After 18 years of watching CBS's hit series Survivor (and 36 seasons to boot), competitive reality TV shows are ingrained in our society. Not just game shows or Real World-type series, but full-on competitions.
Whether they're contestants trapped inside a house like on Big Brother or drag queens competing on RuPaul's Drag Race, fans have gotten hooked on finding who will win. Reality TV is our guilty pleasure! And, many have dreamed of being the lucky few to compete.
So, it's not surprising that some diehard fans created their own real-life versions of their favorite shows, like in the case of the university-set show, Survivor Maryland.
Survivor Maryland was started in 2012 at the University of Maryland by Austin Trupp, a student at the time. As a longtime fan of Survivor, Trupp wanted to bring the game to life as a fun activity that he could run with his classmates and dormmates.
The first season, Survivor: La Plata Island, began as a mostly off-camera game filmed with strategies and challenges similar to the CBS show. Some elements were filmed and uploaded to the show's official YouTube page, but mostly it was kept to real-life.
The first season garnered some views, but it wasn't until the second season, Survivor: The Maryland Outback, where fan interest took off. Blindsides, dynamic disagreements with bold characters, and unpredictable votes shook up the season on more than one occasion.
These university students made it clear that they came to play!
Plus, Survivor: The Maryland Outbreak was the first season to have fully created episodes where everything had been filmed. Fans could finally watch the progression of the season and root for their favorite castaways.
As of 2018, Survivor Maryland is currently airing its fifth season: Survivor Maryland: All-Stars.
What started as a fun game between dormmates has become an online YouTube staple for Survivor fans. And, the series has caught the attention of reality TV podcasters, and past players, like Rob Has A Podcast, the Dom & Colin Podcast, Survivor Season 33 winner Adam Klein, and Big Brother Canada host Arisa Cox, to name a few.
Though, why should YOU check it out?
In a world full of reality TV shows and spin-offs, Survivor Maryland created some of the best seasons we've seen in years. A mix of storytelling, proper editing, and great casting are its secret weapons.
One of the most noticeable things about Survivor Maryland is its production quality.
For a low-budget student-created program, Trupp spent a lot of time creating an entertaining series that would look and feel on par with the main Survivor show. Lots of attention was placed on the music, challenges, and the editing of the story to produce a high-quality video. Based on the recent seasons, Trupp and his team did an amazing job capturing the reality TV vibe.
An important thing of note is that Survivor Maryland, by no means, is an HD-quality show.
Most of the scenes in each episode are filmed with handheld cameras, laptops or smartphones as compared to high-end video cameras. But, where this style succeeds is that the footage is captured anywhere on campus. The players themselves record a lot of the gameplay and supply it to Trupp.
Part of the production of Survivor Maryland is fostering the importance of contestants recording their conversations with other players.
Whenever a strategy session is run, or a player wants a confessional, all they have to do is turn on the camera. There are some scenes/confessionals shot by Trupp and his production team, but with the cast having busy schedules, they can't be everywhere.
The castaways recording their own footage helps to round out the editing process for the episode. Plus, the additional footage creates a more in-depth storyline with episodes that range over the one-hour mark.
We as viewers get to see a lot more to the story of someone's elimination than a typical TV episode.
Speaking of the players, Survivor Maryland features an eclectic cast of University of Maryland students who (in some instances) know each other on campus.
As compared to being strangers from across the country, the cast members live, study, date, and party with each other during filming. The game isn't confined to a 39-day island adventure, but it's mixed in with their daily academic lives. Survivor Maryland spans over several months throughout the school semester.
The extended timing is one of the reasons why the stress is ramped up so high. More time means more time to game.
The castaways are known to include strategy discussions in between classes, parties, and activities. And, once someone is voted out, the drama doesn't end.
Seriously, imagine how uncomfortable it would be working in a group project with someone after you blindsided them in a 4-3 vote? Awkward!
Friendships are also put to the test in the hopes of claiming the prize.
During the Survivor: Terrapin Trials final immunity challenge, we witnessed Victoria Zhao and Foluke Tuakli's friendship disintegrate after the pressure of the game, and the shady moves made to get to the Final 3, tore them apart. The end of their friendship created one of the most captivating (and heartbreaking) challenges of Survivor Maryland to date.
And, in the case of Survivor Maryland: All-Stars, the game affected bonds that were made before entering the season, whether by season or real-life. By the time of the merge, the students were willing to turn on each other in favor of surviving the vote. (Looking at you, Shannon Neal.)
Trupp and the production team hit their stride with some of the best reality TV castings yet.
These players aren't actors. They don't want to be famous. They're not competing for their "big break." Instead, we're watching competitive students who are playing to win Survivor.
For anyone who has ever complained about lackluster reality TV players not competing for the right reasons, Survivor Maryland is a breath of fresh air. These castaways play hard to win; they live and breathe Survivor when they're in game mode.
The prize is $100 and bragging rights, after all. They're playing for the title, not a million dollars.
Plus, you genuinely get to the know the characters thanks to a well-rounded edit. Which, unfortunately, the main series has suffered with during the last few seasons, like the heavily "purple edit" season of Survivor Season 36.
(A purple edit is when a reality TV contestant is barely shown during a season to the point they're essentially invisible until the episode on which they're eliminated.)
The growing popularity of Survivor Maryland could also be traced to the fan connection. These are Survivor fans putting their all into a competitive game they love. And that's a concept that relates to a lot of people.
Hosting Survivor seasons has spread to other campuses, like Survivor Boston and Survivor: Time & Change, or into the real world with activities people can sign up to join. Plus, other reality shows have received the same treatment in the past too. (I applied for the third season of a school-sanctioned Big Brother at my college back when I was a senior.)
ORGs (Online Reality Games) have also been popular for more than a decade now with fans hosting games on forums, Discord chats, Reddit, and message boards. Fans can sign up to games like Tengaged or apply to Sequester to let out their inner reality TV competitor.
Though, it's easy to get hooked on wanting to play and win these games. (Some of my best online scores before retiring included winning a three-month season of Survivor, and getting second in a summer-long version of Big Brother UK.)
But, if you're just an avid TV watcher instead, Survivor Maryland will more than fill that need.
Survivor Maryland: All-Stars is nearing the end of its season, but overall it's a show that you can jump in at any time.
The fifth season might be the best in Survivor Maryland's history yet! The complicated relationships, blindside votes, and its spot-on editing have made this an engaging season to follow. A roster of personality-filled competitors also helped too.
Plus, the season's big twist is so fun and simple that it doesn't overshadow the gameplay. (That is great in the reality TV world.)
While All-Stars will mark the end of Trupp's involvement in the series (this season was filmed in 2015, and he's since graduated), at least five other seasons have been filmed with new hosts. So, there's plenty more Survivor Maryland to keep you entertained.
If you love reality shows, this is an online series you need to watch on YouTube now. Give yourself an episode, and you'll be hooked instantly.
Survivor Maryland airs Mondays on YouTube at 7/6c.
Justin Carreiro is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.