How Should Survivor Celebrate 40 Seasons?

A look at potential themes Survivor could use in its landmark fortieth season.

Photo: sallyskneesocks/Reddit

This year, Survivor will film its fortieth season. That is an incredible feat for a show that was at one time considered a fad. What began as a pop culture phenomenon in 2000 was expected to burn out as subsequent seasons failed to hold on to the mammoth ratings set by those first two outings in Borneo and the Australian Outback. But as TV ratings across the board started to nosedive, giving way to the rise of DVR and on-demand streaming, Survivor’s viewing figures leveled out, maintaining a consistently loyal audience. It adapted to two timeslot changes. It battled off threats from American Idol and The X Factor USA. And it somehow didn’t get canceled after the contentious race divide twist. Through the highs and lows, the criticisms and controversies, Survivor survived.

Now, 19 years later, Survivor is gearing up for Season 40. It’s a huge milestone that deserves to be celebrated, and all indications point to something special happening to mark the occasion. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last year, Jeff Probst said he would “like to do something big” for the fortieth season. “It feels right, it feels time, and so that would be my guess is that we would all probably think, yeah, let’s get some fun ideas together and see which one makes the most sense, which one holds the most appeal to the audience and which one feels right for where we are in our evolution right now,” he said.

Executive producer Mark Burnett, the man who brought the Survivor franchise to the U.S., agreed with Probst. “You’re right, it does feel big: Survivor 40. And again, who knows what it will be, but I do have to agree with you,” Burnett explained. “And the good news is, it’s not like we have to convince ourselves to do something big because we need to, it’s just because the team would want it. Jeff would want to, the team would want to.”

With that in mind, we’re going to look at five potential themes Survivor could pull out the bag to celebrate the landmark fortieth season.


Survivor: Champion of Champions

Photo: Sandra Diaz-Twine/Facebook

It’s an idea fans have talked about for several years, a season comprised solely of former winners. A true best of the best battle for the ultimate Survivor supremacy. While pulling together a cast of 18-to-20 entertaining winners might have seemed a difficult task a few years ago, it should be a lot more feasible nowadays as the pool has widened. By the time cameras start rolling on Season 40 in May/June, the show will have 38 former champions to choose from (don’t forget Sandra Diaz-Twine won twice). Imagine the larger-than-life personalities of Richard Hatch and Tony Vlachos facing off. Or the methodical game of a Kim Spradlin having to contend with the unpredictability of a Jud “Fabio” Birza.

Unfortunately, Probst doesn’t appear to be on board with an all-winners season. “We can’t do all winners,” the Emmy-winning host told Us Weekly last September. “As a producer, I would never suggest it. I would say it’s not a good idea.” He suggested that there aren’t enough compelling winners to make up a full season and that the memorable ones, such as Boston Rob Mariano and Parvati Shallow, have no interest in returning. “We have 10 great winners that you’d want to see play again. We don’t have 20. We don’t have 18,” he said. “Some of the winners don’t want to play again. Some of the greats are like, ‘No, we’re done.’”

However, Probst did acknowledge that an upcoming season could feature a tribe of winners: “We could do winners versus another group. That’s an idea.” Which leads us to our second suggestion for Season 40…

Survivor: Champions vs. Challengers

Photo: CBS

If Probst isn’t confident in an all-winners edition, then a half-and-half season might be a happy compromise. A tribe of returning champions would satisfy those fans clamoring for a winner showdown, while also allowing Probst and his team to fill the rest of the spots with some former non-winning favorites. In an ideal world, a Champions vs. Challengers season would pit ten past Sole Survivors against ten of the “best to never win,” think players such as Cirie Fields, Malcolm Freberg, and Rob Cesternino. It could make for a highly competitive season and a great way to celebrate the show in its fortieth iteration.

Survivor: Old School vs. New School

Photo: CBS

Old School versus New School is another theme idea that has been batted around the fan community over the past few years, and the timing could finally be right. It’s a theme which allows the show to honor its past while also paying respect to the present. By splitting the show into two separate eras, with Heroes vs. Villains acting as a cut-off point, the season would see the castaways who helped build the foundation of Survivor across the first 19 seasons going up against those who evolved the game in the modern era. The theme is also broad enough that it doesn’t put any restrictions on who can be brought back; the cast could include winners, Survivor icons, and memorable second chancers (bring back Sean Rector already!).

There was an excitement in the air when the contenders on the Second Chance ballot were revealed back in 2015, and a lot of that was due to the inclusion of legendary old schoolers such as Kelly Wiglesworth, Andrew Savage, Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper, and Shane Powers. Old School vs. New School is probably the closest the show could come to reigniting that kind of anticipation. It’s a theme that is easy to understand and would be fitting for an anniversary, celebrating the past and the present before moving into the future.

