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Does Survivor need 90-minute episodes? Or flashbacks?

Does Survivor need 90-minute episodes? Or flashbacks?
Survivor 43 episode 2's immunity challenge, with Jeff Probst on the left and the Vesi, Baka and Coco tribes. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

I missed the first 10 minutes of Survivor 43 episode two because our local Central Florida CBS affiliate was doing non-stop coverage of Hurricane Ian as it approached our area.

I’m grateful for their work, but frustrated that, while I still had power and wanted to distract myself from the anxiety of waiting for a huge hurricane to slam into us, I couldn’t just watch Survivor on CBS.com or Paramount+; both would only show me our local station. But I digress with my selfish demand to watch TV while others were suffering.

Anyway: I finally spoofed my location and got the New York feed, and when had missed the first 10 minutes, which would be just about one-quarter of a regular episode. But I didn’t feel like I missed anything.

While Survivor fans have long craved 90-minute episodes, I don’t think this episode made the case for it. It surprisingly padded—and yet they still did not have time for the title sequence with the Survivor theme song!

It used the extra time at the end, giving us more time with the tribe before Tribal Council, the kind of thing a regular episode with two challenges might not have time for. But it also could have used a reward challenge and actual reward to help fill out the time.

The worst thing Survivor 43 did with its 90 minutes was cut to a commercial before Jeff Probst read the votes. That’s the kind of cheap, predictable editing trick almost every other competition show does—and that makes me quick to hit the fast-forward button.

Not having to manipulate viewers like that is one of the ways Survivor distinguishes itself. A very long Tribal Council might have an ad break, but I cannot recall a time when there was a commercial interruption immediately before the votes were read.

Are the flashbacks significant or shortcuts?

The Vesi tribe during Survivor 43 episode 2: Nneka Ejere, Cody Assenmacher, Jesse Lopez, Dwight Moore, Justine Brennan, and Noelle Lambert
The Vesi tribe during Survivor 43 episode 2: Nneka Ejere, Cody Assenmacher, Jesse Lopez, Dwight Moore, Justine Brennan, and Noelle Lambert. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

On the blue tribe, Coco, Geo and Ryan bonded, with Ryan appreciating how comfortable Geo was opening up to him, and embraced their connection by joking, “I don’t have a gay brother.”

Geo shared with us how he was kicked out of his house by his parents and, like so many other queer kids, was homeless, depressed, and suicidal. “I did consider not continuing my life,” he said. (If you need to talk with someone, please call or text 988 right now.)

Meanwhile, Cody talked to Noelle about the prosthetic she uses, and then revealed to us that his high school best friend had his leg amputated before dying of cancer. This segment really helped to explain Cody’s approach to life and the game.

At the same time, I just don’t think Survivor’s editors have figured out how to cut away to backstory without slamming on the brakes, which is what it feels like. And as kind a gesture as it was to put up an in-memoriam photo of Cody’s friend, Devon Yaddof, we’d also only heard of him seconds earlier.

I don’t know what problem the editors are solving for with these off-the-island sequences. We had no problem getting to know the players from season one onward just via their conversations with each other.

As much as I like getting to know more about the players, the flashback packages seem like a shortcut, even a lazy one. Instead of providing actual character development, they just summarize. They tell, they don’t show, and Survivor used to be pretty damn great at showing.

Over on Baka, the yellow tribe, there was a good example of how Survivor can still manage in-game character development without cutting away to photos and footage narrated by a player.

Owen was pissed about hauling water all by himself, which was a hilarious sequence as he muttered things like “your pee looks like bouillon cubes” and “if all those fuckers are looking for the idol, I swear to god.”

Cut to Elie searching for an idol, and missing it by inches. “Nothing there!”

Elie explained that she thought of Sam as her first born and Owen as her “more maintenance” “baby boy,” so I’d guess we’ll get the kids voting out their parent soon. While Elie is convinced the three guys are clueless (“I just don’t think that they’re talking game”), Sami summarized their men’s game by counting the number of guys: “it doesn’t matter: 1-2-3.”

I did see some evidence of why Elie might be underestimating them. Sami insisted to us that “I don’t think alliances should be based off of” sex, but then declared that the men “have the numbers and we would be stupid to lose to them.”

Can arts & crafts save a player? Is Jeff Probst’s Little League dad motivating?

