Survivor: Edge of Extinction

Living on the Edge

Survivor’s latest twist has been met with a lot of apprehension. It’s Redemption Island without the population limit. You leave the game of Survivor, and you begin a whole other endurance challenge… can you wait out a much harder set of conditions indefinitely, for an undetermined shot to get back in the game? In theory, come finale night, we could have five people in the game and thirteen on Extinction. (The “There’s no exit press because there are no exits to press” theory.)

Jeff has promised harsher conditions on Extinction than at the regular camps, explaining that they want to explore more of the spiritual side of the show by really pushing the contestants to see what they’re capable of. There’ll be no strategy, no challenges, no immunity, and the end prize is a good deal more nebulous than a million dollars: this is Survivor for those who want “the experience”. If somebody pitched me that as a separate show, I’d be intrigued.

That’s the problem: The Edge of Extinction is a whole other reality show sharing runtime with a show that already feels crammed in its forty-two minutes. Survivor has a formulaic structure that incorporates (usually) two challenges and a tribal council each episode before it can factor in storylines for its characters. When there are just one or two people on Extinction, the editors should be able to handle a couple of scenes to tell their story. When there are half a dozen? By the last few episodes, there may well be more people on Extinction than there are in the game—which location gets dramatic priority? How much will the winner tip the balance of the editing scales?

Maybe we’re overestimating how many extinct players will stick it out. The first person there has three days with precious few resources (there must be a water source and one assumes they’ll have flint, but that might be it), and no company—and the possibility that the second person voted off might not take the option of Extinction. Moreover, the first person voted off was probably targeted (at least in part) as a weak link, may not have the survival skills to fend for themselves and may lack faith in themselves to win their way back into the game. Raising the signal for quitting / rescue will be awfully tempting.

(Aside: At some point this season, we’re going to get reverse Jacketgate, where somebody passes a tribemate their warm clothes before getting their torch snuffed—and will promptly be punished for their good deed when they are shivering on Extinction.)

However, getting back into the game won’t be the sole motivation. Drawing out the experience is what’s going to drive most extinct players. As Rob said in his cast assessment, why not take the choice to look at Extinction and see what’s there. If you’re out for the adventure, Extinction will continue that. If you’re out for screentime, Extinction will continue that. If you just want to be as involved as possible with your favorite show, Extinction will continue that.

The key milestone for the vast majority of Extinct players will be reaching the jury, so they can see the whole game play out and have their say at the end. Not only will they stay dateable, but they’ll dramatically increase their chances of becoming a returnee player one day.

The logistics of how Extinction will work are still shrouded in mystery, but my guess is that we will only see a couple of players give up in the pre-merge phase, perhaps due to sickness. The rest will hold out for the jury, so we may see an exodus at that milestone, but life on Extinction should be easier as more people arrive, so many jurors will still prefer to ride it out for the sake of having their story continue. It may well be less comfortable for thirteen people to subsist out there than for three, but production can’t actually starve them out.

Production are being very cagey about the rules for this, but from what we do know, I predict that we will have our largest ever jury, with at least fifteen players making that stage of the game. I also predict that before Extinction is done, we will have more Extinct players than active players.

Game vs. Extinction

One thing I didn’t mention above is the possibility that players will game Extinction and try to torture the other residents into quitting: stashing food, hiding camp equipment, burning socks, playing mindgames… This is a scenario I really hope does not come to pass as it will make for disturbing viewing.

More practically, it’s a strategy with short term gains for a long term loss. The jury will be heavy on Extinction Residents and they will absolutely take the story of Extinction into consideration. If a player reaches the finals after using sabotage and bullying tactics they’re going to be excoriated by their jury.

The wiser extinct player will take Ozzy’s South Pacific strategy, comforting and providing for their prospective jurors—and the wise active players shouldn’t let the player who comes back make it to the end. Indeed, no returnee from Redemption Island ever made it to the finals for this very reason. It’s too much of a bonding experience for the other players to risk it.

