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SUR301: Twists

The lessons above have described a standard game of Survivor. Throughout the years, Survivor has added many variations to the game, some temporary and some permanent, at least for now. Below is a list of all game variations by their chronological debut, along with the logic behind the twist and my take on how it affects the game. I made this section simply from memory, so if your favorite twist has been left out, let me know and I'll add it to the list.

The 42-Day Game (Season 2)
The game lasts for 42 days instead of the standard 39. In this format, Stage II and the 3-day cycle continued for days 37-39 to form the final 3. Stage III then consisted of a no-event day on Day 40, an Immunity Challenge and Tribal Council on Day 41 to form the final two, and Day 42 brought the final tribal council. This was simply an attempt to make the game longer, yielding 14 episodes instead of 13. In my opinion, it was not a good twist, considering it throws off the symmetry of the game, making the stages last 6, 7, and 1 cycle instead of the even 6, 6, and 1. Also, the fact that the original number of days was based on how long a person can survive without food makes this format not make much sense. Evidently the producers agreed, since season 2 was the first and last time this format was used.

The Tribe Switch (Season 3)
At some point, the members of each tribe are scrambled to form two new tribes. In the first two seasons, the tribe with more members at the merge would simply "pick off" all the members of the opposite tribe. This was due to the fact that the members of one tribe saw the other tribe as strangers, since they never got to know them. By allowing the initial tribes to mix prematurely, it forms multiple relationships and results in a much more unpredictable individual stage. I initially hated this twist, considering that in tribal societies, the members of two opposing tribes would never intermix and continue to battle. However, I now understand its purpose, and its effectiveness is unquestioned. Also, in light of some later, heinous, twists, this now seems second nature, especially since it has been used so often. In short, I now approve of this twist.

Tribe Pick-'Em (Season 5)
At the start of the game, captains are selected, and the players choose their own tribes. It gives extra control to the players, and eliminates the "unfair tribes" criticism. I wholeheartedly agree.

The Delayed Merge (Season 5)
The merge is delayed until a later time, usually two cycles. Along with the delay is usually some sort of misdirection to make the contestants think they have merged, when they really have not. There seems to be no practical reason for this twist, other than sheer shock-value. My stance changes depending on the execution of this twist. In my mind, it is important to preserve the symmetry between the length of tribal and individual stages. Extending the tribal stage makes the cycle lengths of each section 8, 4, and 1. Not only does this make things uneven, it also means that the first member of the jury will not make the merge, never meet half of the contestants, and thus not be able to make an informed decision. Provided there is some provision for all remaining contestants to live together for a significant amount of time during this twist, I have no problem with it.

The Outcast Twist (Season 7)
At the start of the seventh cycle, the six eliminated contestants return and are given an opportunity to re-enter the game. If they can defeat the other tribes in a challenge, the six eliminated contestants will vote people INTO the game while the main tribes vote someone out. This twist was only used in season 7, which was based on a pirate theme. In pirate lore, occasionally stranded pirates would return and destroy those that stranded them. This was the worst twist ever. Under no circumstances should an eliminated contestant be allowed to return to any game, Survivor or otherwise. Evidently the producers agree, as they have also branded it the worst twist ever, regretted using it, and promised to never use it again.

The 18-Person Game (Season 8)
18 people play the game instead of the standard 16. More people means more episodes, more eliminations, and more drama. I would always prefer a standard 16-person game. However, I am fine with more contestants provided it is executed properly.

The 3-Tribe Game (Season 8)
The game begins with 3 tribes instead of 2. For this to work, the game must begin with 18 people to ensure the tribes are even at 6 apiece. More tribes add a new facet to the game. Not only do people make alliances with each other, but whole tribes begin to make alliances with each other as well, making for some interesting scenarios. I find extra tribes to make things quite interesting, albeit confusing. Again, I would prefer standard format, but multiple tribes is fine as well.

The Dissolve (Season 8)
At the same time the 3 tribes twists was unveiled, the dissolve twist came along with it. At some point a challenge is played where the losing tribe is eliminated, and its members are absorbed by the remaining tribes. When players are spread out among multiple tribes, it is inevitable that a tribe will reach two members before the merging point. Thus, the players must be rearranged into a normal format. It kind of has to happen. There is no alternative, really.

The Modified Day Format (Season 8)
The 3-day cycles are abandoned, and anything could happen on any given day. Ordinarily this format still follows a recognizable cycle pattern, with Days 1-6 adhering to the normal format, the next cycle comprising Days 7-8, and the cycles following that being off-kilter (9-11, 12-14, etc.) At some point a single, surprise-elimination day will occur to place the game back on the 3-day cycle track. When you add more than 16 people to the game, it becomes a requirement to abandon the game's normal format and place extra elimination days where you need to have them. I approve of this twist, but only because I have to. Short of a triple- or quadruple-elimination day, this is the only way to eliminate extra people. I would prefer to stick with the regular format at all times, but when you venture outside of 16 people there are certain sacrifices you have to accept.

