Numbers don’t lie.

Because I am a tremendous nerd with no hobbies and nothing better to do with my time, I did a statistical analysis back in 2017 of seasons that mixed new and returning players on Survivor and Big Brother. The bottom line result: They’re not fair.

Seven different times Survivor has staged a season mixing newbies and returnees (as is about to happen for an eighth time on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, premiering Feb. 20 on CBS), and the chances of making it all the way to day 39 vary wildly depending on if you are a so-called Survivor virgin.

Here’s what the numbers tell us: Eight new players out of 93 new have made it all the way to a final two or three of a combo season, for a success rate of 8.6 percent. Meanwhile, a startling 11 out of 39 returnees — 28.2 percent — have made it all the way to the end. That means returning players are 3.5 times more likely to make it to day 39 than newbies. Not exactly a level playing field.

In fact, every single time Survivor has brought back returning players — including all three times it was just two returnees vs. 16 newbies — at least one of the them has made it all the way to the end. And of those seven Survivor seasons combining former and first-time players, three have been won by newbies, while four have been won by returnees, even though they have placed well less than half of the number of contestants into competition.

Perhaps because of that statistical discrepancy, after going all-in on mixing old and new players, Survivor actually then went 10 straight seasons without staging such a season. Jeff Probst explained to us why they brought the twist back for season 38, but what about that marked difference in the performance of returning players vs. newbies? Is it because new players are simply star-struck, or is it because returning players know the game and terrain that much better simply by having played it once (or twice, or three times!) before?

“I think there is something to what you said about using their knowledge and being better players,” replied Jeff Probst when we asked the host about it while out on location for Edge of Extinction. “And I also think that they’re good players to begin with, so they’re front-loaded. We are bringing back great players, so there might be an inherent advantage already that ‘I’m better than some of you no matter when we played.’”

While Probst brings up a solid point that great players are far more likely to be invited back as opposed to terrible ones, he also thinks it would be a mistake for newbies to take out a returning player early — statistics be damned! “The other intangible is the truth of the situation,’ he says, “which is I, as a new player, would never vote out any of those four early. It would be the biggest waste of resources. I want them to make me better, and I have enough confidence that I know when to get rid of you, but I am going to use Joe to help me win some challenges. That guy [Joe Anglim] went 29 days without going to Tribal. Give me some of that love. Because that gives me time to assess how to play and what’s going on. So when you look at that quid pro quo exchange, I think that’s the intoxicating dangerous cocktail.”

Will Edge of Extinction keep the streak alive of a returning player making it all the way to day 39 (even though they are outnumbered 14 to 4)? Only time will tell, but watch the video above to see Probst address the returning player advantage in the game. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols


Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning $1 million, as host Jeff Probst looks at his feet while telling them to "COME ON IN, GUYS!"

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