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One Big Way Survivor Is More Difficult For Women To Win, According To Former Contestant

survivor season 39 island of the idles
(Image credit: CBS)

Survivor is known for being a notoriously difficult mental and physical game, but after being on the air for more than 20 years, it is clear that the social aspect is the driving force of the show: the "hows, whens, and whys" behind housemates interacting versus how they are perceived by the group. The perception of gender is a huge part of the social aspect, too, and according to one former contestant, there is a reason that it is more difficult for women to succeed on Survivor.

The former competitor in question is Elaine Stott, who was a major fan favorite when she took part in Survivor: Island of the Idols, which premiered in 2019. She was only a few days shy of the ultimate goal, though she still won a cool $100,000 from Sia at the reunion. After rewatching all of Survivor's seasons during quarantine, Stott formulated a theory, telling EW that she believes an inherent gender bias at tribal council plays a factor in why women don't win Survivor as much. In her words:

The one thing I would change about the show would be where we sit at Tribal Council! I think we should be able to rotate seats and everyone get the opportunity to sit in the back row. . . . Usually what happens is women typically sit in the front row and men in the back. If you watch past seasons, women are in the front row 90 percent of the time. I’m assuming it’s because of height issues and men are typically taller, so they put them behind us shorter girls. The logic makes sense, but I don’t think it’s fair!

Survivor is a reality show at its core, with just about every action and word from contestants being filmed on a constant basis. The Tribal Council is the single most important aspect of the show, so if production misses even a snip of the drama due to contestants' heights or seating arrangement concerns, then it's a failure on their part. In that sense, Elaine Stott’s perception might be just that and nothing more.

However, even if it's part of the producers' job to get everyone in the frame, Elaine Stott elaborated on her explanation about how the Tribal Council's seating situation leads to a more implicit bias that the film crew may legitimately not be fully aware of. Stott explained:

The difference is that when you sit in the back, you can whisper or give glances or just communicate undetected by other players, which I think is a huge advantage. When you’re in the front row, those kinds of things are way more noticeable and harder to do. It may seem insignificant, but I really think it makes a big difference. I think by making the height of the seats adjustable, us shorter girls could sit in the back row and be allowed the opportunity to do those shady things at Tribal without fear of being seen.

Survivor is often criticized for the various mechanisms that, more often than not, allow men to win over women. In EW's examination of the issue last year, they stated that the last decade saw a widening of the gender gap for winners: 11 out of the last 14 seasons ending with male champs. Gender bias, mixed with the emergence of hidden immunity idols, was speculated as a theory for why women can't seem to win. So perhaps Elaine Stott is onto something, even if it's a nearly impossible idea to concretely prove.

Perhaps, after a year of huge societal changes, Survivor will switch things up once again, only to benefit the contestants this time instead of making them more stressed. Maybe a Knights of the Roundtable setup change in the new season of Survivor?

Lauren Vanderveen

Freelance writer. Favs: film history, reality TV, astronomy, French fries.