SURVIVOR: INDIA- DEVELOPMENT AND PRODUCTION HISTORY

I did it! Thank you so much to everyone who has read along with Survivor: India. This is the first fanfic I’ve ever shared, and it’s been a challenging but also deeply rewarding experience.

 

Now that the story is finished, I wanted to share some more info on how I went about the process of writing the story, and how the season has evolved from the first draft to the final version.

 

I became a Survivor fan during Borneo’s original airing when I was 10 years old. I was obsessed with the show, but I was also a kid who didn’t fully understand it. I became very disappointed as the show began to focus less and less on the survival aspect and more and more on the strategy. I stopped following the show as closely as I once had as the seasons went on, and midway through Palau, I just straight up stopped.

 

In 2009, Survivor: Tocantins was airing, and on a total whim while channel surfing, I decided to try and jump back into Survivor. I was quickly hooked again, and went through the process of going through the past seasons. I wanted to rewatch the early seasons, which I didn’t remember clearly, and give a first watch to the seasons I had missed.

 

As I binged my way through the series, I became more and more obsessed. I finally decided to try doing, for Survivor, what I had done with my other Reality TV love, America’s Next Top Model–write a fanfic of my own. In 2009, Survivor: India was born.

 

I write my fanfics by first developing a cast of players, obviously the lifeblood of any season. I do not pick a winner from the start, but rather just begin writing and see where the story takes me.

 

In the first draft, I wanted to experiment with a twist the real show hadn’t yet used, so I came up with the idea of the castaways picking their own tribe. Upon being stranded, the castaways were told to head down to a dock, where two boats would be waiting, one green and one gold. Using whatever process they decide on as a group, the castaways could go on whichever boat they wanted, until each boat had 4 men and 4 women, thus determining the tribes. The castaways ended up just kind of racing frantically down, with most of the fastest characters piling into the Bandar Boat. This left two horribly uneven tribes, causing Saap to be decimated in the early challenges and then not have the numbers to save themselves even after a swap. They go into the merge deeply diminished. Bandar mostly controls the game.

 

THE ORIGINAL BOOT ORDER:

 

16th– Bella- Model (Saap Tribe)

15th– Reid- Historian (Saap Tribe)

14th– Ryan- Fashion Buyer (Saap Tribe)

13th– Irene- Hot Topic Sales Associate (Saap/Bandar)

12th– Mathieu- Doctor (Saap/Bandar)

11th– Gavin- Film Producer (Bandar/Saap)

10th– River- Opera Singer (Bandar/Saap)

9th– Elise- Journalist (Bandar/Saap)

8th– Andrew- Cruise Ship Captain (Saap)

7th– Brett- Police Officer (Bandar)

6th– Margaux- Auto Mechanic (Bandar/Saap)

5th– Brock- Bartender (Saap)

4th– Jill- Teacher (Saap)

3rd– Jordyne- Exotic Dancer (Bandar/Saap)

2nd– Mark- College Student (Bandar)

1st– Jamison- Volunteer Coordinator (Bandar)

 

The first thing you’ll notice is that the cast is somewhat different than they ended up being. Elise and Margaux were renamed to Shelby and Marina. The Francophone name Margaux felt too similar to Mathieu. Elise felt too visually similar to Irene (5 letters, three vowels with consonants between) and I thought they’d become easy to mix up. Gavin and Mark switched names with each other, as Gavin felt like a younger name that better captured the character. Mark was then completely re-designed as Marco, keeping the original character’s SoCal roots but changing his race, job, and backstory. Bella and Reid were scrapped entirely and re-designed as Vanessa and Rex. The trashed names were later recycled for the loved ones. The only loved one without a recycled name is Roger. When it became apparent that Jamie’s boyfriend-turned-fiancee would be a major element of his storyline, it felt important to pick a name for him, so he had a name sooner than any of the others. Jamison also eventually started going by a nickname, Jamie.

