Look, I wanted Survivor UK to be a success as much as anyone, and I wish I didn’t have to say this. But after three episodes, it’s just not delivering in the way it should be. I came in expecting it to be somewhat tepid and slower-paced compared to its international counterparts, but I never anticipated it being so deathly dull.
Let’s take the third episode’s tribal council as an example. A plodding, drawn-out 15 minutes of inane questions taking place in the dark with backing music that could lull an insomniac to sleep. There was no suspense, no tension, not even any humour or character-led moments to spice up a dull and predictable vote.
I understand it’s tough making a straightforward vote exciting, especially as the players gave very little for the editors to work with. This episode came down to the same thing as the past two tribals: tribe strength. And it was Ashleigh in the firing line again alongside personal trainer Rach, who ended up copping the majority votes for dropping out early in the Immunity Challenge (the Survivor classic, Hot Pursuit).
Had this episode ended with a Lee blindside, or even an attempt at a Lee blindside, there would have been much more source material for the producers to play around with. Lee spent the entire episode spouting his antiquated views on the battle of the sexes, pushing his “men stronger than women” mantra and making sure the axe fell on one of the La Nena women.
Despite several tribe members airing their disagreements with Lee’s approach to the game (enough to make a majority!), they all decided to just go along with what he said and split the votes between “the two blondes,” Ashleigh and Rach. Therefore, the end result of the episode was a huge wet fart.
And it must be said, the lack of diversity in challenges so far is disappointing and partly to blame for the “tribe strength” focus. When all the challenges are strength-based/physical, of course the leading strategy will lean towards “vote out the weak.”
But even with the predictable vote, the production choices didn’t help matters. There didn’t need to be that much time dedicated to tribal council for such an obvious vote. The slow walk for each player to go up and vote seemed to last forever. Some choppier editing and uptempo music could have at least painted the illusion of excitement.
There could have been more time spent at camp before tribal, more focus on the castaways and their personalities and relationships. We got snippets of this with the Doug and Ren alliance, Lee gathering the men, and Ashleigh and Rach’s friendship. But it was all so brief and surface-level. These people are living together 24/7, so I’m sure more interesting footage could have been found to help viewers invest.
Or, maybe there wasn’t? I’m starting to worry that the casting as a whole hasn’t hit the mark. It’s not even just that the majority of the cast is unfamiliar with Survivor (though that certainly doesn’t help); it’s lacking overall in large personalities. Nobody is jumping off the screen and making fans take notice.
It’s easy to forgive the basic gameplay and slow approach to strategy when you consider this is technically the show’s first season. But it’s less simple to forgive the casting. Because if you compare it to the first season of Survivor US or Australian Survivor, those seasons succeeded despite the low-level gameplay and strategy. Borneo instantly had captivating personalities, from Richard to Rudy to Sue to Greg, etc.
That’s not to say there aren’t any intriguing personalities on Survivor UK. Laurence is still kind of fun, Pegleg tried to provide some humour in his Union Jack speedo, and Ren shows the most promise as the season’s strategist. But no one is fully engaging or bringing the action and drama in the same way, say, The Traitors UK cast was early into the season.
Now, again, it’s early days, and perhaps the cast will blossom as the game goes on. But that is part of my concern. I’m not sure Survivor UK will be afforded the luxury of multiple episodes to get going. The first two episodes didn’t exactly set ratings alight last week, and things are only going to get tougher in that regard now that The Voice is back, and I’m A Celebrity will be starting in a couple of weeks.
If viewers haven’t been hooked in the first three episodes, they may never come back again. And that is heartbreaking to say, especially having waited 20-plus years for Survivor to return to the UK. But I can’t shake that sinking feeling that we’re watching the show flop all over again in this country.
So, what could the show have done to hook those new viewers and add some spice to the early episodes? Well, casting bigger personalities and more bold strategists would have been the first and easiest fix. The second, I suppose, is adding a twist or two, but even then, I’m not sure those would be a guarantee to work with this cast.
This episode did introduce a couple of twists, that being The Outpost (which we’ve seen in Survivor New Zealand) and Hidden Immunity Idols. Ren and Laurence were chosen from their respective tribes to visit the Outpost, where they were faced with a dilemma. They could choose from a big fish, a little fish, or a baked potato, with the second two options coming with idol clues.
Laurence, the non-fan, picked the big fish and returned to his tribe willing to spill the truth. Ren, one of the handful of superfans on the cast, chose the little fish with the clue, and they lied to their tribemates upon returning to camp. Ren ended up sharing the clue with Doug, though drew suspicion from a few of their fellow tribemates.
This twist was fine. Not terrible, but nothing amazing. It did its job as far as introducing idols as a concept. Also, making them share the clue with one other player at least forces strategy. But the show got lucky Ren was chosen for the trip because had it been one of the other non-fans, no doubt both tribes would have been eating the big fish.
Maybe the idols and the Outpost will push the game into a faster pace in the coming episodes. There was a little bit of cross-tribe communication after the challenge, where some of the La Nena members asked Laurence about the Outpost visit and learned that Ren had lied to them. That at least teases some potential drama down the line.
However, as I said, I fear that for many viewers, it’ll be too little too late. In the binge-watching, streaming era, people don’t have the patience to wait three or four weeks for a show to start cooking. It needs to grab them straight away, either via the show’s concept or by a cast of characters that viewers feel engaged with. Sadly, I think Survivor UK has fallen short on both of those elements in its first three episodes.