Welcome to An Island of One, a new semi-regular feature here on Inside Survivor where contributors offer up their potentially controversial Survivor opinions and do their best to defend them.
Today’s hot take comes courtesy of Chris Mazza, who believes that the much-maligned Edge of Extinction twist isn’t as game-breaking as some fans make out, especially in relation to Survivor 41‘s hourglass twist.
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While Survivor is a game whose longevity has been achieved through evolution, it was invented with three core principles. First, when you win immunity, you are safe from Tribal Council and are not eligible for elimination. Second, when Jeff Probst snuffs your torch, you must walk down the long, sad path from Tribal as you are removed from the game effective immediately. And lastly, at Final Tribal, the jury of people you voted out decide who to award the money and illustrious title of Sole Survivor.
Since Borneo, the jury’s final decision is the only one of these elements to not be completely uprooted (sorry, Russell). Meanwhile, various twists have been implemented over the years to give contestants second life after torch snuffing, none of which have been reacted to with more negativity than the Edge of Extinction. I have to admit, at first, the idea of the Edge seemed game-breaking, and watching season 38 did nothing but reaffirm my first impression of the twist when third boot Chris Underwood won the game after returning to it on day 35.
However, since then, we have had three more seasons of Survivor, and two major things have happened that have seriously mellowed out my rage against the Edge. Those being the Edge’s return in season 40 and the time-breaking hourglass twist in season 41. While I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me this in 2019 (like I wouldn’t have believed a lot of other stuff that would happen after 2019), I will be advocating for the Edge over the hourglass twist on the account that it is less game-breaking.
The Edge on Season 38
You might be thinking, “Screw you, dude! The Edge is completely game-breaking!” And while I don’t expect you to treat me like this is the Holiday Inn, hear me out. The Edge made its first significant impression on the game when Rick Devens re-entered at the merge with two halves of an inactive immunity idol. This idol was only activated when Devens gave one other player in the game one-half of the idol and both players survived the next vote.
Fans argued that Devens was given too much power upon re-entering the game, but I don’t think this is a fair criticism of the twist. David Wright could have easily kept his half of the idol, as he temporarily did before ultimately surrendering it back to Devens. The rest of the merged tribe also could have easily voted out Devens as the Lesu Three proposed, sending him back immediately to the Edge with a worthless half idol in his pocket. It’s not the fault of the twist that the idol was activated but rather the players in the game.
However, it is the fault of the twist that another player returns at the final five, a flaw that many saw as inexcusable. When Chris returned at the final five, he had lived with the jury for nearly 30 days and was equipped with the same half-idol Devens was. However, what was different between Deven’s re-entry and Chris’ was that Chris returned with an arsenal of information. On the Edge, Kelley Wentworth told him about Lauren O’Connell’s idol, a piece of information he used to manipulate Lauren into wasting it. He also used the Edge to torpedo Victoria Baamonde’s perfect under-the-radar game by telling the remaining contestants she was perceived as the greatest threat to win.
What followed Chris’ day 35 return was a masterful endgame highlighted by his decision to make fire against fellow Edge beneficiary Devens. This resulted in a commanding victory over Julie Rosenberg and Gavin Whitston. At the time, and still probably so by most fans, it was considered the worst winning game across the show’s 38 seasons for the anti-Survivor nature of the win. How was it possible for a contestant to live with the jury separated from the game for almost 30 days, return to it with an idol, and not win?
How the Edge Changed on Winners at War
Enter Survivor 40, Winners at War, when first boot Natalie Anderson re-entered the game at final five, the same spot as Chris in 38. Unlike Chris, Natalie returned with a full power idol. Natalie bossed the physical portion of the Edge, gifting idols, safety without power, and extra votes as well as extortion advantages and challenge disadvantages. Another difference in Natalie’s game compared to Chris was their play at the final four. Both players correctly identified the biggest threat to win, however, Natalie gave Tony Vlachos the opportunity to make fire against Sarah Lacina, his biggest ally.
Natalie knew the jury’s perception of Tony as the mastermind of the merge, and yet she allowed Tony to sit next to her when she could have taken him out. In addition to this, Boston Rob revealed during the Final Tribal that he felt isolated by Natalie on the Edge, as did a large chunk of the jury. While Natalie was on the Edge, she still isolated the jury, going against the core principle of Survivor—the jury decides who wins the game.
To me, Natalie’s failure to win vindicates not only Chris’ win, but also the Edge of Extinction twist itself. It proves that the Edge isn’t a foolproof way to win the game, even when returning with the power of a full idol. It also proves that Chris’ win wasn’t solely the result of the twist like most fans thought at the time. Rather, it was through his mastery of the twist and the cards he was dealt that he was able to convince the jury he was deserving of the million.
I feel that the most vocal criticism of the Edge is that the person returning at final five does not have to play as much Survivor as the rest of the cast. However, Natalie and Chris’ games were defined by key choices made by both players, choices that ultimately made Chris’ game and broke Natalie’s.
The Hourglass Twist on 41
Now to Survivor 41, where right before the merge, a rock draw divided the remaining castaways into three groups—two tribes and two outcasts. The tribes competed in an immunity challenge, where the players were explicitly told by Jeff Probst that the winning tribe would make the merge and receive immunity. In addition, the winning tribe selected one of the two outcasts to join them in safety while sending the other one to Exile Island. Perceived lamb Erika Casupanan was exiled and left out of the merge, or so viewers thought.
Upon her arrival at Exile, Erika reversed the hands of time by smashing the hourglass (as most do when trying to use an hourglass), stripping the challenge winners of their immunity and merge status and giving it to herself and the losing tribe. This led to Sydney Segal’s departure from the game (again, sorry, Russell) as the final pre-juror even though she earned her merge status by winning an immunity challenge. Erika would go on to win season 41, though not entirely on the back of the hourglass twist.
To me, the hourglass is so game-breaking because of how much time passes between the first immunity challenge and the second challenge when the contestants are informed of the twist. Between the first and second challenges, a whole day takes place—that is a lifetime in Survivor. This means that the victors of the challenge strategized and lived their life on the beach as if they were immune for almost a whole day.
When people are immune, they can afford to take more risks. And by giving half of the potential merge contestants immunity only to take it from them, it can seriously damage their game through no fault of their own. They were lied to by Jeff, who was breaking one of the pillars of Survivor in the guaranteed safety of immunity and did not have an opportunity to recover.
The most sacred pillar of Survivor next to the jury’s right to vote is the guarantee that winning an immunity challenge results in safety unless forfeited by the contestant (sorry, Erik). The Edge was seen as game-breaking not only because of how much time outside of the game returnees spent with the jury but also the fact that the returnee re-enters the game with immunity. However, as shown by Natalie on Winners at War, extended time with the jury can be harmful if you use that time to alienate them.
As for returnees re-entering with immunity, David had the right idea in withholding Devens’ immunity, just as the Lesu 3 did in wanting to send Devens right back to the Edge. The bottom line with the Edge is whether you like it or hate it, the power is still within the players to react accordingly to the twist in whatever way benefits their own game. The players that return from the twist also have the power to make the most of it, like Chris did.
The “winning” tribe on Season 41 did not have any time to react accordingly. Instead, they were fed information straight from Jeff and played the game under false pretenses for an entire day. Especially in a shortened season, every day counts on Survivor. I think Season 41 contestant Danny McCray said it best. The hourglass twist was not, in fact, a twist. It was a lie, and a lie disguised as a twist is way more game-breaking than any twist could ever be.