After more than 20 years off the air in the United Kingdom, Survivor UK is returning, thanks to BBC One reviving it.
Survivor UK is now casting, while CBS is now casting for Survivor 45, which will film late next spring and early summer.
There’s a considerable difference in the way the productions are screening applicants at this early stage, as I discovered while looking at their applications, and explore in detail below.
There will also be differences in the two shows, starting with how Survivor UK will only have a £100,000 prize, which is far less than even low-budget cable reality shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race offer.
What CBS wants in a Survivor player vs. BBC One
Survivor has thrived in the U.S., remaining a top-20 show for 22 years now. Its first season ended with the second-most-watched TV episode of its decade.
But in the United Kingdom, Survivor had a different story: It was cancelled after just two seasons.
Its first, Survivor: Pulau Tiga, premiered about a year after the CBS version, and was hosted by Mark Austin. Its winner, Charlotte Hoborough, won unanimously. ITV initially broadcast two episodes a week, but as ratings started to fall almost immediately, pulled back to one episode per week, which didn’t help.
Survivor UK returned a year later, with Survivor: Panama, which had a new host, Mark Nicholas; just 12 players; and an interactive element. That was it for Survivor UK.
Earlier this fall, BBC One announced it was reviving the show, which will have 16 hour-long episodes and 20 players, and be produced by Remarkable Entertainment, a production company owned by Banijay, which owns Survivor‘s format.
In its announcement, the BBC said the format will stay the same as the U.S. version:
20 people, carefully selected from across the UK will be marooned in a tropical location. They will be divided into two tribes, going head-to-head in a range of physical and psychological challenges. Following a number of eliminations that will take place at the iconic tribal council, the tribes will eventually merge before one person takes away a cash prize and proves that they have what it takes to be the Ultimate Survivor.
At the time, BBC Director of Unscripted Kate Phillips said, “Survivor is a global television hit and to be able to bring one of TV’s most successful formats to audiences in the UK in a uniquely BBC way is a very exciting prospect indeed.”
No host has been announced. But the application has just opened, and it’s quite revealing—and exciting.
First, Survivor UK’s application rules say that those applying must be:
- at least 18 years old
- “a current legal resident of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man” who has a valid passport
- not currently or previously employed by the BBC or the production company, nor related to anyone who is
- have a UK GP or belong to a UK medical practice, and agree to medical and fitness tests, plus a background check and review of criminal history
- willing to travel and be away for two months
Filming will take place during a period of “up to eight weeks in an overseas location in 2023.” However, applications don’t even close until Feb. 24, 2023, so production likely won’t start until later in the spring or summer.
What’s fascinating to me is that that Survivor UK’s application asks more than 40 questions, most of which ask for at least short, written answers, starting with some basic information:
- “Tell us three interesting facts about yourself.”
- “How much have you travelled?”
- “Who are the most important people in your life and why?”
- “Do you regularly take part in any physical activities? If so, please give details.”
But the application also has an entire section that asks specific questions about Survivor. Those questions include:
- “Why do you want to take part in Survivor?”
- “Do you have a personal survival story? Tell us about it in less than 50 words.”
- “If you made it onto the show, what sort of personality traits and qualities would you bring to the camp?”
- “Have you got any plans as to how you might play the game?”
- “What do you think are the three most important qualities required to play Survivor?”
Contrast that with the CBS Survivor application, which only asks for personal details and basic demographics, and has exactly one question about Survivor itself: “Show familiarity,” which has these options:
- “Have never seen Show”
- “Have seen a few seasons”
- “Have seen episodes here and there”
- “Super Fan”
Instead of asking applicants to write their answers to questions, CBS just wants a three-minute video that shows “the real you.”
The casting site does give a few questions as possible prompts for the video:
How will your life experience help you win the game? How will you interact with the other tribe members? When describing yourself, remember to cite real life examples. We love a good story!
Whoa, is that last part an understatement!
The video tips page also gives a few story ideas:
If you come from a unique region or area of the country, talk about where you’re from, how it’s a part of your personality, or how it may help you do well on Survivor. If you have an interesting job, talk about your job and how those skills may help you win the show.
The Survivor UK application does ask for a photo, and then gives applicants an option of “either a second photo or short video clip clearly showing you.”
It also says: “a video is not compulsory, it’s your chance to sell yourself and tell us why you think you could outwit, outplay and outlast the competition to become the Sole Survivor, so make it count!”
It’s remarkable that a video is completely optional for Survivor UK, meaning the casting team will narrow applications based on dozens of written answers. Meanwhile, the CBS casting team narrows their applications based almost entirely on a three-minute video alone.
While Survivor players certainly need to be good on camera—this is a TV show, after all—it seems to me that CBS’s process means they first narrow their pool of applicants by seeing what kind of TV characters they’d be.
Will that result in dramatically different Survivor contestants? Will filtering players based on their written answers result in a wider range of people, personalities, and players? Is there more depth or substance in written responses than in a short video? I’m writing this instead of recording a 30-second version for TikTok, so I suppose that’s my vote!