Survivor Redemption Island: season 22′s big twist

Update: Survivor Redemption Island was confirmed by CBS on Dec. 19.

Besides giving Russell Hantz and Rob Mariano a chance to redeem themselves and win Survivor again for a third and fourth time, respectively, the CBS reality competition has introduced a major twist that gives voted off contestants a chance to return to the game. Thus, redemption seems to be the likely theme for season 22, which could even be called Survivor: Redemption Island, though that’s an educated guess.

Skimming the Survivor 22 call sheets on The Smoking Gun on Friday, I didn’t pay much attention to the location names, in part because production tends to name all its locations, from Ponderosa to each challenge site. But reading the higher-resolution PDFs, it’s clear that two names are directly related to the game.

On day 35, Tribal Council takes place at 7 p.m., and afterwords, the call sheet says that “votee travels to Redemption Island”–not to Ponderosa, where the jury comes from for Tribal. The “votee” is the person voted off in fifth place, and that’s a huge change for him or her to not immediately join the jury at Ponderosa.

In addition, the reality crews–the production calls those producers and technical crew members who follow the contestants at their camps “Reality”–are split between Murlonia, the merged tribe, and Redemption, the location where the votee goes, starting at 6 a.m. the day of the immunity challenge and Tribal. The transportation schedule shows that producers, a safety swimmer, a camera crew, and catering meals for the crew all go to Redemption, which means it’s basically like a tribe camp or, in previous seasons, Exile Island. In other words, there’s already someone or some people there to be filmed.

Besides that, the most significant part is probably the advance schedule for Sept. 20, which says that in the morning, they will “Shoot Duel: ‘A Leg Up.’” That’s the name of a specific–and apparently new–type of challenge, since there’s also a rehearsal for a maze challenge later in the day, and it’s not a duel or marked in any similar way. The location for the duels is called “Redemption Arena,” whereas other challenges take place at places such as “The Beachfront” and “Hindley St. North.” A duel suggests a challenge between two people, a format we’ve seen on the MTV Challenge shows, and its name means that it’s likely that whoever goes to Redemption Island battles the person already there for the chance to stay.

Online speculation connects this to a format international versions of Survivor have used. The Israeli version, Hisardut, introduced a twist called Island of the Dead, and later combined it with Exile Island. Here’s how Wikipedia, the most coherent definition I could find, describes it: “Every person voted out is brought to the island, and had to compete with the person already staying there, for the right to stay on the island for at least another three days. When only three contestants remained, the winner of the last battle of the island returns to the game.”

That twist could begin immediately, or later in the game, such as after the merge or the formation of the jury. How all of this plays out with Rob and Russell isn’t clear, but True Dork Times looks at the schedule and suggests “that if Tribal Council 15 ends with only four contestants left, there should have been 19 contestants to start with, unless one of those tribal councils was to vote Russell and/or Rob into the game… in which case a starting group of 18 (10 women, 8 men + Rob and Russell, or perhaps a less-obvious 9-9 split) would work. That would also suggest that only one of Rob or Russell could become a contestant.”

And that would be very interesting, and could either jibe with or replace one of the other theories online, that Rob and Russell are serving as tribe mentors and have immunity until the merge. Either way, this twist seems to make the season less about Rob and Russell, which is a welcome change. Whatever happens with them, it looks like Survivor: Redemption Island (what the hell, I’ll just call it that) will be a game-changer, literally.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.