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Survivor 41’s changes: excuse me while I overreact to Jeff Probst’s pre-season hyperbole

Survivor 41’s changes: excuse me while I overreact to Jeff Probst’s pre-season hyperbole
Jeff Probst pointing on Survivor 41's premiere (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

CBS announced both the Survivor 41 cast and several new details about this mysterious new season, some of which came from interviews with host and showrunner Jeff Probst.

So far, Survivor 41 has been promoted in ads that don’t even mention Survivor but do mention a monster. We’ve also heard that it will be “a brand new game”—but not what that means.

I’m not exactly sure I know what it means today, but I am sure that I’m ready to freak out and panic. Just as Jeff Probst has a long history of hyperbolic pre-season hype, I have a long history of histrionic overreaction to it. Sometimes I’m wrong! In 2018, for example, I went from despondent to ebullient.

So, maybe I’ll look back at this and chuckle in a few months. But for now, it’s quite nice to have something to freak out over that is 1) immutable, so all the complaining in the world won’t change it, and 2) insignificant compared to everything that’s happening in the world. So join me if you want—or feel free to have a wildly irrational response to my wildly irrational responses, especially if that makes your day a little better.

First, though, let’s look at the new cast, and then we’ll break down all of the new components that CBS and Jeff Probst teased.

Survivor 41’s cast

Survivor 41's cast
Survivor 41’s cast (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

Survivor 41 is the first season of Survivor to be cast under CBS’s new reality show casting mandate. That’s resulted in a more racially diverse cast. In addition, the cast seems to tip slightly older than a typical season—only six people in their 20s, and three in their 50s—and also includes two people from Canada, plus five students.

The cast members are:

  1. Brad Reese, 50, Shawnee, Wyo., rancher
  2. Danny McCray, 33, Frisco, Texas, ex-NFL player
  3. David Voce, 35, Chicago, neurosurgeon
  4. Deshawn Radden, 26, Miami, medical student
  5. Eric Abraham, 51, San Antonio, cyber security analyst
  6. Erika Casupanan, 32, Toronto, communications manager
  7. Evvie Jagoda, 28, Arlington, Mass., PhD student
  8. Genie Chen, 46, Portland, grocery clerk
  9. Heather Aldret, 52, Charleston, stay-at-home mom
  10. Jairus Robinson, 20, Oklahoma City, college student
  11. Liana Wallace, 20, Washington, D.C., college student
  12. Naseer Muttalif, 37, Morgan Hill, Calif., sales manager
  13. Ricard Foyé, 31, Sedro-Woolley, Wash., flight attendant
  14. Sara Wilson, 24, Boston, health care consultant
  15. Shantel Smith, 34, Washington, D.C., pastor
  16. Sydney Segal, 26, Brooklyn, law student
  17. Tiffany Seely, 47, Plainview, N.Y., teacher
  18. Xander Hastings, 21, Chicago, app developer

No more subtitles or tribe themes

We already knew that the show would no longer have subtitles, but Probst confirmed that dumb tribe themes are gone, too. And then he said this to Mike Bloom at Parade:

Those ideas served us very well for 20 years, but now it’s time for something new. The new players and the gameplay will define each season, much like a Super Bowl or any other regular sporting event. 

Letting the players and their game play define the season?! On Survivor?

The Joe Schmo Show, Matt Kennedy Gould, what is going on

My confusion and excitement, however, were short-lived.

Jeff Probst will break the fourth wall

Jeff Probst, host and showrunner of Survivor
Jeff Probst, host and showrunner of Survivor (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

CBS said this in a press release:

“For the first time, host Jeff Probst will also take viewers inside the action, addressing the audience directly throughout the season, even letting fans in on some twists before the players are made aware.”

And Jeff Probst elaborated:

“Players and viewers will feel the difference immediately, beginning with me talking directly to the audience throughout the season, letting them in on twists before the players know. So viewers can play along, second guess, or just sit back and judge!”

Let me be the first to try that out and sit back here and judge: DO NOT WANT

I’ve only been watching Survivor for 21 years and 40 seasons, but I have been able to play along and second-guess at home without the host telling me what’s coming up.

Having recently re-watched Survivor: Borneo, and The Mole’s first two seasons, I realize that a host talking to viewers can work just fine. In some ways, this is Survivor returning to its roots, which is something that I would normally celebrate.

Alas, all I can picture here is Jeff Probst walking around the studio audience during a reunion and giving us even more exposition. If there is one thing Survivor absolutely does not need, it is more Jeff Probst exposition.

Also, this just takes Survivor another step closer to Big Brother, where Julie Chen pops up to give us over-simplified summaries during Thursday night episodes.

Fewer supplies, game-ending advantages

CBS said this in a press release:

The unpredictable, accelerated pace will test even the strongest super-fan, as supplies are minimal, reward challenges are scarce, and players find themselves faced with advantages that could significantly help their game or, just as easily, extinguish their torch.

This sentence game me whiplash. I like the idea of an accelerated pace, even if it was likely driven by circumstances outside of the show’s control, and I don’t mind the show giving players fewer resources, since it may take us back to the time when survival was a larger part of the show.

We’re already used to scarce reward challenges and to the crap-ass rewards the show has been giving out in recent years, so that doesn’t seem like a huge change.

In general, I want Survivor to have fewer advantages and twists, so any mention of advantages is disappointing, though not surprising. But in the way this is phrased, with the idea that advantages can help or hurt, I just can’t shake the similarity to Big Brother 23’s “Big Risks and Big Rewards.”

While suggesting that an advantage could “extinguish their torch” may just be stating the obvious—playing an advantage or idol the wrong way has always been able to hurt someone’s game—I worry that the advantages themselves might somehow be game-ending.

Some players won’t be able to vote

Probst told Mike Bloom this:

“votes are often at risk, which means you can’t ever rely on how many votes your alliance will have at any Tribal Council”

Not just nullifying votes, but taking away multiple players’ ability to vote?

Go Away GIF

“The Game Within The Game”

CBS said this in a press release:

“…junior fans can test their own SURVIVOR skills by playing the new ‘Game within the Game.’ Each week, they’ll have to spot a hidden rebus puzzle within the episode and then solve it.”

Jeff Probst told Mike Bloom that “it culminates at the end of the season and connects directly back to the real game with the players.”

Let’s set aside the RuPaul’s Drag Race plagiarism, in part because Drag Race’s “Game Within the Game” turned out to be Redemption Island, which was, of course, cribbed from Survivor.

I’m imagining this as the Survivor version of The Mole’s comically dumb clues. But I suppose if the editing shows us pieces of a puzzle that ends up in the final episode, that could work.

More importantly: Why is Jeff Probst so obsessed with turning Survivor into a show for children? Or, to put it another way: Why do I so desperately not want Survivor to pander to children? Is it because it makes me feel 192 years old? And because the 20-year-olds on this season weren’t even born when Survivor started?

Critics of Survivor’s changes are always wrong

The most galling thing Probst said was this, in a CBS video:

“There’s a history on Survivor: Every twist we’ve ever done, people have hated in the beginning, going back to season three going back to the first tribe swap. now if tribes don’t get a switch, they’re upset. It was the same with the idol, it’s the same with everything.”

Howdareyou! Although also: well-played.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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