‘Survivor’: What Is a Purple Edit and How Can Fans Spot It?

Survivor created an entirely new TV genre when it premiered on May 31, 2000. Creator Mark Burnett and host Jeff Probst have made it clear that in the early days of the reality competition, they had a lot to figure out.

One major issue that still comes up every season is editing hundreds of hours of unscripted footage down to just 15 episodes.

In season 21 Survivor: Nicaragua, they ended up with the purple edit — and it’s happened a few more times in the seasons since. What is a purple edit on Survivor, and how can fans spot it?

Jeff Probst on ‘Survivor: Winners at War’ | CBS via Getty Images

Survivor: Nicaragua had a cast of 20 castaways who voted each other off the island one by one over the course of 39 days. Two were named Kelly — Kelly Bruno from Durham, NC, and Kelly Shinn from Mesa, Arizona.

When Survivor has two castaways with the same first name, they use the first initial of their last name to tell them apart. But instead of referring to her as “Kelly S.”, the castaways called Shinn “Purple Kelly” because she had purple streaks in her hair.

‘Purple Kelly’ was one of the most forgettable characters to ever play the game

Survivor: Nicaragua is one of the most heavily-panned seasons in the history of the CBS series. It’s near the bottom of almost every fan and critic list that ranks the seasons, and there are a few reasons why.

The winner that season had zero strategy, there was a lame twist in the Medallion of Power, and two players quit in the same tribal council with just a few days left in the game. One of those players was Purple Kelly, who ended up forever changing the jury system. But when she gave up her shot at the $1 million prize, most fans were trying to figure out who she was.

‘Purple Kelly’ inspired the ‘Survivor’ term ‘purple edit’

When Purple Kelly and NaOnka Mixon quit, it was late enough in the game that they both made the jury. NaOnka is still remembered years later for her villainous antics. But Purple Kelly has become one of the most forgettable castaways to play Survivor in 40 seasons.

The reason is because in the 11 episodes of Survivor that she was in, Purple Kelly received just one confessional to the camera prior to her vote. She had no story arc and hardly made any moves in the game. Basically, she was invisible and had almost no screen time until it was her time to go. This is how Purple Kelly inspired the Survivor fan term “purple edit.”

The power is in the hands of the editors

As Surviving Tribal points out, at the time Kelly’s purple edit “reflected a mixture of the show’s inability to create entertaining content from her gameplay and the frustration she brought production.”

But the term isn’t for a quitter that the Survivor editors want to hide, as Once Upon An Island explains. In the seasons since Nicaragua, the purple edit has become an editing technique that the show uses when they want to hide a player from the audience. When cutting 72 hours of footage down to a 42-minute episode, the editors have to make choices.

How ‘Survivor’ fans can spot a purple edit

The goal of a purple edit is to make viewers not care about that castaway and completely forget that they are playing the game. Instead, the editors build a season around the winner’s storyline (which becomes obvious in hindsight), the players who are close to the winner, castaways who make big game moves, and those who bring fun moments.

Survivor fans can spot a purple edit when a castaway doesn’t give any confessionals and has almost no impact on the season’s game moves and conversations. If they are barely seen in a number of episodes until it’s their time to be voted off, that’s a purple edit.

In addition to Purple Kelly, Carter Williams got a purple edit during Survivor: Philippines. As did Kelly Wiglesworth on Survivor: Cambodia. Fans can watch for a purple edit when Survivor 41 premieres Wednesday, September 22.

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