Since 2001, when Survivor: The Australian Outback premiered in the spring and Survivor Africa aired in the fall, CBS has broadcast two seasons of Survivor every year.
For the first time in 19 years, there may be a fall without a new season of Survivor. There is an easy solution to this: licensing the rights to Australian Survivor—or maybe also Survivor: South Africa—which has gotten rave reviews from Survivor super-fans who’ve already watched online in the United States. But I want to see it on TV.
First, a disclaimer: I actually don’t know if this is truly “easy,” because I don’t know what the specific broadcast rights are, or if there is some kind of contractual prohibition for an international version being available here. I also don’t know the actual costs, though I doubt it is more expensive to license a season than to produce one (even with Survivor’s 45 percent rebate from Fiji).
Update: ViacomCBS does own the parent company of Australia’s Network 10, which broadcasts Australian Survivor. That could make the transaction easier—or present challenges if, say, CBS didn’t want to bring it here but Netflix did.
But The Great British Bake-Off shows us the way: In the United States, we’ve had access to the both the U.S. and U.K.’s version of the format.
There have actually been two American adaptations: CBS brought the format to America as The Great American Baking Competition in 2013, and then a few years later, ABC decided to do it right and aired The Great American Baking Show.
The ABC version premiered the same year that PBS started airing the UK version. While PBS licensed the BBC series, it also sold streaming rights to Netflix, meaning we could watch in two ways in the U.S.. Later, when GBBO moved to Channel 4 in the UK, Netflix later bought the rights to that version.
(The numbering and order of GBBO seasons in the U.S. is all very confusing, so I created this helpful chart.)
The point is: There is precedent for having an American version of a format and an international version airing at the same time. Those deals did involve public broadcasters, and CBS, as a commercial broadcaster, might be more reluctant to air and pay for a show that it doesn’t own.
(CBS also has a couple easily-confused viewers who think, for example, that the show is filmed in real time, so if they tuned in and suddenly the cast was predominately Australian or South African and Jeff Probst had been replaced by Jonathan LaPaglia or Nico Panagio, they might get really confused).
But that’s where Netflix, Hulu, or another streaming service could come in.
Netflix regularly picks up international reality shows, from Australia’s Instant Hotel (which you should watch if you have not) to the UK’s The Repair Shop (an impossibly charming and perfect show) to the Asian show The Apartment (which I have just started watching).
While Survivor South Africa mostly follows the U.S. format of 39 days and 18 to 20 contestants, Australian Survivor did something different when it was rebooted in 2016. It has 24 contestants competing for 50 or 55 days, for a total of 24 or 26 episodes.
That’s just about double CBS’s 14 episode order, so a single season of Australian Survivor could fill the CBS version’s timeslot for a year.
And that timeslot may be empty (though The Amazing Race season 32 is a likely candidate to fill it this fall).
That’s because Fiji is currently closed to international flights, and has had just 18 cases and zero deaths, meaning they’re probably not going to be thrilled about several hundred crew and cast members arriving from all over the world—especially the United States, where people scream about freedom instead of listening to scientists, and where we value money over human life.
While I’d be thrilled to have the regular CBS version back, I’m also ready to see what so many have been raving about.
Survivor fans love Australian Survivor
When Australian Survivor returned, it was in the shadow of two earlier and not-great seasons. As the new version—produced by Endemol Shine Australia for Network 10—were clear that the show was different than its earlier incarnations: they said producers of the CBS version were “very involved.” though they also made some changes.
Before it premiered, Australian Survivor released this six-minute preview, which demonstrated that it had the same high production values.
Now, four years later, you don’t have to look far to find American Survivor fans discussing why “Survivor Australia is better than the American version” or “What International Seasons Do Better than the US,” or websites with lists about why it’s “more brutal.”
One of the reasons why I’d really like CBS (or someone else) to bring these international Survivor shows to the United States—besides filling a timeslot, and giving me more of a show I love—is that I’d love to see what another creative team does with the format.
Jeff Probst has put his stamp on Survivor over the past decade, and made choices I am not always thrilled with (cough Edge of Extinction cough cough). It’s still a terrific show, usually.
I love Survivor because it’s such a brilliant format, and it’s clear from the online conversation that the Australian adaptation, especially, has made very different choices that I’d love to watch play out. I’d love to see how non-American contestants approach the game. I’d love to discuss it!
Also, honestly, I’m tired of being left out. I’m weary from hearing Survivor fans talk exuberantly about two shows that it’s impossible to watch easily or legally in the United States. Yes, I’ve heard about the secret Facebook group with full episodes, and bootleg copies show up online, and I realize that it’s possible to watch.
But possible does not equal accessible or easy, and it’s not the same as a mass audience of millions of people being able to watch easily, in high definition, on a regular schedule.
Survivor is better when we watch it together, and while I admire my fellow Americans who find a way to seek out international shows and talk about it together, I am not willing to jump through hoops.
I am lazy and just want to turn on my TV and watch an episode (or two!) of Survivor every week. I don’t want to fight with pop-ups or a reversed image or whatever. And this awful situation presents a great opportunity for us to be able to see it.
It’s possible that the crisis will abate and CBS and Jeff Probst and his team will figure out a way to film a season this summer, and Survivor season 41 will show up on CBS’s fall schedule, as usual. But without that, it’s time for American Survivor fans to finally have legal access to other versions of the show we’ve loved for 20 years. Instead of missing Survivor, let’s see what we’ve been missing.