This season’s theme is “Winners at War”. Each of the 20 players is going to be a winner from a previous season. The expectation is that this will significantly increase the quality of play. Without any naïve players, or people only chosen by the producers in order to cause drama, every episode will be about smart strategic players trying to best each other. This will also be a new experience for many of the players (unless they were on one of the other all-star seasons). In the past, each of these winners usually only had a few other players that they really needed to worry about. Now they can’t relax their guard against anyone.
This makes me think of the debate over how much “human interest” should be brought into media coverage of games. Most Survivor fans probably want to watch good strategic gameplay, but many of them also want to have their hearts tugged by sympathetic players or get a vicious thrill out of mocking annoying players. The producers of Survivor have usually tried to balance these two sides, but this season, they seem to be putting most of their chips into the strategy side. Though not all, of course. (Ethan seems like he’ll be a particularly heart-tugging player, considering how he battled cancer and started a charity since he last played Survivor.)
Professional athletes sometimes bridle at the demands of their bosses and managers to interact with fans. Some of them chafe at attempts to make them more relatable to non-athletes. Journalists and marketers dig into athletes’ family lives or past troubles that were overcome. These athletes ask why they can’t “just play the game”. Unfortunately for them, as someone once said to me, we all need to negotiate with the other humans for survival, whether we’re playing a game or not.