Survivor Themes That Haven’t Been Done Yet

Inside Survivor contributor Derek Beets takes a look at some old and new Survivor themes and whether they are worth trying.

When Survivor premiered in the summer of 2000, its premise was simple: put sixteen American strangers on a deserted island and watch the experiment unfold. They would bond as tribes, work together to build an “island society,” participate in challenges, and vote each other out every three days. Pretty brutal right? Perhaps that’s why Survivor completely changed the landscape of popular culture in the early 00s. It had never been done before. It was new and didn’t need a complicated theme. It was so successful that it would be three years until the basic nature of the show changed.

Fast forward to 2003. For the first time, the two tribes would be divided by gender, but the rest of the game would play out as it usually did. It certainly was an interesting concept, one that Survivor has returned to twice since. But for all the hubbub about “men versus women,” it wasn’t that big of a blowout. The men did look poised to take it all, but in the end, the women pulled it out.

At the beginning of 2004, Survivor had come off of seven successful seasons and was entering into its eighth – All-Stars. The change wasn’t only that players would be returning to play again, it was that there would be eighteen of them rather than the standard sixteen. Also, there would be three starting tribes rather than two. The change in tribes was likely done to accommodate the larger cast over anything else, but it was still changed. People either love or hate All-Stars, but the majority of those feelings seem to come from how the game unfolded, rather than any structural changes the game underwent.

Survivor: All-Stars cast.

Survivor: All-Stars cast.

Following All-Stars, the standard number of castaways remained at eighteen; sometimes dipping back down to sixteen, at times increasing as high as twenty. Palau saw the first two contestants that were eliminated outside of tribal council, without even getting to play. Guatemala saw two castaways coming back from the previous season for another chance. Panama and Cook Islands introduced four tribes divided by gender/age and race respectively, as well as Exile Island. Fiji tried (unsuccessfully) the haves versus have nots angle. Micronesia introduced the fans versus favorites concept. From there it snowballed, nearly every season following All-Stars has had some kind of twist or theme that separated it from the others before it. Heroes versus villains, Redemption Island, multiple hidden immunity idols, medallions of power, blood versus water, brains versus brawn versus beauty, class warfare, second chance – all have been introduced in the twelve years since All-Stars.

So what’s left? What could Survivor possibly throw at the castaways that’s new and refreshing? What can they do to keep the audience intrigued? This article will take a look at six possible themes that Survivor has not used yet, but have been discussed by fans. We’ll also explore four themes that will almost certainly be used again. Some of the newer themes are more known than others and some, while they require more effort to imagine, are doable. But that’s what we do as hardcore Survivor fans – we imagine and fantasize.


The theme that’s probably been around the longest without being used is a Survivor: Champion Edition. Ever since Tina won the second season, people have been wondering what it would be like to see a group of Survivor victors face-off against each other. Kind of like the Quarter Quell in Hunger Games – Catching Fire, only with less death. Hopefully.

In the years since, we have seen winners face off against each other, but never more than four at a time, and always with mixed results. The four winners that participated in All-Stars were all out by the time the merge hit. Heroes vs. Villains improved on that and not only saw three former winners in the merge, but two in the finals, and gave us our first two-time winner! Blood vs. Water saw both previous winners make the merge, and Tina almost become our second two-time winner. So while winner’s chances have improved when returning to play again, we still hardly see them return. And wouldn’t they have a better chance against people who have also already won? Some winners have turned down offers to come back and even stated that they WILL NOT return until they can compete against other winners.

So what’s the hold up? Jeff Probst’s typical response to a champion edition is either they don’t have enough female winners or they don’t have enough likable winners. I can see where he’s coming from from the female angle, but there’s definitely enough likable winners to put together a good season. However, if a champion season were to happen, it would have to be timed right, unlike a lot of other themes I will talking about. Most fans expect a season of this caliber to be the show’s big finale. The best of the best facing off against each other in the show’s last season. It could be done sooner and then repeated later on, but it takes away a bit of the magic of the whole premise. So, until a champion edition happens, we’ll just have to sit tight, and fantasize about what would happen.


Kelley Wentworth, Spencer Bledsoe, Terry Deitz, and Woo Hwang on Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance.


