A Journey Through “New School” Survivor — Season 30, Survivor: Worlds Apart
While there is no “official” start to the New School era, I consider its beginning to be after Heroes vs. Villains, the twentieth season of Survivor; often considered one of the best, if not the best season in Survivor history. This season has always seemed to be the “opening of the gates” to how everyone could play things strategically, even when odds are against you and numbers aren’t on your side. Nobody was simply “happy to be here” or “just wanted the experience”, everyone wanted to win and do it in a way that could put them in the pantheon of Survivor legend status. And with that, the old school survival and social experiences of the show took a back seat to hardcore and fast paced strategy that defines the new school era.
And with that, I continue my journey with Survivor: Worlds Apart. Since I took a break from watching Survivor when it aired pretty much after HvV, I’m coming into most of the seasons completely fresh without knowledge of what happens (with a few exceptions of one or two seasons I have watched before and a couple more seasons where I have knowledge of who the winner is already). I will start each article with a spoiler-free review of the season for people who stumble upon my little write-up here and haven’t seen the season yet and want to watch still. After that, I will go into an in-depth analysis of the season’s strategy and entertainment through the vessel of awards and superlatives.
Survivor: Worlds Apart — The Spoiler Free Review
Survivor: Worlds Apart (which was never called “Worlds Apart” once) follows a format theme based on occupation: White Collar vs Blue Collar vs No Collar, a similar concept to Cagayan’s Brains vs Brawn vs Beauty. The White Collar tribe is filled with corporate executives and professors and wall street guys, the Blue Collar consists of construction workers and police officers, and the No Collar tribe, well, they don’t really like to be put in a box ya know. From a cast perspective this fills the show with a diverse set of values, ethics, and attitudes that makes Worlds Apart one of the more interesting seasons from a social experiment perspective. While the social experiment part plays out well this season, the conflicts and rivalry steer head on into the controversial waters, with multiple guy castaways making misogynistic remarks ranging from insensitive and uneducated to offensive to brutally hostile. These conflicts at their very worst (and they do get really bad, especially Will towards Shirin in a chaotic episode mid-season) can be riveting reality TV but also can turn off some people to the season as a whole.
The strategy this season is like a sloppier version of South Pacific, and really peaks with one or two great episodes and a couple more mediocre ones. The tribe portion of the game stays really even and intriguing but a larger alliance forms out of the ashes of the merge and becomes the “cult” similar to Coach’s cult. The difference between South Pacific and this season is that the strategists are much louder and make more mistakes, which amps up the dramatics but also is a cause for frustration as you yell at the screen wondering aloud why this castaway is doing this thing or that. The majority alliance being on the villainous side allows for a couple players to stand out and give some true hero performance. While there may be a lot more people in this season that you wish to never see on your screen again, the few players that gain your affection could be a favorite of yours.
RATING: 2 OUT OF 5 STARS
The controversy will always be the talking point that diminishes the few great plays, characters, and moments from this season.
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AWARDS AND SUPERLATIVES
(Here on out it’s spoilers)
Ten Best Moments from the Season
10. Jeff Probst Announcing the Cast of Next Season at the Reunion
Technically not part of this season, but bringing all the possible cast members to dramatically announce if they are on the show again or not was actually quite entertaining and really built up my excitement for watching and reviewing Second Chance.
9. Shirin is Enthralled by Monkeys Having Sex
First time we see a prominent uncensored ballsack in Survivor history?
8. A Fire-making Challenge Decides the Final Three
Mike, who hasn’t really liked Rodney all that much this entire season, chooses to tie the vote and make Rodney work a bit to get to the end against his closest “ally” Carolyn. Carolyn barely beats him in fire-making after an hour of trying and multiple broken flints.
7. Joaquin is blindsided much to Rodney’s dismay
After throwing a challenge in order to vote out post merge threat Joe, the majority alliance takes a right turn after noticing the bond Rodney was building with Joaquin. It was sad to see Joaquin, only for the lost content of him and Rodney’s budding bromance.
6. Carolyn saves herself with the idol, Dan goes home
After Dan uses his advantage for another vote, even though his group had the numbers already, Carolyn plays her the hidden idol she kept secret since day four and saves herself, sending a self-proclaimed Survivor expert home. It added a big move to her Survivor resume and sent a villain packing, so a win-win in my book.
5. Vince’s jealousy of Joe a.k.a “Better Vince”
This weird little two episode Vince arc is hilarious. First off, he’s a coconut vendor, which is not a real job. Also, he’s clearly the most “No Collar” of the No Collar tribe. He and Jenn click early (in Vince’s head) and Vince clearly wants something sexual but Jenn clearly does not. Then, Joe comes into the equation by succeeding in making fire and building the shelter and pretty much being good at everything Vince wants to be good at, which causes Vince to have a sit down with Joe to squash this non-rivalry rivalry. The funny thing is, he really could’ve been close to sending Joe home if he didn’t screw up his relationship with Will by implying that he was physically weak.
