ANATOMY OF A REWARD CHALLENGE
Long before the Survivors participate in a challenge it has already gone through an extensive testing process. It begins with a “test block” where our dreamteamers do a light run-through of the challenge so we can see how it’s coming along.
When we did the first test block for last night’s “Coconut Drop” reward challenge it was rough. We all agreed that it was a brilliant and inventive challenge but it wasn’t quite right. So we gave some notes and our art department made some changes and we tested it again. Technically it was working much better but it was still taking a long time to complete.
We debated reducing the number of coconuts so that it would play faster. But John Kirhoffer and Dan Munday, the geniuses who created the challenge, reminded us that if we reduced the coconuts the challenge would lose a lot of impact. The only way to change the challenge would be to completely redesign it. Well, this was a challenge that had already taken a couple of weeks to design and construct, so the idea of starting over was out of the question. We went ahead with the challenge as planned and it played beautifully. There was great drama and some character revealing moments surrounding Natalie and religion and Shambo and her hair. So, on that front it was a hit. But it took nearly four hours to complete. Four hours… and that’s simply too long.
To give context, not counting endurance challenges which are in their own category, the average challenge takes 15 minutes to run. The reason four hours is too long is that it affects everything else on the schedule. Because we’re behind, the reward itself is now delayed and could result in us having less time on the reward than we desire. The losing team of Survivors who are returning to camp have less daylight for us to shoot reality and conduct interviews. It’s a domino effect. If we have a tribal council that night, we might have to go later than normal and that means our crews are working longer days than we anticipated and then you have to get up the next day to do it all again and you’re already behind. You get the point.
The good news is that this rarely happens. I’m talking maybe once every other season. That’s how good our challenge guys are at designing these contests. They really know their stuff.
WHY WE DO TEAM REWARDS DURING THE INDIVIDUAL PORTION OF THE GAME
There is a specific reason that we will often run a “team” challenge during the individual portion of the game and that is because we want to continue to mix things up and cause conflict. When you send only three people on a reward and the other three are left behind you have a very good chance of a new alliance forming or somebody sharing information that will turn the game around.
The reason it works is because people are often either desperate and/or suspicious, as they should be, and they use this opportunity to do a little detective work or to stir things up. Survivor is so much easier to play from the confines of your living room, much more difficult to actually be “in” the game where every decision is a potential million dollar choice or mistake.
You saw it happen at the reward challenge where Russell, Jaison, and Shambo started investigating Natalie’s decision to choose Brett as her teammate. That simple little discussion could change the game 180 degrees. That’s all it takes for a month-long alliance to come crumbling down. Or if you’re Russell it’s merely another opportunity to capitalize on everybody else’s paranoia and move one step closer to the end.
BRETT IS AN ISLAND
There was no hiding that the Foa Foa four wanted to get rid of Brett. They talked about it at every challenge and at tribal council. It was quite refreshing to not have them pretend that “maybe Brett has a shot to stay.” Anything can happen but if Brett loses an immunity challenge he will be in serious trouble. If Brett makes it to the final, short of a total meltdown, I think he wins the million dollars.
This challenge was the prototype for a Survivor challenge. It looks simple, you can play it at home, but after a 36 days of playing Survivor, merely counting pigs can drive you insane.
There were lots of different strategies going on. I stayed back in the counting area so I could monitor everything. Russell would memorize a couple of numbers and head out. Brett had a different strategy. He stayed for a long time, storing many numbers in his head, never panicking. I love watching challenges play out in front of me, knowing the decisions the Survivors are making are often do or die. Clearly for Brett, it paid off.
THE MULLET IS GONE
Well, there is no hiding my sadness that Shambo is gone. She was loved by some and despised by others, but from my little perch she was a great Survivor contestant. She had a point of view and she shared it openly. She had a sense of humor about herself, she was a pretty good player and without question Shambo was memorable.
I can tell you right now that some of the other Survivors from this season who are reading this as you are will be screaming at me for being nice to Shambo. Not my problem. I wasn’t in the game, I only know what I see and what I saw I enjoyed. I’m not saying Shambo wouldn’t get on my nerves over time, I’m only saying I liked what I saw.
SO WHERE DO WE STAND
When we finished shooting Survivor: Samoa I had mixed feeling about how the season would play for the audience. I knew we had a star in Russell but I wasn’t sure if we had anything else.
I have had hundreds of people stop me to tell me this is one of their favorite seasons. I realize that may not ring true to everybody reading this, but for a lot of people this has been a great season. Russell is truly a star and like him or not the fact that he is still in the game as we go into the final episode is a very good thing. The Foa Foa comeback has also been a major storyline this season.
Equally interesting is that Brett is still alive. Suddenly the quiet T-shirt designer is only a few days and one or two challenges away from a legitimate shot at a million dollars.
Even though I do know the outcome of who makes it to the final, I am still going to give you the same predictions I felt at this point when we were shooting the show:
Brett – If he makes it to the final, I think Brett has a really good shot at getting enough votes to win the money. Some of the jury may not feel he deserves it, but with a jury made up of Galu, the odds are in his favor.
Russell – Hands down the strongest player of this season. NO doubt about it. The big question is “Can he get the vote?” That really will depend on whether the jury takes an intellectual approach (if so he has a chance) or an emotional approach (his chances diminish significantly.) If he makes it to the final he will have his work cut out for him.
Natalie – With only five people left, I’d say Natalie has fairly good odds of winning this game. Her biggest challenge is going to be getting to the final. If Brett continues to win, Natalie could be in trouble because she is a threat to win the game. Her best strategy would be to continue to stand next to Russell and vote the way he says.
Jaison – He has a reasonable shot depending on who he is up against. If Jaison is up against Mick and Natalie I think he could make a pretty compelling argument and might sway the jury his way. He was a slow burn but I think people have come to appreciate his integrity.
Mick – I think Mick is the longshot. The one thing that could turn it for Mick is if he makes it to the final and then reveals that he has been playing “quiet” for a reason. If Mick turns out to be a great orator he could surprise everybody and change the minds of the jury at the final tribal council.
I hope you’re excited for our finale on Sunday. I think it’s going to be fun to watch and the Reunion show should be a kick as well.
AND THIS JUST IN…
On a separate note, I just found out that the pilot for a new show I created with Mark Burnett, called “LIVE FOR THE MOMENT” will air at 8 pm on Thursday, Jan. 28th, 2010. If you’re looking for something new that offers great adventure as well as an uplifting message about how to get the most out of life, I hope you’ll check it out and encourage your friends to watch. I’m really proud of it and I hope it connects with an audience. The only way a show like this gets a chance for a second episode is if people watch the first one! Thanks for the support.
I may not be able to write a blog following the finale. I will do my best but I want to be up front and share that it just might not happen.
So with that in mind I will take a small leap ahead and say… “Survivor 20…..” Wait till you see what we have in store for you! I think you’re gonna dig it!
Thanks to Entertainment Weekly for letting me do these blogs again and thanks to Dalton Ross for the weekly reminders to get my blogs finished on time.
Finally, thanks to you guys, the fans, our loyal audience, the people who read this blog and respond with your comments. I read your comments every week and I learn a lot from them. Sometimes your comments even get copied and sent to our producers or our challenge department because you make some very good points in your analysis of the show.
I’ve enjoyed our back and forth, thanks for the honesty.
And now…. Let’s get to Sunday night already!
Check out our exclusive deleted scene below and read Dalton’s TV recap.