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Back to Basics - January 3

Back in 2000, Survivor touched off a nation. The simple format, beautiful scenic backdrops, interesting people and visually pleasing challenges became water cooler talk all over. "The tribe has spoken" became a catch phrase in an instant, and Richard Hatch a national celebrity. Twelve series later, the show has relied on twists, new game play and other changes meant to keep the show at the forefront of the nation's consciousness. Instead, the show has become over reliant on the "next new twist" or the "most shocking surprise this year!" and the show suffers for it. What made the original so great was that everything was the bare minimum: you had a reward challenge, an immunity challenge, an elimination, eventually a merge, and someone at the end would win a million dollars. Imagine that Survivor is the goose that lays golden eggs. Instead of keeping the goose around for a while, Mark Burnett decided to turn the poor fella into foie gras.

The first issue became a non-starter fairly soon into the run. Sure, everyone was talking about the tribes being separated by race, but midway through the third episode, the twist was moot, as everyone was integrated. Exile Island is only interesting when the pocket immunity idol is still out there. Since it didn't come into play last time, the producers made the clues much easier, in order to get the idol into someone's hands and into the game sooner. That's all fine and good, but watching someone sit cold and starving next to a shipwreck isn't good television, no matter what the producers want you to think. Then there's the execution of the pocket immunity. Once again, it didn't come into play, even though the bearer openly declared his possession of the coveted talisman. We now have two "big twists" that have gone over like wearing a plaid shirt with striped slacks.

Perhaps the biggest travesty came on the final episode. When it was revealed that the last tribal council would be contested among the final three players instead of just two, I felt cheated. There are some things that you don't change, and especially don't spring on players at the last minute. Never mind the possibility of a three-way tie, having three people at the end creates dynamics much different than having two spots at the final vote. The thing of it is that the players never got a chance to adjust their strategies: Jeff said, "Oh, by the by, three of you make it to the end." It's totally bush league, and unfair to the players who have come to rely on certain aspects of the game.

I hope that the next edition of the game goes back to basics, but it sounds like that's not going to happen. Nineteen players will play the game, some living in luxury, and others in squalor. Exile Island will be back, this time hiding two personal immunity idols. It's still Survivor, and I'm happy for that, but a small part of me wishes for the good old days.

Travis Eberle hopes the new personal immunity idols are an onion on a string. Send him an e-mail at if you want him to explain the joke to you.


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