How do I become a Survivor Dream Team member? Survivor’s risks vs. Amazing Race’s staleness

I’ve been reading your articles pretty much daily for quite a few years now, and I came across one a couple weeks ago about how a Survivor Dream team member actually got his idea for a challenge on the air.

I know you said you’re not a producer, and I understand that. But I was hoping and wondering if you could at least give me an idea of where to turn or how I should go about this. I know you said you don’t have any one’s e-mails, but if you could just give me your opinion on how I should go about this, I’d be really appreciative because I have zero clue. –Josh

How to hired as a Dream Team member seems to be the greatest Survivor mystery. Dream Teamers work on building challenges in the art department, and help with camera and other equipment. Of course, there’s also the fun part: testing challenges and serving as stand-ins, especially for helicopter shots of the challenges.

The mystery of how to get hired is heightened because stories about how people became Dream Teamers can make it seem both easily accessible and impossibly difficult. Dream Team members have been hired because they knew someone on production, were hired locally where the show is being filmed, or managed to get the attention of challenge producer John Kirhoffer by sending a letter to production.

My best advice: Be creative but not annoying. Be persistent, but not annoying. Show how passionate you are but don’t act entitled. Don’t give up after not hearing anything immediately (this person heard back a year later).

I think there are many people who want to do this, but probably very few who want it bad enough to really do the work. Some people literally Google and then give up. What is that work? I honestly don’t know, and I think that’s because there is not one path to the Dream Team. Make phone calls. Look at what past Dream Teamers have done. Create something attention-getting. Try multiple things.

Whatever you do: Have fun, and good luck!

Survivor and The Amazing Race have both been on TV for over ten years, but in my opinion, one of these has managed to keep their show fresh while the other has grown stale. I suspect you might know which might be which.

Due to its restricted budget, after Heroes Vs. Villains, Survivor has been trying out new ideas and twists such as Redemption Island, two tribes on one beach, more returning players, Blood Vs Water and so on. The Amazing Race, on the other hand, is essentially the same every season with the exception of the rather boring Express Pass.

Do you think Survivor’s risk taking is the reason why it has been improving in ratings and recently beating American Idol for the first time? And do you think if it returned to its organic format, where every season featured 16-20 new players divided into two tribes with no new twists, would it still be as engaging to viewers? –Niall

I’m not so sure I can answer this so much as I can agree with it: yes to all of the above.

While more than one of Survivor‘s changes have made me cringe and/or flip out, the constant innovation has ultimately kept the show interesting. The past few years have been consistently entertaining, even despite dark spots.

Meanwhile, I ultimately stopped watching The Amazing Race not because it needed to fix itself but because the show changed the wrong things. Worse, it was boring. Every season is the same thing over and over again. For a while, you could have said that about Survivor game play, but not any more.

I have barely watched this season of American Idol, because ultimately it’s still the same show that it was last year, just with different judges and different editing. The changes are ultimately cosmetic, and for an industry that’s risk-averse, that makes sense.

The brilliance of Survivor‘s changes over the past 14 years is that it’s managed to keep its external appearance but alter parts of its DNA. The show is now like a Star Trek alien: still recognizably humanoid but with different physical features and values.

By keeping relatively the same structure and appearance, the production has avoided freaking out and industry that’s so risk-averse, but has also given itself a lot of room to play and see what works. Some of that is endemic to the format, and some of it is the decisions the producers have made. Together, they’ve kept the show alive long past anyone thought it might survive.

Have a question? Ask me! I’ll do my best to answer.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.