 

Saap was obviously originally a much less successful tribe than they ended up being. Saap’s losses were particularly influenced by their tribe’s ultimate cockroach, Jill. In all the seasons I had watched at the time, the older women always went early, so I almost went above and beyond to protect Jill. A consistent element from the very first draft is Jill dropping a torch in the first challenge and costing her tribe the lead. In the first draft, she was in the crosshairs at the first TC, just like in the final draft, but Irene took a liking to her and convinced the tribe to spare her. Booted instead was Bella, a model with a terrible attitude, who quickly aligned with Ryan. When Ryan found herself left off the first vote, she proceeded to spend the rest of her time in the game overplaying to defend herself. Brock was actually not a jerk at all in this draft, but rather an inoffensive bro. Like many of the characters, he had a very, very shallow personality.

 

On Bandar, the dynamics stayed somewhat consistent. Brett and Jordyne were always opposed to each other, serving as the leaders of their respective alliances. Jordyne’s allies were her closest friend and apparent opposite, the tomboy Margaux/Marina, along with the tribe’s other younger members, Jamison, and his original bromance partner, Mark/Gavin. (Given where their relationship ends up by the final draft, I find this hilarious in hindsight.) Brett’s allies were the older members of the tribe, River, Elise/Shelby, and Gavin/Marco. Eventually, I realized that there needed to be some sort of important bond to play a pivot between the two alliances. While the original Bandar would never go to TC, I wanted there to still be an established dynamic and an idea of what could have happened. This meant that I needed two players, one from each alliance, to form a bond with each other, giving one alliance a chance at swinging over a 5th vote to establish dominance. At this point I came up with the idea that Mark/Gavin, as the youngest of the tribe, would form a parent-child like bond with one of the adults, which ended up being Elise/Shelby, who was a character I found interesting, but who had little to do so far to distinguish herself as someone beyond Brett’s second-in-command. Their relationship was much more of a secondary plot in the earlier versions, but ended up growing in prominence.

 

Jordyne’s first big move of the season took place in E6, right before the merge. At the swap, she, along with Margaux/Marina and Gavin/Marco, had been swapped to the Saap Tribe, where they joined Andrew, Jill, and Brock. Jordyne knew that if they just picked off everyone from Saap, eventually it would be an all-Bandar Top 8, headed towards a potential tie. She convinced Margaux/Marina to use the original Saap numbers to blindside Gavin/Marco. This sets her up to go with either her original alliance or with the Saap alliance in the merge, solidifying her position as a key swing vote throughout the story.

 

When the castaways finally merge, Saap is decimated at 3 members–Andrew, Brock, and Jill. Jordyne and Margaux/Marina don’t have the ability to stick with them, because there are still 5 other Bandar members–River, Elise/Shelby, Brett, Mark/Gavin, and Jamison. I needed to get rid of someone to give Jordyne a chance to flip the game.

 

The easiest way to accomplish my goal was to have a member of the leading alliance quit or get pulled from the game. I ended up deciding to accomplish this, I would have River learn there had been an accident at home and her father had died, forcing her to withdraw from the game at the merge. This episode was supposed to be deeply emotional, as the death was the unexpected result of an accident. With River gone, this gave Jordyne and Margaux the ability to side with Saap, taking out Elise/Shelby as the first jury member. A big reason I later changed this is because I felt like introducing a character for the sole purpose of killing them as a plot development felt really cheap and inappropriate.

 

After the Elise/Shelby boot, I resolved the season long rivalry between Andrew and Brett, who, as the leaders of their respective tribes, were often at loggerheads. Andrew was the “nice” leader and Brett the “mean” one. In the first draft, it was Brett, not Andrew, who found the idol. After Jordyne and Margaux/Marina flip on Bandar at the merge, Brett ultimately uses the idol to save himself and postpone his own elimination by a single episode. Who does his idol take out instead? Andrew, of course. Brett goes immediately after, leaving Jamison and Mark/Gavin facing an alliance of four.

