More than eight years and 17 seasons after its debut, the granddaddy of elimination/competition reality television hasn't lost its edge. The Survivor franchise, how shall we say, survives, because its producers know how to keep it fresh, while never straying far from its original formula.
This season the franchise has something new going for it: High Def. "Survivor: Gabon" is the first season broadcast in HD on CBS. If you have a 50 inch plasma, this show visually rivals the best of the Discovery Channel or HD Net. It's worth watching for the photography alone. It's simply spectacular.
But I've discovered something else. The producers find ways to mix it up and throw in new twists and rules. Years ago they added "exile island" where a tribe that wins a challenge can send a castaway from the losing team into isolation overnight. But that "loser" has a chance to find an immunity idol to keep him safe from being voted off. It also changes the dynamic within that tribe. In recent seasons they have also shuffled the tribe make-ups without warning, busting up alliances that had formed.
This past week, something new: the castaways competed for individual immunity before the two tribes merged. Keeps it fresh. I've also discovered that each season the casts have distinct collective personalities. I'm not sure how much credit goes to the casting directors, and how much of this is a natural extension of human nature. Perhaps a little bit of both.
I diligently watched the first two seasons. Season one will always be unique because it was the first. There were no preconceived notions, no established strategies, and no knowledge of how past winners made it to the top. After the 9/11 attacks, I stopped watching for several seasons. It just seemed that "manufactured" peril wasn't necessary (or interesting) in this world where we all might become survivors. But that wore off and I started watching again three years later when the "best" past contestants returned for "Survivor All-Stars" (season 8). Skipped a year (two seasons) then started watching again, and now after watching five seasons in a row, I seem to be hooked for life. In the world of reality, nobody does it better. Not even Big Brother or Amazing Race, two other CBS staples. The irony: with the storyline manipulations achieved in the editing booth, these shows aren't reality at all!