Hey, What Happened to the Theme Song in ‘Survivor: Winners at War’?

The ‘Survivor’ theme song is instantly recognizable (if unsingable). Here’s how a Russian folk song became one of the best theme songs ever.

Abi Travis - Author

Apr. 8 2020, Updated 5:11 p.m. ET

survivor cast
Source: CBS

When you’re a fan of Survivor, there are some things you just have to do every time you watch. Like talking aloud to the players inside your TV when they do something super dumb like give away their immunity necklace for no reason right before getting voted out (come on, Erik!). Or saying “Stay tuned for scenes from our next episode” along with Jeff at the end of the episode. And at the beginning of each episode, you obviously have to (attempt to) sing along with the Survivor theme song.

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Unfortunately, it’s not really a theme song you can sing along with. There are only so many times you can sing some version of “eh-la-loh-eh-loh-eh-loh-eh-la” before you start to question your sanity. As a matter of fact, there’s actually a pretty interesting backstory to the Survivor theme song. Here’s everything we know about it, including why it’s been absent for the past two seasons of the show.

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The ‘Survivor’ theme song is called “Ancient Voices."

It was scored by American composer Russ Landau, but he didn’t actually write the tune from scratch. Actually, the main vocal track (the “eh-la-loh-eh” part) was actually taken from a Russian folk song called “Пойду-выйду на улицу.” The anglicized version is written “Poidu Vyidu na Ulitsu” and translates to “I’ll go and get outside” (fitting, no?). Here’s a video of a Russian choir performing the piece:

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While the overall tune of the theme song has been consistent over the years, there have been several different versions of it depending on where the season took place. In Survivor: Australia, the sounds of a digeridoo were worked into the song, whereas for Survivor: China, Russ translated the song (roughly) into Mandarin and added a Chinese folk song overlaid into the final edit.

According to an incredibly informative thread from the r/Survivor subreddit, the vocal tracks used in “Ancient Voices” originally appeared on an album called Earthbeat. The album was made in 1987 as a collaboration between American saxophonist Paul Winter and the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble from the Soviet Union. Russ was a bassist for the Paul Winter Consort, and thus decided to use portions of the album’s first track, “Kurski Funk” when he was working on the Survivor theme.

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The Survivor theme song uses only two lines of the Russian folk song, repeated over and over again. If you’re truly determined to sing along with the version used in most seasons of Survivor, here’s a phonetic guide to those two lines:

eh eh oy, lyoll lee lyoll lee, lyah ah, lee ee, lyoll lee lyoll lee, dah rah
zigg ra yoov hurr roh vudd da ya woo mee loh vuh vorr rut eh eh

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The first line has no translation as it’s just vocalizations (which means your living room rendition is probably pretty close to accurate!). The second line translates roughly to “Yes, I will play in a Khorovod, yes, I will, at the gate of my dear beloved.” And because you’re probably wondering, a Khorovod is a very old Russian dance.

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Why isn’t “Ancient Voices” used as the theme song for ‘Survivor: Winners at War’?

If you’re watching Winners at War, you’ve probably noticed that the theme song is absent — most of the episodes have started with a cold open instead. This also happened on Season 39 of the show, and fans were not happy about it. The hashtag #SaveTheSurvivorIntro started trending (and still pops up every now and again during Season 40). 

Jeff Probst himself revealed why the intro has disappeared (and with it, the theme song) on Twitter, saying that current audiences can’t handle such a long intro. Plus, filming everyone’s individual intro shot was apparently getting too expensive.

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We have to admit that a 20-person intro would be pretty long, and the cold opens have been great...but that incredible theme song is still sorely missed! Tune in to new episodes of Survivor on CBS, airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

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