Why Survivor has 20 people instead of 16, and why there’s usually a final three

Survivor‘s trend of having 20 cast members and a final three most seasons isn’t going to change any time soon.

Jeff Probst explains why in his latest Entertainment Weekly column, which starts with more actual insight, unlike last week’s, when he had nothing to write and basically admitted that it sucked–which, of course, endeared him to me and made me temporarily forget my intense frustration with his EW columns.

Jeff explains that once people started quitting the game, that meant they were at risk of not having enough people to complete the 39-day game. So, they added contestants, which presented a new problem. He writes:

“If you bring 18 people, which we have done, you have to consider the fact that you’ll have an uneven number of men and women on each tribe.

So, that often leads you to bringing 20 people. Twenty people is great because even if people quit, you are okay because you brought more people than you needed.”

Probst admits that 20 people means there are “a lot of people for the audience to get to know,” and also if people don’t quit, they “have to get rid of the extra players,” hence the double Tribal Council episodes, which he says we should expect in every 20-person season.

On a related note, fans often complain about the show rarely has a final two any more, instead concluding with three finalists. Out of the last eight seasons, just two have had a final two, the most recent being Survivor Tocantins. Among other things, having a final three means that the winner of the final immunity challenge no longer has to pick who to take with them to the end, a strategic choice that I always liked watching.

Probst addressed that in a pre-season interview when he said that with a final three, producers hope for “a battle” instead of the dominant person bringing the “least worthy” to the end, which makes for a boring finale.

But here’s some of my insight: The reason why there are usually three people at the final Tribal Council also has to do with the final episode. Filling a two-hour episode that comes down to just two people means fewer people at the beginning of the episode, and ultimately ends up with two people at camp, and less drama all around because of that. And the network wants more content, not less–and what the network wants, it usually gets.

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

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.