The next in a long line of international Survivor offerings kicked off last night with the British reboot on the BBC. Does it stand up against other incarnations of the world’s biggest survival game?
Hosted by comedian and Masked Singer UK frontman, Joel Dommett, a rebooted Survivor got underway last night. Filmed earlier this year in the Dominican Republic, the series sees 18 competitors stranded across two tribes and beaches, competing each day for rewards, in the form of food, tools and creature comforts, and immunities, the means by which you can avoid having to vote out one of your own.
The concept is not a new one, even to the United Kingdom. The most successful version of the programme began in the United States in 2000, broadcasting, for the most part, two seasons a year, filmed in a great variety of exotic locations around the world. While this iteration has outlasted to this day – the 45th season premiered on CBS last month – a British flash-in-the-pan survived a mere two seasons, aired on ITV between 2001 and 2002. The original UK version failed to capture the heart and charm of its counterparts and, ultimately, was cancelled when the high ratings expectations of the network were not met.
Now revived by the BBC and Banijay Group, Survivor UK sees two tribes of nine, Caleton in orange and La Nena in blue, compete to win the £100,000 prize. The rebooted series is fronted by Joel Dommett, most known for hosting ITV reality series, The Masked Singer. Dommett emulates the style and patter of American host, Jeff Probst, well while also maintaining his own comedic style and personality. During the opening challenge, that saw the two new tribes try to bring as much fresh produce from the ship that brought them to the island on which they will be stranded, Dommett amusingly opened a banana and began eating it. Overall, Joel Dommett, or J.D. as one contestant dubbed him, is off to a good start as host, having clearly studied up on his conterparts.
Survivor is a game of three facets: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast. Players that succeed in the competition straddle the fine lines between each of these, with the best players realising that even the smallest of decisions can have a crucial impact on your game, be that positively or negatively.
The facet of the game that focusses mostly on the personal aspects of the game – relationships between tribemates, promises made between allies, deciding where you fit in your tribe in terms of leadership or subordination, was the most on display in the series opener. As the Caleton and La Nena tribes got to know their teammates, early strategy decisions began to come to the fore. In other versions of Survivor, these are often carefully considered choices but, given the words and actions of this group of eighteen, I’m not sure how schooled these contestants are on the rich history of Survivor that has taken place before them.
Shai, who apparently grew up watching Survivor in Sri Lanka, made the cardinal error of trying to boss his tribe mates about, drawing the ire of the Caleton tribe, especially Nathan and Leilani. Were it not for his commanding performance in the Immunity Challenge, Shai could have easily found himself being the first person voted out of the game.
The outplay category first and foremost covers the physical and mental challenges that take place for rewards and immunity. The La Nena tribe dominated in this aspect, winning both the opening rewards challenge and the subsequent ‘Dead Weight’ immunity challenge. Naming the challenges properly and highlighting how they work in a bespoke video package differentiates the UK series from other international versions of the show. While you’ll have the game mechanic explained with overlayed video, this felt more like the competitors were getting ready to enter The Cube and I, for one, am down with this slight adjustment to the norm.
The challenge itself was a Survivor classic and is one that seldom fails to combine strength and strategy beautifully. Caleton played their strengths very well and the clear, effective communication between Nathan and Shai to share the extra weight between them was great to see. The La Nena tribe were extremely lucky that the same level of teamwork did not exist between Richard and Matthew. More on this in the next section.
The La Nena group, especially Belfast boxer, Lee, adopted the strategy of bantering with the competition, trying to play mind games rather than focus on his own game. This was after Sabrina bragged about their lavish meal of rice and vegetables before the challenge even began. It’s a very bold Survivor move that can go two ways: either it has the effect of demoralising the opposition (though this doesn’t happen often in Survivor), or it lights a fire under the competition and they work that little bit harder to beat you and shut your mouth. The latter seemed to be taking place in this instance, aside from Richard, and La Nena’s arrogance could come back to bite them going forward.
Ultimately, one of the 18 would fail to outlast even the first phase of the competition. When all was said and done, Richard’s failures to outwit and outplay led to his inability to outlast. As much as he tried to explain it away, claiming that the rings slipped from his fingers, Richard flat out gave up on the challenge. I don’t know if he became exasperated that Matthew struggled to hold two of the weights for any length of time and, therefore, decided to throw in the towel before having to shoulder that burden alone for too long, but it was clear to me that he just let go.
Caleton failed to set the ground work that would enable them to outlast very early in the game. While they lacked the tools to make fire and feed themselves between challenges, the group elected to waste time and energy trying to influence things outside of their control, like starting a fire by grinding coconut husks, rather than use the few tools that the were given to build an appropriate shelter and base. Adding lack of sleep and general discomfort to their hunger undoubtedly handicapped them, which could have been alleviated with a little organisation. That said, Richard was on of the Caleton tribe members most focussed on starting a fire, rather than building shelter, so perhaps his elimination is even more deserved than originally thought.
Opening Episode Thoughts
Overall, this was a solid start for the rebooted series and had plenty to please both fans of other versions of the show, as well as a generic British reality watching audience. Joel Dommett’s narration over the scenes at camp harkened back to the early days of Survivor and, while it doesn’t happen in modern editions, it is a familiar of other, popular reality programming like Big Brother or The Traitors. The rest of the show matched the style of its American counterpart with a few of the cinematic polishes of Australian Survivor. You can’t really go wrong borrowing anything from Survivor AU, in my opinion.
For as much as I was expecting to groan and eyeroll at an exclusively British cast of characters, there are actually some decent personalities involved. There are some caricatures of British culture, for sure, such as Jess the model but not that type of model, Irish slugger, Lee, and posh pony lover, Laurence, but they’re not too over the top, at least not yet, and are balanced by a group of people that come from a wide subset of British living. Laurence is one of the standouts for me, so far, purely for leaning into the posh rather than trying to downplay it. He’s not that posh, really.
Things were a little pensive in this first outing but this sentiment is coming from someone who was watched a lot of Survivor and is more accustomed to a faster start. Survivor UK needed to reintroduce the format to a brand new audience and that’s absolutely fine. I’m also not expecting any of the twists and turns present in Probst controlled Survivor, either. I’d wager that the vast majority of the cast hasn’t even seen an episode of Survivor before and, since the show hasn’t actually been on broadcast television in 20 years, I can’t really blame them. If you are new to Survivor, though, I’d highly recommend checking out Australian Survivor on Prime Video.
Survivor is broadcast every Saturday and Sunday evening on BBC One with both of the weekend’s episodes available on BBC iPlayer immediately following the Saturday airing. The show is expected to run for eight weeks for a total of 16 episodes.
What did you think of the Survivor opener? Does it meet the expectations of previous versions of the show? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!