The question was simple enough: What are the challenges going to look like for Survivor: Winners at War? For one thing, it’s a question worth asking for any season. But with this being an anniversary 40th installment of the franchise, and with the season including 20 former champions of the game, one had to wonder what the show had in store. So that’s the question I asked host and showrunner Jeff Probst out in Fiji right as the season began. And the answer began simply enough.
“For the challenges this season, it will all be returning challenges,” says Probst. “They might have a tiny shift to them, but for the most part they are challenges that the players out here have maybe run or certainly seen in other seasons, so that will be a bit of a nostalgic look back.”
But then Probst took me through the creative process in terms of mapping out a season. “Creatively, the biggest issue in any season is restraint,” Probst says. “We start with lots of ideas. We just fill the boards with ideas. ‘Just keep ‘em coming. What else? What else haven’t we done in a while? What worked? How many idols were in last season? How many? How many.’ And then we just look at the board, and you look at it, and you look at it, and then slowly it just starts to come together, and you go, ‘I think this feels right. It’s enough. We got to give them stuff to do. They’re winners. They’re at war. We want a battle. We don’t want too much, but we want enough.’”
Probst then took an opportunity to address complaints that too many idols and advantages have turned a game of skill and strategy into one more based around luck and foraging. “What doesn’t go through my head is, ‘Oh, there’s going to be too many twists. Oh, there’s going to be too many idols,’” says Probst. “I still don’t get that criticism. Some of our best seasons have hovered around last minute idol finds or betrayals at Tribal because of an idol or ‘I’m blocking your vote, well, I’ve got an extra vote,’ the idol nullifier. You have to have this in the game.”
While idols and advantages have undeniably added a level of drama and intrigue to Survivor and helped it evolve — as the show needed to do if it was going to remain as successful as it has for as long as it has — they have also in their increased number at times seemed to overwhelm the natural social dynamics the game is ultimately based on. But Probst argues that an all-star season would simply feel empty and limp without them. “With Winners at War, they’re expecting it,” he notes of the returning champs. “It goes back to the champagne toast. An honorable toast and all of them are checking the glasses. The game is on. Why would you run from it? Open your arms wide and embrace it. You want to play? Let’s play.”
To watch Probst talk about the impact of idols on the game, watch the video at the top of the post. For more Survivor articles, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive season 40 photos and video, followDalton on Instagram @thedaltonross.
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