 

Despite having gone after their former Bandar Tribemates, Jordyne and Margaux/Marina insist to the boys that their original alliance is still intact, and that they plan to go to the F4 together. The guys don’t totally buy it. They ultimately join up with Jill and Brock, creating a new four person alliance, and vote out Margaux/Marina. Jordyne wins the F5 immunity, forcing them to turn on themselves, and Brock goes home, followed by Jill, the last of her tribe in 4th. Mark/Gavin wins final immunity, takes his best friend Jamison, and Jamison wins by a single vote.

 

But why? What made Jamison the choice over Mark/Gavin? I wasn’t really sure–I just kind of picked one.

 

MOVING THINGS AROUND AND FLESHING OUT CHARACTERS

 

The season I had just finished prior to writing the first draft of India was Gabon, and I loved Sugar. I was extremely intrigued by the idea of the least likely of castaways becoming the most powerful, and not understanding Survivor that well at the time, I actually thought Sugar had played a really good game (lol). Sugar had a huge inspiration on the season and on the creation of India’s breakout character, Jordyne. Jordyne was the focal point of the story, and most of the fanfic was written with her success in the forefront of my mind. Whatever needed to happen in order for Jordyne to survive, I was going to make it happen. This was another reason that Saap ended up sucking so badly–to protect my creator’s pet. As a result of my over-focus on Jordyne, many of the other characters were extremely empty and devoid of any real personality. One of the big changes I needed to make was to add more intrigue and punch to the other characters.

 

The first big alteration to the boot order was to give a more developed character a chance to go deeper in the story–Mathieu. Mathieu was definitely one of the most conceptually complex characters, whereas Brock was basically a stand in for any hot, young Survivor Bro. To explain why the physically fit Brock was booted so early from a struggling tribe, he was given a much, much meaner personality, and put into the alliance with Bella and Ryan. Brock became the third boot from the original Saap, and Ryan’s boot was moved into the swapped phase.

 

At this point, I also had to contend with the fact that I had no reason for Jamison to beat Mark/Gavin. Neither of them really had any personality at all. Jamison wasn’t even gay to start. It was basically just the really tall guy vs the young guy. This was when Jamie’s personality *had* to develop more–I couldn’t have the winner be someone with no personality, after all. Additionally, at this point in my life, I was 19 years old myself, so I didn’t really have an understanding of what it meant to be 19 playing against older adults. I had no clue how to express Mark/Gavin’s character at all, so much of the focus went into developing Jamie instead.

 

Being 19 when I wrote the first draft meant I hadn’t yet switched my major to sociology, and, bluntly put, I was much less “woke” when I wrote India. As a result, the cast suffered from a huge lack of diversity, so later in the development process, that was something I felt really unhappy with, and found important to retcon. Aside from the three black characters (Bella, River, and Mathieu) everyone was white, and all 16 castaways were straight (even though I myself am gay, so… something something heteronormativity). Elise was changed to be Asian (originally Japanese, later Taiwanese), and Gavin/Marco became Mexican. I wanted to include a gay character as well. I hemmed and hawed over making it Jamie, but decided that it made a cute allusion to the real world OG Sole Survivor, Richard Hatch. Again, this season was initially drafted post-Gabon, so in addition to Sugar, Matty’s proposal was fresh on my mind as well. I figured that having Jamie talk about his relationship a lot and then have that culminate with a loved one’s visit proposal would be a great development for the character. I felt that a strong, personal moment like that it could put the audience behind Jamie, giving it more weight when he beats out Mark/Gavin in the end. The change of Jamie into a gay character also created more avenues for him to butt heads the hyper-conservative Brett. A scrapped storyline was for Brett to go on a homophobic tirade at FTC to explain in good consciousness why he wouldn’t vote for Jamie. I’m really, really glad I cut this.

 

While Jamie was becoming more developed, I still didn’t know why he won and why Mark/Gavin didn’t. As I got older and more practiced in developing fanfics, however, I began to more clearly see a direction for Mark/Gavin using the one trait I had given him–his youth. An element that I hadn’t really considered, but that felt obvious in hindsight, was that Jordyne talked a lot about using her sexuality to manipulate men, but really never called on that trait in the story. I didn’t know why I’d include that if I wasn’t going to use it. This is where the idea came that Jordyne would target Mark/Gavin as her patsy, accurately gauging that his age and lack of life experience would make him easy to manipulate. Being that I was a little older at this point, I felt more comfortable portraying Mark/Gavin’s age as a negative. This also gave Mark/Gavin more to do in the story and gave his youth more purpose, and also gave genesis to his loss–people would see him as having been dragged through the game by his older and wiser allies.

