Binge-watching reality TV and chatting with friends online are quick fixes to alleviate boredom, but folks aiming to revamp this routine have found a hobby that combines competitive reality games and socializing online. Online reality games (ORGs) allow people to live the life of a reality TV star from the comfort of their homes. Danny Chamberlin, NAIT alumni and mastermind behind local ORG Survivor YEG, is a Survivor fan who wanted a fresh way to kill time while in quarantine.
“I was bored at home; I randomly stumbled across Survivor and wanted to make an online version locally for my friends. Then, it turned into something bigger,” said Chamberlin. “Fast forward two years later, and it’s like 100 people, 60 of them I don’t know.”
ORGs started popping up in the early 2000s after Survivor’s debut. They’ve gained popularity again in the age of TV streaming services and online communities like Discord, where Survivor YEG is hosted.
“I found a game that someone was running in the states, and I played in it. I thought it was really cool and could be done so much better. That’s what drew the inspiration to build the server. But yeah, I had no idea what an online reality game was,” said Chamberlin.
Since June 2020, Survivor YEG has hosted 6 Edmonton-themed seasons. Players fight to be the sole survivor by outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting their competition. As the server grew each season, Chamberlin recruited previous players to help host, including software developer and winner of Survivor YEG All-Stars Season 5, Keegan.
“He was able to come in and build a bot for the server. And that just opened up so many more things for us to do. With him on the hosting team, we could build all-new features, all-new challenges, automate chats,” said Chamberlin. “So [the hosts] are just ex-players who had so much fun that they just want to help out. That’s been cool to see that community be built over time.”
Although the game is based on the show, players don’t need to be Survivor fans to participate.
“It’s not even just Survivor fans, the majority of people who play haven’t watched Survivor, and they learn about the show as the game goes on. I think, if anything, the show is gaining a lot of new fans because of [ORGs].”
According to Chamberlin, all it takes to play is a competitive edge. Unlike real-life Survivor, challenges are online, so they are more accessible.
“Being competitive isn’t just playing sports. Some people play video games, some people play chess, all kinds of things. I think this is just another outlet for people who either don’t want to or can’t play sports. You may not be the best volleyball player, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be competitive in a game like this,” said Chamberlin.
There are many different ways to get far in the game, but there’s no clear formula to win. This makes the game a social experiment that changes with every player’s move.
“It’s a lot like the real show where you have strong challenge competitors who are athletic [and] strong people, and then you have other players who are more manipulative and social and good with their words. They’re both threats for different reasons,” said Chamberlin. “That would be no different from [Survivor YEG], but instead of being strong and athletic [during challenges], you’d be more tech-savvy.”
After a nail-biting Season 6, Survivor YEG is casting for Season 7. Chamberlin and the other hosts aim to have a full cast for a mid-February start, but still have spots to fill.
“If you’re always on your phone, if you like meeting new people and chatting, if you need something to do, I think it’s a great experience. […] It’s competitive; it tests your ability to think on your feet and socialize. If you love reality TV in any way, then I think it’s the perfect game for you.”
Editor’s note: I played in Season 6 (I was Fan Favourite, no big deal), and it’s a fast-paced game that requires daily activity. I would recommend only students with a lighter course-load play.