Column: Survivor goes the wrong direction with late-game rules twist

One of the best things about Survivor over the years has been the show’s ability to introduce new wrinkles to keep it fresh without detracting from its credibility as a competition.

But the producers took a giant step back this season with the twist introduced after the last immunity challenge in Wednesday’s finale, and it left a bad taste in my mouth after watching it play out.


Before we go any further, you should know I was rooting for Ben to win this season and actively rooting against Chrissy, who I thought was arrogant and condescending toward the other players. So this isn’t an anti-Ben opinion, because I wanted him to win it all; he was my favorite player.

But the way he won? Yikes. It didn’t feel right.

After the upside-down U in the word puzzle cost him in the final immunity challenge, I was absolutely heartbroken for Ben. I felt sick to see him lose it that way. You could tell based on the reaction he knew the mistake had been a game-ending one, and Survivor showed us the raw emotions from both Ben and Chrissy — one defeated, one victorious — to illustrate how important that moment was.

Except…it wasn’t. Ben wasn’t out of the game, thanks to the “secret advantage” Chrissy won. As it turned out, the producers had a rule twist where Chrissy could pick who sat next to her at final tribal, but the other two players had to do a fire-making challenge for the last spot.

That is disturbingly unfair. As much as I hated the moment for Ben and was completely disappointed that Chrissy was about to become Sole Survivor, she won the right to eliminate her competition fair and square by succeeding in the final challenge.

Instead, the producers took that away from her under the guise of an “advantage.” Some advantage that was! Could she have ripped it up and said, “No thanks?” I’m guessing not, but surely she would have preferred to not have “won” the advantage since it really only helped Ben.

Ultimately, that was a game-changing, million-dollar decision by the producers. They took $1 million out of Chrissy’s hands. And that’s wrong. The one thing that has remained constant on Survivor over the years is players eliminate other players by voting each other off; Chrissy deserved to be able to vote Ben off in order to set the final three, but she was not given that opportunity.

Again, I was going to be absolutely pissed that Chrissy won. Ben had a miracle run to make it that far by finding the three idols. But he came up short. It was very unfortunate, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Instead, Survivor threw him a lifeline and gave him another chance. And of course, he capitalized.

The producers seemed to know how bad it looked during the finale. Jeff Probst went out of his way to tell viewers the twist was a permanent addition to the game (See? It wasn’t just for Ben!) and the producers aired a highlight package of Ben’s journey immediately after the vote (See? He deserved it! The best player won!).

Sure, you could argue, “This twist is positive because it puts the players’ destiny into their own hands.” Yes, but Ben already had his destiny in his own hands at the final immunity challenge — and lost.

Survivor has continued to be successful over the years because it maintained the integrity of a real-life game while also providing drama and excitement. But that drama can’t be overly manufactured, or it will harm the competition and turn people away.

Ben has raced at his local short track and said he plans to buy a race car with his winnings, so he will understand this analogy: Despite spinning out while leading late in the race, the producers put him back on the front row for the final restart.

A decision like that doesn’t feel right — both in racing and Survivor.

10 Replies to “Column: Survivor goes the wrong direction with late-game rules twist”

  1. I agree to a point but Devon had a opportunity to practice and did a little but ultimately stopped because he broke the flint. Said it was a sign he didn’t need too. Ben technically was at a disadvantage going it to that challenge and did not cave under pressure. While I didn’t care for it, he won it. I don’t feel they made it to where Ben would win but do feel they knew it would be a disappointing season for them and decided to add an element into it to make it exciting. Glad Ben won. He and Lauren where both my favorite to win.

  2. I loved the twist. The bad part about the game of survivor is dispute the things that change its still been a very predictable format. Strategies are formed based on that predictability. I think its a bit far fetched to look at it from the standpoint to say she earned the right to pic who she went against……all she earned was a guaranteed spot for her self. That’s is the definition of immunity….Its not about picking who you want to play with. It makes the slogan “Outwit, Outplay and Outlast” true to all players to the very end not just the person with immunity. The best part about it being in play for the next season, is that was already filled. So those people also did not know of the twist going in. Survivor need to keep changing and re inventing its self to to keep everyone on trier toes. we don’t want to get back to like it was 3 or 4 years ago where alliances where penetrable and ruled the game.

  3. Ben was a favorite he worked hard at it Ryan didn’t deserve to be the he is s coat trailers best three left were Chris set devin and Ben Ben trot up the pace to be in finals glad he won

  4. Personally I respectfully disagree! I loved the twist! But anyways I just wanted to say that I think it’s awesome that my favorite nascar reporter also loves survivor and writes a column on it! Thanks jeff! Keep up the great work!

  5. The “twist” could be looked at differently. Think of it as an additional immunity challenge. Ben won over Devon. It would be nice to know when this so called “advantage” was thought up by the producers. Was it after they knew Ben would be in the final 4 and likely to be voted out?

    Like Nascar, the “producers” have always tipped the table in certain competitors direction. They will have a puzzle or balance challange if they want a woman to win as they are just naturally better at those things. Nascar would notoriusly thow the caution in certain situations, although that didn’t happen so much this year. It is all part of entertainment.

    I also was a Ben fan and was happy to see him win even if the win is “encumbered”.

    1. I knew from the first episode that went on and on about Ben’s past and his mental problems that he would be the winner. In the past several of the “winners” have been contestants that got the publics pity.

  6. If Chrissy wanted to make fire VS Ben she could have competed against him for a no doubt win. She didn’t & That’s That ! Ben wins !!

  7. Great post Jeff! I got a chance to watch the finale last night and what you wrote was exactly how I felt. I was a Ben supporter throughout the season, was gutted when the upsidedown “u” cost him his shot. However, when they announced the “advantage” I hated it. For one of the few times it felt like the integrity of the game had been manipulated. I don’t want to be tinfoil hat guy, but had Ben won the final immunity could the “secret advantage” have been something different?

  8. I agree completely. I was rooting for Ben too and couldn’t stand Chrissy. I was happy about the twist and glad that Ben won. But then it sank in to me that the producers changed the rules to keep Ben in the game. It cost Chrissy a million dollars. Of course now they say it’s a permanent change to help justify the move. Bottom line, the producers shafted Chrissy to keep a popular player in be gane.

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