Survivor Seasons: Does it really make sense for players to return?


One of the most debated topics among Survivor fans is if castaways should return for another season. This is especially true when they play with first time players.

Love it or hate it, CBS will always have plans for returning player seasons. Edge of Extinction will mark the twelfth season of Survivor that features at least two returning castaways. That’s an average of about one every three seasons! So the question is, are these returning player seasons worth it or is new blood always the best answer?

Having seasons with all returnees is a good recipe. Everybody has their personal preferences, but if you surveyed a thousand Survivor fans and asked them which season was their favorite, Heroes vs. Villains WILL have the most votes. It takes the top spot in our complete season rankings as well. So the fact that the most universally loved season of Survivor has all returning players is saying something.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, season 8: All-Stars was definitely a dud, and for many fans, Game Changers didn’t live up to expectations. That being said, both seasons had iconic elements, a few memorable Tribal Councils and outstanding performances from castaways that we didn’t think were capable of it at the time.

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In addition to the brilliance of Heroes vs. Villains, Second Chance is also a top ten, potentially a top five season. It had a great returning cast, some of the best idol plays ever and saw the evolution of Survivor strategy like no other season. This proves that when you have a season with only returning players, you’re not only going to get an entertaining one, but the level gameplay is going to be far higher than an average season.

The gameplay has been so progressive in these seasons that these veterans have created new strategies that paved the way for castaways to come. However, given that a full cast of returning players has only happened four times, we’re not going to see these types of seasons often. So what about a trip to the island with a mix of returnees and newbies?

Returning players make the game unfair for first-timers. Who would have more success flying a plane, a person who’s had 30 days of practice, or someone who just got into the cockpit for their first time? That’s the same type of head start returning players receive when they are playing with newbies. There are always exceptions, but the proof is still there.

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Out of the seven seasons that featured returning players going up against first-timers, at least one returnee made Final Tribal every time. That was even the case for the three seasons that only had two returning players! They were able to overcome insurmountable odds and successfully dodge the large target they had on their back to make it all the way to the end. In fact, out of these seven seasons, four of the Sole Survivors were returning players, and two more of them (Coach and Stephanie) played good enough games to win.

That’s not to say that these seasons weren’t exciting. Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites is still one of the greatest seasons in Survivor history, but eleven years have passed. The five mixed seasons since then haven’t compared to Micronesia’s greatness. It still was fun to watch players like Boston Rob, Tyson, Coach and Cochran brilliantly control their respective games, but it didn’t change the fact that they were leaps and bounds above the new castaways.

Let’s face it, when you have a great all-around cast on a level playing field as in David vs. Goliath, it turns into a much more complete season than having a returning castaway come in and dominate. When you look back on Redemption Island, South Pacific, Caramoan (Fans vs. Favorites 2) and Blood vs. Water, how many good quality first-timers came out of those seasons?

Even Cochran who came out of South Pacific had a not so good performance as he committed one of the most controversial and fatal moves in Survivor.  So although these types of seasons do help in cementing a returning player’s legacy, often times the new castaways can’t overcompensate for their lack of experience, which can lead to a lopsided and boring season.

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Let’s hope that Edge of Extinction will break this trend and allow for new players to shine along with the four returning castaways.