Two months after the first announcement, Survivor Mexico has officially kicked off. The series was first revealed on May 5, when submissions for casting started. Soon after, it was confirmed that Arturo Islas, an environmental activist, would act as the show’s host. Islas, in several interviews, compared this project with Survivor US.
Although US production is postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Survivor Mexico is currently being filmed in the Dominican Republic, following some safety measures (it can be seen in the episodes that staff and camera crew are wearing masks). Also, in May, Islas said in an interview that negative COVID-19 tests were required as part of the safety protocols.
Produced by TV Azteca (the second largest network in México), Survivor Mexico will run Sundays from 20:00 to 23:15 and Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 19:30 to 10:30 on main channel Azteca UNO. With four episodes per week, three will be focused on reward challenges, leaving Sundays for the elimination episode. This means just one Tribal Council every four episodes. It’s unclear how many episodes will air in total. Based on recently related shows produced by this network, they can expand it up to 30 weeks, taking advantage of filming and editing being done simultaneously.
The cast is not as diverse as a modern-day Survivor US season. It is comprised of 16 contestants, equally split into two tribes, named Kuaukali and Oselokali, all competing for 2,000,000 Mexican pesos (~90,000 USD). Twelve of the contestants are between 22 and 29 years old. And half of the cast already has a degree of notability in television and social media (reality shows, actors, singers, presenters, and influencers). Therefore almost all players fall into the same archetype. In addition, host Arturo Islas lacks the charisma and enthusiasm of other presenters on the same network and his international Survivor counterparts.
Challenges are based on scoring points and last about 50 continuous minutes. They’re mostly focused on brawl kind of challenges (in the first episode, Sumo At Sea) where different tribe members face off. This is so they can repeat them over and over up to 20 times (the first tribe to get 8 or 10 victories wins). Believe it or not, editing adds multiple reps of the same shots, and a lot of nonsense chat and celebrations between each point is included. This worsens as there are two reward challenges per episode—with luxuries such as a fishing kit at stake. The first challenge was to win facilities at camp—the winner got a shelter and the loser only a wooden base, in a sort of Haves vs. Have-Nots situation.
Camp life makes up approximately a third of the show, and confessionals are kept at a minimum. The tribes weren’t given flint, but this was no problem since they made fire with sticks without effort, though, needless to say, the ignition happened off-camera. Most of the camp shots were about crab hunting and cooking, with very little time to learn more about the contestants’ backgrounds. There was no strategy talk whatsoever, not to mention hidden immunity idols or secret clues, which made me wonder if the contestants know the importance of social dynamics, or even if they know the rules of the game yet. Still, there were some pleasant scenes and confessionals.
Overall, though, the format used by TV Azteca is very much like prior reality shows that have had great success in Mexico (La Isla, Exatlon)—more focused on challenges than social politics. While Survivor Mexico maintains features like brand name, challenges, confessionals, and maybe Tribal Council, this version lacks the aspects that have made Survivor US successful for 40 seasons. It’s missing things like high production values, diverse casting, social dynamics, strategic gameplay, concise episodes, and even beautiful locations—the things that have kept millions of us worldwide watching and rewatching this show for years.