Fans of Survivor are eagerly (impatiently) awaiting a new season of the long-running CBS reality show. The network and the producers have said they just haven’t figured out a way to film safely during the pandemic, particularly because of travel restrictions. But MTV’s The Challenge, which is a very similar show, is about to debut its 36th season, “Double Agents,” which was filmed this summer in Iceland. If The Challenge can film a season, why can’t Survivor?
The Challenge and Survivor Have a Lot in Common
Both of these reality shows are competitions where a group of people is put through grueling physical and mental competitions, voting for someone to be eliminated (though in slightly different ways), and crowning one or two people the winners for a sizable prize.
Both shows film in foreign countries.
Survivor traversed the globe for its first 32 seasons but has filmed in Fiji since season 33, while The Challenge has filmed in various foreign countries since its fifth season — barring season seven, which was filmed in Colorado.
Both shows have large casts — Survivor usually has 20 castaways, while The Challenge casts range from 20 to nearly 40. Both shows presumably have large production crews — Jeff Probst has revealed that Survivor’s crew is approximately 400 people. The Challenge is almost as large, at around 300 crew members.
Both shows film over a similar amount of time. The Challenge: Double Agents filmed over nine weeks this September through November. A season of Survivor takes approximately five to six weeks to film.
So how did The Challenge manage to get a season filmed safely and ready for air and Survivor can’t?
The Challenge Learned How to Adapt
In an interview with Variety, The Challenge showrunner Emer Harkin said that they had to figure out how to safely scout locations, travel, and film full-contact competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic — but they did figure out how to do it.
They were already scouting Iceland, but that country became even more important when travel restrictions started being put in place. Iceland is open to the U.K./E.U. countries but closed to everyday travelers from the U.S. and Canada. Some exceptions will be made, according to the Iceland Air site, and MTV obviously worked with the country’s government to be allowed to film there.
But Harkin scouted the Icelandic locations remotely. The cast and crew, who traveled from all over the world, underwent a rigorous quarantine and testing protocol when they arrived in the country.
“When we arrived there was a 24-hour quarantine. The way that they do it is you arrive at the airport and you go through — just like going through customs — a COVID booth [where] they do a test. You download an app and they alert you on the app when you’re cleared and then you can start moving freely,” Harkin told Variety.
The show took over an entire hotel for the crew and any local crew members were working quite separately from the cast through a “tiered system represented by colored bands.” And the cast lived in a bubble in the house they used for the season, complete with the show building its own club for the cast members to use to cut loose at night.
Everyone involved was tested every three days, which totaled roughly 3000 COVID tests over the course of the season. But Harkin said they never once had a positive result the entire time. If they had had a positive test amongst the cast, that person would have been removed immediately and that removal would have been addressed on the show.
Is It Because Survivor Was So Focused on Fiji?
Fiji has been Survivor’s home base for a lot of years now, so of course, filming there is the ideal situation because they know the locals, they have structures in place, and they get tax breaks from the country for the production. But Fiji was out as a filming location because that country has gone on high lockdown in regards to foreign visitors. Was it so important to film in Fiji that the show didn’t start reaching out to other locations until recently?
It’s not like the show isn’t accustomed to filming in other countries. Prior to establishing itself permanently in Fiji, Survivor filmed in Australia, Africa, Thailand, China, the Amazon, and several other locations all over the world. Was it really such an imposition that the show just didn’t want to consider any other countries?
A recent report from Inside Survivor said that the show has finally started talking to other countries, like the Dominican Republic. Why didn’t that start sooner? Why didn’t Survivor find a country like The Challenge did with Iceland and start putting safety protocols in place?
In fact, with the way Survivor’s production is held out in the wilderness away from most people, wouldn’t it be easier to have the team existing in a bubble while shooting? Plus, the show shoots for less time and has a smaller cast than The Challenge, all of which seem like reasons why Survivor should have been able to get a season filmed by now.
The Challenge season 36 premieres Wednesday, December 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV. Survivor hopes to film seasons 41, 42 and possibly 43 in the spring of 2021.