The Lowdown on Survivor: China

Survivor: China will mark the first time an American TV series will be shot entirely in China. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a media conference call with Jeff Probst in which he spoke about the challenges and opportunities presented by the new season of Survivor, what he thinks of this season’s crop of contestants, and why he thinks Survivor is different from other reality TV.

Survivor Clip: Jeff Probst Behind the Scenes


For the past several seasons, Survivor has stuck to the beach (the last time the show visited a more unique location was Guatemala in 2004). Traveling to China provides an opportunity to infuse the show with a new look and a new culture to exploit (oops! I mean draw upon) in the creation of challenges and tribal council. Contestants will be given a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War (expect quotations during tribal council), and they will visit various Chinese landmarks, including a night spent on The Great Wall.

Survivor: China sounds like it will be a return, in many ways, to the early days of the series. They will be going back to 16 contestants this time instead of 20, as there have been in many recent seasons. Instead of Exile Island, which presents a difficulty for in editing because exiled contestants have no one to talk to but themselves, the winners will kidnap a member of the losing tribe. This will present lots of opportunities for spying and interaction. Due to the harsh conditions of the location, the tribes will be given rice and will either win or be given fire early on. According to Jeff, the first few days at the China location will be brutal, including blistering heat, rain, mud, and flooding, and the hardest hit contestants were the muscular men.

China presents some challenges for the production. After last year’s controversial racially divided tribes, you would think that the Survivor team would want to avoid controversy. However, when asked whether China’s attitude towards human rights was a concern for producers, Jeff basically admitted that they hadn’t thought about it. (I have a hard time believing that it wasn’t considered; I think a more likely scenario is that they acknowledged it, but decided the benefits would outweigh potential public relations issues.) It was difficult to find a remote enough location in such a densely populated country. Although the area the show was shot in is currently a couple of hours away from the nearest city, it will likely be populated within the next two or three years.

Jeff gave a quick run down on all of this season’s contestants. It sounds like the most entertaining will be professional poker player Jean-Robert, Christian radio show host Leslie, and lunch lady Denise. The sentimental favorite for me will be Todd, who has been watching Survivor since before he was old enough to drive and has never missed an episode. I wanted to root for Chicken (because who doesn’t want to love a guy named Chicken?), but it sounds like he might have too much difficulty getting along with the young-uns to stick around for too long. We’ll see!

One thing that struck me most of all was that Jeff Probst seems to enjoy hosting Survivor as much as fans enjoy watching it. He’s a fan, himself, except he’s lucky enough to see it all play out live. Jeff contends that Survivor has been able to stick around so long because the drama on the show is real, while other reality shows out there contain too many manipulated or loosely scripted moments. I’m not sure I completely buy his contention that Survivor doesn’t attempt to manipulate or creatively edit just a tiny bit, but I also agree that the structure of the show creates enough real drama.

You can go behind the scenes of Survivor: China with Jeff Probst on the Survivor website.

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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.