“We’re adding a new twist this season,” Jeff Probst utters in the season preview, as Sucksters and Redditors groan. The introduction of twists, starting with the first tribe swap in Survivor: Africa, has received mixed reactions through the years. Ask any Survivor superfan, and they will cite the tribe swap as one of the show’s more innovative and successful twists; ask them about the Medallion of Power, and you might get a different response. As we head into Ghost Island next week, which is set to introduce a brand new twist to the game, the fan base remains divided on the topic of twists, polarized by those who want more and those who prefer a more back-to-basics approach.
Regardless, the casual viewing audience largely favors the crazy gameplay that often results from idols and advantages galore. As such, why wouldn’t production keep searching for new twists? They want new ways to complicate the show. The net result is often more drama and suspense. I am not here to debate Survivor’s recent format changes – that matter is best left to the Survivor forums to discuss. However, if Survivor continues down its current path, I imagine that the producers will continue the search for new “game-changing,” “big move” twists.
Survivor is an international phenomenon, one that continues to expand every year. Look no further than the recent Australian Survivor, Survivor New Zealand, and Survivor South Africa franchises. Versions share locations, themes, challenges, and even twists. For instance, the Hidden Immunity Idol is now a staple twist in other foreign versions. It first appeared in Survivor: Guatemala before eventually trickling down to international editions, including Koh-Lanta (French Survivor) and Australian Survivor.
Despite remaining one of the more influential franchises, US Survivor has adopted twists and formats of its own. The Outcast Twist – and its younger cousin Redemption Island – were both inspired by a twist in Israeli Survivor known as ‘Island of the Dead.’ With this precedent in mind, could the next big Survivor twist actually be the brainchild of another country?
TWISTS THAT COULD WORK
The Black Vote
Superfans will remember the brief but uneventful tie-breaker rule of Survivor: The Australian Outback, where the contestant with the most past votes against them was eliminated. The Black Vote, first introduced in Koh-Lanta: Raja Ampat, has a similar effect on the game. Before departing tribal council, each eliminated contestant is able to cast one last vote against a remaining castaway in the game. This vote, a vote from beyond the Survivor grave, is counted at the next tribal council, possibly contributing to a player’s demise.
Now, this twist could surely be abused, especially if all eliminated contestants vote for the same person. But what if producers only used it for one or two episodes, though? Fans will undoubtedly argue that it gives the losers more unnecessary power. After all, some contestants do get post-game power through the jury.
This twist introduces a brand new cast member to the already in-play game. In international versions, it is often implemented after medical evacuations and quits, intended to keep tribes even for the next challenge. With its expansive creative department – *cough cough Jeff Probst and Tyler Perry cough cough* – US Survivor could certainly find a way to put its own spin on this twist. Many fans might already say that introducing a new cast member to the game undercuts the theme of the show, even going so far as to call it unfair to the original contestants. It is reminiscent of Bachelor in Paradise’s new arrival twist, and it is a lot like the reentry aspect of Redemption Island.
Putting these grievances to the side, this twist could evolve the idea behind the tribe swap. Instead of swapping existing tribe members, new players could be introduced to the tribes, potentially shifting tribe dynamics and altering the direction of the game entirely. Of course, the day-one players still hold the power to band together and vote off the newbie. But that is easier said than done – Survivor is rarely simple these days.
Treasure Island is exactly as the name sounds: an island with an advantage powerful enough to guarantee its holder a spot at the Final Tribal Council. The process for finding the twist is more tedious than it sounds, though. The ring, which is for all intents and purposes an immunity ring, is locked in a hidden chest. But in order to even open the chest, contestants are required to find ten hidden metal pieces.
When this twist was first announced and shared with US Survivor fans, it was immediately deemed overpowered and destructive to the show’s premise. Seriously, who wants to watch a player sit idle and immune for half a season? Surprise! The finder of the ring ended up winning the whole season as a result of the advantage, and the twist was scrapped for the following season. Back in 2016, the immunity ring seemed implausible for a US edition. But after the idol mayhem of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, nothing seems ridiculous anymore, and you could certainly see US Survivor adapting this twist.
Fast forward one year, and Adventure Line Productions decided to tweak one of its most popular twists, “Banishment Island” (essentially Exile Island). The “Lost Paradise” sends two castaways to an isolated location away from their tribes. While they are exiled, the two contestants can search for hidden advantages – one per episode. Unlike past advantages, these are to be shared between the two contestants. This aspect of the twist is remarkably similar to the Super Idol of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, which could only be played (as a Super Idol) if both halves were combined. Nonetheless, each half was still usable as a traditional immunity necklace too.
Unlike Kaôh Rōng, the twists in Koh-Lanta: Fidji are completely useless without both halves. This is an interesting prospect, as it would make advantages harder to play and potentially minimize the number of successfully played advantages altogether.
In last year’s season of Australian Survivor, the show introduced its very first “Super Idol.” However, unlike the Super Idol familiar to US viewers – which is an immunity idol that can be played after the votes are read – the Super Idol down under came in two parts, a regular idol, and an idol nullifier. That’s right, one part of the Super Idol could be used to cancel the power of somebody else’s idol.
The moment Ziggy played her idol nullifier certainly caused drama, but many fans complained that it was too overpowered. Not only that, but there is less risk involved when playing an idol nullifier, as opposed to the person playing a regular idol and trying to guess whether or not they received votes. In the end, it just felt rather unfair on Anneliese who worked her butt off to capture her idol and then played it perfectly – only to have Ziggy’s Super Idol undo all that hard work. With that said, it’s definitely a twist you could see US Survivor stealing in the near future as secret advantages become more and more common.
TWISTS THAT WOULD (and should) NEVER WORK
Smart vs. Dumb
Producers divided the castaways into a smart tribe and dumb tribe for Robinson Ekspeditionen 2009. The decisions were based on pregame IQ tests, so you can rest assured that Liz Markham and Heidi Strobel would be on the smart tribe. This twist has been discussed widely across the Survivor net, and some have even proposed an inverted “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty” where it would be “Dumb vs. Weak vs. Ugly.” Of course, no one can discuss this twist without grinning from ear to ear and laughing hysterically. Even the producers were joking, when it was later revealed that the twist was nothing more than a hoax.
Expeditie Robinson 2007 featured a whopping 100 contestants in its marooning. Over the course of four episodes, three-quarters of the cast were sent home by elimination challenges and school-yard picks. Even today, Survivor purists still complain about twenty-member casts, so one can only imagine the fanbase reaction if the US ever pursued this crazy twist.
“Rupert, Rupert, Rupert.” The second four-time player in Survivor history has actually been on five seasons of Survivor. Rupert’s third chronological appearance came a mere four months before he competed on Heroes vs. Villains. For the third season of Survivor Israel, Rupert was not a contestant at all; he was part of a reward challenge. So when Rupert burst out of the bushes on his first day in the Philippines, the Israeli Survivor contestants were confused. The tie-dyed pirate bore no resemblance to average Survivor rewards. He was not fishing gear, food, or comfort. And he was certainly no Tata the bushman.
Guy Zoaretz, Israeli Jeff Probst, explained that Rupert would improve the tribe’s life at camp through spearfishing and home improvement. Unfortunately, the winning contestants’ hopeful faces would later turn to dismay, when Rupert failed to deliver on his promised fish feast. In spite of this, Rupert was able to lift spirits with his loud personality during his time as a member of the Tinago tribe. I doubt we’ll ever know how Rupert ended up on Survivor Israel, but with John Cochran’s strange appearance in Survivor: Game Changers, a future Survivor cameo remains a scary possibility.
Every Survivor franchise has a lot to learn from companion editions. More often than not, that means learning from past mistakes (reverse the curse?) – twists that clearly flopped. In researching this article, there were lists and lists of format changes that could simply never work in US Survivor. Do US fans really want to watch a Survivor Denmark themed season of “Slaves and Mistresses”? The answer is probably a no. Hopefully, Jeff will consider the successes and failures of international Survivor before fawning over his next big twist.