Over the next few weeks, Inside Survivor is counting down all forty Survivor seasons from worst to first. As always with these kinds of lists, it’s entirely subjective, and we’re sure many fans will have different opinions. This is simply Inside Survivor’s ranking. Join us each weekday for a new entry.
Season No: 38
Broadcast Date: February 20 – May 15, 2019
Location: Mamanuca Islands, Fiji
No. of Castaways: 18
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Survivor introduced many twists in its second decade, from Redemption Island to extra votes to Final 4 fire-making, but none more controversial than the Edge of Extinction. The Edge is not so much a twist but an entire format change that makes it extremely difficult to judge a season on its own merits. Before season 38 aired, Jeff Probst hyped the Edge in grandiose terms, talking up its ability to psychologically take the show deeper. “Is there a possibility of the spiritual death and rebirth that you seek in life, where you realize something deeper about yourself?” he said. However, while the Edge did provide a handful of intense, emotional moments, it was mostly an excuse for more advantages and scavenger hunts.
The fact is, a third boot returning on day 35 and winning the whole season overshadows everything that comes before. And yet, there is a perverse thrill to the Edge of Extinction finale. Chris Underwood’s comeback and charge to the Final Tribal Council is undoubtedly exciting—but also laughable. It’s one of those, “I can’t believe this is actually happening” episodes. There are certain “jump-the-shark” moments fans could point to throughout Survivor history, but a third boot winning the entire game doesn’t just jump the shark; it clears the whole ocean. It’s like a bizarre Survivor ORG (online reality game) come to life. Sure, Survivor has never been a fair game, but this is beyond anything witnessed previously. And after the initial high wears off, it ultimately makes the whole season feel empty and pointless.
A significant problem with the Edge of Extinction twist is in the execution. Allowing eliminated players to influence the game by sending advantages (and disadvantages) to the active castaways is ridiculous. And with all Edge inhabitants being on the jury, it gives a considerable leg-up to whoever returns, both in terms of information and jury management. Ending the twist at the merge might have helped with some of these issues, but as it stands, season 38 is weighed down by its format. The time spent on the Edge also eats up screen-time, resulting in underwhelming edits for the players still in the main game, especially on the Kama tribe. And the unnecessary inclusion of four past players only adds to the imbalanced editing.
It’s a shame because parts of this season are enjoyable, even parts owing to the Edge. For all its faults, the twist means we get a full season of Reem Daly, who becomes a de facto welcome guide to the new Edge inhabitants. The merciless blindside of three-time Survivor veteran Aubry Bracco is a stellar episode. David Wright and Kelley Wentworth’s frenemy relationship is a compelling running arc. And there are some lively new players, from the boisterous Dan “Wardog” DaSilva, comedic newscaster Rick Devens, the wild and free-spirited Wendy Diaz, likable underdog Lauren O’Connell, and the slick Victoria Baadmonde. The problem is most are stifled by an overbearing twist and the camera-hogging edits of the returnees, plus first Edge returnee Rick. Even Chris is an afterthought until the finale, making his victory even harder to fathom.
Edge of Extinction feels like the producers became tired of their own show and emptied an entire whiteboard of abandoned ideas into the same season. It was a bold creative risk, but one that strayed too far from the Survivor fans know and love.
Aubry’s blindside — Unlike previous mixed seasons, the newbies don’t let the returnees have an easy ride. No returnee feels this more than Aubry, who, after a tribe swap, finds herself completely hoodwinked by the rookies. Heading into Tribal Council with an idol in her pocket, Aubry is shocked when she becomes the fifth person voted out.
Chris makes fire — In the gamble that wins him the game, Chris puts himself into the Final 4 fire-making challenge against his biggest threat, Rick, and comes out on top.
Wendy’s chicken run — Wendy is a player that marches to the beat of her own drum, and this is never more clear than when she sneaks through camp in the dead of night to set the chickens free.
That chaotic Tribal — Things break down at the Final 12 when comments from Aurora McCreary and Julia Carter set alarm bells ringing for David and Kelley, leading to an eruption of chaos and ever-changing plans at Tribal Council.
Check back tomorrow when we reveal which season placed at number 32. You can check out the previous entries here.