Jeff Probst gets nostalgic for old school ‘Survivor,’ back when the show ‘inflicted a little more pain’

If you’re a longtime “Survivor” fan who frequently finds yourself reminiscing about the older seasons, you’re not alone. Now even host Jeff Probst is getting nostalgic. During the November 30 episode of “Survivor 43,” the Top 7 castaways competed in a classic immunity challenge in which they each had to hold their breath under a steel grate in the ocean as the high tide rolled in. Midway through the competition, Probst lamented, “That water is rising. Immunity on the line. This is old school ‘Survivor,’ back when we inflicted a little more pain. Nice to revisit some of our old haunts.”

On cue, a portion of Russ Landau‘s classic theme song from “Survivor” Season 1 was heard in the background, a perfect callback for diehard viewers of CBS’s reality TV show. Re-watch the original opening titles sequence below.

SEE ‘Survivor’ deaths: Full list of castaways we’ve lost

The new school version of “Survivor” is much different — some would say much easier — than it was two decades ago. For starters, the current castaways only compete for 26 days, compared to 39 days for Seasons 1-40 (with the exception of Season 2, which lasted 42 days). There’s also a plethora of advantages for the modern-day players to find that can help their games along, such as hidden idols, shot-in-the-darks, steal-a-votes, etc.

During the “Last Gasp” water challenge on Wednesday night, five of the seven contestants couldn’t handle the dramatic swells of the ocean, so they gave up. But Karla Cruz Godoy and Owen Knight lasted so long — both nearly three hours — that Jeff had to make a dramatic announcement. “We have been out here so long that the tide that was once rising is now dropping,” he revealed. “And without the tide, this is just a steel grate. I have more grey hair … We are making an unprecedented decision to end this challenge. Both of you will win individual immunity.”

As Karla and Owen hugged excitedly, the host said, “You have done it. 43 seasons. 22 years. We’ve done well over 1,000 challenges. We have never had players outlast the challenge.” Seeing both contestants win immunity was sweet, but in the back of my old school brain, I kept wondering, what would have happened in the earlier seasons had two people outlasted the tide? Wouldn’t the show have simply continued filming them into the wee hours of the night until somebody eventually gave up?

Remember, the final endurance challenge in “Survivor: Palau” (Season 10) lasted a record 12 hours, with Tom Westman holding onto his buoy longer than Katie Gallagher and Ian Rosenberger. And of course, who could ever forget the four-hour epic challenge in “Survivor: Borneo” (Season 1) in which Kelly Wiglesworth clutched the immunity idol longer than Rudy Boesch and Richard Hatch? But I digress.

Probst has previously stated that “Survivor” is ever-evolving, and that the current era of the game, which began in 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic, is essentially a rebranding. “You could refer to it as ‘Survivor 2.0,’ you could call it ‘dawn of a new era,’ which it is, you could refer to ‘Survivor 41’ by saying drop the 4, keep the 1, because this is a brand new game,” he declared at the start of Season 41. “All of these are true. But here’s the best way to think of this new version of ‘Survivor.’ ‘Survivor 41’ is like the monster in a horror movie and if you’re a player, it’s coming for you. So either you devour the monster or the monster will devour you.”

Some past “Survivor” fan-favorites are still waiting to see the monster. Eliza Orlins (“Survivor: Vanuatu” and “Survivor: Micronesia”) recently posted on her Instagram story that 26-day seasons “deserve an asterisk” next to them. “They’re not hard and Jeff should stop shoving that bulls**** narrative down our throats,” she wrote.

Stephen Fishbach (“Survivor: Tocantins” and “Survivor: Cambodia”) tweeted, “26 days in many ways easier than 39 days. One of the hardest parts of the show is making sure that the plan you make on day 1 is still the plan on day 3. Also obviously the boredom.”

And Gavin Whitson (“Survivor: Edge of Extinction”) noted how Mike Gabler stated on Day 4 of “Survivor 43” that he’d never pushed himself this hard ever. “Just wait til day 39 brother … I mean 26,” Gavin tweeted in response.

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