They may not be starving and dehydrated on an island, but they are in Harleston Hall at 10 a.m.
As the remaining eight players from the cast of season two of Tufts Survivor Club trickled into the Harleston common room, they speculated on what the day’s challenge could have in store. Everyone in the cast is clearly a fan of “Survivor” (2000–), the show their club is modeled after, and they made guesses about what the challenge could possibly be.
But as sophomore Francis Powell, one of the founders of Tufts Survivor Club, recalled from their first season last spring, show knowledge can only get you so far.
“Prior game knowledge is helpful,” Powell said. “But at the end of the day … something that helps you the most is likeability [and the] ability to get along with other people.”
Tufts Survivor Club was co-founded by Powell and sophomore Julian Moody in 2022, when they met on an admitted Tufts student Discord server and realized they both were fans of the show.
“In our first semester we would just hang out and watch Survivor every week,” Powell said. “Then we had the realization to start hosting a game on campus here.”
The idea came to fruition in the form of a 15-person game. Powell and Moody were pleasantly surprised at how actively people have been participating.
Season two has taken off, with many of the season one cast members joining the producing team. The new season also brought new challenges, with the decision to film the season to be viewed by the public.
“This semester, we have a whole crew of 10–12 people helping us out,” Moody said. “It’s gone so far past what we expected it to already. It’s really cool to see.”
Each week the cast members come together for a challenge where they compete for immunity. They also hold a tribal council, where they vote someone off the “island.”
Saturday’s challenge was the Touchy Subjects challenge, a recurring challenge on the show. Moody, a mechanical engineering major and the primary designer behind the club’s challenges and puzzles, explained what it takes to prepare for the season.
“When we’re doing our preseason planning, we basically come up with every single stage of the game, what we’re going to do when, what challenges are happening what week, what advantages and twists are going to happen,” Moody said. “We try to keep them as similar to … challenges that are actually on Survivor. For example, you could have challenges with a lot of running or physical aspects … and then Survivor is also known for its puzzles.”
Moody brought out examples of past puzzle challenges, including one where a teammate is blindfolded and has to grab puzzle pieces that could be arranged as a square and a triangle.
He showed another iconic puzzle called the “vertical fire puzzle” that had ended in the elimination of Zoe Barsam-Cummings, a sophomore player from season two.
“Growing up and watching the show, I was like ‘Oh, I think I’ll be good at the puzzles,’” Barsam-Cummings said. “But it’s much harder than expected.”
Junior Shree Khanolkar, current producer and season one contestant, also spoke to how being in a Survivor season differs from being a viewer and how it has changed his perspective on the game.
“Even when you’re not starving, or dehydrated on an island, you realize how hard it is to build relationships with people you’ve never met before,” Khanolkar said. “Whenever you’re talking to somebody, trying to find a common interest with them, just to be able to align with them on a vote … it’s a lot tougher than it looks. I think a lot of the players were kind of realizing that as the game went farther.”
Touchy Subjects is an opportunity for the players to demonstrate their knowledge of the game and each other by voting anonymously on which player they believe the given statements best reflect.
The statements are mostly game-related, such as “Who thinks they’re playing the best game?” Some are sillier, like “Who is most likely to trip on the rainbow steps?” and “Who puts the ‘dirty’ in dirty Lew?”
The players then publicly vote on who they think the majority of the group voted for in each question, and players that win can bump a player of their choice down a level.
It’s clear that despite not literally surviving together, a bond has formed between the remaining eight players at the challenge on Saturday.
“For season one, I came in and there were 14 other freshmen there. I was the one sophomore and I didn’t know anybody, but by the end of it, I considered some of them my closest friends,” Khanolkar said.
Despite being voted off, Barsam-Cummings is still involved in the organization.
“I still try [to] be active in the club. We have watch parties of actual Survivor here at German House. I still keep in contact with the crew, and I begged them for details on what’s happening,” Barsam-Cummings said.
Sunday’s Tribal Council resulted in the voting out of the player the group had predicted would be voted out during Touchy Subjects. In a twist, the winner of the challenge was also voted out after losing her immunity in a surprise challenge.
Creating plot twists does not come easily. Moody reflected on how designing the challenges has made him have a greater respect for the producers of the show.
“They have to make their challenges to extreme scales, like these massive multi-month projects that’ll be on screen for five minutes,” Moody said. “They often will have to make a lot more than is needed, because there [are] some twists, where people will sit out of challenges … and we try to be as efficient as possible.”
Casting for season three, which will take place next semester, has already begun. Powell explained that they’re looking for contestants who are committed to the game and want to be dedicated players.
“What we really look for is just people who are interested and willing to give it their all,” Powell said. “We just made sure [casting] was based on who is the most interested and who would really have the most fun.”
Looking towards the future, Powell and Moody have hopes of doing themed seasons like the show’s All-Stars edition with returning cast members. At its core, Tufts Survivor Club is about building a community of people with a common interest, just like any student organization.
“When we go into making the different tribes — that’s what the teams are called on Survivor. … If we know two people know each other, we don’t put them together so they can really develop new friendships,” Powell said. “It’s definitely really worked out … a lot of people who played [season one] are still a big part of hosting and filming and producing season two now."
Moody went on to explain that although members of the club are competing against one another, the Tufts Survivor Club creates a close-knit community.
“When you’re talking to a group of people every single day … it really can form bonds between you, even if you’re competing against each other,” Moody said.