It might be a bit late to talk about this. But in a recent interview with EW, Jeff Probst claimed that the tribe swap introduced in Season 3 was the last controversial twist in the game that the fans hated.
This is the guy who has the brain to memorise 20 strangers’ faces, plus a handful of meaningless tribe names, twice a year, for 20 years now. How can he possibly forget all the heat they got just 4 seasons ago, when the final four fire making challenge suddenly came in basically handing Ben Driebergen a golden ticket to the final tribal?
Also to EW, Jeff Probst defended the controversial twist:
This idea came about to solve a problem that has bothered me for years. If someone plays a great game and gets to the final four, it has always bothered me that the other three can simply say, “We can’t beat him, so let’s all just vote him out.“ So this year we decided to make a change. If you get to final four, you are guaranteed a shot to earn your way to the end.
Great idea. What if the players vote out the greatest one at final four? That ruins the fun for the final! Hmm, let’s just guarantee the worst player a place at final tribal council and take away the vote from them. Great, great idea.
After the new rule, the worst player in final four is guaranteed to be taken to the final tribal by the immunity challenge winner, that is, if s/he doesn’t win the challenge himself. Or worse, in Season 38, Chris sent the two least deserving players to final tribal council to boost his CV.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Gavin and Julie in Season 38, and truly understand that anybody in final four deserves a shot at the million dollars. The problem is, why suddenly the slant that doesn’t help the ‘greatest’ player that much, but surely hurts the nature of the game?
Isn’t it all about eliminating the strongest player towards the end of the game? If someone appears too much of a threat to others, s/he deserves to be voted out. Usually even before the merge, the players are already voting out those who seems promising in the challenges. What can you do about that?
Survivor is a social game of balancing strength and humility (not that I know anything about it). The real ‘greatest’ player should know to hide the threat and outplay others without being targeted too much. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, that’s the game. No point changing that up at final four.
After all, Survivor is reality TV. It is impossible to ask too much for honesty or integrity, because pure reality is just not fun. It is the creativity ideas, the twists, the unfairness that keep the fans watching for 20 years and still get excited about the game after 39 seasons. And the production always managed to deliver, with idols, advantages, even dead-man-back-to-life islands.
But as a game show, it is also important to keep the rules reasonable, or the fight for the prize loses its point. Why not just hand it to the politically correct player? Or to the most popular player, so that less people get pissed?
I don’t mean to undermine anybody’s game. Even Ben from Season 35 had to find many idols to get to that point where the new rule seemingly fast-tracked him to the prize. That takes huge effort. Although he is still the least deserving winner to me, I have to admit it. A 40-minute episode simply has no time showing the process, but it takes a lot more than 40 minutes to find an immunity idol. That’s why many people don’t buy it – it looks like the idols were put in his hands seven times in a roll. Followed by the new final four twist, the season finale looks rigged to the audience.
Rick Devens from Season 38 was grilled for the same reason. The underdog became the overdog, and he was soon dominating the challenges and grabbing all the idols. He ended up being so much of a threat that anyone managed to end his game could probably win the season. That’s why after the last immunity challenge, Chris decided to send the two players with no shot at the prize directly to the final and face the fire-making battle himself, despite them both not willing to accept the advantage. That tells you the irrationality of the final four fire-making rule.
Again, I’m always a supporter of new twists in the game. But with more twists like this fail to explain themselves, the basic integrity of the game is questioned. We hear the players mention the Survivor god a lot in their confessionals. But the unconscionable twists keep reminding me, that the biggest Survivor god is Jeff himself and the whole production team.