On TV, a decadelong-year run can be both a blessing and a curse. It's a time for celebration and nostalgia, but also possibly a time for trying to make the old formula look new again.
Wrapping its 10th year on the air and its 21st season, Survivor is fighting age with, well, age — pitting old players against young contestants in the series' latest arc.
"We're in our 21st season, and you have to evolve with the show and with the audience. Survivor started with small little twists and they became more popular, and now the twists are a big part of the show. We owe it to the audience to continue to twist it up," host and executive producer Jeff Probst tells TVGuide.com.
"I think we'll always be looking for ways that we can answer the question what's new this year."
True Survivor fans know even this latest maneuver has been done before — old vs. young was the big game-changer in Season 12 for Survivor: Panama. Probst insists the decision was dictated as much by the casting process as the producers.
"Old vs. young really came out of the fact that when we were in the middle of our first round of casting, we started noticing that we had more good, older people than we did younger people," he says. "On one hand, it was really exciting and on the other hand, it's a big challenge because Survivor is so physical already that we had to find ways to make the shows fair so that the 70-year-old guy can take on the 19-year-old college athlete. That was the big challenge, but I think we figured it out."
Despite this throwback, the game will introduce two new elements in the form of the Medallion of Power and a new style of hidden immunity clues.
The Medallion of Power will give one tribe a clear advantage in immunity challenges. However, once the medallion is used, the opposing group will automatically be allowed to use it the next time around.
The hidden immunity clues will be written using hieroglyphic clues, a possible nod to Survivor legend Russell Hantz, who managed to find an impressive number of immunity idols without any clues in Seasons 19 and 20.
"We're going to post them online and the audience will be able to try to figure out what it means," Probst says. "We'll see if it works. It could be a complete disaster. You never know until you try it."
Probst says his favorite alteration for the new season is the locale change. After shooting Seasons 19 and 20 back-to-back in Samoa, the recent Emmy winner calls Nicaragua the best location thus far.
But Nicaragua proved a huge challenge for the castaways, thanks to a heavy rain season and a scarcity of food.
"We're going to give them a little rice, because they would not be able to go without it. When I say a little rice, it equates to a spoonful of rice a day per person. It's not much," he says. "Going into the season, a big concern for us was making sure that they did have enough food that they could live and I'm not being sarcastic. We're really aware that we can't push them too far."
Despite these tweaks and adjustments, no particular location or special medallion will be able to elevate the new season like a strong cast can. 'Nicaragua' has a lot to live up to after last season welcomed back 20 of the game's biggest names and became one of the most acclaimed editions in recent memory.
"The contestants are going to have to make the difference. We don't have a twist that can compare to 'Heroes vs. Villains,' and we knew that. That's as big as it gets," Probst says. "They're either going to carry the show on their backs or they won't."