Why the Television Show Survivor is Among the Best Games Ever Created

This is something I wrote for my creative writing class and is for all people, hoping to explain my love for the show Survivor.

CBS’s television show Survivor helped to bring an array of cheesy reality shows onto viewers television sets, much of which people would consider to be the downfall of television as we know it. Shows would be created, where people battled in order to win love from a stranger, or where people competed to win plastic surgery, or to see who could lose the most weight, as well as shows following around faux celebrities, cake shops, and balloon makers. All of which contribute to the mind numbing of American teens and the ever increasing American obesity rate. Survivor however, remains unique and interesting after 11 years and 22 seasons. The reason being that in Survivor, we have one of the most fascinating games ever created. Today, I will give my reasons as to why I believe Survivor to be one of the best games ever created by stating its history, contents, unique attributes, and strategies that have helped players succeed.

The show was first created by British producer Charlie Parsons in 1992 and was first picked up by Swedish television in 1997. After 3 years on the Swedish airwaves, the show was brought to America, with Mark Burnett producing. The show took off due to its intriguing premise, 16 people living on an island with no outside interaction or help, forced to survive both the elements and each other, with a person being voted off every 3 days. This process continues until 1 person remained that person earning the title Sole Survivor and a million dollar prize.

When the game starts the 16-20 individuals are split into two even teams. For the first three weeks or so, the two teams compete in challenges, the winning team gaining “immunity” while the loser is forced to go to “tribal council” and vote off one member. Once there remains 10-12 players, the teams combine into one in what is called the “merge”. From then on, each challenge is an individual one, where players hope to earn “individual immunity”.

During the show’s first season, most castaways (as the competitors are often called) focused on surviving the elements, rather than surviving getting voted off. This meant that you wanted to keep people to were able to get food, build shelter, and worked hard around the camp, while being physically capable of helping your “tribe” win a challenge. At first, players were eliminated for being either weak or annoying. However, at the time of the merge, this all changed. One player, Richard Hatch, decided to come together with 3 other players and vote as a block each time they voted for someone to exit the game, making it more likely that whoever they voted for would be voted out. This would become known as an alliance, and would end up becoming an integral part of the game. This alliance, which featured weak and abrasive former Navy Seal Rudy, voted off tribe leader and hard worker Gretchen, much to the surprise of many. This would set the precedent for the rest of the season (and the show/game as a whole) and Richard’s four would come to be the final four left in the game.

Probably the most important part of the game, is how to win when it gets down to the final 2 players. Rather than having the final 2 compete in some sort of challenge, to decide the winner, the winner is decided by a jury made up of 7 to 9 of the last players to be voted out. The jury asks questions to the 2 or 3 remaining players and judges who they believe to be the winner. This way each player is held accountable for every move they made the entire game. Often times, the best way to get to the end is to deceive and to backstab alliances, but in the end, you must face the very people that you have deceived and backstabbed. Some players, such as Rob Mariano in All-Stars, were not awarded the final prize solely based on the fact that he lied to people so much. Yet, Thailand player Brian Heidik did the exact same thing and still received the title, because his jurors saw him as the best. Others, like Todd Herzog from China and Chris Daugherty from Vanuatu buttered up their jurors, making them feel important and smooth talking their way to victory. It is almost ironic that in a game that nearly requires the making and breaking of friendships, the final decision goes to the people who were screwed over. It would be like deciding the Super Bowl by asking all the other teams in the NFL who was better. In Survivor the losers do get vengeance, and that is something that players must keep in mind while forming their strategies.

Having the jury makes Survivor completely subjective every single season. There is never one way to win, because players must always be adjusting to the people they are around. The game’s tagline is “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast” which serves as a guide, but in the end, it really is all up to the jury and whatever qualities they feel like the winner should have. In Australia, Colby Donaldson dominated the challenges, winning nearly every single one, yet lost in the finals, while in Palau, Tom Westman did the same thing and was awarded the title. In Africa, Ethan won for being a nice guy, but in Marquesas Neleh lost for being too nice. In order to win the game, you must adapt to your situation at each moment, because even the game adds new twists every season. While the core stays in tact, twists such as tribal swaps, where the teams are switched up, or the hidden immunity idol, a device that if played correctly makes a player immune from a vote, have forced people to have elastic strategies.

