There are enough new twists in Survivor: Blood Vs. Water to blindside M. Night Shyamalan. From the return of Redemption Island (albeit with some game-altering new rules) to the season’s primary directive of pitting veteran players against their family members, the new season of Survivor is almost unrecognizable to longtime fans of the show — for better and for worse, according to RHAP’s Survivor blogger bullpen.
Read on for what our five Survivor bloggers — Sarah Freeman (@ChannonSarah), Scott Gallagher (@Scotty07), Glenn Holford (@GlennHolford), Michel Trudeau and Josh Wigler (@roundhoward) — have to say about the new season’s announced twists and turns!
Pitting “Blood” Against “Water”
Glenn: Survivor has never openly acknowledged the behind-the-scenes relationships that have always impacted All-Star seasons. It’s always been an open secret that returning players spot one another at casting, and start to strategize amongst themselves long before filming begins. Plausible deniability has always been enough — Jeff Probst can claim that the castaways have been sequestered and that the game is therefore fair.
No longer. We’ve created a bizarre season of Survivor built specifically around exploring how real-life relationships impact the way the game is played. Do we like this twist? Is this a good idea?
I have to say that, while I appreciate the attempt to inject some novelty into the game, I don’t really get the point of the twist. It actually feels a little malicious to me. If we’ve learned anything from All Star seasons, it’s that feelings really do get hurt in this game. Betrayal stings. We can pish-posh that fact, and talk all day about how a game is just a game — but when you’re deliberately putting people who love and need one another in a situation where they have to tear one another apart like wolves, I just question what’s to be gained.
But even putting aside the ethical dubiousness of the twist, I also just don’t see how it operates functionally from a gameplay perspective. Tandems are cool, I guess, but Survivor is very specifically designed to be a “One Winner” game. You can’t share the title, and you can’t split the money. Why would you want to work with anybody? The winner takes all.
But if we presume that these tandems will work together, the situation becomes even more troubling, from a gameplay perspective. It seems to me that some people must by definition go home pre-merge, and that whoever is the leftover meat from those tandems will go in mirror order after the merge. Once your buddy is gone, you’re very weak standing alone in a field of twosomes. Why would anyone vote out a close friend or family member when you’re a sad little lamb away from the herd?
I don’t know if I like the notion that the first person sent to the jury will likely be out of the game solely because the opposite tribe lost an immunity challenge at some point in the past, and his or her loved one got the axe. If you beat the other team, that’s supposed to help your game, not hurt it, right?
Josh: There’s a lot to be read into how Probst described the origin of the season. He told Dalton Ross that the idea was casting director Lynne Spillman’s, an idea that quickly evolved from a future season twist to the main twist of this coming season. In other words, for a season as twist-heavy as the one we’re entering, Blood Vs. Water came together alarmingly fast.
I’m concerned that the “favorites versus family” twist wasn’t thought through all the way. Like Glenn said, it’s very possible and likely that players are going to get voted out simply because the other halves of their tandem are already gone. The rub to that is Redemption Island, I suppose, but that’s the opposite of a “fix” in the eyes of many fans.
On paper, I love the idea of a “Loved Ones” season. I said as much in a Wiggle Room last season. But I really wish it was just loved ones — 16 relatives of popular contestants from the past — for many reasons, but largely because of what Glenn said: the way Blood Vs. Water is set up, there’s potential for disastrous interfamily fallout as the season rolls out. I don’t watch Survivor for life-ruining high drama. Game-ruining drama, sure, but nothing that’s going to tank a family. On one level, I’m very afraid of that happening this season. On another level, I’m afraid that the contestants are just as afraid of such an outcome, and will play softer (re: boring) games as a result.
On top of all that, we’re faced with a very strange cast that doesn’t reward longtime Survivor fans. Of the “loved ones,” only two have ever appeared on the show: Laura Boneham, and a not-on-the-“island” Katie Collins back in Australia. Where’s the love for Miles Freberg or Eddie George or any other number of the memorable loved ones from seasons past? Disappointing.
