It’s been over a year now since Survivor shut down production due to the coronavirus pandemic. But if there is one silver lining to this year-long off-season, it’s “thinking time.” It is the ability to step away, refocus, and make changes for the future of Survivor.
While Survivor is still successful, there is no denying that changes could and should be made, both on-screen and off. Whether it’s to do with casting, production, format, or twists, there are many areas of Survivor that could do with a shake-up as the show heads into its third decade on the air.
Over the past few weeks, I reached out to various former Survivor castaways to get their thoughts on the show’s future and the changes they would like to see implemented in the coming seasons. You can check out their thoughts below.
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“I would like to see even more diverse players in the game,” says two-time Survivor player Tai Trang. “It would be great to see more of the older players again, more diverse cultural ethnicities, recent immigrants, and a wider representation of the LGBTQIA community to reflect the fanbase and current make up of our country.”
This sentiment is echoed by many other players, with Island of the Idols contestant Karishma Patel advocating for “diverse people with unique backgrounds who know what the game is about—not recruits who binged a season or two before playing.”
Ghost Island champ and Winners At War star Wendell Holland takes this a step further, suggesting the show needs to expand its diversity beyond just the cast. “More diversity in front of the camera, behind the camera, in casting, and in gate-keeping/decision-making positions,” says Holland.
Those changes are hopefully coming, as last November, CBS announced a new set of diversity goals for its unscripted programming, aiming for casts that comprise at least 50% Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). The network also promised improvements in production, with at least a quarter of its annual unscripted development budget allocated to projects created or co-created by BIPOC producers.
In terms of production changes, David vs. Goliath‘s Davie Rickenbacker is already thinking about life after Jeff Probst’s eventual retirement. “I’d love for [Probst] to be the amazing host that he is for as long as he wishes, but in the event that he does bow out gracefully one of these days, I think the job should stay in-house,” states Rickenbacker.
As for who could fill Probst’s famous blue shirt, Rickenbacker has three top choices from the world of Survivor. “In no particular order, Andrea Boehlke, Earl Cole, or Rick Devens. Honestly, maybe even go the coed co-host route with someone doing challenges and someone doing Tribals.”
Rickenbacker also believes Survivor could do more with third-party platforms, including using the recent merger of CBS All-Access and Paramount+ to bring viewers “behind the scenes access, 24-hour footage, and [content of] Survivors on and off the island.”
This could also include the return of the Survivor after-show. “I think bringing [the after-show] back would be a huge draw to grow the younger audiences,” says Rickenbacker. “With platforms like Instagram and TikTok… these would go over well, and again I propose our very own hosts, in no particular order: Brice Izyah, Lauren Ashley-Beck, Rob Cesternino, or Chelsea Walker.”
One of the most consistent changes requested by past players is, in the words of Holland, “less stuff.” As succinctly put by Millennials vs. Gen-X castaway Jessica Lewis, “There is an over-saturation of idols and advantages. Cirie—that’s all that needs to be said about this.”
Trang shares similar sentiments: “The game now has so many twists, advantages, and toys that [have] evolved to an intense hyper level. I’d like to see the game slow down a bit with fewer advantages; a more old school less bling season. The stress of hunger, harsh environments, and a cast of personalities will always give us good psychological gameplay.”
Cagayan contestant and Purple Pants podcast host, Brice Izyah, goes into further detail regarding Survivor‘s obsession with idols and advantages, their flaws, and the potential improvements that could be made going forward.
“I’d like for advantages to better reward creative and clever gameplay,” explains Izyah. “The idol nullifier, for instance, is sort of the antithesis of this objective. People overestimate the difficulty of using the idol nullifier, claiming, ‘Oh, it’s not easy to predict who is playing an idol.’ Ultimately though, it doesn’t really matter if it nullifies an idol or not.”
Izyah continues: “A majority alliance in a crucial vote can use it on a target to ensure that they go home even if they have an idol. There is no way for the minority to navigate out of this disadvantage aside from actually flipping the numbers. It rewards simple-minded gameplay and punishes those on the bottom, especially if they are trying to do something creative with an idol of their own.”
In terms of fixing the idol nullifier specifically, Izyah suggests a player should “have to play it on the owner of the idol” rather than the recipient. “That makes the user have to predict who owns the idol and guess correctly, rather than just playing it on the target of the vote for guaranteed success. This equates to less certainty and power but rewards more skilled game players.”
This is something Izyah believes should apply to all advantages introduced in the future. “Offer less power overall but reward those who actually really put the advantage to good use,” he continues.
A commonality amongst these answers is a desire for Survivor to get back to its roots, highlighting the castaways over twists and advantages. “I would love to see more footage of fun camp life, side stories, and not so many game-focused scenes,” says Trang. “Let us fully appreciate the casts and also give a gentler feel to the show.”
There is also a strong push to revive some old-school favorites, with several players requesting the return of the Survivor Auction, which hasn’t been seen on the show since season 30.