 

Survivor: India was slowly and steadily becoming more fleshed out. But as time went on, I wrote more fanfic drafts that I quite frankly liked better. I grew to understand Survivor better, and understand my writing better. As I began to dance more and more with the idea of sharing my fanfics, India became more and more of a problem. I couldn’t cut India–not if I wanted to get to All-Stars. But it wasn’t going to open the series with the bang I wanted. It was basically just an Ulonging/Pagonging with a bunch of flat characters and a few standouts. Something major needed to be shaken up to give the story more meat and more purpose. As it was, it was my earliest experiment. I needed to rebirth it as a season worth standing on it’s own merits.

 

It hit me that Jamie was on the wrong tribe. Saap’s losses would have more purpose if one of them could sneak through to the end and win it all. It would create a payoff to their journey as underdogs. But that meant a different Saap man had to swap to Bandar and take Jamie’s place. Reid, the early boot from Saap, was almost little more than a placeholder. He was a nice, older man who started the fire in the first episode, but lacked the physical prowess to make him useful for much longer. Given that he had very little to do, I knew his role could be restructured as well on a new tribe. His firestarting moment was given to Jill instead, which helped to establish her character as a hard worker with a lot of value to the tribe in spite of her age. To keep the plotline of Jamie’s bromance, in the story, Mathieu became Jamie’s new BFF.

 

This swap ended up having a profound impact that shook throughout the story. Without Reid to be eliminated from Saap in E2, I had to bump up Brock in the boot order, leaving me without a boot for E3. Who could go next? I decided that this was my chance to fix the cheap circumstances around River’s exit from the game at the merge by taking some of the elements of her original storyline and moving them forward in the chronology. Rather than having her mother die suddenly during the game, I changed it so River’s mother was suffering from a terminal illness, leading River to ask to be voted out when she comes to realize she regrets leaving her family. This allowed to eliminate a Bandar member, while still keeping the general dynamic of a tribe that’s never been to tribal and has untested boundaries.

 

But perhaps most importantly, moving Jamie off Bandar also split him up from Mark/Gavin. This caused the focus of Mark/Gavin’s story to shift entirely into his competing relationships with Jordyne and Elise/Shelby–which became central to the final version.

 

CUTTING AND REPLACING

 

The next change to the story was the decision to scrap Bella and Reid entirely. Reid, even on Bandar, had no purpose. Bella and Brock had basically become the same character anyway, so they were fused into a single character, Brock (whose biracial heritage is a nod to this fusion). I had to develop two more interesting characters to replace them. This is when Vanessa and Rex entered the story. And with Vanessa entering the story, that meant things were going to change for Irene.

From the inception of India, I loved Irene. In the original draft, Irene was meant to be one of Saap’s stronger competitors and a strong social player who quickly bonded with Jill. It was Irene’s influence that protected Jill, which originally made her a positive character. Of course, protecting Jill also had a lot to do with Saap’s continual suckage. I realized Irene’s insistant protection of Jill made Irene look stubborn, not clever.

NOTE: (Irene’s original concept was meant to look much more explicitly goth than she actually ended up. It wasn’t until making the Sim Models for the characters that I decided instead on giving Irene a more androgynous style, and from this came the idea that perhaps Irene would be queer. She figured out her own sexuality in real time as I figured out her sexuality.)

By this point, I had already drafted many other fan seasons, and had many other older women manage to go deep in the game. I felt like Jill didn’t offer enough to the story, and that her survival was, if anything, continuously due to luck and not due to her own ability. Her deep run wasn’t actually flattering to her character. With Jamie now as a Saap Member, he did a much better job of carrying the “last of a dying kind” plotline as the winner (vs just making the final four and having everyone be like, really proud or whatever). I sadly had to give up on Jill as a late gamer. She became the first boot, which opened up her original 4th place finishing spot. Irene ended up moving in here as the rest of the story unfolded around her.

