Abandon people from various walks of life in a remote location, give them enough access to basic necessities, watch them compete in physically and mentally demanding challenges, witness their paranoia and see what happens. It’s the ultimate human experiment and a brilliant ploy.
With three medical evacuations and two new twists this season including a super idol and a last minute jury member eviction, Survivor has proved that even after 32 seasons and 16 years, it’s still one of the most suspenseful, compelling, challenging and entertaining reality game shows on TV. And Wednesday’s Survivor: Kaôh Rōng finale wrapped up another tumultuous season, increasing my anticipation for season 33: Millennials vs. Gen X.
I’ve been a dedicated fan since season one, witnessing people lose their sanity over minimal food and sleep and watching Richard Hatch roam around Malaysia completely nude. I was six. 32 seasons later and I’m still fascinated by the show’s premise and its quirky cast of characters (here’s where I reflect on the fangirl moment when I met Survivor’s notorious villain Russell Hantz). The obsession is real.
With the tagline “Outwit, Outlast, Outplay,” you can’t help but wonder who would sign up for such a terrifyingly unpleasant adventure and what they’ll do to win $1,000,000. It’s a hell of a lot different when contestants are huddling together under a poorly covered shelter to hide from the downpour and scrounging around for coconuts while you watch comfortably from your couch, munching on popcorn. But that’s part of the charm and part of the show’s success.
Survivor capitalizes on what other reality game shows can’t. Sure, following teams around the world on The Amazing Race is exciting and dramatic, but it really only showcases teams’ competitiveness. Big Brother is a fascinating social experiment with plenty of drama but not much else. Plus, they’re all living in a plush house with a hot tub, pool and plenty of food — it’s a vacation. If I wanted to watch people fighting in fancy mansions, I’d watch the Real Housewives. Now, take Brandi Glanville and Joanna Krupa, put them on an island (with no villa or beach house), force them to find their own food, build a shelter and watch them compete for their lives. That’s entertaining.
Survivor’s challenges alone keep me hooked. They test the cast’s physical and mental strengths after sleeping on bamboo for a few hours per night, enduring the blistering heat and treacherous downpours, insects, infections, wild animals, starvation and dehydration. The conditions are extreme, as seen through the three medical evacuations this season: severe dehydration from heatstroke, a gnarly infection and the safe call of pulling an elderly man from the game in order to prevent kidney failure.
But not only that, everyone is stripped of their backgrounds and social statuses. They’re given a clean slate, a bag of rice and a tribe buff — the Survivor welcome package. It’s up to them to forge alliances, make promises, break promises, backstab some and trust few. This season, people were separated into three tribes: brains, brawn and beauty. Where else can you watch a gardener compete with a bounty hunter, former NBA player and a 72-year-old retired FBI agent? It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s just Survivor. It takes intelligent, strategic players, tests them against physical, hard-working players and again against social butterflies who aim to play an honest, trustworthy game.
And when that’s not enough, wait for day 39, that’s when the final three await their hopeful victory after being grilled with questions from the jury. After a season of voting off their fellow contestants, they turn around, plead their case and ask for their votes. That’s my favourite part — the thought-provoking, sometimes bitter, accusatory or praiseworthy, directive question period.
The endless twists, mental and physical challenges and, of course, food temptations, the social game, strategies, paranoia and the array of vibrant personalities make Survivor what it is. I never tire of it and I always look forward to the next season. So if you’re someone who has never seen Survivor or who remembers Hatch’s win 16 years ago but hasn’t watched it since, definitely give it a chance — you won’t be disappointed.