4. Shirin Stands Up for Herself Against Will
In a vulnerable and heroic moment, Shirin shares with everyone at tribal council about how she had to deal with trauma and abuse within her family in her past. It’s a strong moment that brings awareness to situations like hers and villainized Will to the viewers even more than he already was.
3. Max the Survivor Nut is Blindsided
It’s just a really funny blindside. Max was the professor who knew absolutely everything you could possibly know about Survivor, dare I say too much. He was like Cochran but lacking self-deprecation and self-awareness. The recent tribe swap made it look like old tribal lines would be the way to go, but Max’s former tribemate Carolyn was prepared to flip, and Blue Collar Kelly went with the momentum of the vote. Max and his right hand woman Shirin had no idea that the vote was actually against them, and it goes to show knowing about Survivor does not mean you are good at Survivor.
2. The Aftermath of the Survivor Auction
This whole episode was wild. After Top moment number one occurred, Mike chooses the moment before everyone reads their letters from home to call out the sub-alliance with the majority alliance for wanting to vote him out, which is the catalyst for the ostracization of Mike for the rest of the season. On top of that, Will chooses to share his personal food stash that he was given from the Survivor auction. Shirin, Jenn and Mike are skeptical that Will is telling the truth, which causes Will to verbally attack Shirin in a way that was borderline unprecedented in Survivor history as he takes very personal jabs at Shirin’s family life. The strategic and emotional breaking points of the entire season occurred within 10 minutes of each other.
1. The Survivor Auction
I had thought Cagayan broke the Survivor Auction as people chose to spend all their money on the advantage rather than the food. Worlds Apart proves it did not. First, Will bids on a secret first item that sends him immediately back to camp in what appeared to be one of the cruelest twists Survivor could possibly throw at you (it wasn’t so bad because they gave him stuff back at camp). Then three people choose to bid on the advantage, but first Jeff Probst teases them with their letters from home, causing Mike, Dan, and Carolyn to either choose their letter from home or save money to bid it all on the advantage. At first the three agree to all spend money on their letter and draw rocks, but when it came time to honor the deal Mike gingerly decided to back out of buying the letter, with the knowledge that earlier at camp he heard his alliance members scheming to blindside him. The backlash for Mike’s move was so loud that Mike ends up buying the letter, and Dan wins the advantage. This one moment in the Survivor Auction set in motion everything that happened for the rest of the season and was the most tense couple minutes of the entire season.
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All-Survivor Teams: Outwit and Outplay
Similar to the All-NBA teams, the section awards five contestants who did the best in the season, separated by Outwit (for best strategic play) and Outplay (most entertaining to watch)
2 men, 2 women, and a wildcard spot for each team
Carolyn — Her game was the cleanest among anyone on this season, staying out of the spotlight, being open to aligning or working with anyone, and making silent but deadly moves to get to the final three. However, when her name was on the chopping block like in the first vote and when she saved herself with her idol she could defend herself with ferocity.
Mike — Before the Survivor auction he was the head of the most powerful alliance in the game. After the auction he had not only the strength in challenges to keep himself safe but the drive to continue to strategize and try to put himself in a better position. However, the most consequential move that secured his win had to be him finding the hidden immunity idol when he didn’t necessarily need it at the time. That idol saved him when he couldn’t win immunity and was the difference between sitting on the jury and winning the million.
Tyler — He was a smart player in a cutthroat way. He had no qualms with doing whatever was needed to get farther in the game, none more sneaky than taking a peak at Dan’s advantage in his bag without his knowledge. He was tightly aligned with Carolyn but their “power couple” was never schemed against because it was kept under the radar. Unfortunately he was the casualty of Mike’s immunity winning streak as he caught the majority of the “vote him out or he’ll win in the end” talk.
Rodney — The hot-blooded Bostonian, while being a little delusional about the strength of his social game, did end up being the glue guy that brought together the majority alliance that exiled Mike in the endgame. In a stronger strategic season he probably isn’t as much of a factor, but in Worlds Apart he kept the outward loyalty to his blue collar alliance while making side deals with people like Carolyn, Tyler and Will to secure some power, which is nothing to scoff at.
Sierra — Props to her for making it as far as she did. After losing her number one ally in Lindsey and being done with the blue collar guys who voted her out, she sucked it up and ended up using her swing vote power to secure her position with them when she would’ve been next to go after a surprise tribe swap. Though I do have to dock her some metaphorical points for being one of those people who says they’re gonna flip on their allies but then never does it. However, I learned while searching for images that she married Joe from this season, so that’s a strategic win in my book.
Shirin — Strategically she dug herself into a giant hole early on with her alliance with Max and an overbearing island personality that proved impossible to climb out of after the merge happened. For an entertainment standpoint however, she offered everything you wanted. She was a goofy personality who valiantly fought off the demons of her past to do whatever she could to stay in the game.
Joe — After episode one you knew this man was gonna be popular. He’s strong, attractive, smart and has the charisma to be a big player on a Survivor season. He seemed too perfect for Survivor, hence why just about everyone was on board with voting him out as quickly as possible once the merge was in sight.