“The auction was always an absolute highlight in any season, and I felt like it was universally pretty beloved,” says Izyah. “While I assume production was soured on the auction due to the presence of an advantage damaging the good-spirited nature intended in this challenge, scrapping it altogether is such a rash and unnecessary step.
“Either remove the advantage altogether and make it clear to the players up front, or, alternatively, put the advantage first or make it a hidden item/hidden within a food item. I think it would be far more entertaining if someone found a clue inside their cheeseburger!”
A major reason for Survivor moving away from its roots and becoming so reliant on twists and themes is due to its permanent residency in Fiji. The repeated use of location means less focus on the local culture and environment, something that doesn’t look to be changing, despite Lewis’s wishes.
“It was so mesmerizing to see images of the chosen location while Jeff [Probst] narrated about its dangers and weather conditions,” says Lewis. “I realize Fiji has provided stability, but it’s become repetitive, and the show is now missing the danger element of surviving in the unknown.”
Instead, recent seasons have been built around themes, from the zeitgeisty Millennials vs. Gen-X to island-based twists like Edge of Extinction to the mouthful that was Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. But what themes would players like to see in future seasons?
“How about a season with only LGBTQIA or only minority group casts?” suggests Trang, expanding on the increased diversity quota. “Just to show that we are the same as everyone else. We can be heroes or villains, clever or innocent, and behave as normal or eccentric as the rest of society.”
However, the most common suggestion is one that fans have been clamoring for for a while now, another Second Chance season. “I’m obviously a little biased here,” says Izyah, “but I would love to see more early boots given second chances in future seasons.
“I think there are so many fantastic pre-mergers who were unable to show their potential due to any number of reasons, and many would make TV gold upon a return. Kelley Wentworth, for example, had a rough first outing but utilized her second and third chances to cement herself as a modern legend.
“There are plenty of other players with similar potential, and I hope Survivor implements some themes soon (Second Chances, Fans vs. Favorites, or even an all Pre-Mergers season) that gives these hidden gems another chance!”
Inside Survivor would like to give a huge thanks to all the Survivors that took part in this article and here’s a little more about what each of them has been up to recently and where you can keep up to date with them…
Wendell Holland – “I’m currently filming a show in the Home and Garden space with an awesome co-host and still building beautiful furniture for @BeveUnlimited.”
Jessica Lewis – “Be sure to check out the “Why ____ Lost” podcast on RHAP that I co-host with David Bloomberg. We discuss the rules of Survivor, as created by David, and compare those rules to the gameplay of whoever is voted off. Great insight and discussion whether you are a fan or Survivor contestant hopeful!”
Karishma Patel – “I’ve been very busy attempting the work-life-sanity balance, but it’s a see-saw at times. I got a new puppy and named her Fiji… because of course I did. She’s a miniature golden doodle and just a big ball of energy. We even watch Survivor together. Follow her on Instagram @fijiminidoodle and me too if you’re inclined and say hi @qtkarishma (although I am far less interesting haha).”
Brice Izyah – “I’ve been fortunate enough to stay busy during the recent COVID times. Aside from my day job as a social worker, I’ve also been building up my podcast called The Purple Pants Podcast. We’ve got nearly 100 episodes under our belt along with merch and the fan-favorite Brice Izyah Zaddy and Hot Gurl Summer Calendars (get them while they’re still hot!). Beyond that, I’m extremely excited to get some Survivor back on my screen and see what’s in store for the upcoming seasons!”
Davie Rickenbacker – “I am still employed with the CDC and have also been quite busy with my voice talent career. I’ve booked quite a few pay-to-play gigs but am far from where I would like to be. The pandemic has been good in allowing me time to fully continue to perfect my craft. Visit www.DavieRickenbacker.com to learn more. I can also be found at: Cameo: @iamDavie Tiktok: @ihateDavie Instagram: @iamDavie Twitter: @itweetDavie.”
Tai Trang – “On top of this crazy COVID time, I broke my wrist in the fall and was in a full cast for 2 1/2 months, and still in recovery with physical therapy. I am now back to my gardening job, but it was a totally surreal experience, and I realized that we evolved to have two hands for a good reason. Spring came early here in San Francisco. I have been busy with beekeeping and volunteer catching swarms for the city. And of course, with the bees come the birds. I put a couple feeders up and have been enjoying watching and identifying the birds and their songs.
“I am also obsessed with foraging and eating wild greens. My favorites are the stinging nettles and wild radish flower tips; I think they are more nutritious and tastier than any conventionally grown vegetables. And what makes me the happiest is seeing kids, neighbors, and strangers discover and take books from the little free library that I installed and curate in front of our house. I am a charter member of the little free library. It’s an international nonprofit organization that helps neighbors set up a small library in their block to offer free books and encourage the love of reading. I think everyone should have one near their house.”