Convergence Culture: Relationship between CBS & “Survivor” Investigation Communities.

9 Apr

CBS’s reality show “Survivor” premiered in May of 2001. Survivor was a elimination style reality competition that marooned a group of strangers in a wild and uncivilized environment and prompted strangers to work together to endure the elements, win challenges, and ultimately produce a million dollar winner. The drama and excitement of the show stems from the unpredictability of the game’s winner. In fact, “The Survivor winner is one of television’s most tightly guarded secrets. Enormous fines are written into the contracts for the cast and crew members if they get caught leaking the results” (25).

Executive producer Mark Burnett understands that the “contest between producer and fans is part of what creates Survivor’s mystique” (25). These large online fan communities, named “spoilers”, sift through volumes of aired show material, cross reference them with their own investigations, and produce theories regarding the show’s development, as well as disseminating their findings and theories amongst other members of the forum community.  Survivor’s Executive Producer, Mark Burnett understood the importance and impact of investigative communities such as “Survivor Sucks”, communities that revolved around the free exchange of outcome theories event patterns, and hypothesized game results. Burnett knew that the popularity of the show came from the desire to know what will occur next, and that online forums would foster collective discussions and pooled knowledge in order to try and decipher the show’s next series of events, generally increasing the amount of people invested in the show.

CBS began to see potential research value within these online communities, “CBS had admitted that they, like many other production companies, monitored the discussion lists for information about the audience” (46). In other words, CBS has admitted to not only monitoring these online discussion forums, but oftentimes plants red herrings amongst the communities, in an attempt to generate more discussion about the show in general, as well as gauge their reactions to rumors in order to more effectively market the show.

The show functions off the thrill of the unexpected, Spoilers operate from the notion that the show has already been shot, prompting these “investigators” to scrutinize elements/hints from aired portions of the show and evaluating their meaning, using the forum communities collective knowledge as a gauging tool, challenging themselves to decipher the results of the show before they are revealed.

These investigative communities establish stringent rules and conventions to sift through unreliable misinformed posts and valuable speculations. As seen on this Survivor Sucks forum, season specific spoiler rules are stickied and prominently displayed so that all members of the community may familiarize themselves with communal protocol.

These kind of collaborative effort and informations exchange between Internet communities and TV Broadcast networks may be indicative of the increasingly pivotal role that Internet has on the successful promotion of a show and its longevity.


Richard Hatch, winner of Survivor season one, is actually depicted winning the show during the show’s opening title sequence. A critical hint overlooked or dismissed by spoilers.


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