Survivor executive producer, host, and showrunner Jeff Probst is again defending Redemption Island, even though it won’t be part of this spring’s Survivor Cagayan. Instead, it’ll likely only return for future blood vs. water seasons, he says, but I think that could backfire on the show.
First, writing in EW, Dalton Ross analyzes RI’s strengths and weaknesses, and I’m with him on basically every point, including the way it weakens the consequence of “the tribe has spoken” and that two-person duels are much more dramatic. His analysis is thorough and smart: read it.
Asked about why the show returned to a three-person challenge after having better two-person duels, Probst said it had to do with scheduling: “A lot of decisions we make on Survivor make sense when you have all the information regarding how many episodes we’re doing, how many players we’re starting with, how many we want to end with.” Understandable, though the priorities here seem to be with things that would concern a network executive, not what the best possible creative choices are.
Anyway, as to Redemption Island itself, Probst defends it by comparing it to being attracted to women with certain hair colors (sigh):
“I think Blood vs. Water was the best use of Redemption Island, and if we do Blood vs. Water again we would most likely do Redemption Island again and probably wouldn’t use it otherwise. But I really can’t say for certain, because my opinion has not changed. I still like elements of Redemption Island. And I still understand why people hate Redemption Island. It’s not that I don’t like the purity of Survivor without Redemption Island. I love it! I love the finality of somebody being voted off. I love it! But both can exist. I can also love Redemption Island. I’m baffled by people who want to strangle me because I like Redemption Island. That’s like saying I like brunette women, but I also find blond women attractive. Both can exist! So I like both! But I will concede that Blood vs, Water was the perfect time to use Redemption, because that format that happened at Redemption Island allowed so much spark to happen. That was perfect.”
I agree that it’s possible for both to be good, as last season proved. However, that RI worked well in precisely one season–and yes, it did really add a lot to Survivor Blood vs. Water–does not make it a good twist, and I am not convinced that bringing it back for future returnee/relative seasons will automatically result in the same compelling drama.
That happened in part because the dynamic of loved ones plus opposite tribes plus RI was brand-new, and forced even three-time returnees to play differently, using elements of the game in different ways than they ever had before. A carbon copy of last fall’s game would probably be less likely to be as dramatic, because returnees, especially, would know what to expect.
The open secret about Survivor now is that a lot of the game play takes place off the island: alliances are formed, promises are made, people try to influence cast members, rumors spread. Throwing so many twists in last season really threw off the returnees, who expected one thing but got another. The only chance Redemption Island–or maybe even Survivor–has of working so well again is to constantly upend expectations, and that means not doing the same thing again.
Maybe that even means never bringing it back again. Let Redemption Island go out like Jay Leno: on top, despite its mediocrity.