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The reality show that’s outwitted, outplayed & outlasted all others

The same thing that compels enduring Survivor fans to keep coming back is what attracts sports fans to what they love even when it upsets them
Thu, Nov 12, 2020

Survivor is 40 seasons in. PHOTOS: CBS


If, like myself, you are still a fan of Survivor, I'd be willing to bet that if you mention the show among mixed company you'll be familiar with the two responses you're most likely to get. It's either, "you still watch that show?", because just about everyone at some point in their lives has been a fan of the granddaddy of all competition reality shows. Or it turns out that whomever you are mentioning it to is also a silent fan.

I say silent fan because Survivor – unlike your Big Brother, Idols or Love Island – I would have to agree just isn't the cultural phenomenon it once was.

But damn me, if 40 seasons in, and 20 years after that first group of contestants were stranded on a desert island in what was then being touted as a never-before-seen social experiment, I still find it entertaining, exciting and worth my attention.

But even as much as I love Survivor I would have to question the unerringly never-aging host Jeff Probst's claim that it is a social experiment.

Survivor host Jeff Probst, who has barely aged in two decades

But I do have another theory as to what makes Survivor such compelling TV, particularly at the grand old age it's at now. 

I'm not really a sports fan, but I think whatever it is I find so compelling about Survivor is partly what draws fans of a sport to said sport.

For instance, for fans of Survivor, one of the most exciting moments of the show is after a winner has been announced and then seeing whether the next season will have an entirely new cast or perhaps have previous players returning for another shot at the grand prize. And just like you'll find technique and skill in sport, there are different styles of playing Survivor – namely old school vs. new school. So just like you can have a favourite team in a sport and think there is a best technique, you can have a favourite Survivor player and favour players who gravitate towards a particular style of play.

In this season that just began, which in a first is all previous winners, we have two of my personal favourites, Boston Rob & Parvati. I could regale you with what makes them such greats of the game, but this would be precisely the kind of discussion of interest only to fans of Survivor because you need to know the ins and outs of the show.

But at the same time because Survivor ultimately doesn't change: you don't need to be a major fan to find yourself drawn into any given season.

Despite changes made to the show over the years, such as the introduction of elements like the Edge of Extinction or Hidden Immunity Idols, the core of Survivor is that a group of people will slowly be whittled down to a winner, vote after vote, after vote. And in that process, you will find yourself being shocked at something someone does, good or bad, and rooting for or against a season's hero or villain.

From the physicality of "outplaying" in challenges, to "outwitting" by deciding who can be trusted or has to be stabbed in the back, all so they can say they "outlasted" all others and are the sole survivor; that at its core is still Survivor.

Particularly in this year when all our lives have changed so dramatically, I couldn't be more excited to be, week in and week out, catching up with this oldest of old TV friends. I don't know if I would say we outwitted and outplayed anybody or anything. But if you are reading this now, you've certainly outlasted – and survived – 2020.

  • Survivor airs on Sunday evenings on M-Net at 6pm, and is also available on Catch Up. Some previous seasons of the show are on Showmax.