One of the interesting things to come out of the Second Chance season in Cambodia was the way the players were aligning themselves with each other early on. Especially on the Ta Keo beach, veteran players from seasons before Heroes vs. Villains seemed to be flocking together, while newer players from seasons after HvV seemed drawn to each other. Sure, there were exceptions (Woo), but for the most part it was pretty apparent. The way that the editors and producers were playing up the split was pretty noticeable for the first couple of episodes, and made me think that we could be in for a season of returning players separated solely by their style of gameplay and when they played.

The old school players tended to be hardworking when it came to the shelter and the challenges, and really didn’t care to strategize and micro-manage every single move they were about to make. This is pretty in-line with how the early seasons of the show were played. You got the work done, you bonded with your tribemates, and voted them out when you had to, even if you hated yourself for doing it (cut to tearful confessional about what an awful person you feel like you are). Hardcore gamers and strategists were rare back then. The new school players studied the old school style of play and added in the brain-gaming. These players are always thinking, and always have their next three steps planned out, as well as a Plan B and maybe a Plan C (Suballiances!). These are the players who look forward to making “friends” with people and then stabbing them in the back at tribal council. That’s not to say that all new school players are villains, but their style of gameplay is much more cutthroat.

So why haven’t we seen this theme yet? Well like I said, it was only explored on the show recently and with two seasons filming a year, the producers can pick any theme they like at any time. Another hold up may be that some of these “old school” players may not want to play again. In particular against a group of people as ruthless as some of the new school players can be. Case in point: Kelly Wiglesworth was completely out of her depth in the newer, more ruthless generation of Survivor. It would still be an interesting experiment to see unfold. Which style of gameplay will be rewarded? Relaxed or aggressive?


This theme seems to circulate every time a new season is about to be filmed. Take five people from the West, five from the South, five from the Northeast, and five from the Midwest, and see which lifestyle triumphs. Personally, I think that Worlds Apart touched on this theme without paying much attention to the geographical divide. But it could be explored in further depth. Each region has its stereotypes: Westerners are more laid-back and liberal, Midwesterners are hardworking but dull, Southerners are lazy and intolerant, East coasters are arrogant and out of touch with the rest of country. I can hear Jeff’s voice over now: “Which castaways will prove those stereotypes true and which ones will shrug them off entirely on their way to winning a million dollars?”

I think this theme is a bit more of a stretch compared to some of the others, especially when you have Worlds Apart which, like I said, does about the same thing. You also have to keep in mind that seasons with four tribes get broken down into two tribes very quickly given the small amount of castaways on each tribe. So we would actually only be seeing the “geographical divide” for about two episodes. We would be reminded of it as the season progressed, but after that switch, the real essence of theme would be gone. Still an interesting concept, though.


This theme takes a little bit from the champion edition theme, but this time, the participant hasn’t necessarily had to have won their season to participate. Take the most successful person from a season, either the winner or the player who had a strong showing, and put them against each other. For instance, Rob Mariano won Redemption Island, but Andrea Boehlke played again and had become the person who has played the longest from that season; so she could be its representative. Guatemala has never had anyone return (sadly), so Danni would automatically be the person who did the best from that season.

Given those qualifications, this season would likely end up a “fan favorite” type of season; that would see many people who have played multiple times return again, some for a third or fourth time. Fans seem to either not care that castaways have played that many times or they are very against it, but it’s probably going to keep happening, so oh well. The trouble a theme like this runs into is that we are now way past twenty seasons of Survivor, so the producers would have to narrow down which twenty seasons they would want represented. In my mind, all-stars seasons where there were no new players wouldn’t count, but that still means that around ten seasons wouldn’t be represented. To casual viewers that may not matter, but to diehard fans, there would be never-ending complaints if their favorite season wasn’t included.


Christina Cha, Kim Spradlin, Lief Manson, Michael Jefferson, and Sabrina Thompson on Survivor: One World.


