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Survivor Endures the Test of Time


Aude Daubas, format manager for adventure and beach reality at Banijay, tells TV Formats what has led to the longevity of Survivor, which has hit a milestone of 25 years.

The original adventure reality format Survivor has hit a milestone of 25 years since the show made its debut, and the brand is continuing to go from strength to strength in the international market. There is but a select group of formats with this sort of longevity, and the Banijay catalog is home to a handful.

Survivor delivers bold, high-value, tentpole viewing that is a proven ratings hit globally,” says Aude Daubas, format manager for adventure and beach reality at Banijay. “Its strength and longevity come from a perfect blend of exciting physical competition and compelling social game, all wrapped in the enthralling narrative of castaways fighting for survival in escapist, exotic locations. It is telling stories about human nature, but on an epic scale, and is an inspirational watch since you genuinely see contestants turning into heroes. Without a doubt, the format lends itself to families, given its aspirational and entertaining undertone—it really is the ultimate adventure.”

As a production, it has also proven adaptable and resilient, Daubas says. “Through the Covid crisis, the show moved to different locations—produced locally in Australia and Sweden, for instance. But the beautiful and unforgiving tropical desert island remains the key trope that gives the show its signature look and mythology.”

Since the first-ever version in Sweden in 1997, the format (created by Charlie Parsons) has been commissioned in 50 territories. Including pan-regional productions, it has been made for 82 countries. Last year was the format’s most successful to date, with 25 productions for 23 territories.

Next year will be an exciting one for the format, Daubas notes, with the show headed to the BBC in the U.K. Also, French Canada will be getting its first version on Noovo.

The longest-running market for the show is the U.S., which is in its 43rd season. France is at 29 seasons aired, the Netherlands has produced 25, and the originating market in Sweden has broadcast 21 seasons.

There are also impressive figures with regard to volume. For example, in Turkey and Greece, the show is on air continuously for six months a year, in a near-live production, airing long episodes multiple times a week.

Throughout the past 25 years, the show has been rested and returned in a number of markets. And in recent years, there have been several successful comebacks, including Bulgaria, which returned this year after almost eight years off-air; Norway, which launched last year on TV3/Viaplay with a new female host and doubled the slot average; and Finland, which returned in 2018 and has been a staple of Nelonen’s schedule since.

Survivor has a very strong core identity—the tribes, the immunity and rewards challenges, and the iconic Tribal Council,” Daubas says. “Themes of survival, physical achievements and social game run through all our productions, and then around this core, a variety of different versions have been developed through the years.”

One typical variation has to do with casting, Daubas points out, with celebrity and all-star versions proving popular around the world. The classic weekly Survivor format has been extended into a stripped show, for example, in Sweden, Hungary and, more recently, South Africa. Some versions put a greater focus on the sports element, with extended challenges and duels; these have been popular in Eastern Europe and Turkey in particular.

Another successful adaptation is the live version, which airs in Italy and Spain, both with celebrity casts. The production on-location halfway around the world is connected with the studio in the home country, where the host interacts with the contestants. Via a live beach-to-studio on-air stream, audiences can view challenges and councils as they happen before casting their public votes. Along with the main prime-time events, viewers can also follow the castaways’ lives in daily edited episodes.

At the heart of the format, though, there is the cast. “Whether they are anonyms or celebrities, it’s the gallery of characters that make it all come together,” Daubas says. “You need players who will shake things up by building (and breaking) strategies and alliances, and physical players who will shine through in the epic games, and there are always surprising dark horses.”

Every season brings new games but also new format twists. “Overall season themes can really impact the gameplay,” Daubas says. “For example, France had a ‘cursed totem’ in their last season, and Australia did a ‘Blood v. Water’ season this year, where contestants came on the show as duos but were split at the start of the game.”

There is also a range of tried-and-tested reality elements that can be tweaked, Daubas says, including adding third islands, where outvoted contestants can go to try to win their place back into the competition, tribe swaps, dilemmas and more. “Even small tweaks or rule changes to well-established format elements can have an exciting impact on the gameplay and strategies,” she adds.

“We are extremely fortunate at Banijay to have a wealth of in-house expertise, with some of the best creatives in the world, and talented production partners outside of our footprint that strive to keep our shows on-air and fresh every year. It’s this constant reinvention and creative innovation that allows shows like Survivor to maintain huge audiences season after season. Great ideas travel across territories, and we work collaboratively with producers to share innovations, ideas, new twists and best practices with the global Survivor family. It’s an iterative process on a global scale.”








About Kristin Brzoznowski

Kristin Brzoznowski is the executive editor of World Screen. She can be reached at kbrzoznowski@worldscreen.com.

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