The stats don't lie: Returning players have a much easier time getting to the end

By Dalton Ross
August 29, 2017 at 02:55 PM EDT
CBS/Getty Images; Monty Brinton/CBS/Getty Images (2)

Does it ever seem like returning players have a significant advantage when competing against newbies on CBS reality shows Big Brother and Survivor? That’s because they do. And the numbers are there to prove it. Whether it is because the contestants that come back to play a second or third time have acquired the skills to mow down the competition, or the competition is just too awestruck to knock out someone they, as fans, watched on TV back at home, it seems time and time again, returning players — even though the numbers are often heavily stacked against them — make it to the end.

Viewers of this season’s Big Brother are currently in the midst of one giant collective arms-thrown-in-the-air-in-disgust move as the newbies in the house have been allowing Paul Abrahamian — last year’s BB runner-up — to do whatever he wants when he wants as he marches unopposed to the final two. It’s an act we’ve seen before. But is this just selective memory? Do returning players really have an advantage over first-time players? After looking at the numbers, the answer is an unequivocal… yes.

I looked at every Big Brother and Survivor season in which new and returning players competed against one another to see if it is, in fact, easier to make it to the end if you have played before. The results left little question.

Not including the current season (because final results have not been determined), Big Brother has combined new and returning players five times (which includes last fall’s Over the Top installment). Out of the 56 new players that competed, seven made it to the final two (or three, in the case of Over the Top). Out of the 16 returning players, four made it to the end. That means your chances of making it the end as a returnee — 25 percent — are exactly double what they are as a new player (12.5 percent).

The evidence for Survivor is even more damning. Eight new players out of 93 have made it to the final two or three of a combo season, for a success rate of 8.6 percent, while a startling 11 out of 39 returnees — 28.2 percent — have gone all the way to day 39. That means you are approximately 3.5 times more likely to make it to day 39 as a returning player than you are as a new one. It also means that every single time Survivor has brought back returning players — including the three times it was 2 returnees vs. 16 newbies, at least one of them has made it all the way to the end.)

Of those seven Survivor seasons combining old and new, three have been won by first-time players, while four have been won by returnees, even though they have placed well less than half the amount of contestants into general competition. (Big Brother has given us three newbie winners and two returning winners in similar seasons — meaning the shows have combined for 6 winners from each category.)

Interestingly enough, Survivor seems to have figured out that mixing new and old contestants may not be such a hot idea. It has not done a combo season since 2013’s Survivor: Blood vs. Water, which had returning players competing with and against their loved ones. Even though there were 10 of each that season, the entire final three was comprised of returnees. However, 6 of the last 9 Big Brother seasons (including the current one and Over the Top) have featured a mix of old and new.

Will the fact that new players almost always seem to bend to the will of the returnees cause CBS to rethink its drink and give contestants and fans a more equal playing field when Big Brother returns in 2018? If so, that may just be the franchise’s biggest twist of all. Even the currently dominant Paul would understand a return to an old-school all-newbie approach. After all, he lost at the very end last summer… to a returnee.

Read the entire statistical breakdown of new vs. returning players for both shows below:

SURVIVOR
New players that made it to the end: 8 out of 93 (8.6 percent)
Returning players that made it to the end: 11 out of 39 (28.2 percent)
3 wins for newbies, 4 wins for returning players

BIG BROTHER
New players that made it to the end
: 7 out of 56 (12.5 percent)
Returning players that made it to the end: 4 out of 16 (25.0 percent)
3 wins for newbies, 2 wins for returning players

SURVIVOR & BIG BROTHER COMBINED
New players that made it to the end
: 12 out of 109 (11.0 percent)
Returning players that made it to the end: 15 out of 55 (27.2 percent)
6 wins for newbies, 6 wins for returning players

SURVIVOR BY SEASON
(Winner in bold)

Survivor: Guatemala
2 Returning Players
16 New Players
Final two with one newbie (Danni Boatwright) and one returnee (Stephenie LaGrossa)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 2
New players making it to the end: 1 out of 16

Survivor: Micronesia — Fans vs. Favorites
10 Returning Players
10 New Players
Final two with zero newbies and two returning payers (Parvati Shallow and Amanda Kimmel)
Returning players making it to the end: 2 out of 10
New players making it to the end: 0 out of 10

Survivor: Redemption Island
2 Returning Players (Boston Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz)
16 New Players
Final three with two newbies (Phillip Sheppard and Natalie Tenerelli) and one returnee (Boston Rob Mariano)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 2
New players making it to the end: 2 out of 16

Survivor: South Pacific
2 Returning Players (Benjamin “Coach” Wade and Ozzy Lusth)
16 New Players
Final three with two newbies (Sophie Clarke and Albert Destrade) and one returnee (Benjamin “Coach” Wade)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 2
New players making it to the end: 2 out of 16

Survivor: Philippines
3 Returning Players (Michael Skupin, Jonathan Penner, Russell Swan)
15 New Players
Final three with two newbies (Denise Stapley and Lisa Welchel and one returnee (Michael Skupin)
Returning players: 1 out of 3
New players making it to the end” 2 out of 15

Survivor: Caramoan
10 Returning Players
10 New Players
Final three with one newbie (Sherri Biethman) and two returnees (John Cochran and Dawn Meehan)
Returning players making it to the end: 2 out of 10
New players making it to the end: 1 out of 10

Survivor: Blood vs. Water
10 Returning Players
10 New Players
Final three with zero newbies and three newbies (Tyson Apostol, Monica Culpepper, and Gervase Peterson)
Returning players making it to the end: 3 out of 10
New players making it to the end: 0 out of 10

BIG BROTHER BY SEASON
(Winner in bold)

Big Brother 11
1 Returning Players (Jessie Godderz)
12 New Players
Final two with two newbies (Jordan Lloyd and Natalie Martinez) and zero returnees
Returning players making it to the end: 0 out of 1
New players making it to the end: 2 out of 12

Big Brother 13
6 Returning Players
8 New Players
Final two with one newbie (Porsche Briggs) and one returning player (Rachel Reilly)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 6
New players making it to the end: 1 out of 8

Big Brother 14
4 Returning Players
12 New Players
Final two with one newbie (Ian Terry) and one returning player (Dan Gheesling)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 4
New players making it to the end: 1 out of 12

Big Brother 18
4 Returning Players
12 New Players
Final two with one newbie (Paul Abrahamian) and one returning player (Nicole Franzel)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 4
New players making it to the end: 1 out of 12

Big Brother: Over the Top
1 Returning Player (Jason Roy)
12 New Players
Final three with two newbies (Morgan Willett and Kryssie Ridolfi) and one returning player (Jason Roy)
Returning players making it to the end: 1 out of 1
New players making it to the end: 2 out of 12

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