Thirteen years ago, a group of sixteen Americans traveled to a distant land to play a simple game. Every three days they'd get together to vote someone away, then the last two people standing would face a jury of their peers. That jury would award a million dollars to the person who they felt was the most deserving.
This ain’t that game.
Oh sure, someone will still be awarded a million dollars by a jury of their peers, but the path to get there will be different than any other version in the show’s history.
To get some clarity on all of these crazy twists, I voyaged to the jungles of the Philippines and hunted down host Jeff Probst. Once I had him trapped, I forced him to shed some light on what has the potential to be the most unpredictable season of "Survivor" ever…
Quick Note: I had a chance to sit down with all twenty of this season’s competitors in the days before the game began. Starting Tuesday, September 3rd I’ll be posting exclusive interviews with each pairing. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for those interviews, behind-the-scenes exclusives, and more…
What Is Day Zero?
For the first time since "Survivor: The Australian Outback," the game will last longer than 39 days. The night before the game starts, players will be paired with their loved ones and left in various places around the jungle. Jeff Probst clarified that this was all Mark Burnett's idea, "Start the game the night before. Let them get dirty. Let them feel what it's like, now you've got a taste of it. Now you vote them out…"
Wait…Vote Them Out?
When the pairs arrive on the beach, they'll immediately be split into tribes and forced to vote someone off. No talking, no strategizing, no alliance forming, just voting. However, the two people who are voted off aren't sent directly to Redemption Island. Their loved one will have the opportunity to take their place. Why was this done? Jeff Probst explained, "The producers thought it was very important to brand Redemption Island right out of the gate." This new twist will accomplish this as the second episode will kick off with a three-way duel between the first two eliminated players and the person who is voted out during the first Tribal Council. The first two people to complete the challenge get to stay. The third person has some buff burning to do.
The Return of Redemption Island
Why did "Survivor" bring back one of their most polarizing twists ever? "One of the reasons that those of us who like Redemption Island like it so much is it keeps great characters in the game a little longer," Probst said. "That's what you want, you want your best characters on screen. It's like the loser's bracket, but they're still playing. I don't have any issues with the second chance, I don't come from that world. I get it, some people think when you're out, you're out. That's a fair argument, I just don't agree with it. I grew up playing sandlot baseball. I liked the loser's bracket. You still get to play on Sunday. It made sense this time because we've got returning players, so we're going to keep some of them longer."
The Ol’ Redemption Island Wife Swap
Redemption Island isn't immune from the mega-twist treatment either. Now players who are still in the game will have an opportunity to take their loved one's place before the duel. Probst hypothesized, "At each duel you'll get the chance to take (your loved one's) spot. So, as we get closer to the merge, maybe I decide I can win two duels. My wife hasn't been eating, she isn't doing too well. I'm going to put her back in the game and take myself out. Everybody's going to be there. Everyone is going to see your decision. You've got to do it in front of everyone. You'll get a minute to come down and talk it out with your loved one. What's the vibe, where are you at? And then suddenly that person who was just about to fight for their life? They get to put the buff back on and they're safe and their partner is down there in a duel. Somebody's going to make that move at Redemption Island and it's going to be exciting."
And Those Pesky Immunity Idols?
"This year, we have a twist with the hidden immunity where we're going to hide them so they'll require a clue," Probst revealed. "But, the clue will be given out by the winner at Redemption Island. So, now you have another layer where at Redemption Island I'm fighting for my life, and if I win I'm in charge of who gets the clue. I can give it to anyone I want on either tribe. Will I try to win favor back? Will I give it to my spouse? A lot of strategy because the person who is giving the clue wants back into the game. And the clue is currency. I've got to get something for it."
Don't miss the special 90-minute premiere of "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET.