Survivor Around The World is a new semi-regular feature here on Inside Survivor, where we take a dive into the various international versions of the hit reality-tv franchise. Warning that the articles may contain spoilers.
Micronesia was airing when news broke about the nationwide auditions for Survivor Philippines. We (me and a few Survivor fans that I knew at the time) went crazy. Up until then, playing Survivor was just a mere fantasy, which is why we jumped on the rare opportunity to be on the show. We discovered thousands of others had the same idea on the morning of May 21, 2008.
For more than 10 hours, we stood in line inside a cramped and hot parking lot—with no food or drink. A couple more hours later, we were not just hungry, thirsty, and tired; we were also dejected as we didn’t go any further in the audition stage. We weren’t dispirited for too long, though, because the excitement of seeing the first episode of this homegrown Survivor was so high.
Filming started two months after the audition dates, in Ko Tarutao, Thailand, the same location used for the fifth season of the US version (Survivor: Thailand). Production was pretty fast because shooting wrapped up in August, and the season premiered the following month to a strong reception. It was a monumental TV event that reflected in the ratings. The premiere recorded a 31.8% rating. The December finale was even more successful, with a 35.0%.
The second season, Survivor Philippines: Palau, got a 30.8% viewership share when it aired on August 17, 2009. The subsequent seasons—Survivor Philippines: Celebrity Edition (August 30, 2010) and Survivor Philippines: Celebrity Doubles Showdown (November 14, 2011)—saw a drop in viewership for the premiere episodes, despite having some of the country’s top celebrities, with ratings of 18.2% and 24.2% respectively.
This dip in interest may be attributed to some big changes in Seasons 3 and 4: a different host, celebrity castaways, and a few twists that most fans may have not received well. Survivor Philippines has not aired a new season since 2012.
Unlike the US version, Survivor Philippines aired five times weekly. It was part of the primetime slot for the network GMA 7, and each episode had a runtime of 30-45 minutes. The Immunity and Reward challenges and Tribal Councils were all spread out across those episodes.
It followed the same general Survivor format: 16 to 20 players divided into two or three tribes and taken to a remote island for 39 days. Season 3 and 4, however, were reduced to just 36 days. The players would duke it out in physical and mental challenges to win rewards (as well as advantages) and Immunity. The losing tribe would go to Tribal Council every three days.
Some episodes didn’t strictly follow the 3-day cycles/narrative (with the exception of Days 38 and 39), though, with sometimes stretches of five episodes only covering two days of game-time. This was more common in Seasons 3 and 4, with some cycles (group of episodes) covering two days, probably due to the reduced total days spent on the island. This breakdown of episodes had a significant impact on the storytelling.
With a one-episode-per-week format (as in the US), it’s easier to get a grasp of the general story arc and character developments. This is what most people use to follow the edit and figure out the eventual winner. Because events are neatly packed together in a single episode, it’s easier to grasp the overarching storylines, making it easier to predict who is in danger, who is playing well, etc.
While, for the most part, Survivor Philippines’ multi-episodes per week gave audiences more content, it also diluted the impact of seeing gameplay unravel because of the editing. With each cycle needing to be divided into five episodes, there were times when the material felt stretched beyond what was necessary. For example, in Season 4’s premiere (which covered four days), whenever a scene returned from commercial, the first few seconds replayed what we saw in the previous segment. There were many delay tactics like this (including slowing down frames), which often killed suspense.
Survivor Philippines had a number of twists throughout its four seasons, some more controversial than others. Here are are few of the more memorable ones.
Grace period for medevacs
Aside from parchments, injuries and medical emergencies can take out people in Survivor. The moment the medical team decides to take you off the island for treatment, you’re out of the game. That was not the case for Survivor Philippines, however. Here, anyone who needed medical attention outside the island got a 24-hour grace period. Beyond that, the player was officially eliminated.
Season 4’s Stef Prescott was the only exception, who was flown out to Manila after getting bitten by a Philippine Cobra. She was away for two days but was still allowed to return to the game. She made it all the way to the Final Tribal Council.
Across four seasons, eight castaways were temporarily pulled out for medical attention. All of them went back in the game except Niña Ortiz (Season 1), who quit right after returning from the hospital.
Public jury vote at the Final Tribal Council
GMA 7 introduced the public jury vote, where viewers were asked to vote for who they think should win the game through text. In Season 1, the finalist who received the most text votes earned an extra vote at the Final Tribal Council.
