Jeff Probst knew that the introduction of the Redemption Island twist would be controversial when it was unveiled in season 22 (also not so coincidentally called Redemption Island) of the longtime CBS reality hit. Many fans were upset with another similar twist during the Pearl Islands season called “the Outcasts” that allowed players that were voted out a chance to reenter the game. Even Probst himself was not a fan of that twist.
But Redemption Island was different. For one thing, everyone would be told up front it was happening. For another, voted out players would have to stay out in the elements as they attempted to fight their way back onto a tribe (unlike the Outcasts, who were well-fed with a roof over their heads). And finally, the sooner you were voted out, the harder it would be to get back in. By fixing these flaws from the Outcasts, Probst and producers thought they had come up with an exciting new wrinkle. Many viewers agreed. Many others did not.
Personally, my problem with Redemption Island did not boil down to fairness issues as much as I felt it neutered Survivor’s signature moment: the vote-off. The power of someone who just seconds before felt him or herself to be totally safe being voted not only of the tribe but out of the game is what made Survivor must see TV. If the show was going to lessen the impact of that moment, if needed to provide enough drama at Redemption Island to make up for it. The first season, it did not do that. In the season that followed, South Pacific, it worked a bit better as Ozzy used the twist strategically by asking his tribe to vote him there and then working his way back into the game — twice! However, it still wasn’t enough for me to merit it sticking around.
Redemption Island disappeared after that for three seasons and seemed destined to take its place alongside other discarded twists of yesteryear such as Exile Island, the Medallion of Power and the Have and Have Nots. But then last season’s Blood vs. Water happened. By bringing back returning players and their loved ones, producers felt Redemption Island could add in some interesting new layers to the game as players not only had to sit there and watch their loved ones fight to survive, but would have to consider how it altered voting strategy and whether they were willing (like Rupert) to sacrifice their own game to save the other’s. There is no question that it was by far the best application of Redemption Island yet. Even people like myself that are not fans of the twist had to appreciate all the new strategic wrinkles it added to the game.
So when the new format for Survivor: Cagayan (which premieres Feb. 26 on CBS) was announced and Redemption Island was once again missing, it had me wondering if RI is a twist that from now on will only be brought out for Blood vs. Water seasons, which Probst has already said we will definitely be seeing again at some point. So I asked the host if that was the case, and he not only confirmed my suspicions, but spoke to his feelings on the twist in general and fan reaction to it.
“I think Blood vs. Water was the best use of Redemption Island, and if we do Blood vs. Water again we would most likely do Redemption Island again and probably wouldn’t use it otherwise,” says Probst. “But I really can’t say for certain, because my opinion has not changed. I still like elements of Redemption Island. And I still understand why people hate Redemption Island. It’s not that I don’t like the purity of Survivor without Redemption Island. I love it! I love the finality of somebody being voted off. I love it! But both can exist. I can also love Redemption Island. I’m baffled by people who want to strangle me because I like Redemption Island. That’s like saying I like brunette women, but I also find blond women attractive. Both can exist! So I like both! But I will concede that Blood vs, Water was the perfect time to use Redemption, because that format that happened at Redemption Island allowed so much spark to happen. That was perfect.”
While I already stated that I agree Redemption Island worked much, much better in Blood Vs. Water, I still didn’t like it being used after the merge, and I still didn’t like the fact that there were three person duels (which, by definition, is not even a duel), so that you did not even have to win to stay alive. I found it particularly odd that they went back to the three person format since they had already made a course correction and went to two person duels in South Pacific, recognizing that a “win to stay in” approach was more dramatic. So I asked Probst why they went back to the “just don’t lose” three person approach for Blood vs. Water.
“A lot of times it comes down to the math of episodes and number of people on the show,” says Probst. “A lot of decisions we make on Survivor make sense when you have all the information regarding how many episodes we’re doing, how many players we’re starting with, how many we want to end with. And then you sort of line the map up and say, ‘Okay, we need to do three person duels so we have this many people left at the merge. Since we started with three, let’s continue with three, but here we have to do four because we’re on our final episode.’ That kind of stuff happens.”
And it looks like Redemption Island will happen again, but probably not until another Blood vs. Water season. What do you think? When should RI be used: Always? Never? Or just for Blood vs. Water seasons? Sound off in the message boards below. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.