By: Ross Delantar
[Note: the following post was written in December 2011, before the premiere of Survivor: One World]
There is no question to people who know me that I love reality shows. I have watched it all: The Amazing Race, Beauty and the Geek, Solitary, Hell’s Kitchen, Jersey Shore, SuperNanny. It should therefore be no surprise that I am writing a post about the one that started it all — Survivor.
Despite Survivor’s continual decrease in viewership, the fact that the show has an unshakable fan base of millions still makes it a formidable competitor for television ratings. With the show entering its 24th season, I do think this will be the season that will revitalize the show, by employing an interesting and clever twist.
The fact that ratings have steadily decreased is that Survivor has lost its appeal, especially after having two unsuccessful twists. The Medallion of Power was seen only in Survivor: Nicaragua, and it was a twist that lasted for only a few episodes; it confused viewers and made challenges seem unfair. The twist behind the entire season of Survivor: Redemption Island felt forced, by bringing back players, and also unfair, by pitting veterans with newbies. Both twists were plausibly designed to elicit a sense of freshness to the game, with new concepts and rules. I would argue that both backfired because it did not only leave viewers wondering what happened to the ‘old’ Survivor, but also because the twists deviated from the show’s slogan and basic premise: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.
I am pleased that for Season 24, the show is going back to basics with Survivor: One World, which describes its core twist as leaving two competing tribes on a single island, allowing them to interact freely, before the mid-game merge. See the full trailer of Survivor: One World below.
This “one island” twist may be the closest the show has to proving them to actually be what it is they claim to be — a social experiment where strangers are stranded together and must battle the elements and each other. Other seasons attempted to claim that Survivor is a social experiment by pitting the young against the old (Nicaragua), or men against women (Amazon and Vanuatu), or one ethnic group against another (Cook Islands and Fiji). However, the predetermination of teams already arouses preconceived notions about where loyalties should be formed. People will always be cognitive misers; we like to exert as little thought as possible on problems, so we choose to perceive other people based on simple stereotypes, rather than identifying each person as a unique individual. This is the very core tenet of “Us vs. Them” thinking.
For a social experiment that claims to be interested in discovering how people behave in an evolving social situation, Survivor introduces a huge bias at the beginning of the game. The fact that players live with people perceived to be similar as themselves is continually reinforced by titles given to the groups by the host, such as the “older tribe” or the “tribe of women.” This enforces the easy stereotypes, and it affects how people play the game. In most seasons, alliances or relationships are created solely based on primary group interactions. Unfortunately, this does not lead to evolving or complex relationships; instead, they lead to predictable events that make for boring, predictable television.
With Survivor: One World, all of the introduced complexities in the game so far (I hope) is removed to leave only the core mechanics. The basics: a set of people, competing with each other, living on the same island, for one million dollars. This setup clearly introduces questions for the players. Should they interact with people they like, or should they stick with their team members to display loyalty? Will the teams share their challenge winnings, or will they naturally just divide themselves? How will the survivors sleeping arrangements be? Or will the observations of Boston Rob in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains hold true? How will faith, sex, gender, age, background and other factors affect how who people stick with, and who people vote out? A very dissonant social environment, I do think, will make for a better season.
For me, the raw nature of Survivor: One World will probably be a more interesting and more valid social experiment, hopefully leading to more satisfying depth with player interactions and stories. I predict One World will be a season that will redeem the series and will satisfy viewers. Survivor: One World begins February 2012, on CBS.