Four groups of reality TV stars in boats, speeding toward a Fijian island in boats, where they’ll attempt to survive for 25 days, living on beaches where it rains relentlessly and gets cold at night.
Almost immediately, the group divides into two tribes, ready to take out other players on their way to a cash prize.
This is not Survivor. This is Fight to Survive, a new competition reality format in which the players fight each other for gear and resources.
But it’s still running in the trench Survivor has dug. Instead of screaming “Survivors ready,” host Akbar Gbajabiamila screams “ready, survive!” There’s b-roll of animals; there are beautiful drone shots of the island; there’s strategy that unfolds.
Akbar calls this “the most intense version of survival of the fittest ever recorded for television.” If you watched the drama of Netflix’s Outlast and thought, This would be so much better if they were allowed to physically attack each other!, or you just love watching Challenge contestants roll around in the dirt, this is the show for you.
Fight to Survive is a Roku Channel show that, in a strategic partnership, is first airing on The CW (Thursdays at 8) and then will stream in its entirety on The Roku Channel starting Sept. 29.
The producers have created a fresh water source, a pond with fish, a shelter, and a stack of firewood, all of which are up for grabs: the first person to claim it, gets it. Each player also gets one survival tool, which include a fishing spear, flint,
Akbar warns them that while “they own it” they “must be ready to defend it.”
Yes, it’s time for some physical violence. Anyone can challenge anyone else for their resource or their tool, and they fight to the death.
Okay, not really. But “if the owner loses the fight, they must surrender the tool or resource and walk away empty-handed,” Akbar says. Challengers who lose, however, are banished from the game.
The only other way out is to quit or to be forced out by the show’s medics. Only one person can call for a fight every day.
Whoever’s left will split $100,000, which is kind of pathetic. If 10 of the 17 remain, that’s just $10k; $20k if five players are left. If one person eliminates everyone else, however, they win $250,000—the kind of prize that seems pretty unlikely to be given out.
Those gathered to beat the shit out of each other are:
- Yuda Abitbol, a survivalist Influencer
- Nathaniel Allenby, a survivalist identified as “Eagle Scout” on screen
- Amal Alyassiri, from Naked and Afraid
- Dani Beau, from Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid XL
- Missy Byrd, from Survivor Island of the Idols
- Robby Canton, a survivalist
- Matthew Clarke, a survivalist Influencer
- Sarah Danser, from Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid: Lost at Sea
- Afften DeShazer, from Naked and Afraid
- Stephanie Gonzalez, from Survivor: Ghost Island
- Keali’i “K” Ka’apana, from Called to the Wild
- Zane Kraetsch, from Alone: The Beast
- Christina McQueen, from Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid XL
- Jonathan Monroe, from Naked and Afraid
- Makani Nalu, from Stranded With a Million Dollars and Naked and Afraid
- J Ruiz, American Ninja Warrior and Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge
- Libby Vincek, from Survivor: Ghost Island
In the opening moments, Akbar asks those players, “Will you cooperate and work together to survive, or will you do it alone and unmercifully take down the others?”
It’s a Survivor player, Missy, who kicks off the game, calling for the first fight.
“They will systematically starve us. They will kill us,” Missy says, dramatically, mad that the person fishing is not sharing the fish with her group.
“I have to use my skill set,” she says before hitting the drum to signal her intention. “I can’t not. Fuck it.” She also tells the camera, “This game is fight to survive, not sit and rot.”
Missy challenges a male player, but the show doesn’t let them fight one-on-one. Instead, each has to pick an opposite-sex partner, and then it becomes a two-on-two fight. I understand the attempt to make the match-ups more fair, yet even same-sex players have very different physical size and strength.
These fights are not just unfettered violence, but are instead the kind of wrestling game we saw during one round on Netflix’s Physical: 100: steal-the-ball.
I’m generally uninterested in physical violence, and I am not a person who likes to watch fighting. The players psyching themselves up is actually scarier than the actual clashes.
The challenges take place in a dirt arena marked by a circle of rope, are not as brutal as I expected. They’re actually kind of boring, in part because the camera work—like the filming on the beaches—is unnecessarily chaotic and shaky and makes it hard to follow the action.
The competitors hold on to what looks like a steering wheel wrapped in rope, and tug and pull until one of them gets possession and gets outside the rope’s border. That’s it, apparently for the entire season. (I’ve seen the first two episodes, and during their challenges, the arena battles never changed.)
Akbar shows up in a camo sleeveless shirt, and gives his American Ninja Warrior-style commentary while crouched next to people fighting for the wheel in the dirt. Sometimes Akbar calls for a reset; one player gets a warning for unsporting conduct, while others just complain about unsporting conduct.
What’s more interesting about Fight to Survive is the strategy surrounding the fights. Some make deals to never challenge each other if they can share resources; others withhold resources just to force a fight. Other people are petty or just jerks.
Missy worries that accidentally damaging equipment will be “an act of war,” which she differentiates from her “mental warfare.” That’s fascinating, but it
Perhaps because the players are known reality show personalities, the show itself doesn’t spend much time on developing them as characters, so it’s hard to get invested as they immediately start arguing and challenging. Jumping into throat-slitting without knowing whose throats are being slit is just listless bloodletting.
The strategy makes Fight to Survive more interesting than the average survival show for me, though giving them violence as the only tool makes the reality show a little one-note. It’s more than a little uncomfy that it arrives in a moment when countries, conspiracy theorists, and extremists continue to use violence to try to get their way.
Fight to Survive
Players fight each other for resources, and the show lost the fight to keep my attention. As a reality TV show, C+. As an example of dispute resolution, F.
What works for me:
- Watching strategy in a new game unfold
- The Survivor-ish elements
What could be better:
- Different kinds of arena challenges
- The on-the-ground camera work
- More character development