So, I’m skeptical. I’ll hold out hope because it’s a season of Survivor and that’s (usually) better than most seasons of anything else, but I’m skeptical.
Michel: When I first heard we’d see loved ones joining returning players, I was hoping to see some of the memorable characters that had paid a visit in a previous seasons, but all we have is Laura Boneham. (More on that later.) Why not have Chris Daugherty and his wife, considering she was a big factor in his win? Or Big Tom and Bo? When Shane said that Terry’s wife was more competitive than him, I’d thought for sure she would be part of a cast at some point — so why not here? CC Heidik was arguably the best loved one visitor ever, but I don’t think she’s with the Iceman anymore. Maybe they could have teamed her up with Clay! Now that would have been funny.
As far as the possible repercussions it could have on the players’ lives after the game, I don’t give a damn about that. It’s their business and no one forced them into this ridiculous situation. If they are that desperate for attention, then why care about their future well being?
What I am interested in is how it will affect the game and how one tribe could affect the other by voting out their partner. In that sense, it’s especially bad when there is a big difference in strength between partners. The newbies could vote out Laura or Rachel just to get Rupert or Tyson to take their place in Redemption Island. Or the returning players could vote out Kat, Candice or Monica to get Hayden, John or Brad out of the game. That makes it a stupid twist in my book.
Scott: Survivor “Civil War” style! I’m not totally against this set up.
First off, I like that I will be able to see the reactions of people looking on horrified when their loved one acts insane. Getting to see a few instances of, “Honey, calm down,” “No, your doing great, I’m so proud of you,” “We’re doing this together,” sounds very appealing to me. Obviously some of the returning players could have (and probably have) conspired before entering the game to form an alliance or two, but that’s okay in my eyes as it adds another dynamic to the game.
I understand that people do get their feelings hurt and it can be really sad sometimes to watch, but that is kind of what you sign up for when you play Survivor or any other reality TV game. Survivor is a game that is so personal already without having a loved one playing with you that when you add the element into the game, it’s going to make this season a lot of fun to watch.
Sarah: I am a little more optimistic about the players’ relationships than everybody else. For one thing, half of every pair has played before, so they’re going into this with their eyes open about how the game can get personal. For another, six of the pairs are couples, so in that respect… yes they will be splitting the prize and can operate as a team.
And this is where the loved ones thing gets a little lopsided. You’ve got half the players working as mutually benefiting tandems, and the other half playing as individuals (albeit with one built-in ally). If the players have any sense, they will target the couples first, particularly the married ones, to reduce the teams. Also, the pairs who will be considered less loyal to each other (i.e. brothers Aras and Vytas, and uncle/niece Gervase and Marissa) should be the most desirable allies.
I differ from Glenn in that I think anybody who loses their partner to Redemption Island becomes less of a target. Just as in the usual game, power couples should be broken up before you go after a lost lamb — though I lack Michel’s conviction that you can rely on somebody saving their partner on Redemption Island. Ultimately, a lone player can be attached to another pair to create a threesome — and in a game of twos, three is most definitely a magic number.
Beginning On “Day Zero”
Josh: Here’s one Blood Vs. Water twist I’m totally fine with — well, almost totally fine with.
I’ve made my position on 20-player seasons quite clear in the past. I stand by that position today, especially going into these “Half-Stars” seasons. With so much attention spent on returnees, we’re lucky if the first two or three ousted newbies get a single confessional before exiting the game.
If I understand the twist correctly, Day Zero addresses my problem to some degree. Blood Vs. Water boasts a 90-minute premiere, so I’m guessing that every single pair will get some Day Zero screen-time. That’s a quick and easy way to get the viewer familiar with each player in the game, even the ones who are doomed to die by the end of the episode. As someone who mourns the days of Survivor when you knew every single contestant from the first boot on up, I’m all for Day Zero.
(Unless, of course, Day Zero only focuses on Rupert/Laura and two or three other “exciting” pairs. In which case, I’ll just go cry in the corner for a while.)
Michel: The Day Zero twist seems only made to get reaction camera shots from the surprised players when they are told they will compete against each other. It’s nothing more than a practical joke, but it could be fun. Like Josh said, it will give us a bit of time with some coupes at least so that’s good.