Survivor lasts 39 days. For these 39 days, there are no breaks. It is 24/7. Thus, what become everyday tasks like gathering wood or cooking food, are integral parts of the game. Every action that is made for 39 days, is by default strategic. Every conversation has a potential impact on the game. This often causes real friendships to be formed, despite the fact that there is always a knowledge that you are trying to beat that other person. In Amazon, player Rob Cesternino had a solid alliance with three other players, whom he considered to be his friends. With only 7 players remaining in the game, he basically had a spot in the final 4, if they stuck to voting out the other 3. But, when friend and alliance mate Alex admitted to him that when it came down to the final 4, he would join the other 2 and vote out Rob, Rob rethought his strategy. While Alex thought that since they were friends, it wouldn’t really matter what place they all got, Rob wanted to win it all. That night Rob joined the other 3 not in his alliance and voted out Alex that night, completely blindsiding him. It is the challenge to separate real life from the game that makes it so complicated, yet so interesting.

All kinds of strategies have been employed to get further in the game. What works in one season, may not work in the other. A list of some strategies:

-The physical player: this player is often athletic and hopes to immunity and protect himself from being voted out each week. E. Colby Donaldson Australia, Ozzy Lusth Cook Islands

-The schemer: this player will lie, cheat, and steal to advance himself. He will often tell you one thing while planning to do another. Ex. Rob Cesternino Amazon, Jonny Fairplay Pearl Islands

-The leader: this player gathers a group of people around him/her and sticks with those people while telling them how to vote each week. Ex. Ami Cusack Vanuatu, Lex Van de Berge Africa

-The “anyone but me” strategy: this player is willing to vote for anyone, no matter how close they are to that person just to make it one more week. Ex. Sandra Diaz Twine Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains

-The coattail rider: this player will often stick to a leader and just follow their lead all the way to the end, hoping that jurors will be too angry at the leader to vote for them to win Ex. Natalie Tenerelli Redemption Island, Fabio Birza Nicaragua

-The scapegoat: this player sets themselves apart as “crazy” making themselves a viable option to take to the finals as nobody will want to vote for them to win Ex. Phillip Sheppard Redemption Island

There have been many other strategies that have been put into place, and what makes Survivor so great is that each one can be great or terrible depending on who is there.

The game of Survivor is among the most intense, well thought out games to ever exist and although it hides in the middle of primetime TV on Wednesday nights, it is first and foremost a game, that is well worth the watch.

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4 Responses to Why the Television Show Survivor is Among the Best Games Ever Created

  1. johnathan says:

    Whoever wrote this is a genius. I have been a fan of the show ever since I was 8 years old. I have always wanted to play the game but was too young, I have thought of many strategies hoping one day I could be on the show. You pretty much know all the strategies and you should play this game. However you didn’t mention that much about being able to adapt to other people and their strategies. In the game you will constantly need to adapt. That also makes the game so intricate, you could think you have the game won until someone adapts to what you are doing and some how finds a way to get you out. I think that plays a huge role in the game. But I agree with you, survivor is by far the best game ever and I hope more people realize that.

    • Why thank you! Yes, I love the show for many reasons, my top probably being the strategic element. And yes, adaptation is huge! Especially in a game where they are constantly throwing twists at you. I remember in Nicaragua, when Marty was dominating every vote with the older tribe, then the tribes swapped and he was thrown into the minority and certainly did not fare as well as he might have without a twist. Or to go way back to Africa, with the first tribal swap, when Silas was thrown from his place of power and soon voted out. That is something that is always keeping the show alive and making it fresh season after season.

      I hope to write more about the show, especially as South Pacific draws nearer. Thanks for the feedback.

  2. johnathan says:

    Are you ever going to try to get on the show cause based on all the knowledge you know you would probably go far.
    PS. Its funny I just watched season 3 cause I order earlier seasons that I haven’t seen

    • Nice, Africa is a good one. Big Tom is hilarious!
      I have applied for the show once, but never got a call and hope to apply more in the future for as long as the show lasts.

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