“We think that Survivor Series is obsolete, as far as that title is concerned. It was something that worked many, many years ago, in terms of a creative standpoint, various teams competing. That really is not advantageous as the consumer now looks at what actually they are buying. And it’s such a broad … Survivor Series yes, many years ago, was one of the original four pay-per-views, but it’s outlasted its usage and it is one of the things in terms of re-branding, this year and going forward, that will be re-branded. No longer will we have that title, Survivor Series.”
That quote is from Vince McMahon during the February 2010 investors call, and it caused a frenzy amongst wrestling fans.
How could the WWE just summarily dismiss one of the tentpole events in company history? The Survivor Series had been a Thanksgiving/November tradition ever since 1987, where it just so happened to run on the same day as the NWA’s Starrcade event that year. Every year since then would see rivalries lead to captains forming teams of five who strived to survive. The event would see historic moments over the next decade, such as the debut of The Undertaker in 1990, Taker beating Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title the next year, Austin vs. Bret putting on a clinic in Madison Square Garden, the Montreal Screwjob, and the Deadly Game tournament…which ended in a rehash of the Montreal Screwjob.
However, by the time 2009 had come around, the team concept had pretty much run its course. The company had long lost interest in doing a show full of the elimination matches, with no show having more than three since 1997. A couple of the most fondly remembered Survivor Series shows (1998, 2002) didn’t have a single traditional elimination match on the card. And while a few elimination matches did end up being good (Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff in 2003, the original Raw vs. Smackdown tag in 2005), most didn’t end up accomplishing more than a singles match between the captains would have in its place.
Combine that with sagging PPV buys, and the WWE felt that Survivor Series was outdated and unnecessary. But when this change was announced, there was a big backlash among fans who were outraged at the dismissal of one of the Big Four. Survivor Series had a lot of name value and nostalgia that endured with fans for decades, and the fans made it clear enough to the company to make them reverse course. Survivor Series would live on! Unfortunately, the problems that McMahon brought up would not only continue to present themselves but only be exacerbated as time went on. With ten years of hindsight, it’s become clear that Vince McMahon was right all along. Survivor Series does not need to exist anymore. It has become a played-out trope that not even the company wants to play into anymore.
What are the classic Survivor Series matches of the last ten years? I’ll let Cagematch, the pro wrestling match database, be my guide for this analysis. Of the top 25 Survivor Series elimination matches in WWE history, only five of them have come since in the last decade. And of those five matches, only two of them (Cena vs. Authority, Raw vs. Smackdown 2016) have a Cagematch rating at or above a 7, which would equal a ***1/2 rating.
Even the best of these tentpole matches rarely reach heights of greatness.
Then, there’s the issue of the brand split. The Raw vs. Smackdown idea, once somewhat appealing due to the general following of the brand split rules, has now become an anchor that drags down any interest that a Survivor Series show could generate. I reviewed the 2021 Survivor Series for this very website earlier this week. What I saw, outside of a near four-hour commercial for The Rock and his Netflix film, was a show that existed almost entirely outside of WWE canon. Feuds that were building were all of a sudden put on pause in the name of BRAND SUPREMACY, despite the fact that WWE themselves never even bothered to keep count of which brand won the night. Raw won the night 5-1, in case you were wondering. The show was just a bunch of people fighting for imaginary stakes. Dozens of people fighting for a prize that, outside of Vince McMahon’s mind, didn’t actually exist. And the Brooklyn crowd knew there was nothing to this show, as outside of a brief CM Punk chant, they were mostly apathetic to the events unfolding.
Every now and again, I come across a certain song on Spotify that I used to listen to when I was in middle school. I’d slap that like button and have that song in my big Liked Songs playlist for months. But after a while, and after skipping that song time after time after time, I’d realize that I didn’t actually like the song anymore. I just remembered liking it. I think that’s what happened with all those fans back in 2010. They remembered liking the Survivor Series, even though it had long since stopped being the show they so fondly remembered.
Survivor Series was a show that existed to cut off the NWA’s biggest show of the year. It had a memorable gimmick match that people grew up liking. I get it. But you could have called those shows Bragging Rights, or Roadblock, or Payback, or any of the other dozen vaguely aggressive pay-per-view names this company uses. Nothing about the actual show, the real substance of the show, would change outside of the one or two theoretically special matches that are shoehorned onto the card.
Survivor Series served its purpose a long time ago. It only exists to get in the way of the actual storylines, prop up a hackneyed brand war, and placate fans who want their comfort food. The time to survive has passed. It’s time to let move on from the Survivor Series.