Sarah: I like the twist on the principle that it at least gives all the pairs a day of sharing the experience with each other. There are going to be a lot of players who will be devastated when put on separate tribes, so this feels like a way of softening that blow. It strikes me as interesting in that the game is not really going to begin until the following day (hence “Day Zero”), so we’re not going to see any alliance-making or picking out targets — well, maybe some of the latter. In other words, Day Zero should be about *gasp* camp-life, about people getting used to the deprivations of the game. I’ve always had a soft spot for cam-life scenes and wish there were more of them.
Or, as Josh said, Day Zero might just be a few clips of the “Main Characters.” Or Day Zero could be a repetitive muddle of scenes as they try to go through all ten pairs. We’ll see.
Glenn: Day Zero is a good twist. I don’t think it will affect the gameplay at all, but I’m all in favor of being given the opportunity to do some character-building on screen. I hope that the producers take this opportunity to show us some of the more tender and likable sides of these castaways. It’s a good storytelling opportunity — I just don’t know if I trust the editors not to screw it up!
Scott: Why is CBS having an orgy of twists this season? I guess out of all the ones they’re throwing into the blender this season, this one seems the least forced. I think getting to see all the players in neutral before the game starts will be helpful for viewers to see who is who and to get an idea of the vibe of each pair will be cool. It would be great if they didn’t air Day Zero till later on in the season, like a flashback scene from Lost. I think it would be cool to see a few episodes, kind of get a feel for everybody and then flashback to Day Zero to see what they said at that time and compare it to that present time. Just a thought…
Day One’s Double-Elimination
Michel: Jeff thinks his Day Zero twist makes up for the stupidity of the double elimination, but he forgets that there is one big problem with an immediate vote: It goes against the principles of the game. How can a player “outwit” and “outplay” if they are booted immediately based on appearance? In this format, it’s even worse because the first boots can almost be predicted:
The newbies will all know that Laura has been on Survivor before; she even made two previous appearances, with Poopert slobbering over her both times. She’s the obvious choice to go before everyone so that the others can experience the adventure for a few days at least. Add the fact that she’s the oldest, and can anyone doubt how the vote will go?
For Galang, it will have to be either Candice or Colton. Candice simply cannot be trusted after her mutiny in Cook Islands and her move to align with Russell in Heroes vs. Villains. No one will want to live with Colton, so the returning players have their first two boots handy. It will just be a question of who goes first. Candice had a longer run so they may let Colton live the adventure a few more days.
Sarah: I’m more or less in full agreement with Michel, including on who the first boots are likely to be. It looks like this double boot is designed to fill up Redemption Island as quickly as possible so we can get started on the duels, but it does rob those first boots of the chance to outwit and outplay.
If Day Zero was actually a Day One World, where everybody was on the beach together, getting to know each other before dividing into tribes, that would make a difference. But that’s not happening. To make matters worse, this is a returning players season, so the players who are active on the Survivor circuit (and that includes their significant others) have an advantage anyway — we saw that in Heroes vs Villains. Those who don’t live in New York or LA or who don’t go to all the events have a lot of ground to make up. Having a start-of-game vote takes even that chance away from them.
Glenn: Yeah, let’s just be honest about this. The double elimination is dumb. It just is. It’s based on nothing, and it serves only to prop up a preposterous twist. But I’m not that upset about it. This cast is full of dead weight, mostly due to its fundamentally flawed casting premise, and whatever helps us weed through some of the garbage faster is going to ultimately improve the pacing of the show.
Is this good Survivor? No. But in a season riddled with flaws, it might be a necessary evil.
Scott: This twist feels like the crappy sequel to a good movie franchise or trilogy. Think Bad New Bears Go to Japan, or Godfather 3. (Even though that movie never happened. Do you hear me? It never happened!) This twist sucks and hopefully it wont alter the destiny of how the game should have unfolded.
Josh: Not much to add. In the immortal words of Jay Sherman, it stinks.
