“Survivor” is the Perfect Social Experiment

“Survivor” isn’t just a reality TV show, it is the perfect embodiment of humanity as a whole.

For those who don’t know what ‘Survivor” is, 16 to 20 players are split into “tribes,” and are flown to a remote location. They are forced to survive off the land with only meager rice portions and flint being supplied. Throughout the 39 day period, the tribes endure various physical and mental challenges, either for reward such as food or luxuries, or for “immunity.”

Pearl Islands, a location for “Survivor” from Pixabay

Losing immunity forces the defeated tribe to attend “Tribal Council,” where they debate open-forum style to decide which which one of their tribemates should be voted off.

Midway through the game, it transitions from a tribe-based contest to a free-for-all that tests loyalties as players strategize to keep other tribe members who will benefit them in the end-game This is known as the “merge,” where survivors compete for individual immunity; winning immunity prevents that player from being voted out at Tribal Council. Players who are voted out after the merge point in the game form the game’s “jury.” The jury ultimately, in a fitting turn of events, gets to decide who the winner is once the group gets down to two or three people. The jury then votes for which player wins the title of “Sole Survivor” and wins the show’s grand prize of one million dollars. 

What is even more interesting about this “Final Tribal Council” is that since the Jury is composed of voted-off castaways, the contestants remaining must explain why they took part in their elimination, while simultaneously making the jury respect their overall gameplay. 

The line between hard gameplay and jury management is so thin that there are several players who have made it to Day 39, yet found themselves a million dollars short because of one miscommunication or a blindside of an alliance member. 

Every season has a unique makeup of characters, in which the castaways create bonds among each other that resemble human life outside of the island. Every season has a unique makeup of characters. There is everyone from the charming athlete, to the flash and aloof strategist, all the way to the social butterfly who skillfully manipulates the cast to survive vote after vote. 

No matter the season, every “Survivor” campaign has its own unique cast of “characters,” and the editing is made in such a way that the audience is designed to root for certain castaways while rooting against their adversaries. Survivor is not devoid of human emotion, much rather it is the polar opposite. Since the production crew interferes only in life threatening situations, the show allows the castaways to be captured in their most raw, emotional and vulnerable states.

That’s why “Survivor” is so relatable and offers massive replay value, year after year. The show sticks to a proven formula that lends itself to evolution as time passes. Forty seasons and 20 years later, the show stands as one of the most well-rated and easily recognizable reality TV shows in the world. 

These are the three ways Survivor managed to make itself the perfect social experiment. 

One of these methods is how game ethics play a role in Survivor. In the sports world, one can channel all their anger towards their opposition, and use that as motivation to win their match. In the case of“Survivor,” when you vote off the opposing castaways, you cannot display anger towards them because at the end of the day, the voted off castaways are the ones that have the say on who wins the game. 

Would you choose immunity over getting food for the entire tribe? Would you rather vote out a close rival that could prevent you from getting to the end game or would you vote out someone who has proved themselves to be a liability around camp? When it comes time to pick somebody to sit at “Final Tribal Council” with, do you take your ally from the past 38 days, or do you sit next to someone who you know you can beat? If a vote was deadlocked, would you give up safety to stand by your alliance? 

All of these questions have situationally correct answers that not only take amazing gameplay to achieve, but a little bit of luck as well. 

One can commit unethical actions and blame it on the show by saying “it is just a game,” but would this be respected by the jury? Hard gameplay is ultimately one playing hard to win and doing all they can to succeed.  However characters are developed not just on their actions, but on how their particular actions were carried out. Deliberately lying about having possession of an advantage or lying about personal background is judged solely based on how the individual in question carried their lie out. 

Every season of Survivor comes with new twists that often embody society as a whole. Every season has a different independent variable, all within the cast, that gives every season a particular distinction from any other season. “Survivor” is a complex game as it is, but the twists direct the narrative of the entire season. For example, “Survivor” has pitted opposing generations in “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X,” different social classes in “Survivor: One World” and former contestants competing against their family in “Survivor: Blood vs. Water.”

Finally, last but not least, is the evolution of society hidden in the game. The current season is one of the most diverse casts in series history, showing a commitment to creating a cast that is a perfect embodiment of society. People from all walks of life have competed and have gone far, anyone from middle aged mothers to former olympic athletes. 

It is insane knowing that in 2000, “Survivor” was a new take on reality TV and they did not have any established ideas in mind. All they had was really two key points, survival and a million dollars. Then there came a point mid-series where production made it seem like there was a shift from survival, instead directing its attention towards big moves, immunity idols and other advantages. This distraction from the core roots of the game lead to overall viewer displeasure and lower viewing ratings. 

However, in recent seasons, “Survivor” evolved to become heavily based around the world around us, incited by when Jeff Varner called out Zeke Smith for being transgender in “Survivor: Game Changers” as a last second attempt to not be voted out. This was the flame that began this new era of “Survivor” that will hopefully lead to another two decades on the air.

Nowadays, you cannot win the game by merely forming an alliance and aligning yourself with the majority until you can stealthily sneak your way to the end, as was the case with previous seasons.

 A “Survivor” winner nowadays is not just a threat physically and strategically, but can mitigate current world issues and ultimately get a cast of diverse contestants from a vast variety of different struggles and backgrounds to respect them:  a sentiment that’s not always true in the real world. 

A “Survivor” winner back then was a great player, respected and put on a pedestal by the masses.
A “Survivor” winner now is also an eccentric player, the only difference is that just as is the case for evolution, a winner in this modern era is the perfect embodiment of society itself as was weeded out from the rest of the field.

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