Of all the TV shows, I still consider Survivor my top star favorite. And I’ll admit with little compunction that Survivor has easily surpassed my other diehard loves like Lost, True Blood, The Sopranos, The Simpsons, Roseanne and dare I say, my beloved Golden Girls.
In the decade since its debut, Survivor has admittedly waned in the ratings, but the reality show still continues because of its wide and loyal fan base. What keeps Survivor ticking after 21 installments, the most recent of which has kicked off in Nicaragua? Well, I’ll give you my ten reasons why:
10. The Gorgeous Scenery
Location, location, location. There’s a reason why Survivor shoots in exotic locales: not only does the scenery translate into breathtaking beauty, but the often brutal conditions have a direct and immediate effect on the game. With very little food and no shelter, the environment separates the true Survivors from the wannabes.
Also, everyone has to wear less clothing – more skin always translates into ratings gold.
9. Jeff Probst
Don’t let the gravity sucking dimples fool you. Since Survivor’s inception, Jeff Probst has been the glue of this reality series. Without Probst, Survivor would be like McDonald’s without the Big Mac. As host, he brings a peerless intelligence and an uncanny knack for reading body language and facial tics to ask really pointed questions at Tribal Council. And very often, he’s been able to suss out the truth behind tribe dynamics just by asking the right question at the right person. Under Jeff’s scrutiny, every Tribal is a squirming delight for the viewers – and just a squirmer for the players who have to answer his questions.
And when he’s not making them writhe, Jeff oversees every immunity and reward challenge with just the right mix of gravitas commentary and humor.
8. The Concept
Though there have been tweaks to its format, Survivor has remained true to its core concept: Strand 16 strangers (or more) in a remote location for 39 days, and give them little to no food or shelter as they find a way to outlast all their tribe mates to win $1 million. It’s a simple formula whose rules test a player’s stamina and mental fortitude, all while playing a social game of “King of the Hill”.
7. Two Words: Pearl Islands
Quite possibly the best season, Pearl Islands, Survivor’s 7th installment, had a colorful cast that played the game so hard, one did not know whose head was on the chopping block from one moment to the next.
While the Outcast twist had purists crying foul, I had no problems with ousted contestants gaining a second chance at the game.
6. Two More Words: Heroes/Villains
Risky moves, bone headed moves, creative game play, and everyone fighting tooth and nail for domination made Heroes/Villains one of the more entertaining seasons. When you have characters like blustering troll, Russell, lippy Sandra and a sly and cunning Parvati, you realize that Survivor is only as good as the people who play it. Which brings me to number…
5. The Revolving Cast of Characters
Not every season of Survivor was a true success (Thailand was soporific, Fiji was sluggish, Guatemala a chore), but when you have the right mix of Type A personalities, the game can literally explode with energy.
4. The Strategizing
While Tribal Council is the highlight, any fan will say that the moments before Tribal Council are by far the most telling aspect of Survivor. This is where people scramble, maneuver and jockey for position. It’s always fascinating to see how someone reasons under pressure, how values shape personal loyalties and decision making, and how group-think affects personal strategy.
3. The Unpredictability of The Game
The game of Survivor is so unpredictable. So many crossing factors militate against favoring one player over another that one rarely can predict a winner. Add the later tweaks in the game like hidden immunity idols, exile island and the forthcoming “Medallion of Power”, and the results are even less predictable. This is why Survivor is such a great metaphor for #2…
2. Life Isn’t Fair and Neither is This Game
With a Tribal Council comprising of ousted members, it’s a delicious twist that these very same people eventually predict the fate of the final two or three left in the game. At heart, Survivor is a social game and the better player, i.e. the brilliant strategist, isn’t necessarily awarded the million dollars unless they treated the people they back stabbed with a modicum of respect and dignity. Almost every Tribal Council in the past 20 seasons has proven this.
1. Survivor was the First
Maybe “Candid Camera” was the first true reality show, but you know what I mean. The glut of reality shows that followed was a direct result from Survivor’s debut in the Summer of 2000. For better or worse, unscripted human drama changed the landscape of TV programming and Survivor blazed that trail.
Survivor has recently moved to a new night on Wednesdays at 8 pm ET on CBS.
Sources: CBS.com, imdb.com
Other Survivor Related Articles:
Pearl Islands DVD Review
Australian Outback DVD Review
Heroes vs Villains Finale