Redemption NuDemption Island
Sarah: I am never going to be a fan of Redemption Island, for the very same reason that Jeff Probst gave Russell Hantz when the latter insisted the viewers should be able to vote for the winner: Survivor is about convincing a jury of people who you voted off to give you a million dollars. Once you alter that part of the game, it’s not Survivor any more, it’s something else.
Fast forward to South Pacific, when Ozzy won every duel on Redemption Island and then headed back into the game with the resolution to win the last two immunity challenges, and then be the only finalist who had not voted out the majority of the jury, thus scoring an easy win. Had Ozzy won that last immunity challenge, he would have won South Pacific — but he would not, by Jeff Probst’s own definition, have won Survivor. And that is why, in my opinion, Redemption Island has no place in the game.
So let’s just get this straight: I disapprove of Redemption Island being there. Nevertheless, seeing as the season wrapped three months ago, I’m going to have to deal with it. And honestly, in an incarnation of Survivor where instead of twenty strangers, we’re getting ten relationship pairs, we’re on skewed rules anyway. So that brings us to the twist on Redemption Island this season where a player’s loved one (assuming they’re still in the game) can swap in for them before a duel, sending the voted off player to the other tribe. This also is a corruption of what we might consider “pure” Survivor: once voted off, there should be no going back into the game.
But we’re not in pure Survivor, and as I’ve already accepted the fact that this is a variant of the game (with the traditional format hopefully returning in season 28), I am intrigued by NuDemption Island. (Thank-you, Josh, for the name.) I think this particular twist will take advantage of the Blood vs Water concept in a way that nothing else could.
I don’t think as many people will take up this twist as the producers are hoping but I’m very curious to see what moral standard the players will set for it. Will it be considered foolish to sacrifice yourself for your loved one, or will it be considered disloyal to refuse? To what extent will relationships be taken into account? You might be expected to save your daughter, but what about your uncle? Is it OK to leave your girlfriend on Redemption Island, but do marriage vows obligate you to take your spouse’s place? Is it fairer for veterans who’ve already had a shot at the game to give their newbie counterparts their chance to play?
In an era of Survivor when so much has been deemed permissible for a million dollars, it’s rather refreshing to see an entirely new moral dilemma for players to resolve.
I also like the fact that we effectively get a player voted onto the other tribe. Generally speaking, any time a single player gets swapped over, they’re in a bad position since the other players can’t be sure of their loyalties. But in this case, the player that’s come over has been betrayed by any alliance they had and lost their loved one to Redemption Island. That makes them a loose end waiting to be picked up and threaded into whatever tangled web the gamers fancy, and that gives the voted off player a genuine second chance. Which again, is not pure Survivor… but for this season’s impure Survivor, it might just work out.
Glenn: I hate to be a party-pooper, but I don’t share Sarah’s optimism on this. From where I’m standing, NuDemption Island looks sloppy, poorly planned, and impotent from a gameplay perspective. I could not be more disappointed to see it rear its ugly head.
Redemption Island, at its core, is about one thing: disempowering the players. Production wants more say over who stays and who goes home, but they can’t directly interfere with the voting process. This is the compromise: keep Probst’s “little darlings” sequestered in a special limbo game-state, where they can still be a part of the fun. The only problem is, it neuters the players’ ability to play the game.
The players themselves are the biggest victims of the Redemption Island format, because it destroys their ability to do their jobs. To play Survivor, you need to have some control over who goes home. You just do. You need to be able to plan your game, and strategically eliminate friends and foes in a configuration that maximizes your own safety. That’s the only way to play the game that makes any sense. If you can’t control who goes home, you can’t control your fate. You can’t really win or lose. The game just happens to you.
If we are going to allow arbitrary challenges to dictate 100% of who stays and who goes, then we don’t need 39 days. We can wrap Survivor up in an afternoon. Whoever can stand on one leg the longest gets a million dollars! Once you gut the game’s strategic and social dimensions, it’s just dumb.
