Arts & Culture

The Evolution of Survivor

By Patrick R. ’23

Survivor is a show that has been airing for over 20 years, and just finished its 41st season. When Survivor first came out, it quickly became one of the most popular shows, and while viewership has dropped over time, it still has millions of viewers that tune in to watch each episode. However, during that time, the game itself has changed significantly in terms of the people cast to participate, the way those participants approach the game, and the rules of the game itself. 

The concept of Survivor is to take people from all walks of life and make them form their own mini-society in the wilderness and see how everyone interacts. Each episode, the group goes to Tribal Council where one person is voted out, until there are two to three people left, where the winner is decided by the people that were voted out beforehand. When the show first began, it held to its namesake. People did their best to survive and form bonds, with no real strategy involved. Everyone voted for who they liked the least for the majority of the game, with some alliances forming later on. 

Today, 40 seasons later, the game would be unrecognizable. People began to realize that they could form alliances to survive a vote, and then betray somebody in that alliance the next day. It was a slow process, but the strategy involved in getting to the end of the game changed season by season. As the strategy to survive changed, the way to ensure a win at the end changed as well. In the first few seasons, it was often just who was the most loyal or the most liked. That changed too, as people began to value strategy and so called “blindsides,” which is when a person successfully changes a vote to vote somebody out without them suspecting it. However, you still had to play with dignity, and show loyalty to the people you made alliances with. That slowly and surely gave way to what is seen in the present day, where, so long as they aren’t horribly rude and annoying, the winner is generally whoever had the most influence over the game, and decided who went home each night, since they are seen as playing “the best game.”

One other important aspect of the game is the concept of advantages. When the game first started, they didn’t exist. There was no way to improve your chances of making it further or winning the game, it was purely based on social strategy and relationships. However, in season 11, Survivor: Guatemala, the first Hidden Immunity Idol was put into the game. It allowed whoever found it to make themselves immune from being out for the duration of that Tribal Council, something which completely changed the structure of the game. It could disrupt plans, and turn everything upside down. If a person was supposed to be going home, but they had an Idol, they could play it and force everyone else to decide on somebody new at the last minute, and added an element of intrigue and betrayal to every vote, just out of the fear of somebody having one. The one catch was that it had to be played before the votes were cast, so it was able to be planned around, albeit only at the very last minute. The very next season, it was changed so that the Idol could be played after the votes had been cast and read, making it impossible to vote the person out who had the idol. While game-changing, this version of the idol was simply too overpowered, and was also changed. A few seasons later, the Immunity Idol was finalized, being able to be played after the votes are cast, but before they are read, so some skill is still required to use it correctly. For a long time, that was the beginning and end of advantages in Survivor.

However, as later seasons started airing, more and more advantages were added, the game became more and more complicated. Extra votes, the ability to steal votes, idol nullifiers, and even more were introduced, all with various degrees of success and popularity. The only saving grace was that, up until recently, these items were all used in moderation, with the advantages never overpowering the person-to-person relationship dynamics. However, that all changed with season 41. The focus was immediately shifted more onto the specifics of the many twists and turns of the season, and taken off of the players. Throughout the game, there were at least seven different types of advantages total, with there being multiple of certain types, bringing the total even higher. Even though advantages can make for exciting television, in Survivor 41 they served to take focus off of the players, giving too many important people too little screen time, leaving each episode feeling unbalanced. This issue is one that could definitely hurt the show long term, but it is also a very fixable one. So, the question becomes, will the producers do what is necessary to fix their show, and will they do it in time? As a huge fan of Survivor myself, I certainly hope so, but at this point there is nothing to do besides wait and see.

Categories: Arts & Culture

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