The season 41 game is only 26 days long due to a two-week COVID quarantine for the cast and crew — but that change could be permanent.
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

There are a lot of changes to the upcoming season 41 of Survivor — titled, appropriately, Survivor 41. Of course, the grandaddy of all reality competition shows has always made tweaks and twists to each installment, which is one of the reasons the series is still humming along after more than 20 years and 40 seasons. But one of the biggest changes to the upcoming iteration (which will premiere Sept. 22 on CBS) is because of scheduling issues related to COVID-19.

After a yearlong production shutdown, Survivor finally got back up and running in the spring of 2021, but due to an added two-week quarantine, the number of days producers could actually spend filming had to be cut down from the standard 39 to just 26.

"The decision to change the game to 26 days came from the fact that we couldn't leave our bubble," explains host Jeff Probst. "So if we wanted to shoot two seasons, we had to do it back to back. For us to shoot two seasons of 39 days, back to back, along with our 14-day quarantine, would have meant nearly 100 days, and that was simply too long." 

Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets

But if producers could not put contestants out in the elements for the full 39 days, they still wanted to simulate the experience as much as possible. "Once we landed at 26 days, the first thing we had to do was adjust the living conditions of the game so that 26 days would still feel like 39 days," says Probst. "At first glance, you might think that's impossible, but it's not. The players definitely felt it, and you'll see it in the show."

In fact, Probst says we'll see players struggling more, not less, in the abbreviated campaign. "The conditions were very tough because they started with no food, very limited camp supplies, and very few rewards," says Probst. "So their cognitive abilities are diminished much faster than in the past. After only a handful of days with no food, they started to struggle to form clear thoughts. You'll see it. They struggle in all areas of the game. Nobody was complaining that 26 days was not enough!"

But it wasn't just about giving the contestants less. It was also about squeezing more game into fewer days. "The pace is absolutely relentless," says Probst. "Faster than any other season. There is no time to sit back and contemplate even for a moment. You have to be assessing and reassessing your options on an hourly basis because you have no idea what is coming next. The game design has never been so dangerous."

So if Probst and the producers are so happy with the results of the 26-day shooting schedule for season 41, does this mean the show may never go back to its standard 39-day game, especially since a 26-day filming season would be cheaper for the network? "We haven't decided if we will go back to 39 days," says Probst. "I will say that I'm optimistic that fans will find this new 26-day game to be very entertaining and Survivor-worthy."

While the host cannot make any guarantees about what the future holds, he remains confident that fans will come away satisfied by what they see on screen: "I loved this new version of Survivor and I think fans will too. I don't think anyone will even notice that it's only 26 days. Remember, it's not the number of days that matter. It's what happens during those days. And a lot happens in Survivor 41."

To keep track of our daily pre-game Survivor 41 coverage, check out EW's Survivor hub and follow Dalton Ross on Twitter.

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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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