The Vesi tribe attempts to lift a 400-pound snake out of its cage on Survivor 43 episode 2
The Vesi tribe attempts to lift a 400-pound snake out of its cage on Survivor 43 episode 2. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

The combined reward/immunity challenge was a repeat of the caged heavy snake challenge, which I’m convinced was developed solely for the comedy of Jeff Probst saying things about freeing a big snake, such as “400 pounds of Survivor snake right there” and “Cody ridin’ the snake!”

I rather enjoy such double-entendre, though I could have gone without Jeff Probst slipping into insane Little League dad and yelling at them, “You sleep when you get back home!”

The winning tribes, Baka and Coco, won fishing gear; the losers, Vesi, lost their flint.

I do want to take a moment to again appreciate Survivor’s craft. Just the camera work at the start of the challenge was exceptional and seamless. From a shot of everyone diving into the water, it cut to underwater footage of them splashing in, and then a wide shot of everyone swimming, and then a beautiful overhead view. It’s so nice to be able to see what’s actually happening in a challenge (and yes, I’m looking at you, The Challenge).

After Vesi lost, Cody said, “unfortunately one member of our family is gonna have to go,” and this is where it looked like we were going to have a repeat of last week.

Noelle told us, “If we’re going to keep this tribe strong, Nneka’s got to go!” Was Nneka good at the puzzle? Absolutely not! Was she working on it by herself? Nope. Dwight was right there, too, and the whole tribe was doing a poor job of screaming instructions and noticing things.

So that brings us to the return of an ugly pattern: Two episodes, and the only people up for consideration were women, with Black women being immediately identified as the tribe’s problem. With Nneka, there was a more-direct reason, even if challenge performance is not a great reason on its own. (And I still do not understand why Morriah was the hinderance to her tribe last week.)

I’m skipping ahead here, but now, the two people voted out of Survivor 43 so far have been women of color. Old habits don’t die, I guess.

With a more-diverse cast, of course more people of color will be voted out. But I watch for patterns, and my antennae go up when the tribes can only imagine 1) Black women, 2) women of color, and 3) women as their initial targets.

The players aren’t alone: While every player got a confessional during the two-hour premiere, the production completely under-edited the women of color, including the first evictee, Morriah, who got just three confessionals compared to Elie’s 10 and Cody and Gabler’s 9.

Can Cody bead fast enough to save his vote?

Justine Brennan was the second person voted out of Survivor 43
Justine Brennan was the second person voted out of Survivor 43 (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

To her credit, Nneka acknowledged her failures (“I did not do well in the challenge”), but also had an alliance and her relationships with Cody and Jesse to rely on. I’m glad some people are able to see past a single early moment to the long game, which requires strong relationships, not puzzle success.

Jesse thought Justine was a big threat because she’d told him “I have a good lying face. I can keep a straight face,” while Dwight thought he had more options with Justine and Noelle.

If Nneka, Cody, and Jesse voted together, they had control, because Dwight lost his vote in last week’s twist.

Cue Cody losing his vote. Nneka’s sign when Jesse told her that Cody lost his vote was deeply felt!”

“This looks easier on TV, that’s for sure,” Cody said while idol searching. He found a Beware advantage, decided to ignore the “beware” part. Instead of the dumb phrases from last season, the Beware advantage now requires its holder to get a specific bead from each of the other players’ bags to form a Friendship Bracelet of Power. (He’s not allowed to steal them.)

Bag tangent: Over on Baka, Jeanine went looking in Gabler’s bag to find out when his idol would expire, and told us that she previously thought that was gross but now realized “those are necessary deeds” and “anything you can do to give yourself an advantage is fair game.”

Once Cody realized he had to do that project, he regretted it, telling Jesse, “I opened it like a dipshit.” Cody told Jesse.” Jesse “you know you’re going to lose your vote unless you do something.” The sigh when Jesse told Nneka.

Cody ended up turning his woven hat into an immunity idol by gathering beads.

But it was really Nneka and Jesse who rescued Cody’s vote. They were the ones who did their own great acting, volunteering their beads, and then convincing the others to give up theirs so Cody could fully adorn his hat.

Noelle was the holdout. But when the editing skipped over Cody voting, I was expecting a flashback to show her actually giving up her beads, and thus restoring Cody’s vote. That’s what happened, and that’s why Justine was voted out. Well, after the commercial break, that is.

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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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Happy discussing!

