With the quick turn around of Blood vs. Water seasons and now Kaoh Rong repeating Cagayan's Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty theme it seems more than ever that Survivor is recycling every successful theme they can across but is this creative genius or a recipe for disaster? In today's feature Ozlet Jarrod Loobeek takes a look at just a few of the positives and negatives that arise from recycling old themes and how they can weigh on a season's success. Read on to find out whether the flashy lightning like success of these themes can strike twice.
Survivor has a long history of tapping into its past success in the hope of finding repeat smash hits. As far back as season nine the show was repeating themes that had worked before and while that proves that recycling is not a new idea in Survivor production, it’s definitely become more prevalent over the past couple of years. In a show that’s so keen to evolve and push boundaries what’s the appeal of recycling past formats and what pitfalls are attached to such a strategy? Of the countless positives and negatives I’ve taken the time to sit down and write about two of each to try and decipher whether revisiting past themes is inherently a good or bad idea.
Marketing and Hype
When Survivor returns to a previously used theme there’s a definite air of confidence around the season in it’s marketing. If a theme is returning, then it’s most likely been a major success before and this becomes a real force in the build up to the new season. Bringing back a popular twist or tribe division can be seen as catering to the fans and giving them more of what they want, in a sense it’s a way for the show to reward the viewers for their favourable opinions on a season. Just like bringing back returning players, when Survivor recycles a theme there’s instant hype created by the fond memories of what transpired the first time around. While hype itself can’t make a season good, in the television world that lives and dies by viewing numbers, it can go a long way to ensuring the loyalty of viewers and even grabbing the attention of past viewers who’ve fallen off the wagon. Survivor’s willingness to repeat themes has in a way created its own fan fiction of future seasons with speculation running high on when exactly popular formats will return and who will make up the cast. Heroes vs. Villains 2 is a huge talking point for Survivor fans and if such a season does eventuate the hype surrounding it will be nothing short of extraordinary.
Similar to marketing being easy, it would seem that production would be a whole lot easier when returning to an already tried and tested theme. While we have seen changes between repeat seasons (most noticeably with Blood vs. Water and the change from half returnees to all newbies and redemption island being replaced with exile island) for the most part key structures like tribe numbers, tribe swaps and season structure are kept the same. All this must certainly ease the burden for production and help to create a really positive and optimistic air while filming a season. Similarly as viewers theres something comforting about returning to a theme that we already know. Particularly when a theme is repeated near its original airing, less time needs to be spent in explaining what the season is about and how itll work. With less time focused on the theme theres plenty more airtime for camp life, relationships and getting to know the contestants. While innovation has certainly been crucial in keeping Survivor on the air for so many years, it’s good to see the show can tell when they’ve hit a good thing and no major shakeups are needed for that particular format.
While recycling a theme may be easy marketing on the flip side it creates huge expectations before the season has even started airing. More often than not repeat seasons have no hope at all at living up to the level of their predecessors and they’re always going to have the stigma of comparison attached to them. Survivor’s earliest significant repeated theme could easily be seen as the male vs female tribe divide first used in The Amazon and repeated just 3 season later in Survivor Vanuatu. While probably also due to appearing straight after an All-Star season, Vanuatu was not a very well received season at the time and failed to recreate the charm of the original gender divide in The Amazon. Similarly Micronesia is frequently touted as a top 10 season but the return of the fans vs favourites theme in Caramoan failed miserably, with the standard of casting and editing nowhere close to the original hit. Even San Juan del Sur which saw unique and incredibly different gameplay from the original Blood vs. Water and has since gained a cult following, was repeatedly shot down when it was airing purely based off of comparison to season 27. Perhaps South Pacific was slightly more bearable than Redemption Island but apart from that there hasn’t really been a repeat season that has eclipsed the original. Kaoh Rong faces an uphill battle to break the pattern.
Stale or Lacking Freshness
While there’s definite hype over returning themes, there also can be a sense that repeating a theme is uninspired and such seasons lack the freshness brought about by brand new concepts. Simply bringing back a past theme can feel lazy and leave fans questioning why a theme is being repeated again so soon if at all. Survivor Worlds Apart could very easily have been Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty 2 but by choosing the collar division instead the theme of the season felt creative and exciting. New conversations were spawned over what collar fans fit under and what tribe past contestants would be designated to. In contrast, South Pacific is perhaps the best example of the staleness that can come with repeated themes as it came directly after Redemption Island despite the negative fan reaction to its predecessor. Every negative from Redemption Island was simply transferred over to South Pacific, whether warranted or not, and the season never seemed to garner the hype that new Survivor seasons normally do.
Ultimately regardless of the theme a Survivor season can be great or terrible but recycling a popular theme can add an extra layer of judgement and criticism to a season. While using the success of tried and tested formats to boost viewing figures and increase anticipation for upcoming seasons might seem like a golden opportunity to hard to pass up, I think it’s important that we continue to see variety in the themes Survivor chooses to pursue. There is an undeniable giddiness that seems to take hold when a repeat theme is announced but much like a sugar binge the initial high is soon overtaken by a sickening feeling as the season fails to live up to expectations. With that in mind I think it’s best for Survivor to repeat themes sparingly because absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder and makes any recycling all that more powerful when it happens (plus the fans are likely to be more forgiving and grateful for the return with the original season not in their immediate memory).
What do you think of Survivor recycling themes? Do you agree or disagree with this practice? Have any of the revisits eclipsed the originals? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts!
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