Granted it wasn’t the most interesting thing in the world to watch, but One World had its perks. Kim ultimately murdering everyone in her path was fascinating, and even the “one world” theme had promise. It could have been done better, though. With a few changes. Keep that part about everyone living on one beach; that was good. Here’s the change: there are no tribes. The castaways all start the game as one giant merged tribe. All of the reward and immunity challenges are individual throughout the entire season. This change adds a new layer to the social part of Survivor. It doesn’t restrict players to conversing with people only from their tribe anymore! You can work with anyone you want! It’s a definite change, and it opens a whole new world of gameplay possibilities.

However, I will say that this set up runs the risk of some rather unsavory things. In a group that large, there is bound to be a person, or people, who feel completely ganged up on. This set up doesn’t really give a castaway the maneuverability of working with people that an average season would. You wouldn’t be able to jump ship after a swap or merge. Everyone knows you right from the start and first impressions are hard to shake. If someone is targeted early, they probably won’t last long, and those who seize power and are part of the dominant alliance will more than likely win/go far. A set up like this also increases the chances of coattail riders. They’re not doing any of the hard work, but they’re along for the ride and could easily sneak into the end when the main group starts to turn on each other.

Another change a season like this could introduce is a full cast jury; if they all start playing together, then why not let everyone that’s voted out before the final three have a say in the winner? Plus, the winner would have bragging rights that they won the largest jury vote ever, so there’s that. Sure, this theme has its down sides, but Survivor has done redemption island three times (almost four), what’s to say they wouldn’t try something like this?


I’ll keep this one short because Redmond already covered it in an article here on Inside Survivor, but it’s a good idea for a theme that I feel deserves another mention. First of all, villains have more fun, and anyone who wasn’t rooting for a villain to win Heroes vs. Villains was a “stupid-ass,” as Sandra would say. What’s better than a season of villains facing off against each other? Nothing. They can’t all be “villains” though, so they’re divided into the Rebels and the Rogues. As Redmond put it: “One side is known for their conniving, manipulation, and mischievousness – the Rogues. And the other remembered for their disobedience, individuality, and defiance -the Rebels.” Excellent concept. I’m here for it. Sign them up!

Those were the never before used themes. The final four themes have been used before either once (or twice) and seem to be producer favorites that usually lead to exciting gameplay and dynamic seasons.


Both BvBvB seasons have been some of the show’s strongest. With strong gameplay and interesting characters. Dividing castaways by physical and mental attributes allows the viewers to identify with one or more of the groups and give them more to root for. We’ve also had a different group win each time. Tony Vlachos took it home for the Brawn tribe in Cagayan, and Michele pulled it out for the Beauties in Kaoh Rong. Will the third time be the charm for the Brains?


In my opinion, Blood vs. Water seasons are the only ones where redemption island works. It adds to the drama of playing with your loved one and then having to watch them struggle to stay in the game once they’ve been voted out. It allows us to see some of our favorite castaways return with their loved ones, and play a game that mostly makes the season a long, dramatic loved one visit. In the two Blood vs. Water seasons that we’ve had, two different types of gameplay have emerged victorious. The original BvW saw players whose loved ones were voted out early make it to the final three. San Juan Del Sur saw almost the opposite where everyone in the final five except Natalie had their loved one with them in the merge.

The one thing that the Survivor producers need to avoid with BvW seasons is bringing in all new players. While San Juan Del Sur’s endgame was pretty strong, the early game was almost painful to watch given the amount of inexperience some of the players exhibited. It’s better when half the cast has played before, and we’re able to watch the loved ones find their footing and play their own games.


Jenn Brown and Mike Holloway on Survivor: Worlds Apart.


This one might be a little more controversial because the first Worlds Apart wasn’t a strong season. With several unlikable players and many instances of bullying and sexism, many fans wouldn’t place Worlds Apart at the top of their list of favorite seasons. But the premise was good. Which lifestyle is best suited to win the million-dollar prize? The success of a second Worlds Apart season comes down to the casting directors. They need to be actively aware what kind of personalities they are putting on the show and not just put on people they think will be good for ratings or water-cooler talk.


Another theme that gets talked about every time returning players are mentioned is Heroes vs. Villains. The first one was a game-changer in Survivor. To most fans, it’s considered the divide between “old school” and “new school” Survivor. Another season of the same theme would be hard to top, but with a brand new cast, who can tell what would happen? There would definitely be fireworks.

