Remember when Pat and Ali knew each other from college ahead of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers? Big Brother 21 shows us it could always be worse.
On a fundamental level, Survivor should be fair for everyone equally. I’m not talking about getting rid of advantages, twists, and misguided season themes; I’m saying that players should enter the game on a level playing field. There is an unfortunate amount of pre-gaming that happens with seasons solely starring returning players, but at the very least, everyone has the same opportunity to pre-game.
However, when two newbies have a pre-existing relationship and are cast on the same season of reality competition (and even start on the same tribe), there’s an inherent power imbalance. Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers saw Ali Elliott and Patrick Bolton on the same Yawa tribe despite being in the same circle of friends at Auburn University.
Thankfully, Ali was complicit in Patrick’s elimination and she, too, was taken out before the merge but had she leaned on him on a dwindling six-person tribe, she had the potential to make a deep run. Accusations of the show being rigged would become as similarly commonplace as they were, misguidingly, back in the early 2000s.
To demonstrate just how poorly things could have been unfair, look no further than to Big Brother 21. Tommy and Christie, two of the sixteen houseguests, have a pretty substantial leg up on the competition since Christie dated Tommy’s aunt for a long time. With a Day 1 twist that saw a house leader pick four players to banish and only three remain safe, having someone you can trust immediately in a sea of 14 strangers is tremendous.
Not only do both players have a very realistic shot at making the jury, but both also have the potential for a deep run, with Tommy the odds-on favorite to win the game. It’s early, but that quick game bond was crucial to their social capital within Big Brother 21.
Speaking of social capital, knowing each other helped form the majority alliance, as their separate links brought together by Jack and Jackson (the alpha bros of the house) created Gr8tful; an eight-person alliance that, early on, has enough momentum to be propelled through the first half of the game’s eliminations.
Who they send home and who’s part of that majority alliance is also dictated by pre-game familiarity, as Holly and Kathryn (both showmance partners of Jackson, the pillar of Gr8ful) know each other from before the show thanks to both being part of the pageant circuit. Oddly enough, the three are part of an offshoot “alliance” called the Threemance, but both Jackson and Holly are also core to Gr8ful and their decision-making process.
Gameplay in both Big Brother and Survivor is built on the core social dynamics. Having familiarity with other contestants in a fashion other players outside of those relationships could not make is inherently unfair, and we’re seeing what could have happened in Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers take place in BB21.
Casting in Survivor will look and feel a little different going forward with Island of the Idols and season 40 thanks to a new direction. Hopefully, future efforts don’t oversee inconsistencies like we’ve seen before (and, thankfully, took care of itself before things got too far out of hand).