Revisiting Survivor Themes: What worked and what didn’t for Survivor: Vanuatu

Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Screen Grab/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

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 like fans saw in Survivor: Vanuatu.

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.

Did Survivor: Vanuatu’s central theme work?

Survivor: Vanuatu brought back the gender split twist we saw in Survivor: The Amazon. However, this version saw the theme have much more of an impact on the season’s game than it did in The Amazon. While that season saw players quickly work across gender lines, Vanuatu felt much divided.

In this instance, the women’s alliance that so many Survivor men have voiced concerns about over the years came to fruition. True, none of them ultimately won the game, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t dominant during the mid-game. The women were able to go into the merge with a 6-4 advantage over the men thanks to solid early-game challenge performances, some masterful swap play, and a decent helping of luck.

They used that advantage to quickly get rid of three of the four men. Unfortunately, at that point they let themselves turn on each other before voting out the season’s eventual winner Chris Daugherty. That doesn’t make the theme any less successful. Viewers saw the women of the game come together in a supremely powerful way. Seemingly led by Ami Cusack, they were able to run the season without much pushback from anyone but themselves.

Where Survivor: The Amazon showed viewers that gender-specific alliances could be a thing, Vanuatu proved they could be a real threat. Now, as we mentioned in our look at The Amazon, the threat is often more of a boogeyman than something tangible. However, even the potential for an all-men or all-women alliance is enough to get many players flustered.

It’s impossible to know if we’d still see that same concern without Vanuatu, but it’s equally impossible to deny that the season’s main alliance has shaped what players look for when they hit the beach. Cusack and her fellow women were able to, for a time, leave behind any interpersonal issues they had and push forward as a cohesive unit. Unfortunately for them, Daughtery was masterful in lowering his threat to them and rode that to the end for a victory over Twila Tanner.

Survivor: Vanuatu sometimes feels like one of Survivor’s more forgotten seasons but it shouldn’t be. The season shows off how overpowering a strong alliance can be and what it looks like to truly play a dominant game from the bottom. And, in terms of theme, it, alongside The Amazon, did a lot to shape player’s viewpoints. Plus, it gave us one of the best solitary contestants of that show’s memorable, short run. Thanks, JP!

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