Tube Talk: Competition of reality competition

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

As home of two of TV’s longest-running reality competition shows, it’s no surprise CBS is heavily promoting “all-star” editions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. Bringing back past favorites is usually a surefire way of luring back longtime viewers whose devotion to the aging shows has begun to wane. If done well, it can be a lot of fun for fans, too.

It’s no secret that I didn’t stick with Survivor after its first season. I enjoyed it, but left feeling as if I’d invested—and wasted—way too much time in a show with few redeeming qualities. Maybe that’s why it took me a while to give The Amazing Race a try. Several acquaintances had raved about TAR, and I trusted their judgment enough to start watching a couple of years ago, and loved it. (OK, maybe not enough to record it if I’m gone, but enough to look forward to it the rest of the time.)

This week, both of these veteran reality competition shows begin new seasons that bring back past participants for another chance to win it all.

On this go-round of Survivor, the two most talked-about contestants are rivals Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz. Hantz is often called Survivor’s most notorious villain. As I said, I don’t follow the show anymore, but even I’m aware these two butted heads while competing on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. (Nothing like a good rivalry to promote a reality series.)

A new twist this season is even contestants who are voted off the island will have a second (or is that third or fourth by now?) chance to redeem themselves by facing off with another castoff.

Serious Survivor fans should feel free to weigh in and share why you’ll be tuning in to Redemption Island—or maybe why you won’t.

As a fairly regular Amazing Race viewer, one thing I enjoy—aside from glimpses of so many different cultures and climates—is the repartee between teams. Unlike the Survivor formula, where team members vie for position and scheme to oust one another, the two-person teams of TAR have to work well together to progress to the next leg of the race. Some duos implode, but the most successful teams learn important lessons about cooperation and effective communication.

Some of the returning teams—like the well-mannered cowboy brothers Jet and Cord—made it to the final rounds of their seasons, while others like engaged couple Amanda and Kris only made it to eighth place. A few other memorable teams returning include Harlem Globetrotters “Flight Time” and “The Big Easy,” who made it to fourth place; goth couple Kent and Vyxsin, who reached fifth place; and Margie and her hearing-impaired son Luke, who, like the cowboys, competed in the final round of their own season.

Contestants on both shows have something to prove—if only to themselves, while fans benefit from starting the season already knowing who they hope will win.

Programming notes

Survivor: Redemption Island premieres at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 16, on CBS.

The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business premieres at 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 20, on CBS.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

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