Airdate: February 1, 2001 Boot: Kel Gleason Quote: “Mike thanked God for making him the leader of the tribe. I don’t know when he was anointed. Apparently my back was turned at that moment.” – Kimmi Kappenberg Rating: 10 + Tier B (4) = 14
Launching a sequel to a phenomenon is a high-stakes effort, and Survivor: The Australian Outback faced the ultimate test. Was the success of Survivor the previous summer an ingenious fluke, or did the show have legs? The premiere was destined to be a big deal due to the hype and a post-Super Bowl slot. The second episode was perhaps the more pressing guinea pig. How would the show fare in its new, competitive time slot against Friends?
On Thursday, February 1, 2001, about 22 million people tuned in to see what Ross and Rachel and the gang were up to, while a whopping 29 million watched a nearly flawless episode of Survivor.
The first two seasons of Survivor can often coast on a wave of nostalgia, as the show was fresher and more in the spotlight than it would ever be again. Many old-school fans, myself included, can be seen as too forgiving of slow pacing and politically incorrect behavior that hasn’t exactly aged well.
That was Jeff Probst’s oft-repeated advice to contestants and viewers this season. The idea was that, following season 40’s battle of the titans and an unprecedented hiatus, Survivor had been reinvented as a new, wildly unpredictable game that would push players to the limit and keep audiences on their toes.
In reality, it turned out to be a mantra that savvy players adopted throughout the season to guarantee themselves some airtime. I don’t blame them. Between the staggering number of twists and Jeff Probst’s ham-fisted and often borderline bizarre commentary, it was hard for anyone to make their mark outside of obligatory, overripe sob story packages.
That said, while there was plenty to dislike about this season, I didn’t hate it. Mainly because the contestants neutered many–but not all–of the potentially problematic elements. Back when I reviewed Ghost Island, I did a pros and cons list, but this time I’m just gonna go down the roster of twists and format changes that defined Survivor 41…mainly because almost all of them have pros and cons. But before I do that, let’s discuss the reason we all watch Survivor in the first place…
Airdate: March 19, 2014 Boot: Cliff Robinson Quote: “We’re not the brain tribe. We’re the crap for brain tribe.” – Kass McQuillen Rating: 6 + Tier A (5) = 11
Somewhere around the 20-season mark of Survivor, season rankings went from a fun debate to an arduous exercise. When I joined the online fan community around All-Stars, I had no reason to expect that we hadn’t even come close to hitting the show’s halfway point, and somewhere along the line, juggling the nuances that make China better than Panama lost its appeal. And yes, I realize the irony of writing that on a blog dedicated to rating and reviewing every Survivor episode.
Airdate: September 21, 2011 Boot: Christine Shields Markoski Quote: “It’s gonna go one of two ways. It’s either gonna be Coach Wade duped once again on Survivor or it’s gonna be redemption for the Hantz family. I hope it’s the latter.” – Benjamin “Coach” Wade Rating: 5 + Tier D (2) = 7
From the first season all the way to Winners at War, one of the few constants in Survivor has been the producers’ willingness to fabricate sexual tension for the sake of a good storyline.
For contestants like Colleen and Greg in Borneo, it was a matter of dialing up some playful flirtation and oddly phrased metaphors about snapping a kitten’s neck. In the case of Wendell and Michele in Winners at War, who had in fact kicked it before the game, the editors spun Michele into a scorned ex-lover holding a grudge that A) was allegedly presented in a way overblown fashion, and B) never actually paid off from a dramatic standpoint.
Airdate: November 24, 2005 Boot: Gary Hogeboom Quote: “There’s a winner and a loser in this game, and if you’re going to be jealous then you’re an idiot.” – Stephenie LaGrossa Rating: 8 + Tier D (2) = 10
“It just feels like all is right in Survivor world.”
“It is…just for a minute.”
Guatemala remains a truly monumental yet simultaneously neglected chapter in Survivor history. It introduced the inarguably most impactful twist the show has ever seen in the hidden immunity idol, paired new and returning contestants together for the first time, and might stand as the single greatest example of the power of editing, which I’ll get to a minute.
Airdate: November 27, 2013
Boot: Vytas Baskauskas (eliminated from Redemption Island); Caleb Bankston
Quote: “Teenage mom. Hellraiser. She can look you in the eye and lie better than anybody.” – Tyson Apostle, on Ciera Rating: 7 + Tier C (3) = 10
Moms are supposed to be the most trustworthy people in our lives. They know us better than anyone else. They’re the first people we turn to when we need comfort. And they lead the family band with a bassist who’s a couple decades away from leaving Jonny Fairplay in such unbearable pain that he will ask to be voted out three days into Survivor: Micronesia.
I like “Come on Get Happy” as much as the next guy, but I’d rather have had a second full season of Fairplay, thank you very much.
But moms can be ruthless. And when they team up, you’d better be on high alert. That’s the takeaway from this solid but unremarkable episode of Blood vs. Water. Despite my unwavering belief that structures like Redemption Island and Edge of Extinction have no place in Survivor and automatically worsen a season, I have to say my favorite part of this episode is when Laura joins Tina and Vytas on the loser beach. As Tina nervously worries that her daughter Katie had just gotten voted out, Laura coos, “Mom?” It’s not until they’re about to hug that Tina realizes it’s actually her fellow mother using the secret code word that moms use to suss out one another. It’s cute. And yet when I Continue reading “Blood vs. Water Episode 11: Gloves Come Off”→
Airdate: December 9, 2015
Boot: Abi-Maria Gomes
Quote: “If people would’ve asked me, ‘You know, hey, where’s Keith been for the last 30 days? Is he sitting in a temple in Cambodia or [did] he just get off the shuttle back from Mars?’ Well, they’d say, ‘Oh, he just got back from Mars cause he damn sure ain’t in Cambodia.’ That’s how amazing this is.” – Keith Nale Rating: 6 + Tier C (3) = 9
While nobody in their right mind could ever classify Cambodia as “old-school” Survivor–it’s often considered the precursor to if not the start of the convoluted, advantage-heavy modern version of the show–the quote highlighted above inadvertently reveals two factors that separate it from the seasons that followed: Continue reading “Cambodia Episode 13: Villains Have More Fun”→
Airdate: October 24, 2002
Boot: Robb Zbacnik
Quote: “Trust is instilled early. And if it’s fucked up early then it’s fucked up forever.” – Robb Zbacnik Rating: 7 + Tier D (2) = 9
For better or worse, the portion of my brain that once acted as a Survivor encyclopedia has…well, let’s go ahead and use Jeff Probst’s favorite word and say “evolved.” I still can place a name and face on just about every contestant and I remember the biggest events of each season, but there are certain storylines and episodic details that I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint, even from the early seasons that I watched ad nauseum. Due to its longtime lack of DVD availability and status as the first “bad” season of Survivor, Thailand is one that just barely exists in my memory. Like, if someone were to ask me to Continue reading “Thailand Episode 6: The Power of One”→
Airdate: November 19, 2009
Boot: Laura Morett
Quote: “It’s continually impressive and bordering on annoying how pathetic the analytical skills of the Galu tribe are.” – John Fincher Rating: 7 + Tier E (1) = 8
Frustrating. That’s the only word to describe this episode. It’s not bad. It’s relatively interesting and entertaining, at least for a Samoa episode. But it’s frustrating. And here are the top nine reasons why, in chronological order: Continue reading “Samoa Episode 10: The Day of Reckoning”→