Confirming weeks of rumors, CBS has announced that next season's just-filmed twelfth installment of its Survivor franchise will take place in Panama and be titled Survivor: Panama, Exile Island.

The network made the announcement at the conclusion of last night's Survivor: Guatemala finale, with Survivor host Jeff Probst presenting a Survivor: Panama preview that stated that Panama will, for the first time in five seasons, drop the competition's cast size back to Survivor's original sixteen castaway format, and, for the first time in a Survivor series, feature a new twist in which each episode will require "at least one castaway" to be banished to a "tiny island of exile" for "days at a time."

While Survivor: Panama will be the first Survivor edition to use "Panama" in its main title, it will actually be the third American Survivor edition to film in the location (Britain's second Survivor season was actually the first Survivor format to use the area's islands for filming.) Although it was titled Survivor: Pearl Islands, CBS' seventh Survivor edition, broadcast in Fall 2003, was filmed on the same islands, as was the subsequent spring's Survivor: All-Stars eighth edition of the long-running reality series.

Survivor producer Mark Burnett had lauded the area as "best spot we have visited" during the show's 2003 productions and although unconfirmed, Burnett reportedly loved the area's crystal clear waters and scenery so much that he actually purchased one of the chain's islands.

According to last night's Survivor: Panama preview, the new castaways "will be divided into tribes in a way never before seen," "strategy will be turned on its head," and "survival will take on a whole new meaning."

Based on the description of the "desolate place" to which the castaways will be "banished," it sounds like Survivor: Panama will take the one-time Immunity Challenge penalty that Janu Tornell suffered during last spring's Survivor: Palau and somehow incorporate it into Survivor: Panama's regular challenge cycle. As the first person to quit Palau's Day 26 Immunity Challenge, Janu had been forced to spend a lonely night isolated on her own private island.

While Probst teased that the island will be "be a place to be feared," the island will apparently also feature a second twist of its own. "Something hidden within its rocky shores may be the key to $1,000,000 and the title of 'Sole Survivor,' said Probst -- a statement that would seem to imply that the island may also contain some type of hidden Immunity Idol twist similar to the one featured in Guatemala's just-concluded season.

Survivor: Panama is believed to have begun filming on or about October 31 and wrapped production late last week. While CBS has yet to announce a premiere date for Survivor: Panama, the series is expected to debut in early 2006, although presumably not until after NBC's seventeen-day 2006 Winter Olympics coverage ends on Sunday, February 26 -- a decision that would delay the show's premiere until Thursday, March 2. In 2002 -- the last time the Winter Olympics were held -- CBS delayed the debut of Survivor: Marquesas until after the Salt Lake City Games concluded. Survivor: Marquesas premiered on Thursday, February 28, 2002 -- a date that still ranks as the latest premiere date for a midseason Survivor edition.

A March 2 premiere date would also provide an explanation for the fact that Survivor: Panama will be the first Survivor edition since Pearl Islands to feature fewer than eighteen castaways. Should the show premiere on March 2, an untruncated thirteen-week broadcast schedule would allow CBS to schedule Panama's finale event for Sunday, May 21 -- three days before the May 2006 ratings sweeps period ends on Wednesday, May 24. As one of CBS' traditional May sweeps highlights, it's highly unlikely that the network would allow Survivor's spring season finale to air after the conclusion of the ratings sweeps period.