With Jill out, it also gave me time to develop Vanessa, who ended up being a character I really enjoyed due to her sense of humor. However, by the swap, I was still struggling to find a place for her in the broader story. There was, however, another character who was suffering the same problem–Marco on Bandar.

At this point in development, love had started to emerge as a critical theme of the season, with Gavin’s crush on Jordyne and Jamie’s engagement as key plot points. I decided to run with this theme, and solve my problem by adding in a showmance that could be reciprocal, unlike the more manipulative Jordyne/Gavin situation. So Vanessa and Marco, with nothing else to do, became destined to meet at the Tribe Swap and fall in love. This of course, ended up having a huge impact on everything going forward, as the other characters now were going to have to react to the showmance and deal with it accordingly. The showmance shook up the entire season.

Firstly, Marco’s elevated importance to the plot meant that Jordyne no longer could blindside him. I couldn’t lose the showmance right after it started. I decided that there was no reason Jordyne should have to go after Brett by proxy, which was the purpose of her original #BigMove against Gavin/Marco. Why not have her #BigMove be blindsiding him directly? With Brett now going pre-merge, I could wrap up his rivalry with Andrew earlier. This, in turn, helped to wind up Andrew’s plotlines earlier, which meant I could cut him out of the story as well at this point. Furthermore Jordyne, having Jordyne immediately flip to oust Andrew gave me a chance to establish Jordyne’s highly aggressive playstyle that would ensure her position in the middle of the action.

The final swap between characters was when I realized that Saap didn’t make much sense as a tribe of losers anymore, now that they ditched Jill early and were anchored by the two biggest guys in the game in Jamie/Mathieu. Jamie needed someone on Bandar he could go head-to-head with in challenges. Mathieu was swapped to Bandar, and Marco was swapped to Saap. Marco took over the role of Jamie’s best friend, and Mathieu stepped into the role of Vanessa’s showmance. They both flourished in their new roles in ways they hadn’t come close to in their original forms. Marco in particular finally started to find his direction as the unfiltered bro we all know and love. Jamie’s general calm and hippy-dippyness needed an action-oriented hothead to balance him out.

This left Rex. What the hell was I going to do with the old guy? I couldn’t re-write this entire story again. Rex had to be a non-factor that would allow me to keep the elimination order and general game plot intact, but I didn’t want to have a Purple Ghost just floating in the background. This is when I started to develop the idea of Rex as being entirely unmotivated by winning, allowing him to act with relative independence from the rest of the story, while still having moments to shine as a unique character. . Rather than wanting to play or win, Rex was lured to Survivor because he loves being on TV, and his attention seeking personality eventually morphed him into the surrealist meta-commentator he became. Ironically, as someone I designed to keep from impacting the rest of the story too heavily, Rex became someone who I almost wanted to re-structure the story to keep. I had a blast writing his weirdness.

 

THE EDGIC OF IT ALL

Once I had finally nailed down a story and elimination order that made sense, it came time to finally start breathing fleshed out moments into the skeleton of the story. A big part of deciding how to do this was influenced by edgic, which has become a part of Survivor I’ve payed much closer attention to in the years since first drafting India.

Simply put, I’m a lot like Jamie. At only 5’4”, I don’t share his height, obviously. And I’m not from the South. But we share our hugely liberal socio-political philosophies, our facial hair, and our sexual orientation. When I shared the character designs with my best friend, she asked if Jamie was my “self-insert,” which definitely made me nervous–I didn’t want Jamie to come across as this idealized version of myself who I created for the story just so he could get to be the winner. If anything, upon his conception, Jamie’s only character traits were being tall and liberal.  Our similarities, were largely coincidental, but they were also undeniably there. I knew that if I wasn’t careful, Jamie could easily turn into my own personal Gary Stu. I had to be very careful with his edit, not only so that he didn’t seem like he was being favored, but that so pragmatically, he wasn’t too easily predicted. I didn’t want his win coming out of left field, but I wanted the viewers going into the finale not being certain of who would win.

