Whether they should have or not, most every reality competition show has found a way to film this year. The Bachelorette, The Bachelor, America’s Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior, Big Brother, The Great British Baking Show, Love Island, The Masked Singer, Shark Tank, and so many other shows, broadcast, cable, and streaming, have filmed.
Survivor has not. While other shows were filming or preparing to film this summer, showrunner and host Jeff Probst said, “We don’t have a plan yet.” No public plan has emerged since then—though there’s a report suggesting the possibility of two seasons of next year bringing us two Survivor seasons.
First, the inability of Survivor to film is because of a combination of factors. Its permanent home is in Fiji, which remains closed to travel. Pre-production was well underway for season 41—that includes things like building challenges and Tribal Council—and CBS gets 45 percent of its money back when it films there, which is a terrific deal. Meanwhile, Survivor’s crew is massive and comes from all over the world, including a sizable contingent from Australia, whose citizens weren’t able to leave—although they can now apply for an exemption.
In many ways, Survivor’s 20-year history, high quality, and expense have presented obstacles that other shows could more easily get around. Love Island also filmed in Fiji, but is basically filmed around a hotel pool, so it was easy to move it to Las Vegas. That’s different than a show with hundreds crew members that films simultaneously in three or four locations separated by ocean. Just filming the opening scene for Survivor: Edge of Extinction took nine hours and involved 34 boats and 714 people!
Will Survivor film three seasons in one year?
Neither CBS nor Probst have said anything publicly this fall, not even via Survivor state media, Entertainment Weekly.
But last week, Inside Survivor’s Martin Holmes had a few updates, and they were promising, if still uncertain. He notes that “[t]here is still no set-date for filming, but the proposed plan seems to be Spring 2021, with the hope that Fiji will relax restrictions early next year.” That’s been the plan for a few months now.
The new news is that “CBS has been pushing to film three seasons in 2021 and airing one of them in the summer,” Holmes reported, noting that Survivor 41 could air next summer, with season 42 in the fall and season 43 in spring 2022 (when they would have aired normally). But he notes that “there is some pushback on the production side regarding filming three seasons consecutively.”
The pushback doesn’t surprise me. Eleven years ago, when Survivor switched from filming its two seasons in two different locations and several months apart, Jeff Probst told me why filming two seasons back to back was difficult. “It’s going to be hard on people. It’s a long time to be away from home. We’re gone nearly four months. Six weeks was one thing; 14 weeks is another,” he said.
Add another eight weeks—a two-week break and six for the actual 39 days of filming—and that means the crew would be away filming for almost half the year.
If two or three seasons are filmed but Fiji keeps its borders closed to keep itself essentially free of the virus, Holmes reported “that the show is looking into the Caribbean as a potential back-up location.”
The Dominican Republic is the most-likely candidate. Survivor Mexico, the very first Latin American edition of the franchise, filmed there earlier this year and aired this summer. During production, a hurricane forced the evacuation of the cast.
Meanwhile, Survivor seasons 41 and 42 are being re-cast, in part because of CBS’s new mandate that 50 percent of its reality show casts need to be BIPOC. And of course, some contestants who expected to film in the spring or summer of 2020 may have had to drop out.
Inside Survivor reported that people who were cast had to send update videos, while “Finals have been happening over the past couple of months, all done online, including a week’s worth of psych tests and a further week of interviews with casting/producers/executives.”