SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
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Often when I travel on location to cover Survivor, I ask the players to pitch me a twist or theme for the show. Seeing as how I am always coming up with harebrained ideas for what producers should do, I figured some of the contestants may also have their own concepts they would like to see tried out.

I did just that when I traveled to Fiji for Survivor: Winners at War (premiering Feb. 12 on CBS), and I’ll reveal everyone’s ideas soon enough, but one suggestion from one player seemed to merit its very own article — and a response from the host and showrunner, Jeff Probst. And that player is Survivor: Game Changers champ Sarah Lacina. What is Sarah’s idea? Let her explain it.

“Nobody gets voted out, but you get voted against,” says Sarah. “So you sit at the Tribal Council, and names get written down, and then at the end, whoever had their name written down the least amount of times in the 39 days is the winner.”

What Sarah is essentially proposing is that every episode still have a Tribal Council with regular voting. Nobody gets voted out, however. Instead, whatever votes anyone gets against them are accumulated onto a season-long scoreboard, and the person who ends the season with the least number of votes wins the game. And there’s one other important element at play in Sarah’s plan: “No one knows the votes,” she explains with a wicked smile on her face. “Everybody goes down and they write, and Jeff doesn’t read the votes. So you go to Tribal Council — everybody goes, it’s just one tribe of 20 people and everybody always goes to Tribal — and that’s where you just air out the dirty laundry. And then when you go vote, Jeff keeps tallying at the scoreboard, and the viewers get to see who’s got how many votes, but the players in the game have no idea. So you could be lying and saying, ‘Oh, I voted for this person, or that person.’ Everybody is jockeying for a spot and it would just be nasty.”

After being told how evil her plan is… Sarah smiles even more! “It would be [evil], and you would have no idea where you’re at. You could be sitting there going, “I have zero votes,” and you have, like, 50! It would be so heartbreaking at the end to see how many votes you had every time or something. That would be fun, because it would be 39 days of just paranoia and just awfulness, and constantly wondering, and then your soul would be crushed at the end when you saw how many votes you had.”

With producers creating twists like Redemption Island and the Edge of Extinction as a way to keep returning players on the show after getting voted off, is this something they would embrace for an all-star type season? Sarah was already envisioning how it could have played out for Winners at War.

“So if you did it for season 40,” she says, her mind now racing, “and nobody is getting voted out, and now we all live on one island and we just want to kill each other because it’s too many people to one shelter, it’s just chaos. Everybody knows that nobody’s going home. But you go to Tribal Council and you still have… like, let’s say, if you win an immunity challenge, it like knocks off a vote. And if you find an idol or something, then that eliminates one of your votes. Things like that. And then you just constantly go in and you write down people’s names, and then there’s a tally board and only the viewers get to see the tally board and the contestants have no idea the whole time. And then everybody is going to into day 39 thinking they might win, and then reality, they have no chance at all, and it would just crush your soul.” She laughs. “It would.”

Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

I was so impressed by Sarah’s idea that I told her I would bring it directly to Probst. Her two stipulations to it being used: “If he likes it, he’s going to have me back for that season, but I get an automatic 10 vote eraser. That would be called The Sarah Idol. So, a 10 vote eraser.”

So what does the host think of Sarah’s idea? As promised, I asked him. Here’s what Probst has to say about the pitch.

I love this idea of asking players for new twists or new approaches to the game! The single biggest task for us each year is to decide where to take the show creatively, so all ideas are welcome!

Sarah’s idea is to get rid of weekly vote outs and instead create one continuously running 39-day game with one big reveal at the end. It’s an interesting idea! And it requires a new level of trust since players could be completely bamboozling someone with totally false information about where they had placed their vote.

The downside with this idea is that our current format is built around one central question each episode — who will be voted out tonight? So, all of our storytelling is either directly or indirectly related to that dramatic question. This approach would eliminate that question, which, in turn, eliminates any kind of weekly climax for the audience.

You might have to add other layers where the audience knows more than the players. So that each week the vote is still important to the audience because they are tracking the truth of the game. They know what the players don’t. This would give stakes to the vote each week as the audience can start to strategize about what they hope their favorite players might do in the next vote. And you could add in the kinds of twists that allow players to erase history as Sarah suggested! Things that keep the game undecided until the very end.

It’s a fun idea and I can see how you could do it. For us to do it on Survivor would be a massive change but who knows…. We never dreamed we’d be going into our third decade so maybe there is a place for this idea down the road! With Sarah returning to play again!

So that’s Jeff’s take, and I do agree with him that losing an elimination each week is a big hurdle to overcome. (The power of the elimination is the main reason I have been so down on twists like Redemption Island and Edge of Extinction that dilute it.) But it also could be a fun experiment to try. So what say you, Survivor Nation? What do you think of Sarah’s idea? Yay or nay?

Follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss for more Survivor articles, and for exclusive season 40 photos, follow him on Instagram @thedaltonross.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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