Season 40 of Survivor was the end of an era. Featuring 20 past champions, the Winners at War installment was a celebration of 20 years of outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting — complete with a champagne toast to kick things off, and a record $2 million prize to victor Tony Vlachos.
When the show finally returned to air in the fall of 2021 after a Covid-delayed 16-month break, it was presented as the start of a new era, with changes that extended beyond just the abbreviated 26-day format and far more diverse casting. Producers threw the proverbial kitchen sink at contestants with twist upon twist to keep players constantly on their toes. (Apparently, there was also some sort of "monster" on the loose, but that is neither here nor there.)
Jeff Probst already told EW back in May that many of the new wrinkles we saw on seasons 41 and 42 of Survivor (which were filmed back-to-back) would be back for Survivor 43. "Things like small tribes, earn the merge, no food, risk/reward dilemmas, Shot in the Dark, are here to stay," the host said then. "Other specific twists will come and go depending on the season."
Robert Voets/CBS 'Survivor' host Jeff Probst
We now know two such twists that will not be in play for the upcoming season (which premieres Sept. 21 on CBS). When we asked Probst which twists would be making a return appearance, he turned the tables on us a bit. "Interesting way to ask this question," responds the host. "I'll counter with this. Here's what you won't see in Survivor 43: Change History and Do or Die. How ya like them apples?"
Before we continue, a little refresher course. Change History, or the Hourglass twist (as its commonly known) was a new wrinkle that to call highly controversial would be an understatement. As first presented on Survivor 41, all the players right before the merge except for two were separated onto two teams to take part in a challenge, with the winning team automatically receiving immunity for the next Tribal Council, giving them a fast-pass into the merge. The losers would have to take part in an individual immunity challenge and one of them would then be voted out.
That's actually a pretty interesting new element to add to a show in its 41st season. But that wasn't the end of it. The winning team was then able to choose one of the two players that did not compete to join them on the winning side. On Survivor 41, they chose Naseer Muttalif. That left an on-the-outs Erika Casupanan (below, who was also now in danger of being voted out) to be sent off to Exile Island by herself. Little did anyone know that Erika was about to be granted the power to "make history by changing history."
That's because Erika was given an hourglass and a hammer, and if she chose to smash it, it would reverse the result of the challenge — meaning those who won were now in danger of being voted out, and those who lost (including Erika) were now completely safe. Erika's decision was, in fact, no decision at all, and she not only smashed the hourglass, but went on to eventually win the game.
Robert Voets/CBS Erika Casupanan and Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 41'
There was a huge uproar about the twist, and not just from viewers, but players as well. "It's not even a twist, it's a lie," Sydney Segal told EW, who was part of the winning team but was voted out anyway. "We're told one thing and then something else happens."
Danny McCray even argued directly to the host about how unfair the twist was. "We're competitors," Danny told EW. "A lot of us leave a lot of things at home to come out here and play this game. And we put a lot on the line and there's an essence to competition. You play to win so you can win something, right? That's the only reason that you would go out there to compete. And the fact that he was able to lie to us, to trick us and make us work as hard as we did just for it to be taken away from us, it just wasn't cool with me. And his response, you know, it was what it was. I won't really get into that, but it just didn't float with me. So I didn't like it."
Of course, Danny also said in that same interview that "My reality TV days may just be over because that was a very, very tough situation for me to handle and process," yet is now starring on The Challenge: USA, so it couldn't have been too terrible.
Perhaps taking Danny's feedback into account, the show brought the controversial twist back for Survivor 42, but with a few small tweaks. This time, Probst informed the winners that the player they chose to send away (which ended up being Rocksroy Bailey, below) would have the power to change the game, so they would not be completely blindsided by what was to come. He also informed the winners that one of them could choose to swap places and forgo the feast (and possible immunity, as far as they knew) to go to Exile Island themselves to get that power. While these were certainly improvements, it did not get around the fundamental problem many had with the twist in that players were being punished for competing and winning at something.
Robert Voets/CBS Jeff Probst and Rocksroy Bailey on 'Survivor 42'
The Do or Die twist also appeared on both seasons and essentially gave players the option to compete or sit out of a challenge. If they sat out, they had no shot at immunity, but if they competed and were the first person out, they would have to play a game of chance that if they lost, would eliminate them from the game.
Deshawn Radden and Lindsay Dolashewich were the first people out in that challenge for each of their seasons and were forced to play the Do or Die game in which they had to pick the one box out of three that would keep them safe. Interestingly, neither followed the mathematically advantageous strategy that says you should switch boxes after the first one is revealed, yet both ended up beating the odds and being safe.
It seemed everybody had an opinion on the twists, including yours truly. While I actually really liked the decision to have players compete to get into the merge, the Hourglass portion of that twist seemed gimmicky and blatantly unfair — something done more for shock value that solid game mechanics.
But I personally had no problem with the Do or Die twist because — unlike the Hourglass — all the players were given all the rules beforehand and therefore could make their decision accordingly. I just don't understand why anyone would ever choose to play it. (My only real gripe with Do or Die was that you could figure out the result of the box game by how much time was left in the episode. If too much time was left, it was obvious the person won, and they would still have to do a full tribe vote. Then again, I'm probably the only one dorky enough to compare the clock to the episode in real time.)
Robert Voets/CBS The cast of 'Survivor' 43
Jeff Probst does not live in a bubble — except, I suppose, the Covid bubble they implemented for filming — so he heard all the online chatter about the controversial twists, and he knows taking them out of the mix will elicit a big response as well. "I can already hear some fans celebrating and others saying we caved to criticism!" says the host. "We love fan feedback, and the feedback on Change History was amazing. People either really liked it or really hated it, but not a single person said 'Eh, I could take it or leave it.' And with Do or Die, the drama was electrifying but we also felt that was one twist we could put on the shelf… for now."
It's important to remember that because Survivor films seasons back-to-back, they were not able to take fan reaction into account when they bought both the Hourglass and Do or Die twists back for season 42. But now they have heard Survivor Nation loud and clear, and responded in kind. Unless, of course, they have an hourglass handy and want to make history by changing history all over again.
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