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October 6, 2015

'Survivor' Changes Up the Game -- Finally

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 20th 2010 5:00PM

Another season of 'Survivor' has come and gone -- and I guess I can even say the person I was rooting for won. The thing is, I only starting rooting for Fabio two weeks ago, when I realized that the time to pick a favorite had long since passed. Sure, like a lot of people, I was rooting for the male model formerly known as Judson, but only from a dearth of options. What was I supposed to do? Root for 'villainous' Sash, whose claim to fame was getting Marty to give up an idol? Sash called himself a backstabber, but his mild-mannered play looked more like a back massage to me. Come on, guy! Villains are supposed to be evil!

Then there was Chase, who floated to the final four like a pretty princess, never really making any calls at all. And even Fabio, who pulled off that triple immunity win right when he needed it, seemed fairly clueless most of the time. I would like to point out that it takes a very fine actor to play dumb. I'm not sure Fabio is the next Tom Hanks, you know what I mean? Sigh. This was pretty sorry batch of castaways, let's be honest.

But that's the wonderful thing about 'Survivor.' I've waxed on about this before, so I'll keep my fawning to a minimum, but the game is so good, so well plotted, that even a troupe of blah, boring folks like the 'Nicaragua' contingent can't keep it down. There are always unexpected delights - like Jane's strength in the immunity and reward challenges, bitchy NaOnka deciding to quit all of a sudden, and of course, Fabio's immunity end run which disrupted all the best-laid plans of the Sash/Chase/Holly alliance -- although all of those words -- 'best' 'laid' and 'plans' - feel wrong in the circumstances.

But it is definitely time for a shake-up, and Jeff Probst and his blue shirt and dimples announced just the kind of game changer 'Survivor' needs heading into its 22nd season. For those who tuned out of the live reunion (which would be completely understandable) it's called 'Redemption Island' and it works like this: those voted out at Tribal Council head off to an island where they live alone until the next offing. Then the two outcasts fight it out in a challenge. One goes to the loser's lodge and the other sticks around to fight the next person. At some point, the last person left rejoins the game, with their shot to win still intact.

I love it! Finally, the concept of 'Exile Island,' which has been around since Palau, gets a chance to actually affect the strategy of the game. Players will think twice about voting off a potential immunity monster if they know that's exactly the skill that will help them survive. In 'South Africa' they sort of toyed with this idea, but there was a lack of structure. It feels like the 'Survivor' showrunners have finally figured out how to incorporate the concept into the existing game. (Change in 'Survivor' often takes a few forms before it sticks. The immunity idol has had a number of different rules attached to it before the current system of showing it after voting, but before reading, came into place.)

Another new rule was announced, brought on by the double-quit of Kelly and NaOnka -- going forward, players who give up for reasons like 'the weather sucks' or 'I'm tired' may or may not get to serve on the jury. This a bit of a no-brainer, but I did wonder what would have happened if these two hadn't quit when they did. Would be watching the 'Survivor' finale on Christmas Eve?

I'm curious to see how the 'Redemption Island' twist plays out. Will the players at the main camp know what's going on over there? If the idea is to keep it secret, how will they manage that once the jury comes into play? Would it ever be feasible for a player to plan on being on the island, to make that their strategy?

And most important, will Jeff ever trade in his blue shirts for something else? I hope not. Some things are perfect the way they are.

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Tom Stoneburner

Russell definitely gave the franchise a major boost. I laughed with every episode of his first season as the majority tribe was whittled down to nothing after the merge. Russell is like Jigsaw from the Saw movies. His knowledge of psychology is so deep that nothing is left to chance.

"H vs V" was good due to Russell, but I didn't care for Cirie being on the Heroes tribe. She said on the preview show that she didn't know why she was on the good tribe. Her entire strategy consists of destroying her own tribe. It wasn't fair to the good guys.

You're right about a major reason for the decline being people that are in it for fame. I suspect Marty kicked Jimmy J off because he feared it would turn into the Coach Jimmy season ala Russell's first season being the Russell Show. You can tell that certain actions/speeches are fake and designed to gain fame or get rid of someone that threatens perceived fame. If I can get rid of you, I have a greater chance of becoming rich and famous outside of the show. Danger Dave (Russell's 1st season) said in Ponderosa that he thought he would be famous enough to never have to work. People are also concerned with trying to make it to the next All-Stars season.

I don't see desire for the million as 'bad' as long as people have some sort of real strategy instead of blindly getting rid of people in order to make it one day longer (Cirie blueprint). I think a greater problem is when people 'settle' for lesser amounts. NaDonkey and Purple were probably examples of this. They were happy with their $40K (just guessing). They had a decent chunk of change, were scared of being eliminated soon, left on their 'own' terms, and became infamous. People begging to make it to the Finals and throwing in the towel because $125,000 is 'good enough' make me sick.

I would like physical challenges, but some fans would complain that it favors the big guys. It could be a lot of endurance or building puzzles. Too many physical challenges = greater chance for injury. This is the real reason they combined reward/immunity challenges in the regular game.

