The decline of Survivor

By Razib Khan | October 15, 2010 2:21 am

I just realized that the American television show Survivor is now over 10 years old. Though The Real World had been around for nearly ten years when it premiered in the spring of 2010, Survivor was what triggered the lift-off of the current generation of “reality television.” I haven’t watched it since season (series) two, so I was curious what was going on with it. It looks like it’s been in long-term ratings decline. The host received a one year renewal on his contract early this year, instead of the two or four year contracts  agreed to in the past.

Here’s the trend in terms of its ranking in the ratings:


And by millions of viewers:


Note the disjunction between the viewers who watched the premier, and those who watched the finale, on the first season. Survivor Borneo became a national phenomenon and built up momentum over the season. The second season, The Australian Outback, exhibited the opposite trend. The only outlier after those seasons is the All-Stars. Since season two it seems that the franchise has matured and is now slowly decaying into cultural and ratings irrelevance, though it’s had a very long run.

MORE ABOUT: Survivor
  • Rhacodactylus

    I’m pretty much glad to see it go. I would love to think this is an indication that Americans are watching better TV, but my guess is they have just shifted to other reality TV. Although there are bright spots *cough*Walking Dead*cough.


  • Dances With Books

    That show is still on the air? I was blissfully unaware until you reminded me. I have to concur with Rhaco, sadly the decline may be because Americans have just moved to other reality shows.

  • Gary

    I used to love it but i haven’t watched it for years. I think that the quality of the show is about as good as it ever was. What has changed is that the novelty has worn off.

    If I remember correctly, it was the first of the Network reality shows. At the time, I recall reading that reality shows were going to be the future of TV because they were so cheap to make. I also remember that I didn’t really think it would happen. Guess I was wrong.

  • Sandgroper

    I watched one episode, coudn’t see the point, and never watched again.

    But it could have been good if done right. Survival has some educational interest. I don’t know if you ever watched Bear Grylls, but that guy is simultaneously amazing and disgusting. Eating live frogs (with sound effects) is never going to be something I am willing to do.

    In any case, the idea that collectively we could ever return to surviving as hunter-gatheres is la-la land, just as the idea that we could return to surviving as subsistence farmers is untenable.And I say that as an enthusiastic backyard herb and vegetable grower. It’s not a sustainable self-sufficient existence, even ignoring the need for medical and dental care and all of the other modern support functions like potable water supply, sewerage, refuse collection, electricity supply, gas supply – no, it just doesn’t work. Technology has to be our salvation now, there is no other. Power supply is one possible, if you cover your whole roof with photo-voltaic cells, but they need maintenance, and if you get one bad hailstorm like we had last March, with golf-sized hail stones falling at terminal velocity for 15 minutes solid, you are screwed. It wrote off my car, so imagine what it did to the food crops and solar panels. Every glass house at the University of Western Austalia was shattered – years of Botanical research experiments down the drain. Rainwater collection tanks for the runoff from your roof provides a pretty trivial fraction of your annual needs, even not considering all the bird shit on your roof, which is not something you want in your drinking water.

    It’s all pipe dreams. We need technology. Probably nuclear, augmented on a small scale by wind and solar. There are not enough undeveloped suitable hydroelectric sites in the world, and most of those are in Tibet, where it’s hard to cable the power out to where you need it.

  • Mike Haubrich, FCD

    People have gone on to other reality shows, and it just amazes me what people find interesting enough to allow them to get caught on the couch all days watching “marathons.” My daughter likes those stupid “Real housewives” shows, and “Jerseylicious” and stuff like that. “Survivor” and “Big Brother” and shows like that at least have some sort of competition and strategy and prize money to them. But the voyeuristic shows, well, I don’t get the appeal. It’s all like “She’s a bitch, he’s a bastard, did you see how they mistreated me?” All vamped for the camera.

    I would even be happy with a return of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” because I got some good fashion tips from them.

    Survivor, I watch with my girlfriend when I am at her place and she fills me in. I wouldn’t really watch it if not for her.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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