Double-Elimination Day (Season 9)
The tribes are told that two people will be eliminated that night, and a challenge then begins. This challenge either entails individual immunity, or, more often, a reward where the winning tribe gets to watch the losing tribe's tribal council. It is an interesting way to eliminate extra people. Provided everyone is given a chance to win immunity, I have no problem with this twist. Unfortunately, most of the time only a reward is offered, and thus two problems arise. First, there is no way to save yourself if you are in trouble. Second, The winning tribe will visit tribal council first, which means that someone on the winning tribe will finish in a lower position than someone on the losing tribe. Depending on the execution, I agree or disagree with this twist.

The 20-Person Game (Season 10)
20 people play the game instead of the standard 16. More people means more episodes, more eliminations, and more drama. I would always prefer a standard 16-person game. However, I am fine with more contestants provided it is executed properly.

Elimination Via Pick-'Em (Season 10)
A tribe pick-'em is used to begin the game, and the last two people unpicked are eliminated. It's hard to eliminate 19 people over the course of a game, so getting two out of the way at the very beginning makes things a lot easier. However, I never approved of this twist. To eliminate someone for reasons other than injury, malnourishment, or vote-out goes against the very core of Survivor. I chalk it up to final cast selection, and begin the game afterwards, otherwise it would be a travesty.

No Merge (Season 10)
Instead of the tribes merging, one tribe is allowed to be defeated until only one remains. At a tribal council with only two people, a challenge determines who stays and who goes. Once only one person remains on a tribe, they are simply absorbed into the dominant tribe and the individual stage begins. This was not so much the gameplan all along, but rather a last-second decision after one tribe lost every immunity challenge. I do not agree with this format, considering votes should always determine who is eliminated, and that does not happen in a 2-person Tribal Council.

Hidden Immunity Idol Type 1 (Season 11)
During the individual stage of the game, a hidden immunity idol is placed somewhere around camp. The first person that finds it can save it as a reserve immunity. At any Tribal Council they may use the idol to prevent being voted for, but it may only be used once. It was a twist that brought something new to the game. I personally found it quite interesting and mysterious, and would have preferred they kept it, as opposed to the other Hidden Immunity Idols that would follow.

The 4-Tribe Game (Season 12)
The game begins with 4 tribes instead of 2. More tribes add a new facet to the game. Not only do people make alliances with each other, but whole tribes begin to make alliances with each other as well, making for some interesting scenarios. I find extra tribes to make things quite interesting, albeit confusing. Again, I would prefer standard format, but multiple tribes is fine as well. As opposed to the 3-Tribe Game, this usually only lasts one or two cycles before being dissolved into a standard 2-Tribe Game. The twist would be much more interesting if it lasted longer.

Exile Island (Season 12)
Although experimented with briefly in season 10, the actual twist did not begin until season 12. After each Reward Challenge, the winning tribe is permitted to send one person from the losing tribe to exile island, a place where the chosen contestant will be isolated from the game for two days. The only positive aspect of Exile Island is the fact that a new type of hidden immunity idol (described below) is hidden on the island for the player to find. This was a desperate attempt to add a new facet to a game that really didn't need much improvement. In my opinion, Exile Island becomes more annoying than cool, and disrupts the general flow of the game.

Hidden Immunity Idol Type 2 (Season 12)
As mentioned above, a hidden immunity idol is hidden on Exile Island for players to find. However, unlike the original hidden immunity idol, it offers much more protection. If at any time the person is voted out, he can play the idol to save himself, and the person with the next largest number of votes is eliminated. Again, this was a desperate attempt to add a new facet to a game that really didn't need much improvement. However, this twist was much worse. First, it gave someone a second chance, much like the outcast twist. Second, and even worse, it caused someone who didn't even receive a large number of votes to be eliminated. Theoretically, it was now possible to be eliminated with only one vote. This destroyed the very core principle of Survivor -- that majority, or at least plurality, ruled.

The Modified Ending Format (Season 12)
An extra elimination is needlessly inserted along the way to form a final three after day 36. A reward challenge then takes place on day 37 to give one player an advantage in the final immunity challenge on day 38, which forms the final two. This was different, and thus interesting. I enjoyed it, but, like always, would prefer the normal format.

Hidden Immunity Idol Type 3 (Season 13)
The Hidden Immunity Idol's rules are changed to where the person must play the idol after everyone has voted, but before the votes are read. Yet again, if it turns out the person who played the idol has the most votes, the person with the next highest number of votes will be eliminated. This offers a very interesting strategy to the game, in that the person must pinpoint the exact moment people will vote for them, as opposed to type 2 where the person is simply automatically saved. This is a much better alternative, however, I still do not agree with this rule, as someone could be eliminated with only one vote out of ten, thus nullifying the "majority/plurality rules" aspect of Survivor.

