SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Reality TV is young person’s game. While the average age of a Survivor viewer is around 53-years-old, the people who actually play the game are much younger.

There are reasons why reality TV contestants tend to be younger. For one thing, the younger people are, the less entrenched they tend to be in their life with things like work and family which may prevent them from dropping everything for 39+ days to head to the other side of the planet to play a game. But make no mistake: The main reason why reality contestants are so young is because networks crave young, attractive bodies that they believe will attract both more viewers and a younger demographic that is more advertiser-friendly.

All of which makes Survivor’s upcoming Winners at War edition so interesting. Not only is it the biggest season the show has ever done, but it is also the oldest. In general, returning player seasons tend to be older than new player ones. That is for two reasons. For one thing, while new players are often cast for their looks, the returnees are more likely cast primarily due to their personality, which allows for a wider age range. Plus, there is the somewhat obvious fact that returning players have aged since their first appearance. (Gervase Peterson was 30-years-old when he appeared on Survivor: Borneo, and 43-years-old when he returned for Blood vs. Water.)

The 16 players of Survivor: Borneo (season 1) averaged 35.68 years between them. That number was raised significantly by the ages of three players — Rudy Boesch, B.B. Anderson, and Sonja Christopher — who were 72, 64, and 63, respectively. More recently, Survivor: Ghost Island contestants averaged just 27.9 years old, but since then the average age has been rising. The David vs. Goliath cast averaged 32.8-years-old while the average age of last season’s Island of the Idols cast spiked to 34.15, making it the oldest all-newbie cast since Survivor: Nicaragua (season 21), which had a cast averaging 37.6 years. That made Survivor: Nicaragua — an all newbie season — the oldest cast ever. Until now.

With an average age of 37.85 years old, Winners at War just beats Nicaragua and Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance, which had an average age of 37.25. I asked Jeff Probst on day 1 of filming for season 40 what it means having the oldest cast the show has ever seen. “What’s super cool about looking at this group is that not one time did we think about age — ever, when we were casting it,” says the host. “Never. Nobody from CBS said, ‘Hey, you know we still need to keep some young people.’ It was a simple idea: Get the 20 best winners, and they’re saying yes, they’re saying yes, they’re saying yes. Let’s do it!”

In fact, Probst says they never even looked at age when casting the season: “I don’t even know what the average age is. I actually have no idea. I think Denise is probably the oldest, but I’m not sure, so I don’t know. Our age range is 26 to 49, I don’t know. Never occurred to me. Don’t care. It’s great, right? It says you have enough confidence in the show and the audience that this is what they want. Who cares how old they are?”

In general, older players can tend to be more interesting characters simply due to the fact that they have lived more and been through more — both good and bad — that has helped define them. Probst alluded to that in terms of talking about the newest cast. “There are some cool things when you think about the fact that Amber was this young woman and she’s now a mature mom,” says the host. “Or you see Danni Boatwright, who played however many years ago, that’s pretty cool. When you see Ethan back out here after what he’s gone through — even though he’s not going to talk about his cancer in the game, it’s informed who he is. He’s a different guy because of it and now he’s back playing this game. So you have all these different ways that life and Survivor have impacted everybody, and some of them have two decades of wisdom to boot.”

That wisdom will be put to the test when Survivor: Winners at War premieres Feb. 12 on CBS.

To watch Probst talk about the oldest Survivor cast ever, watch the video at the top of the post. For more Survivor articles, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, 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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