Black and white pearls
In Season 1, each castaway voted out after the merge had to assign either a black or white pearl to any player still in the game. The person who received the black pearl would automatically have a vote against them at the next Tribal (if that player lost the pearl, they automatically received two votes). The white pearl, on the other hand, nullified one vote against the holder.
In addition to the black and white pearls from Season 1, the Blood Pearl, in Season 2, automatically gave the owner two votes at the next Tribal (three votes if the holder lost the pearl).
Isla Purgatoryo (Purgatory Island)
Survivor Philippines and Israeli Survivor were among the first editions to introduce the concept of Redemption Island before the US version did in season 22.
Eliminated contestants were put in a secluded area where the two most recent castaways faced off in various challenges. The winner remained on the island to await the next opponent while the loser left the game for good.
Unlike in Survivor: Redemption Island, where there were two opportunities to return, Survivor Philippines: Palau allowed only one, as Isla Purgatoryo ended once the two tribes merged.
Interestingly, the first person voted out, Justine Ferrer, had an impressive run by dominating the duels. She returned to the game on Day 23 and made it all the way to the Final Tribal Council, where she was one vote short of winning the entire game.
Isla Misteryo gold coins
Before Winners at War introduced the fire tokens, Survivor Philippines: Celebrity Showdown (Season 3) allowed castaways to purchase items from a store—including an Immunity bracelet (essentially an immunity idol)—at Isla Misteryo (similar to Exile Island) using gold coins which they had to dig for around the island.
A member from each tribe would be sent to Isla Misteryo and stayed there until the next Immunity challenge.
Tribe leader decides who goes home
At one point in Season 3, the leader of the losing tribe was the only person to decide who was eliminated. At the first Tribal on Day 6, Buhawi Meneses of the Magan tribe decided to vote out one of their strongest members, Ferdinand Recio, much to the shock of everyone.
Usually, any player “kidnapped” by another tribe is able to return to their original tribe after a certain period of time (Rupert in Pearl Islands, Kathy in All-Stars, Nate in Cook Islands, among others).
In Season 3, after winning the Reward challenge on Day 9, Nagar was allowed to kidnap a member of Sar Mayee under the guise of a treemail that hinted at a mission for one member. Ervic Vijandre volunteered for the mission and was subsequently informed that he was now an official member of Nagar.
It would be exciting to see this twist play out on the US Survivor.
Final Four Live Revote
The biggest twist (that also probably earned the most ire from fans) of the entire franchise was the live elimination that occurred at the Final 4 of Season 3.
On Day 36, the Final 4 faced off with an intense jury in an interrogation similar to what happens during the Final Tribal Council. It was later revealed that, along with the Final 4, the jury would also be casting their votes to determine the final jury member. The votes were cast, and the host announced that the vote would be revealed once they had returned to the Philippines.
Months later, Aubrey Miles and Akihiro Sato, two of the more dominant players in the game, tied with the most number of votes. That meant a revote was needed. Aubrey was sent to the jury in a 5-3 vote. Akihiro eventually won the game minutes after.
What happened was considered sacrilegious for any Survivor fan. First off, the fact that the jury had the power to choose the final jury member in the first place was counterintuitive to the show’s strategic DNA. The jury most likely already knew, by that time, what really happened in the game. So it was very likely that they felt inclined to get back at those who outwitted them.
Secondly, giving them, once again, the power to cast a powerful vote at a time when everyone had seen the edited episodes—thereby getting confirmation on who lied, who made power moves, who was more loyal to them, and who basically denied them of the chance to win—was unfair to those remaining.
At that point, it was possible that some were voting out of spite. A bitter jury that casts their vote while on the island is easier to swallow than a bitter jury that votes after they’ve seen how everything played out.
Immunity bracelet rendered useless
This isn’t exactly a twist but more of a huge oversight that went against the game’s DNA, which irked many fans, especially right after the Aubrey controversy mentioned above.
In Season 4 (Celebrity Doubles Showdown), Maribel Lopez was on the outs of Tala but had an Immunity bracelet which she played at Tribal. The pair of Isabel Granada and Chuckie Dreyfus—who also got votes—played their Immunity bracelet as well. All votes were nullified. There were zero votes.
A revote occurred. But instead of exempting Maribel, Chuckie, and Isabel from voting and having the rest of the tribe vote for anyone except Maribel and the pair, everyone got up to vote for anyone they wanted. The revote basically rendered the Immunity bracelets useless.
