ALL about… Survivor

Ryan Haidet

‘Survivor’ returns for its 12th season with a new twist

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

It’s dark. You’re alone. You have no food, water or fire to help you survive the night. Sleep doesn’t creep up on you because you can’t stop thinking about the plotting that’s going on back at your tribe’s camp.

This is what new contestants of the extremely popular reality television show will experience this season in “Survivor: Panama – Exile Island.”

Starting tonight, 16 new castaways begin the game of “Survivor” when it returns to CBS with a few new twists for its 12th season.

In each week’s episode, along with a castaway being voted off, one contestant will be forced to live on Exile Island all alone for an undetermined amount of time.

“Survivor: Panama-Exile Island”

When? 8 p.m. Thursdays on CBS

• Premieres tonight

However, being banished to Exile Island has its perks. Somewhere on the island, an immunity idol is hidden. The first castaway to find the idol can keep it a secret that he or she found it and can use it at a future Tribal Council. This would prevent the contestant from being voted out of the game.

The twist to this hidden immunity idol is it can be used after the votes have been made. This means even if the castaway who has the idol receives the majority of votes, he can use the idol to save himself. That would cause the person who receives the second-highest amount of votes to be eliminated.

Along with Exile Island, the tribes of contestants will be separated in a way viewers have never seen before.

The tribes will be divided along gender and age lines into four tribes of four castaways. There is a tribe for younger men, older men, younger women and older women.

“I love the idea of young versus old,” former “Survivor” castaway Coby Archa said. “I feel we kind of had that in Palau and the old dominated. So I will be interested to see if that happens again. I think it will.”

Contestants vying for the $1 million prize this season include Dan Barry, a retired astronaut who has experienced several space walks; Tina Scheer, a female lumberjack (who is known as a “lumberjill”); Aras Baskauskas, a yoga instructor; Shane Powers, owner of an entertainment marketing company; and Terry Deitz, a retired navy fighter pilot.

Although the cast is different, the location may seem familiar. This is the third season “Survivor” has filmed in Panama (season seven “Pearl Islands” and season eight “All-Stars”), and previous contestants have different explanations for the return to Panama.

“First, I think that they (the producers) probably have developed a good working relationship with the Panamanian government, which is very important,” said Clarence Black, a castaway on “Survivor: Africa.”

“Second, I think Panama gives them flexibility with regard to challenges and game structure. That is all just my guess though. Hell, maybe Mark (Burnett, creator) and Jeff (Probst, host) like Panama because they tan well there. Only they know.”

Brianna Varela, a castaway on “Survivor: Guatemala – The Maya Empire,” questions the return to Panama.

“Here we go, Panama, round three. Can we just not afford to go somewhere other than Central America, or are we just not welcome?” Varela said.

As the new season looms hours away, a castaway from “Survivor: Thailand,” Jake Billingsley, said every season of “Survivor” is different regardless of the location, and there is something he expects when a new season begins.

“I have learned in watching ‘Survivor’ to expect the unexpected, so that is what I am expecting,” Billingsley said. “It (‘Survivor’) deals with ethics and character. Everyone who watches the show questions their own ethics, and that is a good thing.”

“Survivor” has been known to be a ratings giant (according to Entertainment Weekly, the last season ended with 21.2 million viewers), but why has it stayed so long when many other reality shows slowly fade?

“I think the real lasting power of ‘Survivor’ is that it has become an American staple like ‘Monday Night Football,'” Archa said. “I know a lot of families that only get together just to watch ‘Survivor’ every Thursday.”

Others think “Survivor” has stuck around because it was the show that started the reality TV craze.

“‘Survivor’ has lasted so long, I believe, because it was the pioneer for reality TV,” Varela said. “I mean, come on, hot chicks, bikinis, lies, people eating nasty crap. Now that’s entertainment.”

Don’t be in exile; catch “Survivor: Panama – Exile Island” at 8 p.m. tonight on CBS.

For more information, visit the official Web site at

Contact ALL correspondent Ryan Haidet at [email protected].