Revisiting Survivor Themes: What worked and what didn’t for Survivor Edge of Extinction

Winner Chris Underwood attends the Red Carpet Event for CBS' "Survivor" Finale (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images)
Winner Chris Underwood attends the Red Carpet Event for CBS' "Survivor" Finale (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images) /

Survivor 41 is 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.

It might seem odd to skip from Survivor Cagayan straight to Edge of Extinction, but so many of the themes in the 30s are just plays on things that came before. The show was obviously trying to strike the same gold they found in Cagayan with all of the increasingly odd themes.

You could make the case that Ghost Island and Island of the Idols were also unique themes, but neither of them felt like the theme impacted the game in the way the Edge did. Yes, Ghost Island brought back old items into the game to give them new powers, and Sandra and Rob “teaching” the players’ lessons was fun. However, they never really felt impactful like the Edge did.

Edge of Extinction is one of the fanbase’s least favorite twists of all time. Players who were voted out of the game could come back through the Edge twist without actually having to deal with all of the social aspects. Instead, they could make friends with everyone else on the Edge, giving them the chance to be more likable than previous winners.

It was a gigantic change in how Survivor works and seemed more like a test tube project for Winners at War than anything else. In that season, it almost makes sense. You don’t want to lose titans of the game after just one vote. You need them on the season for as long as possible, which the Edge definitely does.

In a full newbie season that doesn’t work. These players haven’t captured the audience yet. Giving them the chance to come back after we’ve learned almost nothing about them was always going to be a controversial twist, to say the least.

And then, the player who came back played a perfect returnee season and actually won the game. For the theme, it was the best-case scenario, but for the fans, it was probably the worst case.

It’s not that Chris Underwood is particularly unlikeable. Instead, the issue is that he didn’t play what we know as Survivor. His game was something almost completely new with a built-in advantage that players still in the game don’t have to deal with. He wasn’t voting players out, he was becoming their friend. It was always doomed to fail, especially with hardcore fans.

That said, the theme is successful. It does what it set out to do in both seasons and proved that it could work in its first time out. Of course, just because it’s successful doesn’t make it popular. Now, we’re set to start a new era of Survivor. One without ridiculous themes for production to work around. Hopefully, that all leads to better players and twists that better suit the game.

dark. Next. Survivor Season 41 pre-season power rankings