I decided there needed to be a few winner distractions to help take some of the heat off Jamie. Mathieu was obvious, as he went far and just screams “winner” to the naked eye–he was the predicted winner from a lot of readers for most of the season. Marina was the second choice, deliberately played as a more UTR winner candidate who would steadily and slowly build her presence in the story. I also wanted to make sure she wasn’t just “Jordyne’s Sidekick,” and making her a winner contender gave her some opportunity to show her own chops as an individual competitor. The last and most important distraction was Irene, who was intentionally given the edit that most resembles a “standard” edgic winner, helping to ensure she would keep the scent off Jamie’s tail going into the finale.

 

CREATING VISUALS

 

I found that in reading fanfics, one of the biggest difficulties I had was in imagining the castaways and learning them. Most fanfic writers would introduce their cast prior to the story, generally using stock photos to represent their characters. While reading the first few episodes of a new fic, I would usually have to keep up the posts with the cast in a separate tab, so I could remind myself who was who. I found this could really create an obstacle in being able to get into the story. When you’re watching Survivor on TV, you see everything. It’s totally different from reading and having to imagine it all yourself.

When I decided I wanted to finally try sharing a fanfic, I very quickly became married to the idea of using confessional portraits, so that the readers would be frequently seeing the faces of the castaways and be better able to imagine them in their heads. Having a face to the characters, I think, really helps the viewers feel like they know who each character is and like they care about their fate. This quickly expanded to me also deciding to add in gifs of the scenery and wildlife, keeping some of the feel of watching Survivor and allowing the reader to better imagine the setting of the story as well.

As the story became more of a multi-media visual project, I also made the decision to predominately use challenges that had already been used on the real Survivor series. Challenges were, I found, the hardest part of a fanfic to imagine, so by using real challenges, I felt the reader would be better able to picture exactly what I intended as the writer.

LOCATION

Picking India as the location was based purely on the fact that I thought it seemed cool. Of course, as the story became more serious, I realized I had to make the location a little more specific. I did a lot of research about habitats and locations in India to decide where the season would be located within the country. Originally I had picked the Sundarbans, a tiger infested wetland on the far east coast near the border with Bangladesh. This is mostly swamp, and further research made me realize how impossible of a location it actually was.

The second setting was in Northeast India, in the forests that border the start of the Himalaya Mountains. This is the part of the country with rhinos, which I thought was cool, but as I wrote more fanfics, I became interested in potentially using Nepal as a location, which would be very similar. I wanted a habitat that was more unique to India.

The montane jungles of the Western Ghats ended up working perfectly as a Survivor location. All of India’s most famous identifiable wildlife is present there, and the visuals of the location immediately remind one of The Jungle Book–which is exactly what I wanted the location to call to mind. This also meant thinking a lot more seriously about when the season would film during the year. Choosing to film during Monsoon season let the rains influence the area and the game, and gave more weight to the difficulty of the survival scenario.

I waffled back and forth between using Karni Mata as the location for the final immunity challenge. You can’t actually get there in a day from the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve if you go by train. Eventually I snubbed realism in the name of impact.

Survivor on TV has lost a lot of it’s focus on the culture of the host location, so I wanted to make sure that I found lots of ways to incorporate India into the story. The mythology challenge ended up having a gigantic impact on that, as it had a huge influence on where the immunity idols were hidden, directly tying the local cultural tradition into the outcome of the game.

As a result  of all my research, I feel like I’ve learned far more about India than I already knew, and I’ve developed a real fondness for the country and the Western Ghats region. I think after this story it would be a real shame if I never got to visit someday. A boy can dream, right?

FUN FACT?

After going through the first seven episodes with a different castaway naming each one, I decided to have a quote from a different castaway be the title quote for each episode. Jill, Ryan, Andrew, and Brett don’t have an episode named for one of their quotes. The only person to have more than one episode title to their name is Jamie, as the winner.

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