Survivor Roundtable Part I

By BOP Staff

April 17, 2013

Threesome...or, as we're calling it, 'Robsome'.

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David Mumpower: Is the problem with this season as simple as casting or does it exist beyond that? Does anyone disagree that this has been a disappointing season?

Jim Van Nest: I'm not a huge fan of judging a season prior to its conclusion, but until last week's episode, this season has been pretty blah. Corinne's blindside last week, though, was one of the best episodes of the show in a while and I'm hopeful that the quality of the season will start to pick up from here.

But, since you mention it, I think casting is very large portion of the problem with Survivor. Several seasons ago, Survivor got away from casting "16 ordinary Americans" to send on the adventure of a lifetime and started sending "16 people that we personally hand picked because their personalities fit a role that we were looking for" to send on a mediocre adventure. As soon as the casts were filled with more recruited players than applicants, the quality of the program started going downhill.

Game play is almost non-existent anymore as the recruits spend most of the time trying to use Survivor as a spring board to something better down the road. It's no coincidence that Malcolm is probably the most popular player to grace the Survivor screen in many years. Some will suggest it's because he's good looking and charismatic. I'd suggest it's because he's a fan of the show and he knows how to play the game.

And these are just my general "what's wrong with Survivor" casting gripes...which doesn't even cover the tip of the iceberg with the casting issues with this season specifically.


Ben Willoughby: I think the casting is a big reason why this season has been disappointing so far, and it's also a part of a larger issue with Survivor.

One challenge facing the producers of Survivor every season is that it's an unscripted drama with only 16 hours of television. When you cut out the credits, commercials, nature footage and the challenges, we really only have about 12 hours to get to know the castaways - or at least the six or eight of them that make a difference to the game. To speed things up, the show casts characters that we're familiar with, even if we haven't met them before. So we get lots of larger than life personalities and stereotypes.

Another challenge is how to maintain viewer interest over the season - especially when you have, say, a dominant alliance and predictable boots over a few weeks. And once people skip a week or two, it's hard to get them interested in the season again. The producers have tried different ways of coping with this - mostly by making the game less predictable with tribe switches, hidden immunity idols and so on. But I think this also affects casting, and they try to cast people who could support a story arc within the show.

I think the casting of this season's favorites is a good example of my point. Brandon, Phillip, Erik, Francesca and probably Cochran were all cast in part because they had no chance of winning in their first season, and had potential for a redemption story arc where they have learned from their past experiences on the show and can do better this time. (Spoiler - most of them haven't). OK, fair enough, bring them back if viewers want to see them again. But compare these favorites against the first Fans vs Favorites season - there was Parvati, Cirie, Amanda, Jonathan Penner, Ami, Yau-Man, Ozzy. None of them had won their first season, but they were all cast because they were good at Survivor (or at least parts of it). You can't say the same for this season's favorites.

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