'Survivor' 2017: How CBS Reality Show Has Outlasted & Remained A Ratings Hit 17 Years Later
Survivor has outlasted most reality shows that aired in the early 2000s, and its fanbase is even more dedicated than ever.
Tonight, Survivor airs the fifth episode of its 34th season (sixth if you count the premiere as two episodes). The series has now been on the air for almost 17 years now, and it's showing no real signs of slowing down.
While the series' live ratings aren't anywhere near where they used to be in 2000 and 2001, the latest ratings show that it is still a top 10 show in the adults 18-49 demographic and a top 15 show among overall viewers. Even as ratings continue to decline for every network show, amid the glut of Netflix, DVRing, cable and overall stratification, Survivor's core fanbase remains loyal.
Analysis for the show is also booming. The number of Survivor podcasts analyzing every new episode of the show continues to grow with each passing year, from Rob Has a Podcast to Purple Rock Podcast to The Tribe, where former contestants and "superfans" can bond over the show they all love. There's also a new video after-show on the PEN network hosted by Andrea Boehlke, and a rotating panel of former players who chat every week on Survivor's Facebook Live.
Survivor's ever-evolving format has also kept viewers enthralled, with a new hook every season. From all-star seasons to fans vs. favorites to castaways playing with loved ones, fans have seen all kinds of concepts over the years. Even if some twists haven't worked (the Medallion of Power) or were polarizing (Redemption Island), there's always been something about the show that has kept people engaged even through rough patches.
Perhaps it's the casting. Reality TV has often focused on trainwrecks and gained a reputation for being trashy, but Survivor has rarely devolved into brainless entertainment. Conflicts may get ugly, but it's usually in the competitive spirit of the game. The show's sprawling cast allows viewers to pick favorites and see themselves reflected on the island, giving the audience a vested interest in seeing their player of choice go far into the game.
Fans have also seen that anyone can win Survivor. People from all walks of life - men, women, black, white, Asian-American, Hispanic, gay, straight, young and old - have gone on to win the $1 million. There are also many approaches to a game-winning strategy, from dominating in challenges, being the strategic mastermind, floating under the radar and many more.
Jeff Probst, who has hosted Survivor from Day 1, has a theory on what keeps people watching week after week, year after year.
"I really do believe that a lot of people who don't watch Survivor would love it. The storytelling is really good." he told The Hollywood Reporter last month. "I know I'm biased; I'm part of the show. But it's very deep, rich, human behavior. Why do we do what we do? How do we justify our behavior?"
While castaways and twists may come and go, Survivor's central premise may be the underlying compelling factor: a group of strangers flown to a remote island voting each other out for $1 million. As long as the storytelling remains as strong and the concept remains watchable, "we'll keep making it," says Probst.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.