Survivor Ranking: Guatemala – The Mayan Empire

β€Ž15. Guatemala: The Mayan Empire (season 11) 5.5/10 rating

There is a decent jump from the quality of Amazon to the quality of Guatemala. It’s interesting to note that for very few people this season ranks at the bottom (Justin is the first person I remember saying that) and for very few people this season ranks at the top. It’s just another season of Survivor. Unfortunately, if this season had made a stronger impression, we wouldn’t have faced the Transition Era of Exile Island and Cook Islands. Yes, for the past four years, I have always referred to EI and CI as the most significant shake-up to getting away from the soul of Survivor. After Guatemala, Survivor will never be the same.

Issues I had with this season:

1) Bringing back two contestants. I still remember how controversial this twist was when it was first announced. Seriously, two players being brought back to play against sixteen players? Bobby Jon and Stepheme are playing for a second time IN A ROW???? I don’t get why production did this because they could’ve just taken the valuable screen time to promote their newest characters rather than build up older ones. This alone contributes why none of the original sixteen are the only group to never get a second shot at the game, and it would be nine seasons even before their beloved Stepheme would make a comeback. Ultimately, this twist hurt the quality of Guatemala. This idea would fade into being a minor complaint for many fans when Redemption Island went way overboard with this concept. Thanks to casting Boston Rob for the fourth time in nineteen seasons and Russell for the third time in four seasons, casting the only pre-merge Final Two to come back doesn’t seem so bad.

2) Watching Guatemala with my family. Nobody in my family likes Steph. My mother probably gave her more eye rolls than Boston Rob. It got to the point where I had to watch it in a separate room so I could watch the season in peace.

3) Stepheme being praised for her “athletic ability” and being a “competitor” rather than her strategic game. I’m still puzzled to how production thought they could promote Steph’s ability in challenges and how the public bought it overall. The only individual challenge she EVER won was one of the most luck-based immunity challenges in Survivor’s history (you have several keys. One of them will open a lock. Keep doing this until you have enough rope to get to the finish. You may or may not get a little knot before the end. Good luck with having luck!). She also had one of the all-time worst challenge records in Palau, and willingly gave up in two of the three challenges she competed in post-merge of Palau. Along with sitting out of a challenge at the start of the merge in Guatemala. Yep, sounds like a competitor to me. But what takes skill is going into a tribe eight vs. one and being able to survive for a couple rounds, then coming back the next season to completely dominate strategically to get to the Final Two. THAT’S the part of Stepheme’s game that I respect. Few players can have the strategy of a season completely revolve around them.

4) A ridiculously early switch. To this day, Guatemala has the record for the earliest tribe shuffle (no, EI and CI had a mini merge. That’s different). When you shuffle the tribes on day 9 and hold off for a merge until night 18, no wonder why this is the only season where post-shuffle tribes had the strongest bonds.

5) End of the episodes fizzled. It’s tough to promote any suspense at a Tribal Council when Guatemala holds another Survivor record by having the most unanimous eliminations. Editing was better off just focusing on camp life rather than try to fool us into thinking Morgan might be staying or that Amy had a shot. In a cast where strength was favoured at almost every corner, the guy with the arm in a sling or the broken ankle is sure to be out the door.

6) No over-the-top episodes. There wasn’t really an episode this season that was exceptionally spectacular. Besides Jamie and Judd’s exchanges with the others, there isn’t anything that makes you go ‘wow’.

7) The cast has faded. When production refuses to invite back any of the original sixteen, you don’t allow for the season to remain alive. Even when Steph comes back for Heroes vs. Villains, they embrace her Palau image and refuse to acknowledge (along with James) anything she did in Guatemala. I’m sure Rafe, Judd, Jamie, Gary, or Danni being invited back would prevent this season from being permanently ignored.

8) A double Tribal Council. A Survivor staple by this point. I’ve never been a big fan of the losing tribe having one of its members receive immunity just because a person from the opposing tribe chose them randomly.

