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?||”|
The Edge of Extinction shares the same premise as Redemption Island: a place to which castaways who are voted out are sent to wait for a chance to return to the game. With the Edge of Extinction, however, there are no regular duels. In its debut season, the remaining castaways were not informed of the existence of the island until the first re-entry challenge.
Once voted out, the condemned castaway leaves Tribal Council believing that they are eliminated. As they walk further away however, they will find a crossroads: 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 keep playing, they must take the torch perched on the sign to a boat which will escort them to the Edge of Extinction, a barren island with amenities significantly lesser than those of the existing tribe camps. Uncertain if or when they can return, castaways will have to endure the extended isolation for as long as possible until the per-determined re-entry point. Food rations are provided daily, but the castaways would have to reach the highest point on the island to get them. At certain points, advantages are hidden on the island which are either to give the eliminated players an edge at the re-entry challenge, or to give a degree of power to any of the players still in the game.
In Winners at War, all castaways were informed of the existence of the Edge of Extinction at the start of the game. Castaways eliminated at Tribal Council are not given the choice of going to the Edge of Extinction or not, as they would automatically be sent there after bequeathing their Fire Tokens to a player still in the game. In addition, condemned castaways may earn new Fire Tokens by finding advantages on the Edge of Extinction and selling it to players still in the game, which they can then use to purchase food, luxuries, or a maximum of three challenge advantages to aid them in the re-entry challenge.
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 challenge, with the winner re-entering the game to join the merged tribe. Those who lose are sent back to the Edge where they will wait for the next re-entry challenge while serving as members of the jury as long as they are still on the Edge of Extinction. The second and final re-entry challenge comes when there are only five active castaways remaining.
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.
In Winners at War, the mechanics of the Edge of Extinction remains mostly the same, but with the added complication of Fire Tokens. Once a person gets voted out, their Fire Tokens must be "bequeathed" to a player still in the game. At various points, advantages will be available for the eliminated players to find and sell to the active castaways for a certain amount of Fire Tokens. The Fire Tokens earned from selling advantages can be paid to purchase a maximum of three advantages for the re-entry challenge. Prior to the first re-entry challenge, the eliminated are presented a menu of advantages they can purchase for Fire Tokens and must make a decision prior to leaving for the challenge. From this menu, they can buy a regular Hidden Immunity Idol though it would not have any power until its owner re-enters the game at either point.
If at any point a castaway no longer wants to live on the Edge of Extinction, they may choose to withdraw by raising a white flag from a ship's mast. After doing so, a boat will pick them up, permanently eliminating them from the game. Also, all of the remaining inhabitants after the second re-entry challenge are eliminated from the game and become permanent members of the jury, regardless of placement.
Unlike previous mechanics that enable a voted out castaway to return to the game, final placements are still based on when each castaway is eliminated from their tribe, with re-entry being the only way to improve their placements.
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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 as it removes the finality of the vote, which deviates from the very premise of the game that once a castaway's torch is extinguished, they are out of the game. In particular, the twist was panned in the wake of Chris Underwood's eventual victory in Edge of Extinction. Chris, who was voted out on Day 8, managed to re-enter the game at the final six by winning the second re-entry challenge 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 with the eventual jurors in a setting different from that of the main game, the fairness of the twist was put into question.
Several castaways in Winners at War were also reported to have voiced their displeasure with the presence of the Edge of Extinction in that season. Although not shown in the edited version of the episode, it was revealed that multiple members of the Dakal tribe stated that they did not like the twist when polled by Jeff Probst at Tribal Council on Night 3. Of the ten members of the Dakal tribe, only Amber Mariano, Nick Wilson, and Sarah Lacina stated that they liked the twist because "they can fight their way back in". Of the other seven members who said that they were against the twist, Yul Kwon called Chris's victory in Edge of Extinction "controversial and polarizing", while Sandra Diaz-Twine said that "someone should be out when they were out" and criticized how it affected the social game.
The twist also appeared to favor players with strong physical ability. After being voted out in Winners at War, Sandra, who was known for winning twice with her social skills despite her lack of athleticism, left the game the moment she arrived on the Edge of Extinction, explaining she would not be able to scale the steep hill for meager food rations on a daily basis. Further, the re-entry challenges mostly require physical strength and stamina, which gave those who lack athletic ability a distinct disadvantage, practically requiring them to find advantages on the Edge of Extinction merely to better their chances at winning the re-entry challenge.