What if the other players don’t get a chance to vote the Extinction returnee out? They could go on a late immunity run—if they come back into the game at final four, they’ll only need to make fire. There’s a good chance that there will be somebody from Extinction in the finals.

But this is modern Survivor! The winner of the game has to pull off some shock moves, finding idols and advantages and using them effectively. We’ve already seen that idols trump an immunity streak (see Ben vs. Chrissy). Eking it out on the Edge of Extinction might be impressive, but will the jury rank it above actual gameplay?

The thing about idols and advantages is that they’re played at Tribal Council. We’re not sure how much time this season’s jury will spend at Tribal Council. We could see a scenario where the jury-majority only witnesses the merged tribe’s last couple of Tribal Councils. Any idol played before that point would be a nice anecdote but will lack the impact of firsthand experience. For several seasons, the jury have voted based largely on Tribal Council props and theatrics. This season, players are going to want to channel their inner Penner and tell the jury a winning story. A tale of Extinction might just be the one that will resonate the most.

This is why I’m so curious to see how The Edge of Extinction plays out. I frankly think it’s an unworkable idea, from a game structure and editing standpoint, but the producers have had to make it work. This means they’ll have to tell a story that doesn’t revolve around idols and advantages and crazy votes; they’ll have to tell one that’s more freeform and complex, one that’s character-driven.

I can’t believe we’ll see this twist repeated without some drastic workshopping. In a technical sense, Edge of Extinction isn’t Survivor. But Survivor is a social game, and this season is going to be a social story. That’s a challenge production have needed to set themselves for awhile now. I don’t think it can be pulled off, but I hope they learn some things this season that they can apply to thirty-nine and beyond.

O Captains, my Captains!

The more familiar twist is giving the tribes a couple of returning players to show them the ropes. I’m in a minority in that I really like this as a returning player format: we get to see some of our old favorites without overshadowing the freshness and joy of the newbie players. The fandom often argues that it’s unfair to newbies, because in every such season, a returning player has made the Final Tribal Council.

My rebuttal to this is that a returning player has only won once and that required Boston Rob to keep the game on a complete lockdown, making sure he was up against the right people at the end—many of the new players would have beaten him in the final vote.

What we more often see with returning players is that they are held to a higher standard than the new ones, blamed fiercely for any mistakes in either camp or the game. (Skupin is an extreme example, but Stephenie and Coach were also brought to the end because the jury was so angry with them.) Players are also much more wary of the returnees—especially since Boston Rob’s dominant win—and even if they don’t target them right away, they tend to use them as a figurehead leader while leaving them out of the strategic loop and/or targeting their allies.

Returning players themselves tend to take a more strategically aggressive tack the second or third (or fourth!) time around. Yet in a new player season, the catch is the social game: you want to be one step ahead of the new players but not so far ahead that you lose sight of what they’re doing. The returnees will need to meet the newbies on their level, have patience with their inexperience and support them through any early insecurities—while respecting that even new players have minds and gameplans of their own.

I’m not going to do an in-depth cast assessment, but here’s a very streamlined run-down of this season’s players:

Aubry
We’ve seen Aubry’s social skills, we know she’s perfectly equipped to play Kama’s guidance counsellor, but both recency and frequency bias will hurt her. In her first two games, she took out Alpha Female, Debbie, a few votes into the merge. This time, it’s likely that strategy will be used against her by her own protegées.

David
In his pre-game press, David is a little too focused on living up to his own legacy. His first game revolved so much around big moves and idols, that I’m worried he’ll fall into the same trap as Tony did in Game Changers. Tony failed to find an idol and couldn’t adapt to a game without one. Maybe David will get lucky early, but if he doesn’t, he’ll make himself a pre-merge target.

Kelley
In some ways, Kelley is still an unproven player. We know she’s a likeable underdog and has secured the loyalty of personalities as diverse as Abi-Maria and Keith. But we’ve never seen her manage an alliance from a position of power. She should get the chance to take on that role this time, and if it turns out she’s got the chops to pull it off, she might be the returnee with the best shot at winning this. Otherwise, she’ll be Extinct by day 30.