9) The ‘better’ camp for the day 2 reward ended up being the worst camp. What up with that?

Despite the negatives I presented, there are some very strong points for this season:

1) The opening challenge. Back when Survivor experimented with drastically different unique ways to open up a season, they came up with this gem. This will go down as the harshest challenge in the history of the game. When people are having their eyes rolling back, Golden Boy is seeing the White Light of BB, and Judd paying the consequences for bailing out of a boat too early, you’ll have very few contenders. It was neat to see the ORG world attempt to replicate this twist as it made for very little inactivity…but then Exile Island soon aired, and the opening challenge would fade from everyone’s memories.

2) Danni being worthy of the competitor title. She resembled everything that production deluded people into thinking what Stepheme was. She did quite well in challenges. She was well-liked. She was strategic. And she never gave up in any endurance challenges. My sister liked Danni so much that she claimed that’s who she picked in our family’s Survivor pool. The only problem? Our family didn’t start doing Survivor pools until Exile Island. For somebody who refuses to watch seasons with any bit of camera whoring or people being excessively mean, I think Danni deserves a nod if my sister was willing to watch her.

3) An overall likeable and extremely strong cast. I did a hurt n’ heal for this season a few years ago, and I found myself having a tough time for who to hurt and who to heal after Steph and Bobby Jon was gone. If a cast makes me hesitate during a hurt n’ heal, then quite frankly, it ain’t a bad cast. Lydia, perhaps the only non-athletic person in the whole group, was one of the top camp and fishing contributors.

4) “Aye Dee Dee”

5) “The idol is definitely on the ground, even if my chin is tilted directly towards the sky”

6) *ROARIOWJRWEIOJFDJLKJsouthernaccent* *ROARROARJitsnotfairJFJASIOIFJMCASNUIsouthernaccent*

7) “Scumbags”

8) “Blindsided, nice! Now that’s how you vote someone out!”

9) The hidden immunity idol. This is the only way an idol should be in Survivor. At the merge, hidden in a huge jungle where ten people spread out for six days to try and find it. People say it is too weak for how it was a one-time use and had to be played before everyone voted, but it still had a big enough impact on the game. When Gary used it, he survived for an additional SIX days. If he simply went home three days after playing an idol, then yes, you can say the twist was pointless. But he survived without immunity at the next TC. How you can say the idol wasn’t a big enough of a boost is beyond me. With the present day rules, people like Kristina, Tom, and Yau-Man have survived a shorter period of time than Gary did with his ‘pointless’ idol. Sadly, this idol would foreshadow a horrendous format for the Transition Era.

10) A challenging environment. Besides Africa and Australia, the Guatemalan environment is probably the only other season to match up in terms of overall toughness. For whatever reason, people prefer a beach environment, yet the past four beach seasons have featured very few water challenges. Guatemala had a few rowing and swimming challenges.

11) Guatemala had some of the most unique challenges in Survivor, and besides the day 18 immunity, most of these challenges worked out extremely well. Plus the final immunity was a test of endurance rather than balance or making a task impossible within thirty minutes, which is something Survivor has ran away from ever since. 😦

12) The car dilemma. Do you keep the car for yourself or give away four cars? The idea seems almost laughable after the crisis that the car companies have gone through over the past couple years. A minor but very good twist for a final reward. It wouldn’t be until season seventeen that the winner of the final reward challenge would go on to win the game. Now the curse of the final reward/car is just another reminder of an era long past in the Survivor universe.

13) A Final Two.

14) A great season finale. A Final Four to start out combined with a mix of strategy, camp life, a ritual that is reduced to a joke thanks to eating a Mayan sacrifice, and strong challenges contribute to a very good season finale.

15) Neither Bobby Jon nor Steph won the season. Imagine how painful and controversial that would be if one of them won. A couple weeks ago, I read Mario’s article that a past player will never win at a Final Tribal Council against a new player. Eleven seasons later, and Mario’s theory may be proven wrong in less than 7-10 hours.

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