Survivor Challenge Department
Greg and I worked with John Kirhoffer and Mike Boothby this year. They are the geniuses of the Survivor Challenge Department, ably assisted by Nick, Jesse, and Dan among many others. Greg and I are the new guys on the block but we pull our weight and we have a great time pitching ideas with these pros. I had one of the best ideas this past season: I went out and got us grilled cheese sandwiches. I understand they were very productive while I was gone.
How does an idea become a challenge? It’s much the same way a bill becomes a law. There’s quorum, cloture, and then if the moon is waxing… Actually, we don’t know how any of that stuff works, but we know that if an initial idea is good it means there’s some chance for it to make it to TV. Ideas can come from anywhere: a physical idea, an idea for a set piece, or even something from another show. I love to look at Fort Boyard on YouTube for inspiration.
If the idea captures the imagination of the room, everyone will weigh in on its components. There should always a mental element to every challenge: very few of our challenges are supposed to be based on strength alone, or if they are they should only be for reward. Of all the challenges we put on our big pushpin wall of index cards, the ones that get the best feedback from executive producers and network get the Mike Boothby treatment: Mike, challenge illustrator, does a drawing of it showing scope and expected trajectory of play. Mike’s drawings are works of art all on their own: here’s one of his renderings of “A Crate Idea,” which appeared in Survivor: Tocantins and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains.
(You can see more of Boothby’s work here)
On location, the crew designs and builds the challenge you see on TV:
The Dream Team tests the challenges before the players: you can see them (or their extremities) when Jeff explains the challenges:
As you can see, creating a challenge is quite a challenge itself. There’s no other kind of work quite like it, and some day you could have the chance to play one of Greg’s and my games, and you might not even have to sleep on the ground and eat bugs for 39 days.