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Man who manipulates Survivor’s game cannot imagine adjusting to make it fair

Man who manipulates Survivor’s game cannot imagine adjusting to make it fair
Survivor host and showrunner Jeff Probst on the top of the Empire State Building with its mascot wrapped in a Survivor buff (Photo by Gail Schulman/CBS)

Sexism is so baked into CBS’s Survivor that women are forced to wear underwear that causes infections by the producers, who choose everyone’s clothes for them.

So I appreciated that Entertainment Weekly’s Dalton Ross used his access to Survivor showrunner Jeff Probst to ask about the show’s problem with equity.

Specifically, Dalton Ross asks about how, in this post-season 40 alleged “new era,” women have been the target of most of the first four votes; in “seasons 42 through 44, 11 of those 12 contestants have been women,” Ross writes.

That adds to an earlier pattern that Ross summarizes like this:

The 15 seasons encompassing Caramoan to Winners at War featured 12 male winners and only three female champions. Even worse, seasons 35 through 40 featured six consecutive male winners. Not only that, but in that six-season span, men received 62 final Tribal Council votes for the million dollars, while the women sitting next to them got a total of six.

As to the pattern from Survivor 42 to 45, Jeff Probst says, “I don’t feel like four seasons is really enough data for me to make a conclusive decision.”

That’s fair. After all, what matters most are patterns over time, not individual examples. For example, we can’t draw any conclusions on Survivor 45, partly because it just began and partly because the first person out was a woman, but went home because she asked to be voted out.

However, if the same thing keeps happening season after season, year after year, decade after decade, that’s more significant than it happening once or twice.

So, Jeff, how about 40 seasons of data?

A person with rolled-up sleeves and a cap smiling; the ocean is the background
Jefff Probst in Survivor 45 episode 2 (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS)

Three researchers have already done that, examining data from every season. What they found in Survivor Borneo through Winners at War was definitive “evidence of racial and gender bias at multiple stages” and “a systemic bias in favor of White men, and against women of color.”

Since we’re talking about women being voted out early, here’s what the researchers found in seasons 1 to 40: “women have greater odds of being voted out of their tribe first, lower odds of making it to the individual-competition stage of the game, and lower odds of winning.” (You can read the full study and examine the raw data for yourself.)

By the way, Survivor 41 would seem to be an outlier, right? After all, four of the first five players voted out were men.

But Dr. Erin O’Mara Kunz pointed out that, no, it fits the pattern too! She wrote on Twitter, “if you look at the first person voted out of each tribe in 41, 2/3 people voted out of their tribe first were women. Tribe level vs season level differences are important to pay attention to.”

Is this pattern in recent seasons because of the smaller, six-person tribes, as we’ve had since Survivor 41? Why do we only get three-tribe seasons?

Survivor alum Christian Hubicki did the math, literally, noting that “Simple math is driving Survivor to the 3-tribe format. The reasonable options for a 14-episode season with even-#-member starting tribes are 6-6-6 and 10-10, and it’s impractical to run a 20-person game in 26 days.”

Jeff Probst pours champagne for Survivor 43 winner Gabler during the after-show
Jeff Probst pours champagne for Survivor 43 winner Gabler during the after-show (Photo by Chuck Snyder/CBS)

In his answer to Dalton Ross, Probst said being targeted early is “an opportunity” for women:

My advice to anyone who applies to be on the show is figure out how that’s an opportunity, because it’s a crazy assumption to say that it’s always going to be a woman who is the weakest player in a game which has so many layers to it like Survivor.

And Probst also said he’s aware of what’s been happening:

“I’ve definitely heard the discussion and read people’s thoughts about it. And this may be a frustrating answer, but you can’t design the game out of fear, in the same way that you can’t play the game from fear.”

Hmm. Design the game out of fear? Excuse me while I go give myself the Heimlich so I won’t choke to death on the hypocrisy.

Jeff Probst has, for years and years, talked about all the ways he designs the game. More than a decade ago, Probst admitted being bored during Tribal Council and changing his questions as a result.

Last spring, asked by a fan if he’d ever just let Survivor players play the original, twist-free game again, Probst said this in his podcast:

…the reason we have the twists in is to create uncertainty. We don’t have an algorithm; it’s just an approach. And maybe we will look back in 10 years and I’ll say, I didn’t see it, it was too much. But for right now, when we’re in it, we are going to follow our gut, and we’re going to play the game that we’ve designed, and that is about creating uncertainty so that a group of four can simply not just dominate a group of three.”

So there is the showrunner of Survivor admitting they manipulate the structure of the game. The previous week on the podcast, Probst said the not-exactly-universally-beloved final-four firemaking challenge “started with my frustration” that a “likable player might make it all the way to the final five” and be voted out.

On his podcast—and I cite that just because it’s the most-recent trove of data—Probst also admitted things like:

  • “I’ll reverse engineer a result—meaning, I’ll imagine a situation I’d like to see happen and then figure out how to achieve it.”
  • “As long as the jury decides who the winner is, you can do a lot of things.”
  • “I’m forcing new ideas and … I’m not wrong for wanting to do it.”

