Survivor 41 is reportedly set to be the dawn of a new era. Not only is the show seemingly running with a shorter game on the island, but production is also doing away with season themes.
Since the show’s sixth season, several seasons have used a central theme to help set the stage for the game. With that about to go away, we wanted to take a look back at the many themes that Survivor has used over the years and see what worked, what didn’t, and how it helped shape the franchise.
What did Survivor: The Amazon get right?
The first five seasons of Survivor were relatively basic. Survivor: Thailand played with the formula a bit by having the two oldest players draft a tribe; however, it wasn’t until Survivor: The Amazon pitted men against women that themes really took over.
This division certainly had the potential to make a massive shift in the game, but it ended up not being overly consequential in the grand scheme of things. This is largely because smart players like Rob Cesternino, Deena Bennett, and Jenna Morasca were able to come together and forge a dominant alliance across genders that controlled the post-merge game.
As some might know, Cesternino was originally given a look for Big Brother and his scheming gameplay certainly proves that he was a major fan of more cerebral players like Dr. Will Kirby from CBS’ other big reality show. Yes, there was the constant threat of a “women’s alliance” or a “guy’s thing,” but it really didn’t materialize in a way that controlled the game.
Instead, Survivor: The Amazon served to shape the show away from strictly a social experiment and give it more edge. However, it’s hard to say the central theme had anything to do with that. It was the players and their eye for what the game could be that pushed the season much further past what the show had been up until that point.
That doesn’t mean the theme hasn’t had an impact on the show since then though. While it mostly failed to shape The Amazon (outside of some confessionals), it is a theme Survivor has explored several more times. We’ve seen a gender split come back for Vanuatu, Panama, and One World. In Vanuatu and One World, the theme had the impact producers wanted, while Panama played more like The Amazon because of how quickly the four tribes merged into two.
On top of that, the idea of there being a men’s or women’s alliance is something that has popped up in several seasons that don’t use that split as the central theme. That said, those alliances often don’t really come to fruition and are usually more of a boogeyman that contestants worry about, but don’t really see in action.
So, while the gender split had a minimal impact on the actual gameplay of The Amazon, it’s certainly been something the show continues to go back to. In that way, the gender split was a success for production. It’s impacted how they shape the narrative several times over Survivor‘s history. On the other hand, it’s hard to call it one of the more successful themes because it didn’t really impact the game of its season in that meaningful of a way.