In an interview with Rob Cesternino for Rob Has a Podcast on the red carpet premiere of Winners at War, Probst acknowledged the negative response to the twist, particularly how its format allowed for someone to return in the game with few players remaining, as well as its inclusion in Winners at War. Though insisting his personal preference for the Edge of Extinction, Probst revealed that it would not be used for the foreseeable future, but did not rule out eventually using it again.
- Reem Daly is the first person to enter the Edge of Extinction.
- Natalie Anderson spent the longest time on the Edge of Extinction, having been there for 33 days. She is also the only woman to return from the Edge of Extinction.
- Keith Sowell and Wendy Diaz are the first people to quit the Edge of Extinction, as well as the only people to do it simultaneously.
- Rick Devens is the first person to return to the game from the Edge of Extinction. He is also the only Edge returnee to have made it to the season's tribe switch.
- Chris Underwood is currently the only person to win the game after spending time on the Edge of Extinction.
- Sandra Diaz-Twine spent the shortest time on the Edge of Extinction, remaining there for only a few hours. She is also currently the only person to leave the Edge of Extinction without first participating in a re-entry challenge.
- Tyson Apostol is the first person to be sent to the Edge of Extinction twice. He is also the only Edge returnee to return without a Hidden Immunity Idol on hand.
- In both seasons that the Edge of Extinction has appeared:
- The first inhabitant has been a woman.
- The first Edge returnee was a man voted out on Day 11.
- Both players that returned from the Edge of Extinction were originally voted out pre-merge.
- The second Edge returnee was voted out before a tribe switch occurred.
- The second Edge returnee was voted out before the first returnee.
- The second Edge returnee made it to the Final Tribal Council after winning the Final Immunity Challenge.
- While there was no Edge of Extinction in Survivor: Island of the Idols, the Vokai tribe knew where its island was and attempted to paddle there, but they had gone so far out that Fijian locals found them and towed their raft back to their beach.
- As both seasons were filmed in the same area in Fiji, the same island was used for the Edge of Extinction for both Edge of Extinction and Winners at War. This fact came into play in "War Is Not Pretty" in Winners at War when Danni Boatwright and Parvati Shallow deciphered a clue about an advantage being hidden in the same spot where Aubry Bracco found a challenge advantage in "I'm the Puppet Master" in Edge of Extinction.
- The re-entry challenges for Edge of Extinction and Winners at War were identical.
- Wigler, Josh (January 31, 2019). "'Survivor: Edge of Extinction': Everything to Know About Season 38". The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/survivor-edge-extinction-jeff-probst-season-38-1181242. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
- Ross, Dalton (March 21, 2019). "Jeff Probst dissects the Survivor double Tribal Council". The Hollywood Reporter. https://ew.com/tv/2019/03/21/survivor-jeff-probst-edge-of-extinction-double-tribal-council/. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
- Ross, Dalton (April 9, 2020). "Survivor host Jeff Probst explains why idols are not at Tribal Council". Entertainment Weekly. https://ew.com/tv/survivor-host-jeff-probst-explains-why-idols-are-not-at-tribal-council/. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
- Scott, Katie (May 16, 2019). "'Survivor' finale: Historic ending crowns controversial winner". Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/5283280/survivor-finale-edge-of-extinction/. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
- Holmes, Gordon (February 12, 2020). ""Survivor: Winners at War" Premiere Recap with Behind-the-Scenes Tidbits". XFINITY TV. https://my.xfinity.com/ed/tv/2020/02/12/survivor-winners-at-war-premiere-recap-with-behind-the-scenes-tidbits/. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Ross, Dalton (February 12, 2020). "What you DIDN'T see in the Survivor: Winners at War season premiere". Entertainment Weekly. https://ew.com/tv/2019/03/21/survivor-jeff-probst-edge-of-extinction-double-tribal-council/. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
- Ross, Dalton (April 2, 2020). "Jeff Probst calls Winners at War 'the best season of Survivor we've ever seen'". Entertainment Weekly. https://ew.com/tv/survivor-jeff-probst-winners-at-war-episode-8-interview/. Retrieved April 3, 2020.