James Lim Talks Upcoming Survivor Format Changes

James shares his thoughts on the upcoming Survivor changes.

Photo: CBS

After what felt like forever, Survivor is almost back, much to the delight of fans all over the world. Survivor’s return, however, comes with notable changes that may or may not sit well with fans: dropping the titles in favor of just the season number and reducing the game to just 26 days.

We asked some Survivor fans from a couple of local fan groups (Survivor Superfans – Philippines & Official Pinoy Survivor Fans) if they’re okay with a 26-day game setup and found that out of 216 responses, 59.2% felt the shortened days won’t be a problem, while 20.4% said they prefer the usual 39 days. The remaining 20.4% don’t really mind.

Then a thought occurred to me: how would former players react to these changes? So I reached out to some of our favorite Survivor players to find out what they think about these literal game-changers.

James Lim

Ghost Island

How do you feel about reducing the number of days to just 26? How do you think this will impact one’s gameplay?

I’m a bit conflicted on this one. I lean more traditional when it comes to my view of Survivor as an experience/competition show, and so I wish they had kept the 39-day format. That being said, I am aware that this was one of the changes that enabled Survivor to resume filming this spring, and that’s the far more important objective of course.

I do hope that production has some ideas in mind to keep the “survival” factor high despite the fewer days on the island. Cast members battling the elements with limited food and sleep has always been a core tenet of the show (the “how bad do you want this?” narrative). And I’m a firm believer that shared suffering is one of those key ingredients in the powerful relationships we see on screen.

I think the abridged season will definitely lead to faster-paced gameplay, with fewer days that are completely off. I had a few off days on the island myself, and while they did go by very slowly, they also provided us with great opportunities to deepen alliances, have meaningful conversations, go idol hunting, and take a breather before charging into the next challenge or tribal council.

Now, the cast will likely have to take it from 0 to 100 as soon as they hit the beach and keep it at 100 the entire season. I can see this potentially leading to some faster-paced episodes that feel more dynamic and action-packed. We’ll have to see.

In relation to the show dropping the subtitles for the new season, what would you “drop” from your gameplay if ever you get the chance to play again?

If I could, I would like nothing more than to “drop” tough swaps from my second go at Survivor. As someone who ended up on the receiving end of back-to-back swaps that put me squarely in the minority, I had to constantly fight and strategize in order to simply survive another day.

While it was an exciting challenge in its own right and pushed me to make some bold moves, I was also struck by talking to some of my Naviti friends after the season ended and realizing just how much they were able to relax for the majority of the pre-merge. I literally do not know what that feels like.

An answer more relevant to my own gameplay would be to drop a bit of the cautious, filtered approaches that I took out there and to replace them with greater expression/persuasion.

James Lim
Photo: CBS

To illustrate, looking back, I believe that some of the key conversations I had over the course of my season could have been approached better: those with Malolo after I lost the challenge for them on Day 6, the one persuading Libby Vincek to vote with me and make a move on the Navitis on Day 9, the one convincing Michael Yerger/Angela Perkins to vote with me and forge a path to the merge together on Day 17.

Some of these worked out, and some didn’t, but what I know is that the real world me would have approached these conversations in a more emotive, persuasive way. I think the stress of gameplay and being conscious of not messing up on national television became a burden, one that I know will not be a factor if I get a chance to play again as a veteran.

Like most former players, I would love to play again. I know that the odds are slim, and my life is in such a spot that I would still be grateful and completely happy if I remain a one-time player. But if I get that phone call in the next year or so before my post-grad school career really gets going, the answer would be an enthusiastic “yes.”

It is not only because I believe I can make it further into the game, but also because I sometimes feel as if I never got to show who I fully am as a player and a person, precisely for the reason mentioned above.

How have you been since the last time you appeared on the show?

Life has been busy and good since my time on the island. I sometimes can’t believe that it has already been 4 years since the cast of Ghost Island flew out to Fiji. I still remember the trip as if it were yesterday.

Since the summer of 2017, I’ve left my management consulting job to begin a JD/MBA dual degree program at Harvard (I will be beginning the fourth and final year of the program this August), moved back from NYC to Boston, hopefully got a little bit smarter and wiser, and met some amazing friends/mentors here at school.

Most importantly, I have been blessed with a pretty tight-knit cast, and, over the years, we have made sure to maintain our unique bonds that were forged on the island. A group of us attended Morgan Ricke’s wedding in Orlando, I have spent Thanksgivings with Brendan Shapiro’s family in Virginia, and we still organize group reunions when we can.

To this day, I feel immensely grateful that I was able to meet such great people, from all walks of life and all corners of the country, and build lifelong friendships, through a reality show of all things—a virtue of Survivor that often gets overshadowed by all the strategy, drama, and fleeting fame.

Written by


Wowie is a copywriter and brand strategist based in Manila, Philippines. He’s been a Survivor fan since 2001, after seeing a rerun of Colleen’s boot. Since then, Survivor has become a major influence in his life: wrote a thesis on Survivor: The Amazon, started a blog, tried out for Survivor Philippines (and failed), and went on to seek out life’s (mis)adventures.

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