The biggest argument against this theme is that there aren’t enough heroes and villains to choose from Nicaragua onwards. While I don’t exactly think that’s the case, there certainly aren’t as many prominent personalities to choose from now as there were for the first HvV. Then again, big personalities can be a bit subjective; what’s “big” to one person may not be to another. Plus, that argument only holds water if the casting directors limit it to people from Nicaragua onwards. They could easily use castaways from the earlier seasons. What’s certain is that fans are ready for another Heroes vs. Villains season. If you’re in doubt, check out all of the cast wish lists that get posted before any season with returnees.

There you have it! We made it through our Survivor themes that haven’t been used… yet. Whether or not these themes ever come to fruition, who knows? I’m not a producer no matter how much I think I should be. However, like I said before, one of our inevitable duties as diehard fans seems to be to fantasize about all things Survivor. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! If you have any questions or commentary feel free to post below.


Derek Beets is a 29-year-old middle school reading teacher and writer. He's been following Survivor since the first season and has been officially obsessed since 2004. He is currently working on his first novel.

  • Zach Dakota

    You mentioned Worlds Apart 2. The great thing about this theme is that it doesn’t necessarily have to WC V BC V NC, but can be divided in any subset of groups with different backgrounds or lifestyles/life approaches.

    I’ve often suggested Religion vs Ethnic Minorities vs LGBTs vs Nudists, 4 groups of that are pretty distinctly different from each other, but not so different that there can’t be overlap (which is what we liked about BvBvB, that it allowed for overlap).

    • Matthew Hecht

      The producers have realized that themes work best if they do a theme around a cast, not casting around a theme. When they cast Cagayan, Worlds Apart, Kaoh Rong, and to a lesser extent Heroes Vs. Villains they already had a cast. They then divided them. Your idea would require casting specific people for that role. With geographic divide you could at least if there are 6 Californians find one who acts like a Southerner and put him on the Southern tribe.

      • Zach Dakota

        You’re not wrong, i know I’ve heard that before too; but at the same time I’ve heard that the theme for S34 was decided upon (plans A, B, C, and D) and then they went and got their cast. So even though it works better, they don’t always do it.

  • ShihoMT

    Amazing Race Vs Big Brother Vs Survivor Vs Newbies.
    or the Viral internet people that Amazing Race did. I’m a huge fan of a lot of youtubers and would love to see them play survivor.

  • ShihoMT

    or a Celebrity Survivor with Sia, Tyler Perry, Yvette Nicole Brown, and maybe Mayim Bialik in it.
    we already had 2 celebrity editions in Philippines, and I believe the blood vs water concept was inspired from our second one.

    • Chad

      I do not want to see Sia. I am still pissed at her for crashing the reunion show!

      I am glad that she gave Tai some money, but honestly that segment went on too long, and I would have they spent that time focused on some of the other cast members who didn’t get a chance to say anything. Most notably . . . Cydney!!

  • Chad

    I like the Battle of the Seasons idea, but I don’t understand why the cast always has to be limited to 20. Why couldn’t they go up to 24 and then have 4 tribes of 6 people. That way more seasons would be represented.

    Worst case is that the producers would have to plan for double evictions along the way, to keep the game at 39 days. I think unexpected double evictions that take the cast by surprise will do wonders to shake up the game!

    On another note . . . why does the game have to be 39 days? Why is that a magic number? I love the fact that Austrailian Survivor is going to be 55 days!! If that works for them, then perhaps future seasons might be longer for the American version.

    • Sean

      Even having 20 contestants can be tough. While Cook Islands was the first time they did it (Palau had 3 people gone in episode 1) and the editors didn’t know what to do, the editing was terrible. Even in HvV you see people who are great at confessionals like Courtney get only 4 confessionals. There simply isn’t even time to show and develop 20 characters. Even with 18 this past season people like Joe and Julia were rarely shown. Adding 4 more people isn’t terrible if they add one or two more episodes to the season and add some mechanic that quickly eliminates multiple people in the first one or two episodes, but even then that’s 4 more people to cast. Also the longer the game makes it more likely people will quit/be medevac’d. Just look at Joe de Campo or ice cream scooper Erik; they were never but their bodies gave up on them. I honestly don’t see the length of season to have any real impact on the entertainment value of the TV show.

