Though it happens fewer and fewer times in modern Survivor, I believe we should be long past making the merge and making jury being two separate things.
As we draw closer to the end of the Survivor offseason, I’ve been catching up with some of the show’s classic seasons, including the very first, titular Survivor: Fiji. That season was an oddity for a multitude of reasons, especially with one castaway quitting before the game began and the show abandoning the racial division of tribes seen in Cook Islands prior.
Functionally, the season also begins its jury phase early, with two players before the merge (one who had only been on the same tribe post-tribe swap) making the jury. I thought this was odd, seeing how one of the jury members was never on the same tribe as the eventual winner they voted for.
On the flip side, you only have to go as far back as Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers to see a season where players make the merge, but the merge boot doesn’t make the jury. Jessica Johnston was a victim of such a cruel fate, being voted out as the safe “Option C” target to avoid an idol. Despite a taste for the individual game, she had no say on who went home and was the only member of her Ponderosa and trip group to make the merge.
Both of these options makes little logistical sense for Survivor. If you haven’t had the opportunity spent time with a possible winner, your judgment of their game is entirely second-hand observations and Tribal Council. It’s one of the core problems of the Edge of Extinction twist, as players like Reem had only been part of a group with Chris Underwood, not the other finalists.
At the same time, making the merge but not the jury seems downright cruel. The merge represents the tribal game disappearing into the individual game, and it’s an experience that’s wholly different than what the others voted out in the pre-merge phase experience. As everyone in the pre-jury piles onto an airplane to make way for the jury Ponderosa group, it’s hard not to feel like your experience is a bit different than everyone else’s.
The past three seasons have seen the merge equal the jury, and I hope that stays the standard going forward. You can change the number of jury members all you want, just like you can change the starting castaway numbers between 16 and 20. You can even throw in a Final Two here and there! Let’s just ensure pre-merge and pre-jury will have the same meaning going forward.