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.