Joe
I know, I know… We’re all supposed to be high on Joey Amazing in this Extinction format. Yet if returnees are held to a higher standard in captain seasons, nobody will be held to a higher one than Joe, and—brace yourselves—he’s not actually perfect. In fact, he’s so good at challenges and camplife that he has a reputation for micro-managing because he knows he can do a better job than everybody else. He’s probably right, but the other players can still resent it. I could see Joe being a losing finalist.

… Or maybe this is my contrarian side coming out. I might look like an idiot if Joe wins or narrowly misses winning, but I’ll take that risk for the potential glory of “Called it!”

 

Kama

Kama’s a stacked tribe when it comes to the mental game. There’s a lot of very intelligent people: academically, emotionally and Survivor-ally. Physically, they’re not overloaded compared to past tribes, but they have got Joey Amazing and… well, we’ll talk about Manu when we get there.

Mostly though, I was struck by how switched on most of these players are to the social game and the range of people skills they have. They’re also big fans and look to be individually competitive, so maybe they’ll end up arguing over morale-boosting methods. But if they can rally, we could see a very dominant majority emerge early that will remain a force throughout the game.

Aurora
My pre-season favorite right here: smart, snarky and self-aware. As somebody who is going through a divorce, I can attest that a divorce lawyer needs to double as a therapist from time to time. (Pro-tip, don’t use your divorce lawyer as a therapist—not because they aren’t good at it, but because their rates are much higher than an actual therapist.) I love that she’s not going to lie about her job, even if it’s probably doomed her winning chances… I don’t need Aurora to win, but I do want her to be providing commentary for a long, long time.

Eric
Eric is the next LJ is the next Jeff Probst: Rugged good looks and a laid back vibe. Production even allowed him to wear a blue button-down shirt—despite being on the yellow tribe. However, while LJ was the oldest person on a fairly naive tribe (I’d say “innocent”, but it did have Brice on it), Kama’s leadership won’t default to Eric. He’s going to be the workhorse of the tribe, he’s going to be very popular… and I don’t know that he’ll have much more impact than that.

Gavin
Damn. Rob retroactively wished @PineappleBoy27 into existence.

Can Gavin pull off the same country-boy trick as Nick Wilson? There’s an emotional awareness to Gavin that I never saw in Nick—and oddly, that may be his downfall. Nick’s sharp edge allowed sweeter players like Davie and Christian to be more obvious threats. I don’t know who’s going to be Gavin’s sweet-shield.

Julia
It’s easy to see why they cast this accomplished young woman who has faced adversity, but Julia feels a little straight-laced for her decidedly off-beat tribe. It’s going to be a great experience for her, but it’s also a recipe for a purple edit.

Julie
I’m with Josh: Clearly, two decades hence, Michele Fitzgerald has a little too much wine and decides to troll Reddit by hopping into the Survivor time machine and putting herself into another one of Aubry’s seasons. Sweet older woman Julie is the type of person players feel comfortable keeping around for the Final Tribal Council, but statistically, it’s unlikely she can repeat the success of Michele’s youth.

Ron
Jeff said Ron is going to need to be the leader of his alliance… and that’s not going to work out with Joe on his tribe. Joe has historically got on well with the alpha males, but they’ve always had his level of experience before this point. If he and Ron can’t work together, we have to think that the tribe will side with the guy who has two seasons worth of challenge and camp prowess under his belt.

Victoria
Malcolm Freburg is a really good comparison for Victoria to make: charismatic, intelligent superfan with amazing hair and a quirky sense of humour. Yet she has Jenn Brown downside… Will Victoria have as much enthusiasm for the game when her friends are getting voted out and it’s not fun any more?

 

Manu

I know they’re in blue not orange, but this has to be the trainwreck tribe. Manu is filled with competent players, but there’s no one person who stands out as somebody capable of holding a bunch of competitive individuals together. Maybe Kelley and/or David can pull it off, but they’ll have to put aside their game to do so. Add to that a decidedly patchy range of challenge skills and weaknesses, and I think the best thing you can say for Manu is that they’ll get to set the narrative for Extinction.

