Survivor: What Went Wrong and How to Fix It

The popular consensus seems to be that this season’s Survivor is just plain dull. And that that whole Survivor series has become predictable, repetitive, and boring. One would think that each new group of contestants would bring new drama, but that hasn’t worked all that well. And tactics like tribal shake-ups and same-gender tribes have themselves become boring.

I feel that the basic concept is still sound, and that Burnett could still get a lot of mileage out of it, while providing us with many hours of viewing pleasure. But something’s gotta change.

So this thread is devoted to two questions:

Why has Survivor become boring?

How can Survivor be revamped to make it more interesting?

Last week’s regular episode thread yielded some good ideas from Jadis and Mullinator

A couple of my own ideas:

–Move it out of a tropical location. Someplace cold would be really nice. It would complicate things, but a little complication might be just the ticket at this point. At least they’d have to come up with some new challenges, right?

–Focus more on actual survival skills. One of the most common criticisms since Day 1 has been that the show is called “Survivor,” but has little to do with actual survival. Why not have challenges that actually test skills. For example, have each contestant build a fire. The first eight to get the fire going get immunity. The remainder go to tribal council. The next week, have them lash together poles into a structure. The week after, have them catch fish. And so on.

Introduce a Skill Challenge every 6th day to replace an Immunity Challenge. It would be something like creating fire, building a traverse, catch a fish, etc. Last one to complete it gets eliminated, right there on the spot.

**Munch, ** I like that.

Actually, a LOT of Survivor has to do with the people, and it seems to run in an every-other season hill/valley routine. Some seasons are deadly dull, only to come back and have great seasons.

let it die, “reality” tv is a blight on the TV landscape and needs to be stopped

Well, there hasn’t been an exciting villain on Survivor for a long time it seems. It needs an “Omarosa”. There was Johnny “Fairplay” whom I loathed fiercely…but that seems about it.

The challenges are completely uninspired. Ho-hum obstacle courses or standing in a place for a long time as well as Fear Factor eating contests have become de rigeur in this show. Have one challenge be like a greatest hunt episode. Individual challenge with blow darts with ink to mark the person hit. Have that person kicked off.

The contestants, after a lot of seasons, get to the place and DON’T KNOW HOW TO BUILD A FIRE. Every season starts off like this. Fire is life, yadda yadda yadda. We get it. We got it last year. And for the last couple years. Just give 'em fire to begin with and shut up about it already.

I’ve got a feeling a celebrity Survivor is going to be a last ditch franchise effort. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease don’t bother.


Thanks for your contribution. Let me know what interests you post about so that I can crap in those threads as well.

MacTech: Please allow me to direct your attention over here. Thanks.

I’ve only watched since Pearl Islands, and already it’s clear to me that the format is stale. The basic idea is still sound, but the contestants are more and more knowing what twists to expect (merge when 9 or 10 people are left and individual immunities start, possible tribal shakeup early on etc.).

To me, Jadis’s idea is perfect, not only because it forces contestants to thing beyond one alliance/voting bloc and get to know each other from the start, but also means that individual immunities can happen at any time or not happen at all until the final 4. The final 9 jury can remain the same, as they will all already know each other.

For the show to be successful, the contestants need to be on edge, never knowing what to expect or when to expect it. To quote Empire Records “always play with their minds”.

There are some pretty serious issues that need fixing with Survivor, but this is the first cast dull enough to really bring those to the forefront. I think it really started with All-Stars but there was still enough of the “what will my past favorite do?” and then “Let’s watch Rob dominate this and actually be entertaining” to hide it. But this cast is just bland. It’s like walking into a tan room, with all tan furniture, with Yanni playing on the radio, and then having someone kick you in the crotch once a week.

Thanks to Green Bean for linking the various suggestions from last week.

The casting needs some sort of a change, but that may be the toughest to do. Mark Burnett clearly likes to cast to a specific mold and if he doesn’t break that mold, the casting population won’t matter. He and he alone can change that. Do something wild though. Give us a mix and variety of races, ages, looks, personalities but have them all be hard core anarchists or something.

The challenges need help. Don’t make a challenge lame just to match the theming. Do something interesting that hasn’t been done before like hide and seek, tag, challenges that involve true survival (like mentioned in a previous post).

I think the main thing is that the schedule needs to be shaken up. As of now, my dog knows that you show up, get divided into groups, have a reward challenge, have an immunity challenge, vote someone off. Don’t divide people up, sometimes don’t have immunity, have different prizes mean different things. Have a multi-round immunity every now and then. Have a contest where the first 5 across vote off someone from the opposing side.

All in all, just dare to different. Really different.

When you boil it all down, what really needs to be done is a complete revamp of Survivor as we know it. Even all of the “twists” and attempts to shake things up have been nothing but recycled aspects of the basic game. The essential format has been in place for so long now, contestants who have watched the game beforehand (or even read up on strategy on DavidB’s reality website) know pretty much what they’re in for.

