So, it’s been a week (and another major, more dragony series finale) since Survivor ended it’s 38th season, but I can’t get over how unsettled it left me feeling.
This season tried to add another dimension to the social experiment of Survivor, and it both succeeded and failed. They managed to give every single castaway the option of a full and rewarding Survivor experience, but they kind of screwed the pooch with how they wrapped up the Edge of Extinction twist. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are happy with how things turned out, but I, for one, am not.
I want to go on record saying that I don’t outright hate Survivor‘s twists. There are many of them that I’ve loved and/or thought added something significant to the game. Immunity idols, age structures, tribe breakdowns, and inventive advantages have all given the game a chance to expand and grow as the castaways get smarter and smarter. And, honestly, I didn’t mind the Edge of Extinction twist for three quarters of the game. It’s just how they brought it to the finish line that doesn’t add up for me.
Let’s start with a very specific unfair advantage
The first, and most easily remedied issue I had with this season, was handing Chris an idol when he returned to the game.
I know what you’re going to say. “But he couldn’t use it his first night back and he had to have someone to trust to give him that piece back.” This is all true. It doesn’t make it any more fair to the people who have remained in the game for far longer than Chris Underwood and did so without any idols having been handed to them after getting a second chance to play the game in the first place.
And it wasn’t as if Chris returned with nothing to offer the remaining players. Not only did he have few ties to anyone still remaining in the game (save for Devens, which could have gone badly for Chris), which could have made him a tempting new ally, but he also walked back into the game with oodles of information given to him by the evicted castaways that have been appearing at Extinction one after another after another.
Chris didn’t need the immunity idol to have a fair shake back in the game. He was given a free pass that helped him saunter into the finals and it was an unfair advantage he simply shouldn’t have had.
Chris Underwood only played a total of 12 days of this season
Chris was voted off the island on day eight of this season’s adventure. He didn’t return until day 36, where he played a total of four days (days 36-39) before the jury made their votes.
It seems impossible that someone who didn’t make it to the merge, who never had to navigate the difficult waters of balancing previous alliances with new ones, and hadn’t played in an individual immunity challenge prior to his return was allowed back into the game at the last possible second. While living on the Edge wasn’t the luxury resort that Ponderosa has been for evicted jury members in previous seasons, he also didn’t have to endure the grueling marathon of the game. Extinction was simply a limbo in which he had to wait in order to have a chance to return.
I think if the first Extinction competition had sent all the previously voted out contestants home after their loss, things would have seemed a lot more balanced. Letting all the evicted castaways have a jury vote simply because they chose to stay for the whole season doesn’t feel all that fair to those that managed to make it to the merge and beyond.
One cowboy move does not a winner make on ‘Survivor’
Pretty much the only major accomplishment that Chris had on his resume was him handing over individual immunity to Julie and taking on Devens in the fire-making challenge. This cowboy move was absolutely necessary for Chris to have something substantial to present at the final tribal council. This doesn’t mean he earned his win.
If you look at Gavin and Julie’s gameplay the entire season, they may not have as flashy a move as Chris’ big gamble, but they each took risks to get them closer to the end. Their smaller risks definitely add up to great gameplay, but thanks to their lack of ‘big moves,’ they were passed over when it came time to name the winner.
Chris had time to bond with all the jury members
In addition to not having to endure the stress of the game, Chris also had a chance to bond with the jury members which would ultimately decide who would take the win at the end of the season. They didn’t have to worry about his intentions when getting to know them, because there wasn’t a whole lot of gameplay going down at the Edge of Extinction. Instead, they got to enjoy the company and bond as friends, which more than likely bought him votes he otherwise wouldn’t have had.
I just don’t like seeing one of my favorite series take such a massive leap backwards in terms of it’s structure. If we ever see another season like Edge of Extinction again, I would hope that the people making the rules would take a long look at how keeping all those people on the island together affects the relationships that decide who wins the game.
I also hope that we could see more of what happened between all these exiled castaways. After Devens returned to the game, we saw VERY little of what happened there, and yet we heard all about the journeys that individuals had while they were there in the Survivor: Reunion special. If something like that is going to affect the final outcome of the show so thoroughly, I would hope that the viewers would get to experience the whole, new game, rather than just be surprised by the final verdict.
In a season full of such major players, it just seems like a major disservice that someone as far removed from the game as Chris would walk away with the biggest prize. Aurora, Devens, Lauren, Wardog, Wainwright, Julie and many more fought hard time and time again to stay in the game, when maybe they would have had a better shot at winning the game if they’d just gotten voted out earlier. I don’t want to see this game devolve to the point that getting voted off becomes strategic gameplay. That’s always been the be all, end all of Survivor.
That said, I will definitely be tuning in this September to see how the newest incarnation of my favorite reality competition series will play out. Plus, I just really like seeing Boston Rob and Sandra getting to be involved in the game in a whole new way.