The New Twist Survivor Needs: Rupert’s Bazaar and a Real Economy

As I sat down to watch the premiere of yet another season of Survivor known only by a number (“Season 44”, which ignominiously followed Season’s 43, 42, and 41), I couldn’t help but feel a little…tired? Gone are the days of thematic set-ups like “Heroes vs Villains”, dramatic format shifts like “Redemption Island” where players can fight their way back in, and travels to exciting new locations like the African savannah, the Australian outback, or the jungles of Gabon (now they film every season on the over-used sets of Fiji).

Will I keep watching every episode that is releases? Absolutely. Why stop at 635? But am I starting to get a little, dare I say it, bored? Yes. Lately Survivor has been adding more gimmicky advantages (tricking tribemates into idol-forming beads, saying an odd phrase about broccoli at a challenge to unleash the power of an idol, or vomit-inducing time turning where they wrench victory away from the winning team). But ultimately they have just felt gimmicky, and not something that has fundamentally made the game more interesting. Things feel like they are getting stale.

I am a board game inventor for my day job. No really, that’s what I do! So all day I am thinking about how to design the next board game to publish. Coincidentally (or perhaps not?) most of our games involve a heavy dose of social politics, deceit about true allegiances, and brutal backstabs. Maybe those 635 episodes have started to seep into my work.

All this to say, I’ve been thinking…

Without further ado, the next season of Survivor should be Survivor: Rupert’s Bazaar!

Much of the format can remain the same with tribes, perhaps a tribe swap or two before the merge, and a traditional merge, jury, etc. I don’t want to shake things up too much. But it’s time to get more radical with how each season is presented. And in my proposed season, we’ll introduce a full-fledged economy. This could be a one-season thing, or if it goes well, could become a more permanent part of the game.

With all the social experimentation that Survivor has done over the years (pitting tribes against men and women, old and young, brains and brawns and beauty, etc) I am actually shocked that they’ve done so little with exploring the idea of an economy. Sure they always say that “trust is currency” and it’s certainly true that some players have more power than others, but why have they not dove into the idea of cold hard cash that has a concrete value? Now I know what you’re thinking. In Survivor 40: Winners at War they tried fire tokens. But they botched that up incredibly. Prices were not clear, tokens were rarely spent except when they were being extorted out of them with players on Edge of Extinction setting arbitrary prices, etc. It didn’t work, and like most fans, we’re going to pretend like it didn’t happen.

Here are the basics of Rupert’s Bazaar:

  • Rupert, or any other former popular survivor alumni, would live in and operate in a store (or “bazaar”) in the jungle, perhaps a mile or so in, equidistant from each camp.
  • Players would have opportunities to find and earn coins (more on this later). To use those coins, players have to slip away to the store, with their journey either known or unknown to their tribemates.
  • Players would be allowed to pool their coins together to buy something, but the person who actually handed over the coins to Rupert would be the owner of the advantage.
  • Price suggestions are below. I am of course flexible on hammering out the exact prices and what things should be sold, but the key thing is that these prices would be set and all the players would know that the prices were set.
    • 1 coin: shot in the dark (1/6 chance to survive a vote)
    • 2 coins: large jar of peanut butter
    • 3 coins: advantage in the next immunity challenge
    • 4 coins: extra vote
    • 5 coins: idol nullifier
    • 6 coins: group amenity (such as a large bag of rice, tarp, fishing gear)
    • 7 coins: immunity idol
  • When I make a board game, I tell players the rules but I don’t tell them the strategy. This may sound obvious, but in Survivor some of their cringiest twists are the ones that come out of nowhere or are unexplained to the contestants. With Rupert’s Bazaar I would tell the contestants exactly how to gain coins, and then see what they do with that information. Here is what I’d recommend telling them:
    • A new coin is hidden in each tribe’s camp every day. Every day you could wake up and know for certainty that there would be something that could be found. Coins that weren’t found that day would remain in place, so you could potentially find multiple coins in a day.
    • A new coin is given to each winning member of a reward challenge (and the members chosen by the winner to go on the reward). Reward challenges have been featured less, with the show often combining the reward into the immunity challenge. I would encourage the show to do more reward challenges, perhaps even as shorter, or even in-camp challenges that could come with a small reward + the coin.
    • A new coin is given to every player who banks their vote at any tribal council. If you’re feeling safe, or you feel like enough people in your alliance will do your dirty work for you, simply don’t vote and grab a coin instead. I personally love the strategy and mind games involved with this idea.
    • Each time a player is eliminated they secretly divy up their coins to the remaining players in any way they would like. Social game comes in key here, as you’re essentially “cashing in” your social currency throughout the game, not just in the final vote.
  • Players will each have an unsearchable bank in camp. There would be a way for them to pull their own coins out of their bank whenever they would like, but they wouldn’t need to hide coins or worry about someone discovering how rich they were.

That’s it! My hope is that bribery, pooling resources (and then backstabbing your fellow poolers), and slick resource management would be at all time highs. I’m sure that players would use this economy in ways I haven’t dreamed of, but that’s the beauty. This system provides a canvas for them to run free in the ways that players can strategize and deceive.

Survivor producers: try it out for a season! Imagine the promo shots of fan-favorite Rupert running his little Survivor shack in the woods. People know money, and really doing money right is the next way to run a social experiment in this game.

In Survivor’s new official podcast, Jeff continues to emphasize that Survivor is not afraid to try out new things. Try this economy out for a season. Maybe to keep Survivor fresh it should only be around for one season and people can talk about “that season with the money system”. But maybe, like hidden immunity idols that were introduced in Season 11 and then never left, the economy would be here to stay.

To any Survivor producer (or dare I say it, Jeff Probst!) who comes across this post, you are (almost) free to use my idea. My price? Either put me on the show as a contestant, or hire me for a week as an official consultant. As I mentioned, making games is my day job, so in my opinion I’d be well worth the payroll 🙂 The ball is in your court, but it’s time to get people excited by a significant Survivor twist again!

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