and across a net before ripping baskets off a rope web and returning them to their tribe mat. With every player running twice things remain fairly even between the two tribes during the first run through, with neither side building a sizable gap on their opponents. With three runners left things take a downward turn for Boran with Kim Johnson struggling on the net section of the run allowing Kim Powers to take the lead for Samburu. As Kim J retrieves her basket and cautiously makes her way back to her tribe mat, Samburu is able to extend their lead as Lindsey laps her. Although Lex does his best to make up the difference, Frank easily secures the win for Samburu bringing home their final item with no hassles at all.
Challenge Highlight: As he so often was this season, Big Tom is a pure delight to watch as he provides plenty of laughs while tripping and rolling around on the nets during his runs.
Challenge MVP: Silas and Lindsey are standout performers for Samburu while Lex and Clarence do a great job for Boran.
The challenge in Guatemala runs similar in principle to the challenge in Africa, except this time the web extends out over a pit of water rather than being a straight up rope wall. While Jamie gets Yaxhá off to the perfect start, Nakúm quickly close the gap with the tribes racing neck and neck. Things fall apart for Yaxhá when Rafe falls into the water without a bag and is unable to climb the ladder to get out of the pool, opening the door for Nakúm to get a one bag lead. Although Yaxhá fight back honourably and are able to draw level once more, the time lost proves to be the real difference as Blake brings home Nakúm’s final bag and seals victory for them.
Challenge Highlight: Plenty of great moments and surprise performances by the competitors but Rafe struggling to climb out of the pool is amusing to watch and makes his individual challenge wins later on in the season all the more impressive.
Challenge MVP: Jamie is the stand out performer for Yaxhá while Blake is the MVP for Nakúm.
Heroes vs. Villains runs the challenge in an identical setup to Africa except with the modern Survivor requisite of a puzzle to finish things off. As with the previous instalments things are neck and neck for the majority of the challenge until Courtney hesitates when jumping off the web, allowing Candice to snag the lead for the Heroes. With a one runner lead and all their bags collected J.T. and Amanda are on puzzle duty for the Heroes but with Boston Rob on the puzzle portion for the Villains they’re very much still in the challenge. Bucking the trend of the season so far, the Heroes are able to prevent themselves from losing during the puzzle stage and easily pull off the victory for their tribe.
Challenge Highlight: It’s funny to see how gangly everybody looks during the retrieval portion of this challenge with some interesting sprinting form on display. For me personally I love how Jeff can’t hide his frustration at Courtney’s performance and his anger when she fails to land properly after she jumps off the web is particularly amusing.
Challenge MVP: Everybody has really solid performances, even Courtney on her first go round. Given this is Colby’s whole prove his worth episode the MVP award should probably go to him in this instance.
Best Use: Purely because of the web design Guatemala is the best iteration. Having the contestants scramble out across the water is definitely the most interesting and physically testing way to stage the challenge. Plus is has the added bonus of allowing for plenty of lead changes throughout the challenge and time to stage a comeback if a tribe falls behind early.
Suggested Improvements: Not a whole lot wrong with this challenge but a return to the Guatemala web design would be a good start. Perhaps having the tribes start on different sides of the course with the web in the middle could make for some interesting exchanges as the contestants cross each others paths. Tethering the players together in pairs could also add an interesting dynamic. Finishing the challenge with a puzzle in Heroes vs. Villains didn’t really add anything special, so perhaps the puzzle could be worked into the retrieval stage with contestants having to solve puzzles to know which numbered bag to collect from the web. Overall a great challenge that I’d love to see return.
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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