Survivor is one of the longest-running reality competitions on television- and it shows no signs of slowing down. The show first premiered back in 2000, and to this day it’s still being hosted by its original host Jeff Probst. Basically, the show takes a group of strangers and places them on a remote island for a month where they must battle it out in competitions and somehow survive with little resources.
The show has contestants divided into two different teams and they compete each week for immunity, so they don’t have to go to Tribal Council. Each week, one of the teams must go to council and vote one of its members off the Island. The last person standing wins the title of the number one survivor and a hefty $1 million paycheck. Not too shabby, huh?
The show is currently in its 35th season, which means there has been tons of drama and secrets throughout the years that even hard-core Survivor fans may not know about. Check out these behind-the-scenes secret and let us know which one surprised you the most!
15. Everyone Gets A Paycheck In The End
The whole point of Survivor is that a group of contestants is competing for a $1 million prize. But don’t worry if you lose- you won’t go home empty-handed. It turns out that each contestant is paid for their time on the show, though you, of course, make more the longer you manage to stay one.
The first-place winner goes home with the million dollar grand prize. But second place still earns a cool $100,000, third place gets $85,000 and fourth place gets $70,000. From then on, the monetary prizes keep decreasing.
Fifth place gets $55,000, sixth place gets $45,000, seventh place gets $35,000, eights place gets $27,500, ninth place gets $20,000, tenth place gets $15,000, eleventh place gets $10,000, twelfth place gets $7,500, thirteenth places gets $5,500, fourteenth place gets $4,500, and fifteenth place gets $3,500. The final sixteenth place gets $2,500. Contestants also earn $10,000 for appearing on the reunion show.
14. The Show Will Out You If You’re LGBTQ+
Contestants who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella haven’t had the easiest time competing on Survivor. That was especially true for former contestant Zeke Smith, who was outed as transgender while filming. The contestants were reportedly planning on voting Jeff Varner off the island when he said to his competitor Zeke, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”
Zeke and the rest of the contestants were completely taken off guard. Many of the competitors stood up for Zeke, telling Jeff that was not okay to do. “You should be ashamed of yourself … for what you’re willing to do to get yourself further in a game for a million dollars,” contestant Ozzy Lusth said. Host Jeff Probst added, “Is it starting to hit you, the gravity, that you didn’t just tell six people, you told millions of people?”
13. Contestants Can’t Brush Their Teeth For A Month
Think all the dirt and grime is to make the show more dramatic? Well, we bet the contestants wish you were right. But unfortunately, you’re not. Competitors on Survivor have to rely on their own instincts and just a small handful of basic necessities to survive thirty days stranded on an island. Rumor has it, some contestants have even used ash from their fire to try and clean their teeth. Gross! Many contestants do get extremely gross and dirty when it’s finally over.
“They have access to a container with necessary supplies, such as feminine products, birth control, vital medications, contact lens solution, sunscreen, and insect repellent,” Jeff Probst once said about what the hygiene products the producers give to the contestants. “Otherwise, they’re on their own.” He added that items like razors and toothbrushes aren’t available to contestants, so many decide to undergo laser hair removal and even teeth whitening before their appearance.
12. The Production Crew Lives Far Away From The Contestants
During filming, the production team doesn’t usually live close to the other contestants. Unsurprisingly, they’re often being housed hours away in more luxurious conditions. Well, they at least get access to toothbrushes and running water.
While filming Survivor: Gabon, the crew lived a two-hour boat ride from the country’s only major city. The production team mostly lived in prefabricated cabins that included bathrooms, which were easily assembled in the remote area. Most of the crew worked out of trailers or cargo containers that became their makeshift offices.
In other cases, people’s “offices” were set up in prefabricated tents. Talk about glamorous! Other than the competing contestants, the crew eats their meals in a large catering tent, which reportedly opens at 4 am for those that need to start work first thing in the morning.
11. Contestants Pretty Much Do Nothing All Day
Given how exciting the televised show is, you’d think that the contestants would always have something to do while filming is taking place. But it actually sounds like filming can be pretty boring. Former contestants have said that the production team expects them to just sit around and wait to be called for one-on-one interviews.
Challenges are filmed only for a few hours two out of three days, but that still doesn’t take up the majority of the contestants’ time. Filming the tribal council is also reportedly long and argues. It can take hours and run long into the night, and the contestants are merely supposed to sit there and wait for instructions.
Former competitors have said it’s up to the individual contestant to amuse themselves during long days of filming. The variety of options things to do include foreign for food, refining your strategy, or chatting up other bored contestants. Sounds like the options are not very endless.
10. You Don’t Go Home After Getting Voted Off
Ever wonder what happens to the contestants who get voted off during Tribal Council? Most fans of the show just assume they’re given a one-way ticket back to wherever you came from. But unfortunately, contestants can’t go home just yet. They’re required to stay near production so they can be there to film the reunion when filming is wrapping up.
Many losing contestants actually use this time to travel to nearby places. Most of the time, Survivor is filming halfway across the world near Africa or Asia. This means tons of usually far-away are only a short boat or plane ride, so this provides an excellent opportunity to travel. Unfortunately, if you make it on the Tribal Council, you’ll have to stick nearby production and there will be no traveling for you!
9. The Show Uses Body Doubles
Survivor certainly goes to great lengths to get the best footage, including using body doubles during challenges. Some contestants aren’t so graceful when they’re trying to win immunity. So the production team brings in look-a-like stunt artists to recreate the challenges and to trick viewers. It turns out there’s even a body double for host Jeff Probst!
“I couldn’t care less – I’m making great television,” Producer Mark Burnett once said in an interview when asked about the controversial practices. Shots can easily be ruined if the camera wasn’t facing the correct angle, or someone got in front of the camera’s view. Sometimes something goes wrong with the footage or the lighting was bad. All in all, using body doubles is something most reality shows can’t get away from, especially when they’re as intense as Survivor.
