Survivor is CBS’ highest-rated television program for first time since 2001

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Excluding news and sports programming, Survivor’s ratings are higher than anything else produced on CBS early in the Fall 2019 television cycle.

There have been few TV phenomena quite like Survivor was back in the heyday. The summer of 2000 turned 16 castaways into instant stars of minute fame, quickly becoming the go-to references of late-night talk shows and household names in their own right. Survivor was also one of the highest-rated shows at the time because of it, as the competition program quickly became appointment television for watercooler conversations.

Though the show wouldn’t fade away right away, the 2001-2002 television season would mark the beginning of a golden age for CBS ratings. Shows like CSI (et al), Everybody Loves Raymond and, later, The Big Bang Theory would make the network thrive and eventually surpass the reality show, although the infantile budget required to produce it would keep Survivor going forever.

As all those aforementioned shows came and went, Survivor remains almost eternal, and in a bit of poetic irony, it has climbed its way back to the top. As noted on the show’s subreddit, the average rating in the 18-49 demographic for live-plus-same-day for all of Island of the Idols’ first four shows averages 1.25. That surpasses NCIS’ average of 1.21 rating so far this season.

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In effect, it has made Survivor CBS’ highest-rated show on average in the primary advertising demographic, although there are caveats as always. For example, The Masked Singer continues to surpass CBS’ best while airing in the same time slot, showing that the success of one show on one network is relative to another network that’s close to doubling ratings across the board.

It also reflects the lack of a real universally-appealing show at CBS. The Big Bang Theory has left a massive hole that cannot be replaced with Young Sheldon (a show with worse ratings, albeit on a tougher night). The network is relying on undying giants while their newest offerings slump or aren’t the tentpoles the network needs right now.

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The fact that Survivor is slumping relative to even the rate of decline for television ratings across the board goes to show that it’s a CBS problem. However, it is great to hear that the show will likely end on its own terms, as it’s a cash cow that has meager needs for its feed. Unless the prize pool was to jump exponentially, that is.