  • pau

    I think the one world idea is great but what if there are tribes but they switch every challenge? They could divide them into two each time (sometimes three to have fewer people on tribal and more strategy and more suspense in the challenge too!) Also every one gets to be on the jury.

    • Michael

      I agree with this idea, every week have a random draw of tribes (like when they make teams for post-merge reward challenges). They could also have some endurance type challenges where the first half of the group who gets eliminated go to TC, the other half wins. I’ve been praying for a single-tribe version of Survivor for a long time.

  • Tommy

    The One World theme would feet perfectly on a Collars season or Rebels vs Rogues

  • Ran

    How about SURVIVOR: NORTH AMERICA composed of three tribes of 6 from castaways living from United States, Canada and Mexico. Don’t worry they won’t play in North America, they’ll play in a Pacific nation.

    Or how about SURVIVOR: USA vs CANADA. Two tribes of 10 from these countries.

  • Kenneth

    Foreigners invasion:
    One tribe of Americans
    One tribe with people from different countries

  • Tim

    Thanks for this! Fun to read – one of my favorite articles on IS so far. My favorite ideas: Champions, Rebels/Rogues, and HvV2.

    • Derek Beets

      Thanks Tim!

  • Ishay

    It’s funny that in both BvBvB seasons the winners weren’t brains, but the brains had the most interesting people and best gamers

  • Snsetblaze

    With the World’s Apart theme, if Survivor was going to it again, they should take Jeff’s stupid tag lines off. That part annoyed me.

    White Collar – “makes the rules”. No most of us white collar workers do not make the rules. Ask the secretary, or medical biller, or file clerk, court personnel, claims representative, generic computer programmer, engineer, or even an office manager who is not a company owner or human resources personnel if he or she does that. The casting should reflect more of the gamut too of white collar workers. Everyone they cast last time was in a higher end job where some did make rules.

    Blue Collar – it was something to the effect of they follow the rules and built this country, bleeding grit or something like that.

    And that’s not accurate either. Also, actually cast more blue collar people. Mike and Kelly and possibly Dan really were the only straight blue collar workers last time (an oil rig worker, a cop and a technician at the Post Office, not a male carrier). Rodney was technically a salesman even though he lied about it. Sierra was a barrel racer – wouldn’t that fall under entertainment – a no collar job? And Lindsey was a hairdresser, a job which does not describe Jeff’s tag line at all.

    No Collar – They don’t follow any rules. Well that was accurate although some of the casting last time was not. A law student? Still white collar if anything at all.

    I’d also be curious where some other careers were cashed: lab technician – white collar, blue collar? Doctor, nurse, teacher?

    • Joe

      For “No Collar,” how about your typical man-bunned, fedora-hatted basement dweller?

  • CC

    Like some people said below, why not bring in foreign fans from countries who don’t have Survivor or had but didn’t last too long. Perhaps Survivor: USA vs UK vs Canada? That way they can be divided by nationality without it being as controversial as Cook Islands

  • Snsetblaze

    As for other themes – they will never do this but a religion v. religion v. religion theme. And then a season of people who are atheists or agnostics.

    A returning player theme where the rivalry is between 2 female players (like the manufactured Coach v. Ozzy or the players who were taken out for medical reasons, although I do not think there were enough of the latter.)

    • Chad

      Or how about you combine those . . . Religion vs Non-Religion?

  • Daniel

    I think the redemption island/South Pacific could have been improved if they did two female returnees on one of the seasons. Similarly, I think that the second fans vs favourites could have been improved had it actually been fans & favourites, with the male fans being paired with the female favourites etc.

    In terms of new ideas:
    – Pre merge boots season
    – One returning players season where the returnees are paired up, and then eliminated as a pair (similar to Rupaul all stars)
    – Survivor replay (based upon pairs of returning players with an existing connection from a previous season)

    • Derek Beets

      I actually considered a pairs theme but I wasn’t quite sure how it would play out.

  • Snsetblaze

    A season where all of the contestants are twins (or 3 tribes – triplets).

    They can do variations – fraternal twin tribe, identical twin tribe, mixture, or just do a season of each.

  • A.D.

    How about Political Views: Right Wing vs Left Wing vs No Wing?