Survivors can pretty much count on a few things:

  • Tribe will be split into 2 or 3 teams, all on separate beaches.
  • All early challenges will be team-based
  • Expect a tribe mix-up after the first 12 days or so
  • When the pool gets down to 10 players or so, the tribes will merge into one and challenges will become individual
  • Starting with 9 remaining, Survivors voted out will be on the jury

Things I think can be done to make the current “known” strategy useless (some of this is a repeat from my previous comments last week):

  • Eliminate fixed tribes, have all Survivors live together from day 1.
  • Create challenge teams by drawing straws, so competing teams are never the same.
  • Have all Survivors voted out on the jury, not just the last 7, including allowing all bootees to attend TCs to observe.
  • No lag between ICs and TC…you lose, you go vote someone off NOW. This reduces alliance scheming.

One last thing:

  • Please stop basing casting choices on pretty people. I saw it mentioned a few threads ago, and it bears repeating…people LOVED Rupert because he was Mr. Everyman. Possibly one of the homeliest guys ever on Survivor revived the series like no one else. You might be tired of him now, but Rupert made that season. It’s not all about eye-candy. If I want to look at pretty people, I’ll buy a magazine.

I watched the first couple of series, then I stopped. It became boring for me long ago.

How to change it? Do away with the tropical locations. I like the idea of someplace cold–the tundra of Canada’s Northwest Territories would be a good choice. Or in the Rockies somewhere. Survive in those locations, and you deserve the prize.

Give up on the “make a fire” thing. Sure, you’ve got to make a fire sometime, but give all the contestants Zippo lighters at the start, and have done with it. Find something else to do that’s challenging for the chosen setting.

Forget the “tribal council” thing. As others have said, construct challenges that eliminate contestants immediately. At its heart, the show is a game show, and if you don’t do well in the qualifying round, you shouldn’t go on to the bonus round. You don’t see contestants on Jeopardy creating an alliance to defeat the other player.

Choose different contestants. One of the reasons I stopped watching was that all the contestants seemed to come from backgrounds where physical fitness and a drive to succeed at all costs is required. How about contestants whose daily jobs and lifestyle do not lend themselves to such an endeavour?

And finally, make it a true survival game. “Your plane has crashed, and all you have to work with is the following…” kind of thing. You don’t get immunity in that situation, and you certainly don’t get to spend the night in a brand-new Pontiac Aztec–unless, of course, your plane was carrying one that you could salvage from the wreckage. You work with what you have, and you don’t play games doing it.

Sorry, I hit “Submit” too soon. To continue the following paragraph:

These would be the people who just might find themselves the victims of an air crash or shipwreck, totally unprepared for the challenges that lie ahead, but making the best of things with what they have.

I also have to agree with Jadis’s remarks about “pretty people.” Let’s see some real folks on the show.

And there’s always someone who doesn’t know how to swim, or is afraid of the water. This year there was Travis (Bubba), who just learned to swim a few weeks before going on the show.
I mean, WTF? Have you never seen the show and the numerous swimming challenges?

I like the idea of splitting them up right before the challenges each time (Jadis’s idea), or having the two teams living together on one beach. That way they could mingle and work together for food and shelter, but would be forced to compete for immunity.

Well, I think this season they’ve done an OK job with that. I’d hardly consider Twila, Sarge, Bubba, Eliza, etc. “pretty people”.

The cold location idea won’t cut it.

It needs to be a tropical location so that contestants show lots of skin.

Take out the skin, you risk losing a goodly portion of the viewers.


Or better yet, have it be one on one style hunts/challenegs (drawn radomnly for your opponent) and the winners all form a tribe and the losers go to TC to vote out one of their fellow losers.

You might get your wish:

Part of the problem is that this year’s cast is dim-witted. The guys especially.

I’m thinking in particular of the challenge where they had to match pairs of hidden items. The men never “got” that sometimes in that challenge it would be a better strategy to “reveal” an item which had already been revealed (rather than reveal a new item to the ladies). (I may not be explaining that very well.)

Part of the fun of watching Survivor is the scheming. It’s particularly fun when you have someone smart and funny doing the scheming and explaining it all in their confessionals. It’s even better if you have several bright, witty people with competing strategies. There’s none of that this year because none of the contestants seem smart enough to do it.

So I guess my change would be to do a better job of screening out dumb-asses in the casting process.

I know exactly what you’re saying, I was thinking of the same thing when it happened. The guys just GAVE that challenge to the women by opening up something that could not possibly be a new item, so therefore the next team would match it up with its match (previously identified). The smarter strategy is try and force the other team to do it for you so YOU can get the match. The guys never got that.

The game is really about surviving in the wilderness; it’s about politics - the wilderness thing is just a gimmick to make people cranky so the politics will be more interesting. So I think a good idea would be to make the politics more interesting.

1 - Don’t divide up the tribes. Put everyone on the same beach to live together. Divide them up at the challenges (maybe have different groups for each challenge). This would lead to more interesting alliances instead of the traditional “let’s pagong the smaller tribe at the merge”.

2 - Offer some options at the vote. I suggested once before that the person who won the immunity should be allowed to surrender it for a second vote. This would anable to equal sized alliances to break a tie. Or maybe keep cumulative vote totals from week to week and knock off the player who’s got the most votes overall.

3 - Have more women in bikinis. Not really a political issue, but it would work for me.