A1Keith

Thursday 29th of September 2022

For that reason alone, I rarely watch my tv shows as they air. I started watching about 45mins into the show and fast forwarded the commercials. I guess I'm in the minority, but I don't have a problem with the flashbacks. They need to stop soon as they need to start focusing on the game but as we are just getting to the players, I think they are a good thing for character development.

Don

Thursday 29th of September 2022

I think the solution to this would be to have extended versions of episodes (with the flashbacks) on Paramount Plus. My guess is that diehard Survivor/Reality TV show fans will have a subscription and they can opt to watch the longer episodes if they choose to.

BadMitten

Thursday 29th of September 2022

Personally I enjoyed the 90 minute episode and didnt notice any sort of unnecessary filler. I could probably live without the flashbacks to everyone's sob stories, but hey at least they aren't completely ignoring character building I guess.

"So that brings us to the return of an ugly pattern: Two episodes, and the only people up for consideration were women, with Black women being immediately identified as the tribe’s problem" - This is a somewhat misleading statement. The show framed that the two people "up for consideration" last week were Morriah and Owen. And Cody copped a vote last night (he was the backup option for Justine/Noelle/Dwight in the event Nneka played her shot in the dark). I do think the physicality of the early challenges does lead to this keep the strength/guys mentality, but in a tribe of 6 the women have a legitimate shot at preventing that tide from turning if they stick together. However, in both episodes so far the women have splintered.

BadMitten

Friday 30th of September 2022

@Andy Dehnart, Right but it was the other two women who turned on their woman's alliance with Morriah. The could have just as well have stuck with her to join in voting out Owen.

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 29th of September 2022

I did not get the impression that a vote for Owen was a serious consideration by any one—it was just something Sami said, and never seemed to gain any traction among anyone. Neither did Gabler, even with his idol. It was just like the men were off the table.

Kurt

Thursday 29th of September 2022

I, too, noticed that weirdly timed commercial break. I was watching on DVR, so didn't know how much time was left, and my assumption was that "Wow, this tribal council is going to be a tie and going to get very interesting. Maybe even go to rocks!" I was excited by this, and dramatically let down when they just had the normal vote read after commercial, which I can't remember Survivor doing before.

I really hope this isn't the start of a trend. One of the things I praise Survivor for is not doing exactly that kind of cheap mini-cliffhanger. Ugh.

I do very much enjoy the longer early season episodes. 18 people is a lot of people to get to know and have opinions about, and the extra 90 minutes of air time in the first two weeks lets me have at least some level of opinion about just about everybody (except maybe Cassidy) at this point. Once we get further into the season and there are fewer contestants and (perhaps more importantly) fewer tribes, the longer episodes could start to drag, but at this point, I think they're a blessing.

The 90 minutes of Survivor followed by 90 minutes of The Amazing Race is a nice evening, though. Both shows being 90 minutes early in the season is a nice bonus; I hope that can continue in future seasons.

CBS sandwiching The Love Boat between Survivor and The Amazing Race is an interesting programming decision. It will be interesting to see if enough people hang around between the two to give The Love Boat a chance. I mean, I won't be one of them, but it is an intriguing idea.

Sidebar: I was surprised that in a 90 minute episode, there wasn't a reward challenge and an immunity challenge.

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 29th of September 2022

I really hope the schedule doesn't hurt The Amazing Race. But I suspect its nightly ratings will be lower next week than they were this week or last week.

Melissa

Thursday 29th of September 2022

I don't like the flashback. I like that Survivor (used to) always let the viewers know what was going on. I saw how much time was left in the episode and thought they were going to rocks, but no, just an extra commercial and a flashback.

Unrelated, I totally feel you on networks showing local news instead of prime time shows! I get it; it's a business, they all want you watching their coverage. But last year, my local Fox channel cut in over the last 10 minutes of the Lego Masters FINALE! to show a stupid, unnecessary statement our idiot governor was making that totally could have waited until the 10 o'clock news. I was LIVID. So I feel your pain, even though you didn't miss much. :)

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 29th of September 2022

Oh my gosh, yes, those local news cut-ins are super-annoying! I understand for a real emergency, but to let some politician blabber on, not okay!

kim

Thursday 29th of September 2022

@Melissa, I completely agree. The flashback (and the commercial break cut) were amatuer hour tv gimmicks.

Survivor used to be better than that. As a long time watcher, it pissed me off TBH.