    • David

      Yes! Survivor: World Views

  • David

    One theme they could do is have 20 people: one tribe with new players; and a tribe of 10 people with pre-existing ties. So basically, one tribe will be strangers, whereas the people on the other tribe know each other, which could add to the drama of the game.

  • Eric

    I like the idea of a rivals season, where it works similar to BvW, where rivals from previous seasons compete on opposite tribes. Survivor: Rivals.

  • MedallionOfPower

    What about a season where, in the pre-merge, the tribes reshuffle after every vote?

    It would really play well to good social players who are able to quickly make good connections with their tribe mates and would altogether eliminate the possibility of a Pagonging once the merge happens. It would also be good to encourage the sort of fluid alliance structures that we have seen in great seasons like Cambodia and Cagayan. It seems like this format would be the perfect way to force players to continuously adapt to different situations.

    • Derek Beets

      That’s also a good idea. 🙂 Keeps the game interesting and ever-evolving.

  • Kemperboyd

    I like the idea of the UberSeason 2 games running concurrently with 18 players in each. Then when each game gets to 10, they come together and are sorted into two 10 person tribes and the game continues from there as normal. Twist being for the first section neither set of players knows the other is also playing.
    This would obviously need more than 16 episodes though.

  • Tommy

    1. Brain vs. Brawn vs. Beauty Returnees
    2. Blindsided by an idol vs. Blindsided someone with an idol vs. Didn’t use an idol
    3. Second Chances 2 [I can think of at least 15 female pre merge castaways who I’d like to see again].
    4. Last Chance [20 Survivor Legends who have never won, getting their last chance at the playing the game].
    5. Rivals [10 Of the Most famous rivalries playing against one another].
    6. Secret Partners [New players, who each know someone on the opposing tribe].
    7. Battle Of The Sexes [Returnees divided by their gender].
    8. All Stars 2 [Best Players to ever play, 2-4 winners among 18 people].
    9. Battle Of The Alliances [Previous alliances of 3 split up into 3 tribes].
    10. Fans vs. Favourites 3 [With people that are actually FANS].

  • HangingIdol

    I think reviving One World is a good idea. But agree with some comments here that it has to be done in a way where there are 2 tribes living in 1 beach and the tribes are shuffled after every reward challenge. IT’s interesting how the players will maneuver the game knowing that they cannot create permanent alliances. Also, the need to keep the most physical player to strengthen the tribe is absent on this format, since you never know if you’ll be playing with or against that player.

    I also have been dreaming about a Battle of the Seasons theme. But unlike the suggestion above, I am thinking more of three seasons as opposing tribes. For example, Amazon vs Cagayan vs China, six players each. It might be a challenge getting that much number from one season, but it woukd be interesting. Imagine seeing Rob, Christy, Alex, Deena, Matthew and Heidi playing again as a tribe and competing against, say, Tony, Trish, LJ, Kass, Alexis and Spencer. There’s multiple layers here: would the history these people have on their season play a factor? Could they trust each other? How much would upholding their own season play out in building alliances, determining the pecking order, flipping the game, and of course in voting for the eventual winner?

    Also, I would like to see another second chance season but this time with players who were voted off due to plot twists, medevac, tribe swaps etc such that we didnt see enough of what they can deliver. I think these people could have potential. I am already seeing Silas from Africa, Jenny Bae from Cook Islands, Aaron from China, Marcus Lehman from Gabon, Michelle Yi from Fiji, Neal from Kaoh Rong, etc.

  • Desty

    Survivor one world: Living in one beach
    The players will be divided in in groups every immunity challenge whoever team lose will go to tribal then will will be divided or remix teams according to how many is left (e.g. if its 17 it can be divided into 3 teams of 5 or 2 teams of 8 whoever doesnt pick will be immune)…that way the players whos calling the shot can be vulnerable too.

  • Dusty

    I think having a season with one tribe made up of those that were voted of first versus a tribe made up of runners up to the million dollar winner.

    It would be interesting to watch how the 1st person voted off would play the game because we never got to see their strategies, alliances, etc.

    It would be interesting to watch how the runner up would play. Would their strategies for playing be completely different or similar to how they played when they were the runner up?