After twenty years on air, Survivor has become more than just a TV show; it’s a whole subculture of society. Every week, over 5 million viewers tune into CBS to watch a group of random Americans attempt to live together in the Fiji wilderness, fight over papaya, put together giant puzzles and vote each other off the show until one survivor gets the million dollar prize. Survivor superfans have their own values (prioritizing good strategy over good friendships), icons (in Sandra we trust), and language (as seen below). Newbie fans need a survival guide to fitting in with the Survivor world, so I am generously providing one for them.
- Big-moves-itis - A term for when a player becomes so obsessed with “making big moves” that it’s all they talk about and sometimes end up imploding their own game for the sake of it. Originated with Ciera in Survivor: Blood vs. Water and amped up when Ciera returned in Survivor: Cambodia. A player with big-moves-itis usually encourages blindsides, even when it doesn’t make sense for their game.
- Blindside - When a player walks into Tribal Council confident that they will not go home, only to find out their allies betrayed them and they are going home when the votes are read.
- Challenge beast - A player who consistently does well in challenges and frequently wins individual immunity post-merge.
- [insert character type] edit - A player’s edit is the way they are portrayed on the show, which could be accurate or inaccurate to who they are in real life. Players are edited in a way so that viewers can make sense of why someone might win or lose the game. A “winner’s edit,” for example, will continually portray the eventual winner of the game as a likeable or strategic character in the season. Other edits fans might mention are the “mastermind edit,” “villain edit,” or “Coach edit,” a clear reference to Ben Wade a.k.a. Coach from Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains and South Pacific, known for his melodramatic scenes and inspirational background music.
- Gamebot - A player who seems devoid of emotion and empathy because they’re so focused on the game. They’re thought to view other players like chess pieces. Spencer in Survivor: Cagayan comes to mind.
- Goat - Someone who is thought to not deserve to make it to the end of the game but is brought to the end because other players think it will be easy to win jury votes against them. It may seem ironic as it goes directly against the definition of GOAT in popular culture, “greatest of all time,” but the term actually has a long history that goes beyond Survivor Reddit theories, with roots in sports journalism from a hundred years ago.
- Golden boy - A young, athletic, conventionally attractive white male contestant whom other players find very likable and Jeff Probst likes to fawn over. Prime examples include JT in Tocantins, Ozzy in Cook Islands, Joe in Worlds Apart and Malcolm in Philippines.
- Immunity idol - A necklace or figurine hidden somewhere in the game — on the beach, in the jungle, at a challenge — that grants whoever has possession of it immunity at whichever tribal council they choose to play it at. In most instances, it can only be used after the votes are cast but before the votes are read, meaning the player has to accurately read the other contestant’s gameplan to play the idol correctly. Sometimes players create fake idols to generate confusion or to simply make a fool out of whoever finds and uses the fake idol.
- Live tribal council - When players don’t decide who they’re voting for until they get to tribal council, where they walk around whispering to each other trying to make the best rushed decision.
- Medevac - When a player has to be medically evacuated from the game due to a medical emergency. They do not get to return to the game or have a chance at the million dollars despite not being voted out. Shoutout to fan favorite James from China, who lost his chance at redemption twice because of injuries.
- Merge - The point in the game, usually when there are around 10-12 players left when the separate tribes merge into one larger tribe. From here on, all players go to each tribal council and players compete in the immunity challenges for individual immunity rather than tribal immunity. Individual immunity is rewarded in the form of an immunity necklace. The immunity necklace can be transferred from whoever wins it to another player, but that rarely happens, as most Survivor fans know what happens when you give it up. (Newbies, watch Survivor: Micronesia.)
- Pagonging - A game strategy involving a tribal alliance and voting out everyone from the opposing tribe first after a merge.
- Ponderosa - The living quarters for players who have been eliminated from the game. Players are not allowed to go home immediately after being voted out in order to prevent spoilers, so they stay at this residence, usually made up of several cabins and a common area. After the merge, players who were voted out pre-merge are moved elsewhere so the jury can stay at Ponderosa. Sometimes CBS airs short clips from the players’ time at Ponderosa, which is how we got to see the iconic friendship between Coach, Courtney and JT develop after they got voted out of Heroes vs. Villains.
- Purple edit - Originated from contestant nicknamed “Purple Kelly” in Survivor: Nicaragua. The nickname was based off of purple streaks in her hair, made to avoid confusion with another player named Kelly in the same season. Purple Kelly was known for not being shown, like ever, on her season. She was edited out of almost every scene she was in, possibly because the producers were mad at her for quitting mid-season. Now, whenever a player is barely seen on a season and seems to be heavily edited out, they’re referred to as being “purpled” or receiving “the purple edit.”
With all the vocabulary laid out for you new fans, all that’s left is for you to catch up on the first forty seasons of Survivor inside jokes, Jeff Probst quotes, iconic contestants and infuriating vote outs. But if for some reason you don’t have the time to watch over 500 hours of people arguing over food rations and throwing balls at targets in a random jungle, here’s your priority watching list, based on my completely biased opinions:
- Season 3, Survivor: Africa
- Season 7, Survivor: Pearl Islands
- Season 13, Survivor: Cook Islands
- Season 15, Survivor: China
- Season 16, Survivor: Micronesia
- Season 18, Survivor: Tocantins
- Season 20, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (if you watch one old season, please make it this one; it’s everything Survivor should be)
- Season 25, Survivor: Philippines
- Season 28, Survivor: Cagayan
- Season 31, Survivor: Cambodia
- Season 33, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X
If after watching these seasons you don’t feel unhealthily attached to Jeff Probst’s little slogans and the intense background music that plays during challenges, you might not be cut out for the Survivor superfan life. But if you do feel that attachment, welcome to a future full of disappointment after your favorite contestants get voted out time and time again, laughter over the strangest social situations and tears over the heartwarming backstories of people you would have never heard about had it not been for Survivor.