This season of Survivor was absolutely fascinating, primarily because the players have become so knowledgeable (and skilled) at the game. In prior seasons, you always had players making strange or not well thought out decisions, but this season, even if you disagreed with a player’s actual decision, you could respect that nearly every player was thinking through the considerations properly. And they’re absolutely cutthroat, willing to turn on their closest allies (correctly!) at any moment. I generally dislike all the twists and advantages the show has introduced through the years – I feel like they mistake unpredictability for drama – and that this season was great is despite the twists, not because of it. I feel like the players are so good now that the show should return to the original format, no advantages or hidden immunity idols, no switching tribes. Given a game with really set rules, I think the strategy would dominate.

Anyway, one aspect I found especially fascinating was how aware the players are about the meta aspects of the game. I found it amazing that Gabby brought up in the final tribal council the issue of gender bias in Survivor. Specifically, females are statistically less likely to find a hidden immunity idol. More incredibly, Angelica knew the exact numbers behind that stat. I can’t believe they know the game that well.

That stat is really thought provoking, incidentally. Before this season, 73 idols have been found by men, but only 17 by women, and in the last 4 seasons, only one has been found by a woman. There’s been a surprising amount of discussion about this online and I’m convinced that it’s a sign of gender bias. Not in the idols themselves, it’s not that finding idols are easier for men, but how it comes across when you actively look for it. As in the workplace, if men are aggressive (here in searching for the idol), they come across as assertive, but if women do, they come across as antisocial or domineering. They’re aware of that, and how it comes across to the jury, so implicitly women are less motivated to look for them. I’m not positive if that’s the cause, but the imbalance is so striking, it’s weird, and a true disadvantage for women on the show.

I have always thought Jeff Probst displayed gender bias also. Years ago I saw a supercut on Youtube of when Jeff gets excited on the show, and it’s always some sort of physical feat, which is obviously biased towards males, the Colby types. The show always draws its cast from different types, with the implicit message that there are different ways to play and win the game. But Probst himself has always favored the physical type of game.

I used to like Survivor because I thought it displayed something about the human condition. It’s a total artificial environment, but within that, you would see real human issues come up. That was almost completely absent this game because the players were so good. There was no real loyalty nor any real hard feelings, everyone was hyper-aware about the game. But that made me appreciate the pure game aspect this season. The human element is gone though. I guess you can’t have both.

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