Survivor: Bad Blood

Photo: CBS

The concept of a “rivals” season might have too much of a negative vibe for what is meant to be a celebratory occasion, but there is certainly potential for a compelling season. Taking some of the most fierce feuds in Survivor history and forcing these old enemies to live together again on the same beach could create explosive television. For the format to work though, the rivals would have to start the game together, with five pairs of adversaries on each tribe. The test would be whether these former foes could put aside their differences to succeed or if old wounds would cause their downfall.

There have been plenty of iconic rivalries over the years, from the broken friendship of Boston Rob & Lex van den Berghe to the season-long bickering between Eliza Orlins & Twila Tanner. The comical butting of heads between Courtney Yates & Jean-Robert Bellande and the brutal viciousness of Corinne Kaplan & Sugar Kiper. To the more recent feuds like Ben Driebergen & Chrissy Hofbeck and Chris Noble & Dom Abbate. Whether the format is strong enough to sustain an entire season is debatable, but given the show has done themes like Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, nothing should be out of the question.

Survivor: New World

Photo: CBS

The One World twist is one of Survivor’s biggest missed opportunities. The concept of both tribes living together on one beach is packed with potential and intriguing game ramifications. It just never quite worked in Survivor: One World because it contained the cast of Survivor: One World. Another group of castaways, like say a bunch of game-hungry returnees, could do wonders with this gimmick, and Season 40 could be the chance to dust it off and try again, albeit under a slightly altered name.

There is an immediate benefit of using this twist with returnees, in that the audience will already be familiar with the personalities; therefore there isn’t the added confusion of trying to get to know the people and keep track of the game dynamics. The strategic and social possibilities are endless, especially with players willing to cross enemy lines and influence/sabotage the opposing tribe. If the show wanted to be really bold, they could use the twist with no tribes at all, simply drafting new teams at the start of each challenge with the losing team attending Tribal. That might be too confusing for viewers, but with the right selection of returning players, this could be the “next evolution” in the game which Probst is always banging on about.

How do you think Survivor should celebrate its landmark fortieth season? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

52 responses to “How Should Survivor Celebrate 40 Seasons?”

    • I don’t necessarily agree. Fabio is a huge comedy relief – and it would be interesting to see a winner like that again to see how much their win was possibly a fluke.
      similarly, I’d actually be kinda interested to see Natalie White again.

    • I personally think HvV is a bit dated theme. it could work, but today “playing hard” is a much bigger consensus in Survivor than it used to be.
      I could hardly pick clear “heroes” or “villains” from the newest seasons.
      however – I think it’s absolutely what Australian Survivor should do (“mateship” vs. “snakes”)

  1. If they do it right, they get a good mix of players from old and new seasons – nevertheless what the overall season theme is. So my guess is that “Old School vs. New School” could be a implicit theme anyway like in Second Chances.

    I like the Bad Blood theme, but it seems hard to realize.

  2. I think the cast should include BB, Dan, Jenn and Colton. the Cast walks by four burning torches on the opening beach, picture of each ,flowers. 40 celebrates that Survivor has now spanned lifetimes of its fans and players. It would be a thoughtful gesture that the fans will appreciate.

  3. I like Old School vs. New School as it would expand the amount of people that they could ask back while also giving us compelling dynamics and new interactions between many of our favorite players!

    • perhaps, but I also feel like this theme was used to quite a large extent in Second Chances, it doesn’t feel fresh enough for me.

  4. Love all of the new theme except for champion of champions. The best one probably bad blood. It will cause so much drama

  5. I dont know why they haven’t already thought of “Challange Beasts”. You bring back contestants in the top 5% of individual challenge wins and you’ll have a show to top them all. I would love to see Tom, Ozzy, Chrissy, Brad, Mike H, Kim, Joe, Spencer and others compete against each other.

    • Challenge Beasts would have too much focus on the outplay and outlast portions of the game and only the select few would actually focus on the outwit. Basically, the strategy for that type of a season would be slightly boring and it would be difficult to develop some of these people as any archetype that doesn’t focus on their challenge prowess.

    • The problem is that most of the first people were voted off because they were completely unlikable, or were really bad in challenges. I don’t see how this makes a great season. In addition, we don’t know these player so would be like a newby season. It seems like season 40 should be all players that we know really well.

  6. What about having two tribes BUT, put them on the same beach within viewing distance of each other? It can be a sneaky show of a whos who, trustworthy or conniving. I think it would be a good dramatic nail biter each week.

