Survivor retro rewatch: Some reflections on Borneo

After rewatching the entirety of Survivor: Borneo, it’s clear that the show already had the seeds of what it’s become in the past 17 years.

When I sat down a few weeks back to rewatch Survivor: Borneo, I really wasn’t sure what I was in for. I’d seen the show all the way back in 2000, as I mentioned in my first recap, and though it had long been on my list for a rewatch, I had never really gotten around to it. In a way, it was like watching the season for the first time, since in the ensuing period, I’ve seen every single season of Survivor since.

There is, as you might imagine, plenty of room for comparisons to be made.

And in this first season of Survivor, I think we can really see how the arc of the show came to be. Isn’t the voting out of Gretchen, perceived as Pagong’s leader, the first “big move” that Jeff Probst loves to talk about, even though he hadn’t added it to his lexicon just yet? Don’t things like Jenna’s missing a video from home presage future emphasis on emotional moments (and even, perhaps, Jonny Fairplay’s Pearl Islands lie)? Aren’t alliances considered the very basics of strategy?

That last theme was one Borneo had to tangle with, something I’ve tried to explore as I rewatched the season bit by bit. At times, it seemed like the show wanted us to perceive Rich, Sue, Kelly, and Rudy as somehow bad for choosing to band together, a theme I especially picked up on in episode 8, but even that really softened by the finale, presumably because the production had to contend with the fact that Rich won the whole game. And, let’s face it, the four of them took up a lot of screentime, especially in the post-merge episodes.

Ultimately, the show had to try and find its way basically on national television, trying to balance how much to explain (I do not miss the Jeff Probst pre-Tribal segments) with how much to make this a show with a story outside of the game (remember the fort?) with everything else it was trying to do.

It sometimes succeeded, it definitely felt a little silly at times, but it still, somehow, made for compelling television. And that last bit is why Borneo spawned a show going into its 35th and 36th seasons.