The Mutiny (Season 13)
Contestants are asked if they wish to switch tribes, and anyone who wishes to do so has their wish immediately granted. It causes an interesting alternative to the tribe switch, where members are, somewhat randomly, moved around. However, this throws off the established numbers of the tribes, and somewhat destroys the integrity of the game.

The 9-Person Jury (Season 13)
9 people make up the jury instead of 7. More jurors were thought to be needed because of the twist below. This format makes 100% sense provided 20 people have played the game, considering half of the 18 eliminated contestants would make up the jury. However, it has never been used for that purpose; this twist was only put in place because of the twist below.

The Final Three Format (Season 13)
Next to the outcast twist, this is possibly the worst thing ever to happen to the game of Survivor. Less eliminations are planned throughout the game to form a final 5 instead of 4 after day 36. The game format stays intact, however, and only 2 more eliminations take place in the final cycle. At final three, there are no more eliminations, and the jury votes for any of the these three people to win the game. (Alternately, there is a final 4 after day 36, and the modified ending format is used to ensure a final 3) This twist was incorporated because it seemed as if all the "deserving" players were losing the final immunity challenge, being voted out, and finishing in 3rd place. In addition, it was thought that more choices would make for a closer vote in the end.

This is my personal pet peeve when it comes to format changes, and the one aspect I wish would be changed back to original format. Survivor is an elimination game, and stopping it prematurely at final 3 does not feel right. It is a slippery slope. Yes, someone more "deserving" may win, but that's not what elimination games are about. When we stop the game at final 3, what's to stop us from stopping it at final 4 or final 5, or why not just eliminate noone and vote for who is the best out of them all? This is an elimination game, and everyone should be eliminated one-by-one. Not to mention, when there are 3 people to vote for, it makes it possible that although the person may win the most votes of the three (plurality), there may be more people who didn't want him to win than did (majority). Lastly, it simply takes away the urgency of the final 3 immunity challenge. It was always the most exciting part of the game because you either won and controlled your destiny, or lost and had a 50% chance of being eliminated. Could you endure and prove your worth, or would you fail and go home in the final challenge? There are just too many things wrong with this format that go against the very core of Survivor.

Kidnapping (Season 15)
Instead of Exile Island, the losing tribe kidnaps one member of the losing tribe for two days. The kidnapped individual chooses one person from the winning tribe to give a clue to the whereabouts of the hidden immunity idol to. This was used in lieu of Exile Island, considering there was no island in season 15's (China's) setting. I enjoyed this twist much more, considering instead of watching one person be bored on Exile Island, they got to intermix with the opposite tribe and strategize on whom to give the clue to.

The 8-Person Jury (Season 16)
During season 16, the game returned to a final 2 format. Unfortunately this was a short-lived, isolated, and rather random incident. During this, an 8-person jury was used. The first member of the jury finished in 10th place, so it seemed as if a final three / 7-person jury was planned. However, when the finalists started bragging that they had made it to the final Tribal Council, the final two format was revived at the last moment, most likely to shock the final three, thus leaving us with a weird 8-person jury. Another theory is that the producers wanted a tie, and to unveil their live tie-breaking procedure, which has a good chance of happening with an 8-person jury. Regardless, although I am glad final 2 returned, this may or may not have made sense, depending on the tiebreaker.

Redemption Island (Season 22)
Instead of people being eliminated when they are voted out, they are sent to "Redemption Island", a glorified version of Exile Island, where they wait until the next person is voted out. When the next person is voted out and sent to Redemption Island, the two then face off in a "duel" challenge. The loser of the duel is eliminated from the game, while the winner stays at Redemption Island, waiting for the next person to be voted out. When the merge arrives, the person who remains on Redemption Island re-enters the game, and Redemption Island resets and continues with the same rules. When only 4 people remain in the "main game", the person who remains on Redemption Island re-enters the game as a 5th and Redemption Island ends. From that point forward, being voted out results in immediate elimination, as in a standard game.

It might surprise people that, in concept, I am OK with this twist. However, in execution, I am not. This twist was put in place to "give everyone a second chance", however, that statement is a complete lie. First, since there are TWO re-entry points, you will inevitably be giving one person a THIRD chance, and almost everyone that makes the final 4 will NOT get a second chance. It seems outrageous to me that you're giving players who suck at Survivor and are voted out early a second chance, but those who are skilled and make it to the final four on their own, sorry, no second chance. I like the idea of a "double elimination" Survivor, but you need to give EVERYONE two chances, no more, no less, of reaching the finals for this to be a legitimate twist, in my mind.

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