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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

‘Survivor 41’: One step forward, one step back

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Jeff Probst, host and executive producer of “Survivor,” definitely went through something over quarantine. After being on hiatus for nearly two years, this new season isn’t the show that I loved, for better and for worse.

At its core, it’s still a bizarre social experiment exploring how relationships develop between complete strangers as they work together to survive in the wilderness on a remote island — and are put to the test as they vote each other off the island, one by one, to inch closer to winning the million-dollar prize. The game has evolved over the years from a focus on loyalty to a more fast-paced, strategic game, with contestants often being voted out when they least expect it.

Season 41 is incredibly different from any past season as a result of multiple production changes. The switch in length from 39 to 26 days eliminated a lot of time contestants spent bored on the island, while still allowing for challenges, strategizing and completing necessary survival tasks. The addition of flashback scenes exploring players’ personal lives, while a bit jarringly placed at times, were heartwarming. The diverse and entertaining cast included quite a few memorable people who are certain to return in future seasons.

However, some of these production changes were agonizingly painful. For the first time ever, the cast was expected to survive without being provided any food to start with. While very little food was given in years past, having to scavenge for food on the island from day one clearly affected their physical, mental and emotional well-being over time much more than ever before. I have no idea why anyone thought this would make good television. The camerawork was jarring at times, with the camera crew and other production members blatantly visible in a scene where Jeff discusses a new advantage (an item that assists the contestant who finds it, often useful for a challenge). This kind of camerawork that breaks the fourth wall was almost never used in previous seasons except during medical evacuations, when capturing production members on camera was unavoidable. It takes the viewer out of the action in a way that isn’t necessary or impactful. Additionally, Jeff tweaked his approach as a host and took a much more compassionate stance towards contestants during challenges — but many challenges were uninteresting, and the lack of his witty commentary made them unbearable.

The edit paid too much attention to the strategies of specific players and neglected several others, including the show’s winner. It’s understandably difficult to highlight everyone’s game plan in an entertaining way, and the contestants who enjoyed the most screen time were incredibly entertaining. However, it’s frustrating to neither see nor understand the tactics the winner employed throughout the game until they must explain it themselves in the very last episode.

The overwhelming amount of advantages and twists interfered with the strategies contestants would normally construct to stay in the game. Several of these advantages required contestants to announce to everyone else that they possessed them during challenges, removing most of the entertaining ways in which these advantages could be used in the past. At one point, a twist caused a contestant to have a two-in-three chance of automatically leaving the game, which completely defeats the purpose of contestants working together to vote each other off the island.

While this season made many improvements in casting entertaining, diverse players and explaining their backgrounds, pretty much every other classic element of the show was amiss. I can only recommend it if you like a surplus of advantages and twists, because that was by far the worst part of the season for me.

 

Title: “Survivor 41”

Directors: Jeff Probst, Mark Burnett, Charlie Parsons

If you like: “The Amazing Race,” “Big Brother”

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5