Since Survivor returned from its pandemic-induced hiatus, the game has definitely changed. With more than a year to plan and scheme, Jeff Probst and the rest of production have dreamed up some truly wild twists that have sometimes taken away from the spirit of Survivor. That said, while things like the Hourglass Twist and the Knowledge is Power advantage definitely have their detractors, there’s actually a player-led development that might be hurting the game more than any advantage ever could.
What I’m talking about is the rise of players who are remaking Survivor puzzles and obstacles at home to practice. Obviously, we’ve seen players practice things like sliding puzzles in the past, but the new class of Survivor players is taking this to another level. Everyone’s jaw dropped when Evvie Jagoda solved a pyramid puzzle to win a reward in record time. It was even more wild when they announced that they had literally created that puzzle at home to practice.
Just a few years later, things started to really run off the rails when Carson Garrett showed up on the beach for Survivor 44. Probst fell in love with Evvie breaking the reward challenge during that season, but production was obsessed with Carson talking about all the puzzles he’d created at home to practice. And, in the moment, it is pretty impressive to see someone just completely wreck all the planning and construction that the Survivor producers spend all year working on.
That said, this rise of Survivors meta-gaming the puzzles is a problem for several reasons. For one, it almost makes production look lazy. Of course, I’m not saying that’s the case, but if one player can destroy the challenges you’re putting together because you reuse so many ideas, it’s not going to be very hard for some segment of the audience to start wondering why so many elements are reused.
Does Survivor just not have the budget? Have they run out of ideas? Do they just not care? All of these questions are fair when someone like Carson continually obliterates challenges.
The larger issue, though, is that letting this continue without changing things up will start rewarding certain players unfairly. Survivor has never truly been fair, but the idea that anyone has a chance to win is important for the game to succeed. By essentially turning the challenge portion of Survivor into the NFL combine, where players are tested on how well they’ve prepped instead of how well they can react and adapt, seems like the wrong direction to take.
Now, you’re probably saying, “The challenges always suit a certain type of player,” and you’d be right! We have the term challenge beasts for a reason, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. By rewarding players like Carson who have access to resources that let them 3-D print puzzles, you’re effectively cutting certain demographics out of an even playing field.
Survivor always trends toward a, pardon the phrase, white-collar cast. After all, not many people living paycheck to paycheck can take off more than a month to go to Fiji and play a game. Even if there is a potential million-dollar prize at the end. Even still, the rise of meta-gaming Survivor challenges means that players from higher incomes will have an even bigger leg up because they can more easily replicate the puzzles they see on TV.
You can see this for yourself without even watching a second of the show. Just search “Survivor puzzles” on Google, and you’ll immediately see tons of Etsy pages and Instagram ads hocking different puzzles that are copying what we see on the screen. These aren’t ridiculously expensive, but someone without a bunch of disposable income isn’t going to be able to drop $100 to get a version of the tree puzzle to practice in their home.
Of course, you could argue that Carson is a student and might not have a ton of money, but he is a college student in a science field, meaning he’s much more likely to have access to a 3-D printer than your typical person. As I said above, Survivor has always been a show that caters more to a middle-class pool of players, but this recent trend is swinging the pendulum even further in that direction.
I should also be clear that this isn’t a knock on Carson or Evvie, or any other player who does this. They noticed the trend and used their resources to capitalize on it. It’s not like I’m going to complain that because Jonathan Young was such a better athlete than anyone else that the competitions should stop being athletic.
Players should absolutely get to use their strengths to their advantage. Instead, the issue is that Survivor refuses to stop reusing puzzles. They’ve effectively turned the challenges into the 40-yard dash, meaning the players who can afford to prep more for puzzles have a massive advantage. And, because it’s something that’s almost directly tied to someone’s socioeconomic status, it feels like this meta-gaming trend is effectively phasing players with fewer means out of the competition.