30 From 30: #11 – Survivor Amazon Unveils the Themed Season

The Moment:

In the sixth season of Survivor, the Battle of the Sexes introduces a new marketing gimmick to breathe life into future versions of a veteran series.

We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.

30 from 30- Amazon themed season women tribe

Why It Matters:

After five seasons where sixteen players were shuffled into random tribes, Survivor: The Amazon decided to mix things up. Instead of the simple “16 strangers set in an exotic locale”, they set up much of the pre-merge game as a battle of the sexes: men vs women on separate tribes in order to prove Jeff Probst’s natural biases provide interesting TV. All eight women were placed on Jaburu, with all eight men placed on Tambaqui. Would the girls build a nail salon as their shelter? Would the guys dominate challenges?

Tambaqui: “Bro?” “Bro.” “Bro!”
Jaburu: “That whole side of the beach is going to smell like dude”.

While not as stereotypical, there were tribe dynamics that affected the game. Overconfidence on Tambaqui’s side and quarreling on Jaburu provided a compelling contrast that raised interest in the season. The cast also had several strong characters — and at least one creepy character.

Posting this photo is legally required when discussing Amazon Matt.

Interestingly, after much of Survivor‘s first five seasons followed the basic tenet of forming a core alliance within your initial tribe and then sticking with that alliance after the merge, that dynamic fell apart in The Amazon. Whether it was because of the themed season’s gimmick or not, the original Tambaqui or Jaburu alliances mostly went up in flames after the merge.

Amazon fire at camp thanks Butch
Thanks to Butch for this subtle metaphor about Amazon‘s post-merge alliances.

But perhaps more importantly, the themed season gimmick drew some extra press for the season at a time when the show was starting to come down off its peak viewership. Partly as a latter-year ratings ploy, and partly to mask the fact that Survivor recycled the same few locations for eleven seasons, themes are now a standard element of the game, 24 seasons after they debuted. Not many elements outside of blindsides, hidden idols, and Exile Island have had that kind of longevity.

The Impact:

Blood. Water. Heroes. Villains. Collars of various colors. These days it seems like Survivor relies on the themed season, but there was a time where the only “theme” was the show stranding sixteen Americans for 39 (or, once, 42) days. The popularity of Amazon’s themed season led to the “men versus women” conceit being repeated three times —again in Vanuatu, tweaked in Panama, and with a twist in One World— as well as setting a precedent for multiple future themed seasons.

After you check the gender box, the only way to go is race, class, and family. From Cook Island‘s “race wars” to Fiji‘s “poor wars” to ageism, the show has tried numerous concepts that are either insanely popular or get massive amounts of digital ink.

Nicaragua cast
Occasionally that digital ink is infused with pure hatred.

Aside from tribe assortments on the basis of traits that would cause a marketing research firm to pop champagne, seasons like Heroes vs Villains and Blood vs Water can also be traced to Amazon‘s big idea. While those seasons started as returnee concepts, they still dealt with seeing how like-minded* people interacted in a group before a tribal shuffle.

*Whatever, Probst. David Sampson was not a brain and Courtney is not a villain. She is Island Tyrion.

A fixture for the foreseeable future, themes are one of the most important non-strategy elements to have survived the years. Whether the show will ever get back to the point where the location is the theme remains to be seen, but considering both upcoming Cambodia seasons have already been branded with subtitles, don’t expect Survivor: Siberia to come without a “Coats vs. Igloos vs. Putin’s Tanks” moniker.

What Else Made the List?

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