The host even asked the rest of the tribe—before reading the results of the revote—if anyone wanted to play their Immunity bracelets. When the votes were read, Maribel got the boot.
Common Survivor rules tell us that (1) Immunity idols can only be played before the first round of vote reveals and (2) those who played idols are immune even at the revote. However, these two basic laws seemed to have been lost to the producers in this particular season.
This didn’t sit well with many fans because rules surrounding hidden immunity idols are sacred; they can significantly impact the game. This instance is a real Eliza-on-the-jury moment.
Another controversial Tribal incident happened in the same season. At the Final 4, KC Montero, Stef Prescott, and Mara Yokohama were all set to go to the end together and vote out Betong Sumaya. However, at Tribal, some of the jury members, notably Maey Bautista and Gino Dela Peña, signaled to Stef and Mara to vote out KC. The two girls changed their votes and sent KC packing.
We all know that jury members are not allowed to interact with the remaining players and can only react to whatever’s happening. This breach cost a really strong player his shot at winning. It sparked a lot of negative reactions, even from former castaways in previous seasons.
One of the more compelling aspects of the local version is the cast. Production may have fallen short on some technical aspects and execution, but it made up for it by having an excellent overall cast. Throughout four seasons, we’ve seen some engrossing characters who have given us iconic moments that will forever go down as reality TV gold.
In the first two seasons, the casts consisted of everyday Pinoys and had a good mix of personalities that made for an entertaining watch. While not all castaways were Survivor savvy, the majority had a charisma that resonated with audiences. Casting had something for all types of viewers: fans of the show and those who were seeing it for the first time.
The right mix of individuals made the first two seasons a fun watch—all from different walks of life, and they didn’t exactly fit the usual archetypes, which led to some juicy confrontations and big strategic moves. We had a woman who worked as a construction worker, a babysitter with a comedic flair, a basketball player, a martial arts instructor, a lingerie model, a transwoman beauty queen, a public school teacher, a mentalist, and an airforce pilot, among others.
And since the challenges in both installments were reminiscent of the ones featured in the US version, those viewers watching Survivor for the first time could quickly assimilate to the game. Also, I think the challenges were crucial in pushing the castaways to play the way they did, which gave us plenty of memorable moments.
For example, in Season 2’s first challenge, where they had to trudge through the forest to find their camps, carrying heavy supplies—similar to Survivor: Guatemala—the Koror tribe was in such disarray that players were shouting at each other. Some lambasted the (perceived) weaker players in secret, while others were stubborn, unmindful of what the others wanted. Some of the interactions during this hike became significant in later episodes in how certain events turned out.
There was also no shortage of strategic players—which are always a delight to watch. They made the game so much more interesting. And even those who were not as savvy in terms of manipulation and power moves had something entirely different to offer that is just as entertaining to watch.
It was interesting when Survivor Philippines opted to cast celebrities for its third season. I, for one, was excited to see how TV and movie stars would fare in the game. And, in all fairness, the Season 3 cast was a strong one, with most of the players being multidimensional.
Sultry, sexy ladies were sweet and charming on the outside but showed no hesitation in blindsiding others. Unassuming girl-next-door types were cutthroat and feisty. Athletes proved they were not just brawny but intelligent players as well. Collectively, this group gave a good show in terms of gameplay. We discovered some really great strategists and social players, most notably Aubrey and Solenn.
The Season 4 cast showed a lot of potential, mainly because of the doubles twist (castaways played in pairs). However, this cast had the most quitters (five quit during the first six days) of any season. This group also gave off vibes that said they were not really there to experience the game.
Should you watch Survivor Philippines?
Production-wise, Survivor Philippines pales in comparison to its foreign counterparts. There were clearly many areas for improvement, but there was no shortage of drama in terms of gameplay and island conflict in every season, thanks to diverse and well-selected casts. There were iconic moments that are still being referenced up until now by local Survivor fans.
We ran a poll among fans to determine the best Survivor Philippines season. In case you’re thinking of watching, then this ranking might help:
Season 1: 13.24%
Season 2: 75.53%
Season 3: 11.76
Season 4: 1.47%
Various episodes of the show can be found on YouTube or the Kapuso Overload blog.
I’d like to dedicate this article in honor of one of the most passionate Survivor fans, our dear friend and Pinoy Survivor League host, Van Ynel Lizardo. Rest in Ponderosa.