Survivor‘s Winners at War will undoubtedly go down as one of the series’ most ambitious and exciting seasons yet. While we certainly aren’t throwing shade at this longed-for all-star extravaganza, there’s one element that’s disrupting this island paradise: tribal council side chats. Lately, the repetitious bevy of whispers has bulldozed the sanctity of tribal, sucking up precious airtime and leaving viewers scratching their heads.
Tribal council whispering is nothing new. In the Caramoan season, chatter erupted after the Three Amigos pulled out a triple immunity play. More recently, in Game Changers‘ infamous dual-tribe vote, a smattering of side convos — including multiple players getting out of their seats — led to the shocking blindside of fan-favorite Malcolm. While these mumbles and mutters have led to some truly WTF!? moments throughout the years, the tactic is so widespread now that it ultimately detracts from the show’s weekly climax.
During Second Chances, there was much talk about the “evolution of the game,” and I’d argue that Winners at War and its fire tokens are ushering in the game’s strategic third wave. Yet, this new commando-style communication doesn’t befit the latest iteration. Wednesday’s episode, for example, was dominated by visiting loved ones, the Edge of Extinction and the immunity challenge, leaving little time for the how and why of it all.
As TVLine reader Tyler noted, “There’s so much going on that it’s genuinely hurting the show… Strategy keeps getting edited down into small montages that also have to balance all of the advantages people have. The show has almost outgrown itself.” These montages convey the chaos of it all, but it’s hard to grasp where every player stands. Without this much-needed context, the actual vote-out almost seems random. If we’re completely clueless about alliances, it’s hard to pinpoint when people flip, which really takes the sting out of the betrayals. It’s also worth mentioning that we’re no longer privy to the vote rundown, which used to be revealed during the end credits. Well, at least there’s Reddit.
Watching people squirrel away into little clusters doesn’t provide us with any background, nor is it compelling television. If the show’s narrative is dominated by other elements, then we must rely on Tribal to help fill in the blanks. Plus, Jeff Probst is a phenomenal host, a total pro. He knows how to pull information out of the players, so we can follow the undulating relationships and get the inside scoop. He’s yet another chess piece on the board that players must learn to navigate. The more players gossip on the side, the less interaction between host and competitors. In a season with so many moving parts, we need that back and forth to delineate where the battle lines are, so that “live tribals” can have maximum effect.
If Survivor continues ramping up its advantages and developing its fire token currency, I’m all for it, but it can’t come at the expense of strategy. Let’s limit the side talk, or heck, ban it entirely! Or how about tossing us some bonus content we can binge on All Access? Non-Edge seasons produce online Ponderosa videos, so why not create a bonus series that delivers more of the beach-side scheming we’re hungry for? (Plus, it’ll give viewers another reason to subscribe to the streamer à la Big Brother‘s live feeds.) This would also alleviate calls for super-sized episodes, which is another idea, though an improbable one.
And oh, yeah. Let’s free up some time by never returning to the Edge of Extinction again. Survivor Gods, we pray to thee.
It bears repeating: Winners at War is a treat and we’re blessed to have witnessed the return of OG faves like Parvati, Yul and Ethan. But the show walks a contextual fine line with its hyperactive “seasons on steroids.” Let’s not leave viewers in the dark after the torches are snuffed.
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