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  • Writer's pictureJack Vita

With CBS' Survivor season 41 postponed, what's next for the show?

Image courtesy of CBS

CBS officials announced Tuesday evening that Survivor will not be returning to the network's lineup this fall due to complications presented by COVID-19.

CBS intends for The Amazing Race to take over Survivor's Wednesday night 8pm ET time slot, which is subject to change, however.

The Amazing Race completed filming its 32nd installment of the long-running series in December of 2018, five months before the premiere of the show's 31st season. The Race has had season 32 in the can for nearly two years now, and even began shooting season 33 until the threat of the Coronavirus forced the season to be suspended in late February.

Earlier in 2020, CBS announced a May premiere date for season 32 of The Amazing Race, but without explanation, the show was pulled from the network's summer lineup, likely due to lingering uncertainty regarding filming restrictions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, and the impact it would have on the network's fall lineup. If CBS needed content, The Amazing Race would still be there, and apparently the decision to delay the show's premiere will indeed come in handy for the network.

This will be the first fall since the year 2000 in which Survivor will not be airing.

While Survivor coming to a permanent close after its 40th season (a season consisting solely of former winners of the show and a $2 million prize; dubbed by the season's winner as "Survivor's Super Bowl"), would seemingly be a storybook ending for the series, fans should not be concerned; Survivor will not be riding off into the sunset anytime soon. Even if a year-long hiatus is required for the showrunners, this will not be the last we see of Survivor.

Even after 20 years, Survivor remains the most-watched reality show on television. While The Bachelor has arguably become the most talked-about mainstream reality show in pop culture, ABC's hit series was once again outscored significantly by Survivor on a per/episode basis in 2020. The 24th season of The Bachelor averaged 6.40 million US viewers each week; Survivor: Winners at War averaged 7.64 US viewers each week.

Since 2009, Survivor has settled into a comfortable filming schedule, in which both seasons that will air during the TV year are shot back-to-back. Last year, Survivor: Island of the Idols (later airing in the fall) began filming on March 21. Winners at War began filming on May 22 and wrapped up production June 29.

In 2016, Jeff Probst and the show's production team opted for Fiji to become the permanent home of Survivor. Since, the last eight seasons have been shot on the same beaches. In CBS' press release announcing the change to the network's schedule, the network maintained that, "(Producers) are continuing to work with officials in Fiji on the appropriate time to start production on its next edition, with health and safety matters the top priority for everyone involved."

Without further information to go off of, it appears that due to restrictions and complications presented by COVID-19, Survivor cannot exist in Fiji this summer, preventing the show from airing again in 2020. But what if the show's production team wasn't hell-bent on having the show stay in Fiji? Could the show's 41st edition take place in a different location?

Survivor burst onto the scene in the summer of 2000. After carefully crafting a cultural phenomenon (which culminated in 50 million Americans tuning into season 1's finale), creator Mark Burnett wanted to up the ante for season 2. The next batch of contestants would spend 42 days in the desert of the Australian Outback. The show moved to Kenya for its third season, where the contestants lived in the middle of the Kenyan desert and had to keep watch for wild lions at night.

With each passing season, the stakes were continually raised as the show jumped from one continent to another. In each iteration, the show wonderfully embedded the location's stunning locale, unique wildlife, and local cultural traditions and history into the show's theme and format. For instance, in the show's eleventh season, both tribes had ancient Mayan pyramids in their camps. America fell in love with Survivor's wondrous sense of adventure, and how it transported its viewers from one wonder of the world to the next.

The concept of sixteen strangers from different walks of life being forced to coexist, create a new community in a foreign land, and pick each other off was captivating to the audience. With Survivor being the first reality competition show of its kind, the contestants had no idea how to navigate through the ethical dilemmas that the game would present to them as they advanced through the game, a truly fascinating dichotomy.

Over the years, the show slowly moved away from this premise. Instead of highlighting real life people and unlikely friendships that develop between strangers, hidden immunity idols, advantages and twists have been thrust into the spotlight. With the show permanently staying in Fiji, strategic conversations occur in the same locations of the beach every season now. There's no new setting or backdrop.

Survivor now follows a fairly unpredictable format each week. Each week's episode will open with contestants reacting to the outcome of the previous tribal council, then will transition to strategic conversations, then a reward challenge, then more strategy, then an immunity challenge, one more final dose of strategy, followed up with a full segment of Jeff Probst hurling questions that typically have little payoff at tribal. The show casts people that have seen already several seasons of Survivor, and if they haven't, they're given DVD box sets to do their homework. Seemingly, every contestant has a master-plan before they even hit the beaches of Fiji. There's very little that keeps the contestants and more importantly, the viewers, on their toes anymore.

With Survivor unable to film in Fiji for the time being, perhaps the show's production team will pivot its focus away from Fiji and set its sights on a new location for seasons 41 and 42. There are American state parks and nature preserves that could function as locations for future seasons, none of which would include the hassle of international travel. A new location could breathe some fresh life into a 20 year-old series.

It's possible that we won't see Survivor's return for another year, and coming off the heels of one of Survivor's most monumental seasons, perhaps now is the natural time to reboot the franchise. Seriously, how do you follow-up a season of all-winners?

Picture this: season 41, in a new location, with 16 newbies, no hidden immunity idols or crazy twists, and a return to the show's roots. What if, instead of casting 16 super-fans that have seen every episode, Survivor cast 16 people that have never seen an episode of the show before? Wouldn't it be refreshing to see what survival and strategic methods would be cultivated from a group of people going into the experience blind? If the season is a complete failure, the show can trot out new twists for season 42, but maybe Survivor would strike gold once again.

Regardless of what direction Survivor goes in in the 40s, I'm sure the producers can and will benefit from a break. Burnett, Probst and company have worked tirelessly, churning out season after season of hit show for 20 years. They've earned some rest. It will be enticing to see whatever comes from TV's longest-running and most-watched reality series, when it does indeed return.

For more entertainment and sports analysis, follow me on Twitter @JackVitaShow, and subscribe to the Jack Vita Show on iTunes or wherever podcasts are found.

(Image via CBS)


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