For the Survivor
castaways, reward challenges are an incredibly important part of the game. A good reward can give a starving player the boost they need, physically or mentally, to keep going in the game. When it comes to watching the rewards as viewer, it's almost always a dud. While there can sometimes be talk of new alliances happening at rewards it usually amounts to nothing. Yet in episode 8 of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers,
a reward challenge twist was introduced that managed to keep viewers engaged with strategy while allowing the winners to fill their bellies.
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A Perfect Storm of Twists
The family spaghetti dinner wasn't a wholly unique idea for Survivor. The show has had castaways share meals before and it has even happened so there's a twist about who gets what exactly at the reward. Additionally, as long as there have been Hidden Immunity Idols on Survivor there have been clues about those Idols. Yet it was the combination of all these twists into one neat package that made the reward challenge such a delightfully strategic buffet on Survivor.
The weakest element of the reward challenge was that one member of the winning team, the only one who didn't play, got to choose what order the castaways ate in because it was mostly up to luck. Joe getting that position did add a certain amount of interest because he's certainly one of the most hated players left in the game, if not the most hated.
Still Joe's eating order didn't add much to the game. JP and Devon impacted the meal as much as they've impacted the game, so barely at all. It was the specific twist of adding a "clue" to the Hidden Immunity Idol that took the reward from interesting to fascinating.
A Feast for the Mind and Body
It's true that the clue wasn't so much a clue as it was a straight up message. There was no way that anyone could've misinterpreted the clue or needed to confer with someone else to figure it out. Even JP, who is oblivious to 96% of the game, could've figured the hidden spot of the Idol easily. It was the fact that the message was hidden in plain sight that was the real brilliance.
There's nothing inherently interesting about watching Survivor castaways chow down on a meal. In fact, it's usually quite disgusting as the contestants usually (and understandably) just attack their food rather than eat it. Putting the clue into the meal added this element of paranoia and strategy to the game that was wonderfully welcome, especially in the episode where one side of the tribe is so clearly in power. Even if the result was disappointing and Ryan got the Idol, giving his allies and him even more control, the run-up to the idol snatching was just amazing.
From the second Cole sat down and discovered the message there was nearly a 10-15 minute run of beautiful Survivor gameplay in motion. It was built perfectly in the way that Cole, Chrissy and finally Ryan found and then proceeded to hide the clue. The reward challenge and its aftermath are typically the parts of any given Survivor episode where the viewer can tune out or just disengage a little bit, yet with this Idol in play it was nothing less than riveting. Especially once everyone got back to camp and the insane (and unintentionally hilarious) scramble for the Idol happened.
This type of reward challenge isn't something that can happen every episode or even every other episode and not just because there's way too much reliance on Hidden Immunity Idols in Survivor already. A big factor in why the reward worked so well was because it was so unexpected and it injected so much excitement into the game. Yet it is something that should be brought back at least once a season. It would even better if the show shows a bit of restraint and allows clues for Hidden Immunity Idols to be given out only at reward challenges too. Although that may be asking just a bit too much.
But what do you think? Did you enjoy the cavalcade of twists in the reward challenge? Are you always interested in watching the castaways celebrate a victorious challenge or should there be more strategy involved in rewards?
(Image courtesy of CBS)