Mike — An aggressive game player whose passion for Survivor shone bright on the screen. After his fantastic misplay at the Survivor auction he was literally fighting for his life every day to stay on the island, and it paid off for him in the best way. He probably has the biggest odds against him of making it to the end of any recent winner I can remember. He was one of the few players to leave this season as likable.
Jenn — She felt like the new-school version of Borneo’s Jenna Lewis. She gave off equal measures of honesty and earnestness and giving no fucks.
Carolyn — While she didn’t have the natural presence to be a face of a Survivor season, I think she had the wittiness needed to give some great confessionals. She was clearly well-liked by everyone on the season.
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The Wallflower Award for Most Forgettable Player: Kelly
This season had a lot of unique characters. Kelly was the one going against the grain by being the least quirky and therefore the most boring. Didn’t even know her name until her injury in the blindfolded reward challenge. That was like episode four.
Foulest Move: Will Making Cruel, Personal, and Offensive Insults at an Abuse Victim, Then Doubling Down on it at Tribal Council
This might be the worst possible look you can ever have for someone like Will who was simultaneously trying so hard to present himself as the “beacon of positivity” in the season. In the final four after the immunity challenge when he made this grand gesture of congratulating Mike and making this whole unity, for the love of the game play felt so slimy after just a few episodes ago he continually berated a female contestant about her broken home life. The reunion furthered this as the crowd didn’t know whether to boo him for what he did or applaud him for “apologizing” when it was so clear that Shirin did not believe that he was really sorry. Misogyny isn’t new to Survivor or Reality TV competition, but what Will did felt worse and if there is a reason to skip this season entirely, it’s because of him.
Idiot Award: Dan
Speaking about misogyny; let me introduce you to Dan. He was a Survivor fan who wanted to make his mark on the game. I’m sure he wasn’t anticipating being known as the socially inept women-hating postal worker who compared being adopted to being abused by your father. Beyond just his lack of social skills, he lauded his strategic gameplay which involved following whatever the alliance did and used his extra vote advantage (which by the way, was another broken game mechanic that Survivor chose not to tell anyone was in play) on the day he was voted out.
Best Showmance: Rodney and Joaquin
Just two Jersey boys bonding over their shared love for working harder and partying harder. Also a great comedy moment is Rodney telling Joaquin that you can’t trust Mike because he goes to church every Sunday and hasn’t had sex in like eight years. Rodney is such a caricature it’s hilarious.
The Reed Kelly Award for Biggest 180 Edit: Shirin
She went from the Survivor superfan idiot to hardcore against-the-odds strategist and voice for domestic violence survivors, which propelled her to an immediate return for the second chances season.
Worst Lie: So Creating the “Neutral Box” for the Opening Twist Dilemma
What kind of name is the “neutral box”? Why would any Survivor with half a brain believe this is a thing. It makes more sense that someone would have to choose between food or a clue, not extra food or less food and a clue or just a completely normal amount of food. By the way, Joaquin and So abandon the lie at the first tribal council. They didn’t want to pretend to believe it.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Max and Shirin’s Nudity
Yeah, their tribe was not having this. What’s worse than one person unironically walking around the beach naked? Two people unironically walking around the beach naked.
The Malcolm Freiburg Award for Being the Most Like Malcolm: Joe
I really do believe Joe’s popularity is primarily because there was a Malcolm sized hole in the franchise, so people needed a new tall, athletic, ponytailed player to lust over.
Gnarliest Injury: Kelly’s Bloody Head
I really don’t think she would’ve been as calm about the whole process if she wasn’t blindfolded or if she had a mirror. It looked like she barely survived a murder attempt. Once again, Survivor doesn’t know how to make a safe challenge.
Best Quote by a Tertiary Character: Hali
“Surfing is my #3 passion in life.” — Hali, in response to Jenn’s desire to surf the waves at camp.
I really liked Hali. I wish she factored more into the season.
On a scale of one to ten, how much did the winner deserve the win?
I don’t think anyone worked harder to reach the end of a season than Mike, who was public enemy number one after the events of the Survivor auction. On pure effort I think Mike deserved his win, but if you are talking about who played cleaner I think Shirin’s assessment of Carolyn at the final tribal council is spot on. If the jury was bitter I could’ve seen Mike losing based on his shaky social game and alienating his past alliance. Maybe Rodney could’ve beat Mike at the end because his alliance in the jury might have backed him? Overall I think Mike benefitted by the lack of a “mastermind strategist” this season who could have made a case for victory based on their game moves. No one playing at the final third of the game had the resume to beat Mike.
Who Should be Invited Back Again for a….
Heroes vs Villains Season
Heroes — Mike: There’s nothing more heroic than fighting for your place in the game against the odds.
Villains — Rodney: He’s such a caricature after this season, with his volatile attitude and love for his mother and casual misogyny. His alliance was seen as the bad guys in the edit and his stereotypical Boston persona would play for some laughs on a returners season before being like the third boot.
All Stars/Fans vs. Favorites Season
Jenn — I genuinely enjoyed his actions and her personality this season. She brings the character and the energy that defines a Survivor favorite.