After over two decades on the air, change is inevitable. It seems like Survivor just keeps throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks and what doesn’t. It may feel like the show’s twists have become too convoluted. But what we, as viewers, tend to forget is that the show has had twists since the early days.
The first big twist of the show’s history came in the third season, Survivor: Africa, when Jeff Probst introduced a tribe swap. What is a staple of the show now began as a huge wrinkle in many player’s games.
Similarly, the hidden immunity idol was introduced in season eleven, Survivor: Guatemala. Now it is difficult to remember a time when players were not sneaking around the jungle, looking in every nook and cranny for a special necklace to save them from the crosshairs.
These are some of the successful twists in the show’s history. They continue because they brought and continue to bring excitement to an ever-evolving game.
Not every twist stays around though. In fact, some are so ill-conceived that the only reason they are remembered is because of their failure. These are the Top 5 Worst Survivor Twists.
5. Haves vs Have Nots (Survivor: Fiji)
It can be easy to see the potential in even some of Survivor’s worst twists.
This is not one of them.
How the Haves vs Have Nots twist from Survivor: Fiji got past the person who conceived it, I will never understand. The cast was divided into two tribes and based on the result of their first challenge, one tribe would be sent to a luxury camp and the other would start from scratch.
The luxury camp came with a fully built shelter, a shower, some furniture, fire-making supplies, and even a toilet! The other tribe was given a pot and a machete and were basically told, “good luck!”
I guess the idea of the twist was to act as a statement on society and to see whether the Have-Nots could overcome their adversity. But in a game where you are literally starving, sleep deprived, and don’t even get to enjoy the luxury of feeling clean while the other tribe gets to experience the opposite? I don’t know how the producers expected any other outcome than what we got.
The difference in having means vs not was quickly apparent. The Haves tribe won every single challenge except one during the premerge – the rich kept getting richer. If that’s the statement Probst and Co wanted to make, they succeeded.
But it is not good TV.
*Despite this awful twist, Survivor: Fiji is still one of the show’s most underrated seasons and is definitely worth a watch if you have not seen it!*
4. Medallion of Power (Survivor: Nicaragua)
Every other twist on this list is either game-breaking, controversial, or both. The Medallion of Power is neither. It’s just lame.
During Survivor: Nicaragua, Jeff Probst introduced the Medallion of Power. If used, the Medallion of Power would grant the tribe who uses it an advantage during the challenge.
After the challenge mechanics were established by Probst, he would ask if the tribe who has it wants to use it. If they don’t, they hold onto the Medallion of Power for future use. If they do, they receive the challenge advantage but the other tribe is now granted the Medallion of Power until they use it.
The twist was a way to make sure that the “older” tribe (people over 30) were not demolished by the “younger” tribe (people under 30). If that was such a concern, the crew could have constructed challenges that would not greatly advantage one of the tribes.
As it played out, the Medallion of Power was silly. The two times it was used, the tribe that used it won. Crazy, right? Additionally, the Medallion – an oversized, flower-looking necklace – just looked ridiculous.
The Medallion of Power lasted for only twelve days before being retired to obscurity. Crazy to think that if it had lasted even one more day, it might have won Edge of Extinction.
3. Super Idol (Survivor: Panama, Survivor: Cook Islands, Survivor: Cagayan)
Although it still has some detractors, most fans have been able to get behind hidden immunity idols in their current format. But it took some time to get to where we are now.
Now, hidden immunity idols are played after the tribe has voted but before votes are read. This allows for a bit of excitement. There is gambling involved.
Did your tribemates put their votes on you or your ally? Did they suspect you have an idol and decide to vote you out later or were you ever even a target? These are the questions the hidden immunity idol holder has to ask themselves.
Before the producers figured out how to make the hidden immunity idol work, they tried something entirely different – something too powerful.
In Survivor: Panama and Survivor: Cook Islands, the holder of the hidden immunity idol was allowed to play it after votes were read. There was no guessing involved. It was essentially a second life in the game. After these two seasons, the hidden immunity idol adopted the current rules.
Inexplicably, the Super Idol returned in Survivor: Cagayan under the guise of being a brand new idea pitched by Tyler Perry to Jeff Probst himself.
The bright side is that the idol was never actually played in this format. But its powers are still clear – Every person that held it (Terry, Yul, Tony) had the extra protection and the confidence that comes with it. Two of them won and the other barely missed out on Final Tribal Council.
A Super Idol makes things far too predictable, as it is basically a guaranteed spot in the finale. Minus two variations in Survivor: Kaoh Rong and Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, we have not seen it return.
Hopefully we never do.
2. Tribes Divided by Race (Survivor: Cook Islands)
After years of criticism for their mostly white casts, Survivor wanted to make a point that they were inclusive of all races. Not a bad idea!
The cast consisted of five African American contestants, five Asian American contestants, five Hispanic American contestants, and five Caucasian contestants. With such a diverse group, it would be interesting to see how these twenty Americans interact when they are all mixed up into two tribes.
They were divided into four tribes with each tribe consisting of five people all of the same race? Going against each other? In a weird, tone-deaf pseudo race war?
Any possible good intentions that producers might have had were completely wiped away as soon as they made the decision to divide the tribes by race. Primetime reality TV is not the place to try out what could have been a potentially interesting experiment, if treated delicately.
Thankfully, the tribes swapped after only two episodes, saving this twist from #1.
1. Edge of Extinction (Survivor: Edge of Extinction & Survivor: Winners at War)
It is hard to believe that someone thought that taking Redemption Island – an already hated twist – and making it worse was a good idea.
Like Redemption Island, when contestants were voted off, they found themselves on a new island, separate from the main game. Here, they waited for a chance to re-enter the game. There are a few key differences between the two twists:
- Edge of Extinction is considered more “extreme” with minimal food, water, and shelter. So much so that there is a built in way to quit, in the form of raising a white flag.
- Instead of having a challenge every week with the losers being officially eliminated and the winners living to see the next challenge, Edge of Extinction just requires you to be better than everyone else during a single challenge.
- After the first re-entry at the merge, everyone who lost that challenge can stay on the Edge of Extinction to compete to re-enter at the final five. Then if they lose the second challenge as well, they are now members of the jury. Even if they were voted off on Day 3.
I, like many viewers, am already not a fan of players re-entering the game. But this is the worst case of it. To have someone be voted out third, then spend most of their days bonding with the eventual jurors, re-enter the game at the final five, and then win the game with a decisive vote was just hard to watch.
To make the Edge of Extinction worse, it takes away precious time that we could be using to see the actual players playing the game. It was bad enough in its original iteration but in a season as huge as Winners at War, it felt like a crime.
Are There Worse Twists?
Are these the worst of the worst Survivor twists? Any that you hate more? Could you beat Chris Underwood’s thirteen day run on Survivor? Let me know in the comments below!