Let’s recap:

  • There’s been a pattern of women being targeted early.
  • Jeff Probst says there’s not enough data to know that’s true.
  • There’s 40 seasons of data.
  • Jeff Probst insists he doesn’t want to “design the game out of fear”
  • Probst designs the game out of fear—of being bored, of boring us, et cetera.

As Ashley’s Dreamboard summarized perfectly on Twitter:

Jeff Probst: we need the most twisty twistedly twist twist twists to keep the players on their toes. Also Jeff Probst: I will not change the same format we’ve run 6 seasons in a row despite its inequities.

Let’s also not forget one of the most unsurprising things Probst admitted on the podcast: “I don’t pay attention to who’s left in the game in terms of age, gender, ethnicity.”

If men were getting purged immediately, season after season, do we think Probst would do anything about it? Oh wait, he did: adding the fire-making challenge to save his bros.

As I’ve written many times before, I genuinely think Jeff Probst wants the best for Survivor, and thinks his producing is helping make a better show. I just wish he’d take a few steps back and notice what his producing is actually doing.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    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!

Geri Barrath

Saturday 7th of October 2023

No surprise that after 44 seasons, Jeff still fails to see how the game is rigged in the favor of men. Such a shame he chooses not to even consider listening to people who actually understand what goes into making a good show. Jeff has no formal training as a producer. And it shows. Survivor, overall, was much better before Jeff decided he wanted to be a producer. While there have been some great moves, most of those have been played out. While other moves simply are boring to watch and/or totally change the integrity of the game. As long as we're going to have a puzzle in every single challenge (ugh), why is it that teams can simply look at the team next to them to see what their next step should be? Why don't they put up walls so that each team has to actually build the puzzle using only its own members' abilities? Not only does this make logical sense, it would actually give a valid reason for having Jeff narrate what's going on. So here are some things I'd like to see.... every now and then give us a season with no hidden immunity idols... normally I'd say that it would be great to have a season without any above-average looking men or women, but we've got that this season (and it's wonderful).... we see plenty of shots of creepy-crawly creatures, but never do we see anyone reacting to them. Surely it would be fun to occasionally see someone flip out because a snake or spider got too close.... Have a challenge where the winning team has to vote off a member of the losing team IMMEDIATELY following the challenge, without any discussion... For 2-3 weeks, disrupt things by having one random member of each team assigned to another team. Maybe have each tribe play some sort of easy game where they finish 1st thru 6th (or whatever) and then a roll of the dice determines which player moves to the next team, i.e. if a four is rolled, the player that came in 4th is the one who moves. .... Devise a challenge where players have to do a variety of challenging tasks, but cannot speak to one another.... Bottom line, keep the players on their toes.


Wednesday 4th of October 2023

Success in a competition has no grounds in gender equality. A string of female losses does not constitute sexism. Unless you specifically hear people on the show saying "Let's vote her out because she's a woman", there's no sexism happening. There's just a game requiring strong physical strength. There should never be any consideration given to trying to make the boot order / winner order more "balanced" between men and women. That's just not fair and would ultimately be manipulating the results. Just let the competition happen as it will happen. If men win more often, that's just how the competition went, and there's nothing anybody can do about it.


Wednesday 4th of October 2023

although statistically women have been voted out first, women have succeed in this game, and even made it to the finals united more often than men. in the new era of 3 women and 3 men on a tribe. You generally have a female that sides with the men, and the first vote goes towards a female. i think you start with 2 tribes of 9 then. one can have a mjority of females the other of men. see how it plays out. the 6, 6, 6, format in my opinion is boring and repetitive to how tribals play out. with the 9 v 9 u can change up that its 3 people going to sweat vs savy. or a twist like hey, pick 4 of your tribe to compete in a second challenge for reward. those not picked then have to compete amongst eachother. loser forced to swap tribes.

anything can make the game more interesting than the same repeat...

my problem i have and it verifies why the seasons as of late are not as great. Probst admitted to changing how they cast the survivors to now experience seekers. not game players. the new era is about the experience... essentially, we are recording summer camp. this is why we are getting annoying, over the top, or weak players because they not supposed to be out there at all.

I think back to Sonya the first season, first cast off. and even at 63 years old she would have been kept on the tribe over some of these new gen z players.


Wednesday 4th of October 2023

I’m surprised that Jeff didn’t say we could have an all female cast and a woman “could” still be voted out first. What does that prove? LOL!!! Jeff doesn’t care what fans & critics think. He’s going to do the show the way he wants & after 45 seasons I guess nothing will change. He prefers that men win. Maybe, he’s trying to live vicariously through the male contestants. I guess he has an unfulfilled dream of being that guy/quarterback/stud in high school and channels it in yo Survivor.


Wednesday 4th of October 2023

I watch Survivor for entertainment reasons not for getting civil rights bonus points. Women on average are weaker in challenges and thats the main reason someone is booted early on. Its not that difficult, yes you have to be, as a woman, much better at the game than a man, but thats just the nature of the game....A game thats already beeing way too different from the original, and not in a good way, what do you want now, an idol to every woman for the first 8 tribals?

Bad Mitten

Wednesday 4th of October 2023

@Robert, easy there pal, nobody is asking for the women to be given advantages, people are just saying the 6v6v6 tribe split isn't working equitably for the genders, relax