Host Jeff Probst expressed that Survivor had explored the strategic side of the game by way of various advantages over the years, but not much about the psychological impact that it has on castaways. Probst stated:
|“||As we continue to evolve the show, it's really important to us that we continue to see how far we can take this experiment. We've done a lot in the last few years about game play and advantages and twists and really wanting players to come in and play strategically. Lately, it's also been occurring to me that we should try to get a little deeper psychologically, a little deeper spiritually. Let's see how far people want to go. Is there a possibility of the spiritual death and rebirth that you seek in life, where you realize something deeper about yourself? That's where this idea was born; what if you play the game, and you get voted out, but you also have an option? It's not Redemption Island. It's not Exile. It's not the Outcast [twist from Survivor: Pearl Islands]. It's truly a situation where you're going somewhere where tribe life as you knew it on the island will seem wonderful, because on Extinction, you will have to work for everything. And with no certainty that you will get back in the game, it comes down to one question: how badly do you want this? How far will you want to push yourself? How curious are you to see what you're capable of?||”|
On paper, the Edge of Extinction shares the same premise as Redemption Island: a place to which castaways who are voted out are sent to await a chance to return to the game. With the Edge of Extinction however, there are no regular duels, and the castaways still in the game are unaware of the island's existence until the first re-entry point.
Once voted out, the condemned castaway leaves Tribal Council believing that they are eliminated. However, as they walk further away, they will find a detour: one path offers the castaway the option to leave the game for good, while the other offers the opportunity to go to the Edge of Extinction. If the player chooses to continue playing, they must take the torch perched on the sign leading to the boat which will send them to the Edge of Extinction. Uncertain that they will be coming back at all, castaways will have to endure the extended isolation for as long as possible until the per-determined re-entry point. If at any point a castaway can no longer handle the conditions, they may choose to withdraw by raising a white flag from a ship's mast after which a boat will pick them up, eliminating them from the game. Food rations are provided daily, but the condemned castaways would have to reach the far side of the island to get them. Additionally, advantages may be found to help castaways on the island re-enter the game, or to help castaways still remaining.
The first re-entry point takes place upon the merging of the tribes. The castaways remaining on the Edge of Extinction at that point would compete in a re-entry duel, with the winner re-entering the game to join the merged tribe. The castaways who lose the duel are then afforded another decision to either leave the game or to go back to the Edge of Extinction and await another chance to re-enter the game. Those who choose to go back become part of the jury as long as they are still on the Edge of Extinction.
The second re-entry point takes place at the final six, after which all of the remaining inhabitants are eliminated from the game and become permanent members of the jury, regardless of placement.
If a castaway is voted out while in possession of a game advantage such as a Hidden Immunity Idol or an Extra Vote, the advantage is voided, even if the holder chooses to go to the Edge of Extinction.
Much like the similar Redemption Island twist, the Edge of Extinction received a mixed to negative response from both fans and former Survivor players alike, feeling that it deviated from the very premise of the show and watered down host Jeff Probst's usual opening sentence at every first Tribal Council—that having lit torches symbolizes the contestants still in contention, while those who have extinguished torches are out of the game.
In particular, the twist was panned in the wake of Chris Underwood's eventual victory. Chris, who was voted out on Day 8, managed to re-enter the game by winning the second re-entry duel at the final six on Day 35. He was able to make it to the Final Tribal Council and face a jury largely consisting of peers with whom he had spent most of his time in the game on the Edge of Extinction. Being against two competitors who managed to avoid being voted out and therefore did not spend time on the Edge of Extinction, the fairness of the twist was put into question.
- Reem Daly is the first person to choose to go to the Edge of Extinction.
- Keith Sowell and Wendy Diaz are both the first and only people to quit the Edge of Extinction.
- Rick Devens is the first person to return to the game from the Edge of Extinction.
- He would be followed by Chris Underwood.