Making 29 Day Survivor Work

For longtime followers of my Medium account, you may remember the last time I wrote a Survivor article. Survivor: Winners at War, the show’s 40th season, seems like ages ago due to this pandemic. This very pandemic produced the first break in the two season per calendar year trend that has occurred since 2001. Thankfully, a new season is around the corner albeit with some interesting and potentially unnerving news regarding a possible change in format. The rumor that Survivor’s 41st season could be reduced to 29 days has people worried about the format and quality of the game. Personally, there are more pressing issues than that I am worried about and I will address them at the end of this article. However, I figured it would be a good mental exercise to see how a 29 day Survivor season could work.

Survivor’s 40th season finished airing Spring 2020, but it feels like even longer ago.

For the purposes of this format, I went with 18 contestants. The last season to feature just 16 contestants was Survivor: Tocantins back in 2009. Given that Barack Obama was not even a full year into his first presidential term at that time, I doubt that number of contestants will be repeated. I do think a reduction in days could mean a reduction from the increasingly standard 20 contestants and that would be a wiser decision. Many fans, including those with prominent roles in the community through their podcasts and YouTube channels, feel 20 contestants is too difficult, if not impossible, to edit them all evenly. A few players inevitably get lost in the shuffle, with one or even two earning the dubious “Purple Edit” where they could go several episodes with barely a sentence let alone a confessional. Now let’s begin.

Day 1: Standard Jeff Probst introduction and tribe division, whether it be 2 tribes of 9 or 3 tribes of 6. First Reward Challenge.

Widely regarded as one of, if not the, best season of Survivor, Heroes vs. Villains started with a bang with their first reward challenge on Day 1.

Day 2: No Events. We’ll keep the 3 day cycle to give everyone extra time to form early bonds.

Tribal Council; 17 contestants remain.

Day 3: Tribal Council; 17 contestants remain.

Day 4: Reward Challenge.

Day 5: Tribal Council; 16 contestants remain.

Day 6: Reward Challenge.

Day 7: Tribal Council; 15 contestants remain.

Day 8: Reward Challenge.

Day 9: Tribal Council; 14 contestants remain.

Day 10: Tribe Swap. Regardless of original tribe division, the result would be 2 tribes of 7.

Tribe Swaps are a necessary evil in Survivor. There is just as likely a chance your favorite player is saved by it as they may be doomed, but it keeps the game fresh.

Day 11: Like at the start of the game, we’ll give the players an extra day to bond post swap.

Day 12: Tribal Council; 13 contestants remain.

Day 13: Reward Challenge. (I am aware merges at Final 13 are common these days in Survivor, but the only time that happened in an 18 person season was Survivor: Edge of Extinction which itself was one big special case).

Day 14: Tribal Council; 12 contestants remain.

Day 15: The remaining 12 contestants merge. This is roughly the halfway mark of a shortened season, so for these numbers, it makes sense.

Day 16: Tribal Council; 11 contestants remain. (Using Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers as a reference, that season being the most recent “normal” season with 18 contestants. Also, Jeff Probst would love the possibility of another tie at Final Tribal Council, hence why the Jury won’t start here)

The 8 person jury and Final 3 configuration was last seen in Season 35 Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers back in 2017.

Day 17: Reward Challenge.

Day 18: Tribal Council; 10 contestants remain.

Day 19: Reward Challenge.

Day 20: Double Elimination at Tribal Council; 8 contestants remain. There will likely be a double elimination at some point in the season, and given the already shortened premerge, it makes sense to save it for the postmerge.

Splitting the merge tribe up into two temporary groups for a double elimination was a twist featured in both Ghost Island (2018) and Island of the Idols (2019).

Day 21: Reward Challenge.

Day 22: Tribal Council; 7 contestants remain.

Day 23: Reward Challenge.

Day 24: Tribal Council; 6 contestants remain.

Day 25: Final Reward Challenge of the Season.

Day 26: Tribal Council; 5 contestants remain.

Day 27: Tribal Council; 4 contestants remain. (Final standard vote and final opportunity to use Idols and Advantages).

Day 28: Final Immunity Challenge; Fire Making Challenge twist/tiebreaker determines the other two members of the Final 3.

Day 29: Final Tribal Council. Winner Determined.

Thirty-eight different contestants have won the U.S. Survivor series, including Rob “Boston Rob” Mariano (winner of Redemption Island) and Sandra-Diaz Twine (winner of Pearl Islands and Heroes vs. Villains)


  • I formatted this season in a way that the current Survivor production and Jeff Probst in his current trends and biases would want, not what I would want.
  • This seems like a lot of reward challenges, and the frequency of rewards could even further dilute what remains of the survival aspects of Survivor. However, keep in mind not every reward is a food reward. There should still be enough camp footage in this scenario, with a new major event every day providing new potential sources of conflict.

Besides the number of days, aspects of the show that should be more concerning is:

  • The amount and quality of twists, idols, and advantages given the success of Survivor: Winners at War, even though much of that season’s success was because of the cast and in spite of poor production choices.
  • Survivor casting and production truly adhering to their new diverse casting initiative, and whether the editing of contestants of color improves compared to recent seasons.
  • Production becomes complacent, thinking fans will automatically watch and praise a season because of the return of Survivor.
  • Poor use of fewer days, such as a second tribe swap. Give the players time to build bonds and storylines that the audience will be able to follow, and give the audience an opportunity to know who actually belongs to which tribe.
  • Introduce too many new gimmicks: best case scenario for Survivor 41 is that it becomes a soft reset of the series. That means build upon what existed before while making some subtle changes here and there.

Hope this article helped a 29 day season feel a bit more palatable, feasible, or at least make sense to an extent. Let me know your thoughts on here, on Twitter @IvanOrnelas2 or Instagram @ivanthewriter95.

If you enjoyed the return of Reality TV content between this article and my first The Challenge article, stay tuned next week at 10 am PST/1 pm EST for my The Challenge: All Stars halfway point season analysis.

Loves to write, especially about Survivor, Sports, Video Games, and other Media and topics

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