Granted, a year ago, I was convinced that Malolo was going to dominate the immunity challenges, so take my tribal assessment with some cursed pinches of salt.

Chris
Hello, generic, aggressive superfan. Chris checks all the boxes for your mid-twenties male Survivor without actually standing out in any of them. This could be a recipe for huge success, but it’s definitely a recipe for “Thank you, next.”

Keith
According to Jeff, Keith can’t swim. Keith has attempted to compensate by preparing for puzzles, but in the words of Kimmi Kappenburg: “No, Pumpkin, no.” There will always be challenges (not least the marooning) where the entire tribe has to swim, and even if he can stick to the puzzle, he’ll be going up against Joe, one of Survivor’s GOAT puzzle solvers. Keith’s got to be too much of a challenge liability for Manu to keep around for long.

Lauren
Not sure whether being on the same tribe as one of her Survivor idols will be a good or bad thing for Lauren. On the one hand, she’s going to be Kelley Wentworth’s sidekick and have a deep run whilst being in on a lot of the action and generally living her dream. On the other hand… she’s going to do it as Kelley Wentworth’s sidekick. I don’t know if she’ll come out of this season as the memorable character she wants to be, but she’s got a decent chance of pulling a Wentworth and becoming a break-out star on a second run.

Reem
An older woman with a Deena Bennett smile and a self-admitted lack of patience? I love Reem almost as much as Aurora, but I have much less confidence on her sticking around. I hope she can find her niche, but if not, I’ll settle for Aurora commenting on the game and Reem narrating Extinction.

Rick
Dad and newscaster Rick seemed so much to fit into the new older nerd archetype, that I was a little surprised to find out how young he was. He’s probably going to be a little surprised to find he’s at least third in line from being the weakest link on the tribe. Cheery enough, knowledgeable enough and funny enough for screentime, Rick’s going to be around for awhile.

Wardog
Considering the fate of Dans on Survivor, a nickname may be Mr. Da Silva’s best strategy. Arguably, fighting against the Tony-clone stereotype by playing quiet and not looking for an idol immediately should be his best strategy, but I’m not convinced he can pull it off. His tribe needs his physical strength though, so Wardog’s going to be a driving force on Manu whether they like him or not.

Wendy
Blue haired, irrepressible and newer to Survivor than most of the cast… on an ordinary season, Wendy would be a candidate for first one out, but on this tribe she might end up in Witches’ Coven 2.0. If that fails, she’s going to be the happiest person on Extinction. (Perhaps to the regret of her fellow Extinct players.)

 

Predictions

I already said Manu were going to be the trainwreck tribe… which means they’ll dominate Extinction Island…. which means they’ll dominate the jury. I predict bonding, soul-exposure and forgiveness that will lead to a fierce Manu-Pride among the Extinct Manus while there won’t be enough extinct Kamas to rally a comparable sentiment. To a large extent, the story of Extinction will be the story of Manu, and that will give a Manu finalist an edge with the jury, even if they never actually went to Extinction.

I’m calling a Manu to win this thing, I’ve already said that Kelley Wentworth is the returnee with the best shot at winning, but I’ve also already noted that new players are more likely to win Captain seasons, so…

My official winner pick is Rick Devens, because it’s a good time to be a nerd on Survivor.

Rick can take a path similar to Mike White’s, only with a drive to actually win and a jury that hasn’t necessarily witnessed the Big Movez of the game, he can swing the votes for that million. Besides, he likes LEGO, and his daughter and mine share a first name, so he clearly makes excellent choices in life.

Of course, if anybody but Joe Anglim wins, I’m giving myself points for this one.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter, and don’t forget to check out Matt Liguori’s blog too. Matt will be blogging weekly, as per usual, and I’ll be posting whenever I have something to say. Until then, don’t be afraid of the theme; instead, settle in for what will surely be one of Survivor’s weirder seasons.

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