8. Most Of The Contestants Are Actually “Hired”
Think it’s easy to become a contestant on your favorite reality show? Think again. Like many reality competitions, most of the contestants on Survivor are actors or models that have been recruited.
Producers from the show admit they get tens of thousands of applications every year, but most of those who apply aren’t deemed as good contestants. Thus, the show goes out of its way to find people who fit their standards- ie. Are entertaining and/or beautiful.
“We really just took off all blinders and said we want to find 20 people to play this game and we’re really gonna have to source them out,” host Jeff Probst said back in 2007 about the then-most recent season of the show, proving they’ve been recruiting fake contestants for A LONG time.
7. Host Jeff Probst Had An Affair With A Contestant
We’ve seen tons of contestants fall for each other during the many seasons of Survivor. But did you know host Jeff Probst and a contestant once had an affair after meeting on set? Back in 2004, then-43-year-old Probst admitted to People magazine that he was dating 24-year-old Julie Berry.
“Nobody is more surprised than me that I could find my love affair on a show that I host,” He explained to the magazine. “But the truth is when something like this gets dropped in your lap, you don’t look at how it’s wrapped, you don’t look at how it’s being delivered. You just put your arms around it and you hold on because this is my love affair and there’s no question in my mind about it.” He added, “I’m in love. I’m with her.”
The two reportedly began their romance while the show was still filming. Fans noticed that Julie had Jeff’s name written in a heart-shaped design on her arm during one episode, leading the pair to finally confirm their relationship status.
6. The Aerial Footage Is All Fake
Survivor is pretty good at getting some awesome shots of the island as well as the challenge sites and contestant’s base camps. But most of the aerial footage fans have come to appreciate is actually fake.
That’s right. When we see the view from a helicopter overlooking a challenge, it’s not actually the contestants taking part in the obstacle course. Production has a group of young crew members aptly referred to as “The Dream Team” who run through the challenges while the helicopter films on. This helps to make sure everything in the challenge is working properly for the contestants, and it helps the cameramen get some great footage.
The Dream Team wears the same color of clothing as the competing contestants so that viewers never know the difference. See the entry on body doubles to see how the show tricks us even further into believing the footage is real when it, in fact, is not.
5. The Contestants Are Driven Everywhere
Survivor makes it look like the contestants walk dozens of miles on foot to get to the challenges site or tribal council. But, in reality, the show has cars or boats that transport the competitors and saves everyone a ton of time (and energy). However, that doesn’t mean they don’t like keeping the location a secret from the contestants themselves. The producers have gone to great lengths to ensure the competitors are in the dark about where they’re going.
For example, during Survivor: Gabon, contestants were transported in a Jeep that had black-out windows, so contestants couldn’t see the route they were taking or the production team’s base camp. When they arrived at the challenge site, host Jeff Probst had them sit in a waiting area until cameras were ready to film. Another important rule is that contestants aren’t allowed to even talk together until they begin filming so that no important footage is lost off-camera.
4. There’s A Team Of Medics & Psychologists On Set
There have been plenty of injuries on the set of Survivor. Hey, these people are playing for $1 million, so most of them will do almost anything to secure the prize money.
That’s why the show keeps a medical team on hand in case a contestant hurts themselves during a challenge or while at their camp. “During the game, though, they’re playing the game of Survivor for $1 million. So, we try to have as little to do with them as possible,” a former media on the show named Craig once admitted in an interview.
Medics meet with the contestants before each challenge to ensure that they’re in good shape, given how physically strenuous some of the competitions can be. Psychologists are also present on-set to keep an eye on the contestants’ mental health while they’re competing.
3. Contestants Have Absolutely Zero Privacy
How would you like eating, sleeping, changing, and even going to the bathroom in front of an audience of dozens? That’s what the contestants on Survivor are subjected to. Cameras are set up in every corner of the camp to ensure that no TV-worthy moment is missed.
But this means that the contestants receive zero privacy, which would drive anyone crazy. Even when a contestant is sent off to Exile Island, a producer with a camera is left to stay with them.
There is one area set up as an “off limits camouflaged” area in the contestant’s camp, which has supplies like cots, food, and equipment storage. This is where production crew can come to take a break when they’re not on the clock, and don’t have time to go back to their larger base camps.
2. They Can Interview You Anytime, Anywhere
The contestants always seem in a pretty talkative mood during one-on-one interviews. But it turns out they always have to be ready to sit down and be probed with questions. The camera crew is used to setting up shop anywhere and anytime and interviewing contestants on the spot.
“Ever wonder where we do the private interviews that you see during the show?” Survivor host Jeff Probst once admitted. “Well, we do them everywhere! The key is we always take the player far away from any other player and we take great effort to make sure nobody can ever eavesdrop on the conversation. This is where the trust between our producers and the contestants is born.” He’s right- hopefully, the other contestants aren’t eavesdropping, or it could be game over anytime.
1. The Crew Risks Their Life Every Time They Film
Who knew filming could be such risky business! Survivor has featured the contestants and crew in some dangerous situations in order to achieve the perfect shot. Though they take as many safety precautions as possible, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a life-threatening aspect to this part of the show.
Most notably, host Jeff Probst has become known for his amazing intros, which often show him in death-defying positions. Sometimes he’s hanging out of a helicopter, while other times he’s hanging out on a cliff. Heck, sometimes he’s driving a boat and is still able to make full eye contact with the cameras. This guy must not be scared of heights, speed, or dying!
We don’t even want to think of how risky some of the challenges contestants have taken part in over the seasons. We guess that’s why the show always has a medical team on hand to make sure competitors are fit to compete and to address any injuries if they happen.