  7. I love the idea of Champions x Challengers. That’s my vote. But I also would be happy if they just did a Heroes vs Villains 2.0.

  8. Whatever the format, the ONLY thing that needs to happen if there is another All-Star type cast (and I agree, I’d LOVE to see a “Challenge of the Champions,” as I call it, although with at least a few “should have beens” in the mix, but I’m not sure if Probst would go for it), is this….Rob Mariano, Tony Vlachos, and especially Russell Hantz and Sandra Diaz-Twine, have proven themselves as players. But, in my opinion, Richard Hatch, even with all his “shortcomings” on the show and especially after, HAS to play again. This is the gent that DEFINED how you go ahead and win Survivor, by making all the moves and staying out of the line of fire. I know his legal troubles have caused the producers to say no, but there’s GOT to be a way to find a chance for him to compete, at least for someone like Russell, “Coach,” Phillip, even Joe Arngrim, Boston Rob, AND Rupert, to knock him on his behind. There’d even been an attempt by Rob Mariano to host his own competition, a blend of Amazing Race and Survivor, a “New World” with no tribes and forty of the best to play the game, and Rob and/or Probst handing the controls of this game, that might give this franchise much-needed new life.

    • There is no way that Richard Hatch is playing survivor again. There is way too much legal drama around Richard Hatch since he went to jail for not paying taxes on his survivor winnings.

  9. since they last few all returnees seasons have been 20 I think it is time to mix it up with 18. Mines will be Winners vs. Runners Ups vs. Fallen Angles

  10. ‘Returning players / No tribes / Drafting new teams at the start of each challenge.’ Could result in some never-before-seen game-play.

  11. How they divide the tribes isn’t important to me. What I want is just for them to cast the 20 biggest threats they can. The only way to give people like Tony, Rich, Kim, Parvati, Malcolm, Sandra, Cirie, etc. a real chance to win is to cast them with each other, and no one who doesn’t belong in that category. When everyone’s a massive threat, everyone is equal. As soon as you let in quiet under the radar girls who finished premerge or early jury, our real favorites are screwed.

    • I agree. That was one of the biggest problems and why game changers wasn’t good. you can’t cast half legends and half pre merge one timers

    • I agree, but my suggested twist on the ‘biggest threats’ would be to have a season of all challenge beasts. These people are always popular and always a threat…until the merge when they become huge targets. I’d love to see them face one another and see how the social game changes when everyone is a physical threat.

  12. great article!
    but, although it is imo too soon for it, one of the themes I would be by far the most excited is:
    “America vs Australia”.
    I don’t know how realistic an international season like that would be, but I would be so pumped for that one. but Season 40 would be too soon – Australia already has some great characters/players (Phoebe, Henry, Luke, Benji, Nick, Sarah, AK…) but they need a couple more seasons I think.

  13. As a Canadian that sets his mind, then acheaves, I have been waiting a LONG time for a shot. Canada v USA would be epic. How about Canada v Champions? I’m the Poop Soup guy from the West Coast of Canada, and my tape is in for S39, and will be again for every season til i get the call.

  14. How about a “Battle of the States” between the 3 biggest states, mainly
    California, New York, and TEXAS, as that might bring in some interesting
    dynamics and LOTS OF STATE PRIDE!?!?!?!?!?!?

  15. All returnees and it should be called The Grand Jury. Every single person voted off becomes a member of the jury from vote #1.

  16. With Season 39 likely being America vs Canada, how about an all-star America vs. Australia season. Australian Survivor has had a lot of compelling characters, and you could easily make a chaotic tribe of 10 out of them. In addition, many of the logicistical issues that would previously make this impossible have been resolved (CBS now owns the channel Australian Survivor airs on and has the rights to Survivor in multiple countries now).

  17. Since this is the 40th season and now Canadians are allowed to play. What if there is something with Canadians playing against or combined with the Americans as they are one of the biggest fans and largest Neighboring Country to the USA?

  18. I would love to see another twist on the New School versus Old School thing: Bring in a bunch of New School Players (Season 20 and on) and have a season that is Old School Rules: No tribal swaps, no idols, no advantages,…

  19. How about about playing by the rules of season 1? Two person finale. No idols or advantages. No tribe swaps.

  20. I think the title of the season should be “Big Threats.” Pick players that were voted off early because they were considered big threats.

  21. Why can’t they do a sort of Rivals and One World in the same season? If you have 10 rivalries, each tribe will be sorted and have one rival on each tribe, but everyone will be on the same beach. That way you can possibly influence the other tribe to vote your rival off, but you don’t actually get to go to tribal and vote off that person. That would make for outstanding tv!

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