Revisiting the Dark Ages of Survivor (Seasons 21-26)

Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /
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Immunity Survivor Winners at War episode 5
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

Survivor has mostly given us high-quality seasons, but there was a time where the show was on a very bad steak of seasons.

It’s hard for any television show to stay relevant for 20 years, but Survivor has managed to do just that. It hasn’t always been easy though and Survivor has seen their fair share of bad seasons.

While there are two different eras that could fall into the Dark Ages category, we’re going to hone in on seasons 21-26, which took place from 2010 through 2013, in this article.

Where Survivor was at that point in time

The show had just celebrated their ten-year anniversary in 2010, which no one really expected when it became an overnight sensation in 2000. Heroes vs Villains was the culmination of ten terrific years on the air and following that up was going to be tough.

Heroes vs Villains is regarded as one of the best seasons EVER even to this day, but the seasons that followed are usually considered some of the worst the show has ever had.

We’re going to go through each season and why they were so bad, but first, let’s take a look at why that three-year span in Survivor history was so atrocious.

Bad Casting

When looking at the best seasons of Survivor, there’s almost always one constant – GOOD CASTING. That was not the case with these Dark Age seasons, as all but one of them had terrible casts with very few likable people.

Nicaragua and Redemption Island consisted of people who knew nothing about the strategic portion of the show and it painfully showed. South Pacific and One World had casts that were really vile and unlikable (minus a few, of course) and Caramoan‘s “fans” were some of the most dull, bland people you’ll ever meet.

Heck, five of these six seasons could honestly be the five worst casts that the show has ever assembled. When there’s a bad cast on the playing field, the end result isn’t going to be pretty and these Dark Age seasons were proof of that.

Captain Seasons

During this time, production relied heavily on bringing back fan favorites to have them “captain” a team. This concept was originally introduced in Guatemala so that the show could piggyback off of Stephenie LaGrossa’s popularity, but it was a common occurrence during the Dark Ages.

Redemption Island was the first to bring back the captains twist, which was brought about by Boston Rob challenging Russell Hantz to a rematch at the Heroes vs Villains reunion show. Of all the potential ideas Survivor could have rolled with, why did they have to choose this one?

Because Rob won Redemption Island with ease, Survivor went right back with what got one of their all-time favorites a win and implemented the captains idea again for the very next season.

In South Pacific, it was Coach Wade and Ozzy Lusth that returned and both of them made the final four, but thankfully Sophie Clarke won and in doing so, saved the future of Survivor.

Captains returned again two seasons later in Philippines where previously medically evacuated contestants appeared on the show. This included Jonathan Penner, Michael Skupin, and Russell Swan and while I don’t typically like the captain theme, these three fit right in with the cast, so it didn’t bother me as much.

Enough with Russell Hantz already!

I often refer to the Dark Ages of Survivor as “The Russell Hantz Era” because despite only being on one of the six seasons, he was still referred to CONSTANTLY. First, he was a contestant on Redemption Island and was fortunately taken out early, meaning we weren’t subjected to 84 confessionals from him in a single episode.

After Russell proved he can’t win Survivor with his strategy, production gave up on trying to gift him a win. Instead, his nephew Brandon was cast for South Pacific. The entire season we had to hear about Brandon and the Hantz family and his freaking job title was even “Russell Hantz’s Nephew”. Ugh.

Brandon returned three seasons later for Caramoan and his meltdown that season likely was why the show went away from this era of the show. He was obviously not in a great state of mind at that point and shouldn’t have been included as a favorite that season.