With both fans and critics lauding last winter's Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains as one of the best in the show's twenty-season run, Survivor-aholics have spent the summer awaiting news of the upcoming season with renewed passion for the show that inaugurated the reality television revolution a decade ago.
Finally, mid-summer, details regarding Survivor's twenty-first season began to leak.
Set to premier on September 15, in its new Wednesday night timeslot, Survivor: Nicaragua will feature tribes divided by age. The Espada tribe will be made up of contestants over the age of 40, while the La Flor tribe will consist of contestants aged 30 years and younger.
Long-time Survivor watchers know that gimmicks like dividing the tribes by age, gender, and race has been done before, often only to quickly dissolve as the tribes merged or were reorganized. What makes or breaks a season of Survivor is not how the tribes are separated, but the skills and personalities of castaways themselves. Just look at last season: a more appropriate title than Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains might well have been Survivor: Russell Hantz.
Having made it to the final vote in the previous season's Survivor: Samoa, now legendary player Russell Hantz had only a twenty-day lay-over before diving directly into Heroes Vs. Villains (a rare instance of Survivor shooting back-to-back seasons). While one might have thought fatigue would quickly set in for the 37-year-old Texan, Hantz not only made it to the final vote for the second time in a row, but completely stole the show in a season filled with memorable players and all-out Survivor superstars -- including Rupert Boneham and Colby Donaldson (whose shockingly poor performance and fatigued interviews were the polar opposite of Hantz's dynamic game-play and diabolical on-screen presence).
Hantz's uncanny ability to control his tribe mates through a variety of methods (including lies, intimidation, sabotage, protection, and gossip mongering) is, perhaps, only topped by his unfailing ability to find hidden immunity idols.
Strangely enough, announcements concerning the upcoming season reveal the show's producers have attempted to eliminate what is now known as "The Russell Factor" by making hidden immunity idols much more difficult to find. Rather than prose clues, as in the past, the castaways will now be required to decipher a series of visual graphics in order to find the idols.
What is interesting, and perhaps troubling, about this new approach to the idols is that it seems to suggest the creators of Survivor don't realize that 'The Russell Factor' they are trying to eliminate is exactly what made last season so wonderful.
His fellow contestants loathe him with a fervent passion, but fans of Survivor can't get enough the fedora-sporting fiend. Fans voted Hantz player of the game two seasons in a row, awarding him $200,000, and undeniably proving that, if nothing else, viewers are in agreement that Hantz makes for great television.
Another recently announced twist for the upcoming season is the Medallion of Power, an item that will give tribes a distinct advantage during challenges. Just how this advantage will play out, or in what way the medallion will affect game play, remains to be seen.
Of course, the real mystery fans want answered is just how watchable a Russell-less season will be.
Amongst the announced castaways for Survivor: Nicaragua is Super Bowl-winning NFL coach Jimmy Johnson and Survivor's second amputee contestant, Kelly Bruno. Will Johnson, Bruno or any of their fellow tribe mates, old and young alike, be as irresistibly watchable as Russell?
Fans will find this Wednesday.
Kevin Johns has contributed over 50 articles to (Cult)ure. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter. He can be reached at