Will it backfire with the strong/smart players actually being eliminated early?

For instance: "If I can get rid of you now (1st, 2nd, 3rd week), there is no way on Earth you will survive several (say 7, 6, or 5) Redemption challenges until someone returns."

If you wait too long to get rid of a threat, he/she would only have to win one or two challenges (entirely doable) to return.

A lot will hinge the return date. Will the person be guaranteed a seat on the jury? Will the person return before the jury with a chance of being eliminated twice?

I'm willing to give it a shot. Survivor has a lot of energy left. Honestly, it will take a couple of bad seasons (horrible gimmicks and utterly bland/stupid people) in a row to wound the show. I don't see the producers being that stupid.

December 22 2010 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tom, I hear where you're coming from, but before this past season we also had some good seasons. I think the introduction of Russell Hanz in season 19 gave the francise a boost, and it was the first time I was genuinely excited to see what he'd pull off week to week. Plus I think last season's Heroes vs. Villians was a very good season.

So I'm writing this season off as a bad concept on Survivor's part (old vs. young, and the intro of the Medallion of Power, which I heard Probst say himself will never be back) and I'm hoping that this upcoming season has a more fan-based cast.

I think that's where Survivor gets me, when they cast people that aren't genuine fans of the show. You can tell when someone is and when someone isn't based on their game play and I think the majority of this season weren't real fans of the show. They're in it to be on TV or win a million and don't uphold the integrity of the game as a priority, which for me as a fan is a letdown. This season alone it led to quitters after the merge, and their overall lack of strategy.

I think the concept of Redemption Island could be a very, very good one, but again I think it's based largely on the next cast. Will we be rooting for any of the people that are sent there to fight their way back? That'll remain unknown until we see it. Plus, like I said in my earlier comment, I want to see these redemption duels completely cutthroat and not wussy puzzle challenges. I want the people snuffed to really have to work their way back into the game, so I hope the producers feel the same way.

December 22 2010 at 8:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm with you on the season, although I reluctantly started rooting for Fabio in the last few episodes, and especially in the final half of the finale, this season was beyond frustrating to watch as a fan.

So I'm actually excited to see how Redemption Island plays out. I think it could go either way, depending on how tough the duels are. (I'm hoping seriously physically tough, no puzzles allowed!) and I hope they end Redemption Island at the right time, I would think right before the first person lands on the jury. That way the person that's lasted there has a shot at the top spot or a spot on the jury.

December 21 2010 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kristi's comment
Tom Stoneburner

I hear you. This was the first season I quit watching early (2nd or 3rd episode). Trying to tilt things so that Coach Jimmy made it to the Jury actually resulted in Jimmy J getting the boot early.

It's rough being forced to pick the least worst person (Fabio) instead of genuinely rooting for someone.

I fear the worst. I think Survivor is trying to boost ratings with gimmicks and manipulating things. Jeff said that he is occasionally uncomfortable with what he does on the show.

When Obama was going to be President, they jumbled the tribes TWICE pre-merge on Randy/Bob's season in order to save the Olympic sprinter and the handyman. The Medallion of Power was an admission that the old tribe from this season was a gimmmick and needed a boost.

What if the tribes practice smart elimination and actually get rid of dead weight? Do we want to see a moron return to the game because he did slightly less worse than the other moron in a Redemption challenge? The only way Redemption 'works' is if the tribes eliminate someone before his/her time due to fear or jealousy.

I will give the next season a shot, but I fear the worst. Instead of looking ahead and letting the hands naturally balance a full glass of water while you walk, Survivor stares ever more intently at the glass itself with each spill.

December 21 2010 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Stoneburner

"This was pretty sorry batch of castaways, let's be honest."

It was rated by numerous mags, websites, and fans as the worst season ever with the lowest-rated season finale.

It felt like they were trying to build Sash into the closeted replacement for Richard Hatch. Chase was smarter than portrayed. You could tell major chunks of footage were removed to make him look 'clueless'.

Redemption is a stinker. It's the show's attempt to keep 'their' man/woman in the game and correct the 'bad' decisions at Tribal Council. It's more show rigging. They control the challenges and when the last person rejoins the game. I expect it to play out poorly and be gone like the Medallion of Power. Most likely it will backfire with a bland or 'stupid to the point of losing ratings' castaway coming back. The redeemed one may even be voted out immediately after rejoining especially if he/she survived several battles and is viewed as aa threat.

December 21 2010 at 6:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

Two problems with the new change and addition of Redemption Island. Because of the duels, Jeff says today that all comps will now be combined as reward/immunity challenges. I love having them separate. When they get to individual rewards/immunities, does one person win both? Not crazy about that either.

December 20 2010 at 9:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joyce N.'s comment

The best change woul dbe to allow Canadians to participate too. Only american citizens are allowed in the game. I would love to apply....

December 21 2010 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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