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‘Survivor’ survives by never truly changing

(Posted September 15, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

[Spoiler warning: This story discusses possible plot developments on the new season of "Survivor." Don't want to know? Don't read.]

Five years after the first season debuted, the 11th season of "Survivor" will begin airing, with a Sept. 15 premiere on CBS. Throughout its life, the show has evolved significantly. Repeats of the first few seasons now airing on the Outdoor Life Network (“Survivor Africa” repeats began airing Sept. 12) proves just how far the series — and the genre — has grown in a very short period of time. The storytelling and production values of that first season, groundbreaking at the time, seem amateurish today.

Yet although the show’s packaging is slicker, what’s inside the box never really changed. “Survivor” religiously stuck to its formula for all 11 seasons, following a group of people as they’re challenged physically and mentally to outlast everyone else. Two tribes compete in challenges; the loser votes one member off; the tribes eventually merge; the cast competes in individual challenges; the winner receives immunity and the group votes more people off; eventually, one person is left and wins the game.

Despite that consistency, there have been subtle but significant shifts in its various components. The game’s center never changes, but the way it’s played has been impacted by everything from the timing of the merge to the types of immunity challenges.

Each season, executive producer Mark Burnett and his crew tend to make a relatively major change or two, mostly to try to keep the cast — and the audience — from becoming complacent. From the controversial return of the outcast tribe during “Survivor Pearl Islands” to the division of tribes by sex on “Survivor Amazon,” all of those changes have impacted the way cast members play the game.

Location, location, location
One subtle way the game shifts each year is by a change of venue. “Survivor” has moved around the world, but wherever it ends up, the cast has tended to live beachside. The desolate landscape of Africa was an exception, as was, ironically, the Amazon season. But mostly, the casts have frolicked on beaches or near bodies of water, building shelters on the shore. This season will continue that tradition, but with a twist.

The new 16 castaways will be living on a lake (Laguna Yaxja) in a national park (Yaxha National Park). But they’ll be in the middle of a Guatemalan rainforest living amid Mayan ruins, ancient reminders of the people that lived and died right there.

The setting will also test the cast with its oppressiveness. In sweltering heat that could rise well over 100 degrees, the two tribes will start off by hiking 11 miles to their new homes.

Source: MSNBC News

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