NuDemption island shares this same fundamental flaw with the original version, but also comes with new bonus baggage, in the form of the “switching” power. Is this the most bizarre Survivor twist of all time? Let me get this straight: you and your loved one are switching in and out of battle, like some kind of Pokemon, and continuously swapping tribes with one another like a swingers party? All of this just sounds like pure chaos, and runs counter to Occam’s Razor. How can you tell me that the thing missing from this game has been a series of inscrutable and willfully obstinate small-print addendums? Far from the subtle meddling of the past — this format feels like an explicit declaratiproducer.
Scott: This would be the only way I would ever be in favor of Boo-demption Island. Wouldn’t it be great to see Tina and Candice going head to head in that format? Who wouldn’t be in favor of seeing that?
I also think it’s unfair based on the dynamic of each relationship. Meaning, if it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic, the boyfriend would be expected to sacrifice himself or face the wrath and possible “trial separation” with his girlfriend/wife. But if it’s a mother/daughter or brother/sister, the repercussions seem like they would be much less. Basically what I’m saying is that if I played with my sister and it came down to her and I, I would say, “Best of luck to you, sis, go get ‘em!” If it was my girlfriend I would have to put on this whole act and appear distraught and weigh the short term and long term repercussions and it would be a nightmare. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t really see this gimmick paying off… unless Hayden uses it (or doesn’t use it) to screw over Kat!
Michel: I’m happy I don’t have much more to add to what Glenn said. He wrote: “The players themselves are the biggest victims of the Redemption Island format, because it destroys their ability to do their jobs.” And I completely agree. The only thing I liked about the old Redemption Island twist was that it enabled us to see Ozzy get the ineptitude record of being voted out of the game three times.
I think I can even answer Sarah’s questions: “Will it be considered foolish to sacrifice yourself for your loved one, or will it be considered disloyal to refuse? To what extent will relationships be taken into account?” If a player in my alliance refuses to sacrifice himself for his loved one, I’ll know that he won’t have my back, so I am not going to trust him and I’ll kick his ass out of the game. The loved one really has no choice but to go to RI unless they are told not to do it.
For example; I could see Rachel telling Tyson that it’s OK to leave her there and that could be enough for Tyson to keep the trust of his alliance mates if he doesn’t save her. What if she begs him to save her though? Can he say no? It’d be even worse than Penner refusing Mike and Lisa’s final three offer.
Like I wrote above, one tribe will be able to weaken the other by sending their weak players to RI in the hopes that a strong player from the other side will switch places.
Josh: First thing’s first: I am so happy to see some of my fellow bloggers use the words “NuDemption Island.” Let’s make that a thing here, people.
Because it’s not Redemption Island. It’s NuDemption Island. It’s a totally different version of an already controversial twist. Indeed, in many real ways, as Sarah already suggested, we’re not even entering a new season of Survivor. We’re entering NuSurvivor. Between favorites versus family and a Redemption Island that allows players to ping-pong in and out of the game, there’s no escaping the fact that this season is not Survivor as we know it. It’s a whole new ball game, for better or worse.
Let’s look through a different lens for a moment. Michael Bay’s record-breaking, cash-grabbing “Transformers” movies dropped a big, steaming, Energon-laced stinker on old-school fans of the franchise. (I mean, that up-skirt shot of Devastator’s testicles? Really?) As a lifelong “Transformers” fan, I could let Bay’s movies ruin my memories of Optimus Prime’s glory days. Or I could shrug it off and say, “Oh well, I’ll always have Unicron and the Quintessons and ‘Dare to be Stupid’ to look back on whenever I feel like it.”
That’s my general attitude toward reboots: just because someone’s coming along to bastardize the original, doesn’t mean the original disappears. It’s still always there. With that attitude, I’m usually able to enjoy reboots for what they are: experiments that are very likely to crash and burn, but may have some form of merit on their own.
I’m trying very hard to have that attitude going into Blood Vs. Water. I’m not that excited about veterans playing against their loved ones. I’m not thrilled about Redemption Island coming back from the grave, “Walking Dead” style. But I’m going to try to keep an open mind. Even if Blood Vs. Water and NuDemption Island fail miserably, those early seasons are always available for another rewatch.