Trouble for the Castaways on new Survivor Season 41

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Zoe Stratos | opinions editor

Nov. 11, 2021

After 40 seasons of one of the most dangerous social experiments to hit our TV screens, the 41st season of CBS’s “Survivor” has officially gone off the deep end.

Just as the host Jeff Probst said in episode one, “drop the four, keep the one, because this is a brand new game.” Absolutely, it’s a brand new game, and it doesn’t even resemble “Survivor” anymore.

As a fan of the show since its origin, there’s something so intriguing about castaways’ abilities to survive on an island with minimal food, all the while competing in competitions in scorching heat and using their minds to figure out who to vote out at tribal council. The show’s motto — outwit, outplay, outlast — has made me a fan so invested that even I want to try my hand at it someday… but now I’m rethinking.

The show came back swinging after its short hiatus during the pandemic, but with a condensed season of 26 days rather than 39 days on the island of Fiji. The season looked promising, with Probst breaking the fourth wall in the first episode telling us of all the twists and turns of the season, and that they’re not giving the tribes the usual bag of rice — they have to find food all on their own. On top of that, their flint for fire-making would be taken away if they lost a challenge.

The new stipulations felt like they really were surviving.

There’s no official survey on approval rating, but it seems like there’s far more agreement among the “Survivor” fandom on both Twitter and Instagram that, despite the constant suspense and changes to gameplay, season 41 isn’t working.

Because “Survivor” has been so great in the past, with a few minor exceptions (ahem, season 39), the expectations for this season were high. But the minor disappointments of the past don’t compare to what’s happening now.

Although the excitement over the lack of food and fire-making equipment started off strong, these superficial changes have had no important role in the final edits of the episodes. There’s no reason to force players to work harder to make fire or find food if it doesn’t even make an appearance on screen nor become a staple in the storyline.

This leads me to the main issue of season 41: each episode is consumed by tacky twists and advantages to be found.

The introduction of the hidden immunity idol in season 11 was enough to outrage fans over its unprecedented power to save an individual that didn’t win the individual immunity challenge before the tribal council. But looking back, I miss the days when this was one of the only advantages to be found on the island.

And it required skill for the holder to find it hidden on the massive island.

Now, every episode involves two castaways being sent to the same island to get to know each other, and then they must make a decision in private to risk or not risk their vote. If the two choose opposite decisions, the one who risked their vote receives an advantage.

The idea behind this would have been cool if it only occurred once, but it’s become boring and predictable. The risk your vote wheel has been used three times. Moreover, the advantage is just given to them — no searching or skill involved.

Almost each episode introduces a new advantage, making the game almost unplayable. Literally, some of the advantages prevent the holder from voting at tribal council until they can complete a task. One of the castaways, Xander Hastings, couldn’t vote twice.

Not to mention it also makes it much harder on fans to keep track of all of the advantages at play. It’s all we can focus on, rather than getting to know the players.

Bringing it back around to the social experiment, the entire point of “Survivor” — as with any reality TV show — is a way to see the interactions between a group of diverse people, but this concept is lost in all of the advantages.

Unfortunately, the only redeeming quality of this season — the amazing cast — is completely overshadowed, and we barely get to know anyone through their conversations with other castaways. We only seem to get a biography through confessionals.

It’s even more disappointing to know that these players really are an embodiment of the outwit, outplay, outlast motto, but are so consumed by advantages that we don’t get to see them actually play the game as castaways have done in the past.

“Survivor” 41 has a very strong cast of people who’ve shown up to play the game, but the game won’t let them, and the editing won’t let us see them. This group of superfans are playing a game that is now a game of chance, not strategy. 

They waited through the pandemic to play a game that isn’t what they’ve been watching for 20 years. Hopefully with the merge we’ll see this season turn around.