Two million viewers, across Canada. Seventh place on a week that featured six NHL late-round Stanley Cup playoff games, the deciding leg of The Amazing Race and an Emmy Award-winning outing of The Big Bang Theory.
Those who claim Survivor has outlived its sell-by date won’t bother with the 27th edition, Survivor: Blood vs. Water, when it debuts Wednesday. The season’s central gimmick — former players compete against their relatives to see who can outwit, outplay and outlast their way to the million-dollar prize and the title of sole survivor — is unlikely to reel in any new viewers, nor is it likely to lure back those who drifted away over the years.
It doesn’t really matter, though, because Survivor: Blood vs. Water will still draw a crowd.
The combination of Survivor’s pristine tropical setting — Blood vs. Water was filmed in a remote archipelago in the Philippines this past April and May — and viewers’ ceaseless fascination Survivor’s social experiment, coupled with long winter nights back home, means Survivor will again be near the front of the weekly ratings pack.
As long as 26 seasons sounds, here’s an even more sobering fact: Wednesday’s season premiere will be Survivor’s 400th episode.
Controversies abound, as Blood vs. Water begins. It wouldn’t be Survivor if there weren’t at least some controversy, even among the program’s most ardent fans.
Survivor purists — yes, they exist — don’t like the idea of returning players. They’ve had their chance, the reasoning goes: The game should be for new people to play.
Others insist that returning players add a new layer of excitement, uncertainty even, because people do change over time and “do overs” don’t always play out as expected.
Purists complain that Survivor seasons with returning players feature too many twists, because the producers have to counter fans’ familiarity with the players by manipulating the game more than they would in a normal season.
Blood vs. Water certainly features more twists. Right at the start, 10 couples are sent to 10 different locations to live by themselves for the night — the Survivor equivalent of Outward Bound’s “solo” challenge, but with one’s significant other instead of having to rely solely on oneself.
The following morning, the 10 couples are brought back to a single location and assemble before host Jeff Probst, and the game begins with an immediate twist. (The twist has been revealed by some high-profile, unnamed media outlets, but shall go unmentioned here out of respect to Survivor’s two million fans in Canada.)
Blood vs. Water features the return of Redemption Island — a remote island rock where banished players compete for a chance to claw their way back into the game — along with an added twist that allows eliminated players to change places with a loved one under certain circumstances.
Probst insists the twists are necessary to keep Survivor alive. The chances of the game ever returning to the original concept of 16 strangers competing with a final two and no twists are slim to none, he has said in interviews. Survivor’s numbers have tailed off in recent seasons in the U.S., though they have held steady for the most part in Canada.
Now that Survivor has been a fixture on TV since 2000, every new player has seen past seasons and is familiar with the way strategies work. Some players have even grown up watching Survivor: A 23-year-old competing on Survivor for the first time could conceivably have been watching the game since he or she was 10.
Whether Survivor qualifies as interesting, compelling TV to begin with is up to the viewer to decide. Many viewers won’t bother — but enough will to make Survivor one of the most-watched programs on TV Wednesday. Love it or hate it, that has to count for something. (Global, CBS, 8 ET/PT, 9 MT)