CBS started airing a new promo for Survivor 41 this week, and it’s tonally different than the show’s usual advertising, as it’s very mysterious. Considering that the show has been off the air for more than a year, missing two consecutive seasons, creating suspense makes sense.
What’s particularly curious—besides the reference to a monster, which we’ll get to in a minute—is the choice to not even mention Survivor’s name anywhere. This is a promo for a TV show that does not mention the TV show at all!
The only explicit advertising the promo does is giving Survivor 41’s premiere date, but again, without mentioning the show’s name, or even a time. I suppose some non-Survivor fans might be intrigued enough to tune in on Sept. 22 to see what this is, but I imagine that it’s mostly CBS’s marketing team targeting fans directly, since they’re the people who will recognize Jeff Probst’s voice and/or this imagery.
In the promo, we get a horror movie-style tracking shot through a Fijian jungle, down a sandy path. There are no people to be seen. But there is music, which Shazam cannot identify, so it very well could be another original Survivor song like the super-popular “Winners at War”/”Coming for you” song. There’s also voice-over.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” one person says, in audio that it sounds like it’s coming from a player in the game. Another says, “This is a new game.” We then hear from two other people: “This is what I want to do; this is what I was made for,” one person says. Another says, “It’s the most insane thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
The tracking shot fades and we see a nighttime shot of a backlit person emerging from water holding a lit torch. It’s a bit like the jump scare at the end of Friday the 13th, but mostly reminiscent of the opening shot of the Survivor Borneo title sequence, which has been repeated in subsequent seasons. (Obligatory shout-out to the departed title sequences and to Russ Landau’s incredible Survivor theme song.)
Survivor: Borneo actually began its opening sequence with someone emerging from water, though without a torch, and ends with someone standing on land holding a torch—which a Survivor fan reproduced on a trip to Pulau Tiga. So combining those two could be a metaphor for Survivor’s return to its roots, or ending with someone in the water instead of on dry land could illustrate the opposite, since Survivor 41 has been pitched to us so far as “a brand-new game.”
There are three versions of this promo that I’ve seen so far, all of which are far shorter than my attempt to deconstruct them and learn something, anything new about this new season:
- a 30-second version, which I described above
- a 15-second version, which cuts out more of the tracking shot and also the first two soundbites
- a teaser, which aired during Love Island Thursday night, and only has Jeff Probst saying, “We’re back, and the monster is hungry”
Again, it’s fascinating that none of those TV ads say “Survivor” in any way—although social media versions do have a bug in the corner identifying both CBS and Survivor.
The other weird part is the reference to the “monster,” which is very odd, and I say that having been a longtime Survivor fan who remembers things like the massive heads of Boston Rob and Sandra and the time Jeff Probst made up something called “no collar” as a way to rhapsodize about the nature of human beings and their relationship to work.
So what is the monster? It could be Survivor fans, who’ve had to wait longer than fans of any other reality show to see a new season since the world changed in the spring of 2020, and are ready to be fed more Survivor content.
It’d be exciting if it was an actual monster, probably like the smoke monster in the ABC drama Lost, which was actually inspired by Survivor, and specifically “all the things you DON’T see on Survivor.”
But it’s apparently just a metaphor for the brand-new game Jeff Probst and his fellow producers have created, because all of their previous game-changing twists haven’t been monstrous enough. As he said in an Instagram video earlier this summer, “Survivor 41 is like the monster in a horror movie, and if you’re a player, it’s coming for you. So either you devour the monster or the monster will devour you.”