Julia Dick, consultant executive producer for Survivor, talks to TV Formats about the adventure reality game show that has enjoyed more than 300 seasons since its inception, with 48 local adaptations.
Touted as the original adventure reality game show, Survivor has proven to be one of the longest-running and most durable formats in the business. Enjoying more than 300 seasons since its inception, with 48 local adaptations, filmed in 58 locations, and welcoming almost 6,000 participants globally, Survivor continues to be a worldwide hit.
The U.S. treatment saw its 40th season earlier this year on CBS, averaging an audience of over 9.7 million viewers across the series. In Sweden, where the format originally launched in 1997, the series is still going strong with 19 seasons to date. France is another territory with longstanding success for Survivor, with its 26th season currently airing on TF1. Other territories that have hosted multiple top-rating seasons of the format include Australia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain and Turkey.
“In the past few years, we have seen a resurgence in the number of reboots of the series,” says Julia Dick, consultant executive producer for Survivor. “Since 2017, there have been at least ten territories that have brought back this mega-format. Australia, Russia, Greece and Hungary have successfully revived the show after an absence of more than ten years. Romania is the latest territory to bring the series back for 2020, following a hiatus. This summer, Mexico picked up the format for the very first time, which aired on TV Azteca.”
Sold by Banijay Rights, Survivor has proven to be a highly adaptable format that is supported by a strong foundation of a tried-and-tested formula. “Licensees have a wealth of variables to choose from that have proven to be equally successful in other territories and across multiple series,” says Dick. “Each season has between 26 to 80 challenges, which means we now have a pool of approximately 10,000 challenges that have played out in Survivor over more than 22 years. This gives licensees the opportunity to constantly refresh the show with new games and casting twists.”
For example, in Russia last year, a decision was made to choose contestants from a mix of members of the public and psychics. “The huge popularity of the show proved how such an unlikely combination could capture the public imagination,” Dick says.
Season 38 of the U.S. version of Survivor introduced a twist called Edge of Extinction. Each player voted out was given the choice of either going home or going to a harsh, remote island with the chance of getting back into the game at a later stage.
“From stripped to live programming, anniversary to celebrity versions, there is an ever-growing number of spin-offs,” Dick notes. “The two-tribe format pillar lends itself to various ‘versus’ situations and diverse casting—such as sport stars versus civilians. As Survivor often attracts big advertisers, broadcasters like to get as much as they can out of the format. The live VIP versions in Spain and Italy regularly dominate the schedules and drive massive social media buzz. The VIP cast is a good way of capturing the elusive 16-to-34 demographic that so many channels struggle to attract. The sports-focused version, which pits VIPs against civilians, broadcasts three or four episodes a week and is a huge hit in Turkey, Greece and, as of 2020, Romania.”
In territories with long-running Survivor series, there have also been iterations bringing back past contestants, including several previous winners. “The winners series work so well because the contestants are well known and fan favorites,” Dick says. “The excitement is in how the game is played—some go with social strategy like that of a chess grandmaster predicting gameplay in advance, while others aim to be challenge beasts, proving themselves through physical battles, dexterity and agility, or some go down the social-icon route, revered, respected and loved by all.”
For audiences, the format offers a much-needed dose of escapism, she adds. “Filmed in paradise locations, the pre-recorded, stripped version tends to sit in the winter schedules over four to five nights per week. The high-quality production values and cinematic feel showcase the exotic landscapes to viewers while entertaining with constant surprises and drama. It is the ultimate adventure, where a shipwrecked cast live the simple life adrift from modern-day comforts and communication.”
For broadcasters, Survivor creates a buzzy, premium television event, with a track record that shows its ability to draw big audiences. “Advertisers are keen to work with the show, and the reward segments offer an ideal and natural home for product placement,” Dick says. “It’s a channel-defining format that is an uplifting watch, always celebrating heroes, highlighting and awarding achievement, and following highly personal journeys through a life-changing adventure.”
The Mexican adaptation of Survivor was commissioned during the pandemic and successfully launched in July. Even during these challenging times, territories such as Spain, Romania and Turkey have also been able to continue safely producing live versions in Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Sweden is currently in production with the 20th season of Expedition Robinson, and for the first time in its 23-year history, the show is being shot domestically. “This highlights the adaptability of the format as well as the creativity of the teams behind it,” Dick says. “There has been a huge amount of interest from both press and fans, as viewers can’t wait to see the highly anticipated, groundbreaking edition. There are a number of Survivorproductions starting in the next few weeks, and some others in preproduction gearing up for shoots in the coming months—so watch this space!”
In territories where production has not been able to go ahead as planned, finished tape versions have been filling the void. For example, Ten in Australia recently picked up South African and New Zealand versions. “Survivor is one of the best-known adventure reality brands, and broadcasters are keen to fill their schedules with content they know their audiences already love and are familiar with,” Dick says.
She adds that the show also has proven success in the SVOD space, “and we would like to see this continue to grow. Halo programming, brand extensions and tie-ins have worked well for a few years and will carry on as broadcast groups look to spread brands over multiple channels. Extra content for webisodes also becomes an attractive addition to the original format model.
Banijay Rights is offering up the finished versions of Survivor South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, with the latest Australian series Survivor All Stars having launched this summer. “The series brings together the best of the best,” Dick says of its enticing proposition. “They’re the biggest villains, game players and heroes Australian Survivor has ever seen. The world’s greatest game goes into overdrive when returning contestants from the previous four seasons all come together to play the game against each other.”