From the start of Cayagan, it was clear the New Jersey cop was going to be a major player in the season and the franchise. While he ultimately won the $1 million, his hopes of becoming a two-time winner were dashed when he was voted out second in Game Changers.
Still, the season 28 champ (and villain to many viewers for his tactics, he was even booed during the live finale) won and had responsible plans for his massive paycheck, with the father of two telling The Hollywood Reporter, "The first thing I'm going to do is set up a college fund for my kids, because education is huge."
He did have one frivolous purchase: a pink chandelier, which his wife requested. "That's what my wife wants," he told People after the finale. "She can pick it out at Home Depot or somewhere like that. Maybe I'll need to buy a house to go around it."
After competing on The Amazing Race twice and never winning, the fitness fanatic had better look during season 29, winning the $1 million.
"I'm going to buy my parents something really nice. I'm going to give Nadiya a nice chunk of change. And I'm going to try to be smart with it," the CrossFit coach told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm not a big spender. When I went on The Amazing Race the first time, my goal was to go to physical therapy school, so this could pay for that. And we also have dreamed of opening up a CrossFit, so it's totally possible now."
The Survivor: Worlds Apart winner was a member of the blue collar tribe, with the oil driller quickly becoming one of the group's leaders and proving to be a fierce competitor, tying the record for most individual immunity wins.
And for Mike, it was more about his legacy than the money, telling TV Guide, "More than a million, I got a title. And that's what I was playing for. Money comes and goes. You spend it and make it. But the title. You can't take the title."
But he did have plans for the money, using it to start a t-shirt company, Sweet T's Designs.
Post-Survivor is going to be trying to take this one million dollars that CBS graciously gave to me and turn it into twenty five or thirty million, then sit back on a beach somewhere and do some spear fishing," he told TV Junkies. "Live the Survivor life but in real life."
After winning, Mike also found love: he's been dating Big Brother alum Meg Maley since 2015.
After his disappointing first outing in Season 29, he made the most of his second chance, winning Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance, dropping the news that his wife Val Collins was pregnant just before the jury cast their final votes. It was unanimous: the firefighter and dad-to-be deserved the $1 million.
"I already gave the check to Val. She's gonna take it and do the baby's room," he said of his earnings. "I'm going to take her on vacation, but I'm going back to work."
Their son Remy Bodhi was born in December 2015, and the couple welcomed their fourth child in June 2017.
Jeremy noted he would be saving most of his Survivor money for their college tuitions, telling People, "That's the top priority. There are a lot of things that I'll do with the money, but it will be all about helping my family."
A member of the beauty tribe in season 32, which split up the castaways as Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty, the bartender didn't have major plans for her $1 million.
"I'm first going to pay off my car, and then, I don't know, maybe travel a little bit, but eventually I'm just going to save up," Michele, who went on to become a travel agent and then business development manager, told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm young right now and so that can go a long way in the future. I don't want to impulsively spend; I want to make sure I put it in the right place."
She did have a bit of fun with the money though, telling EW she planned to go on a girls' trip to wine country.
Season 33's Sole Survivor was an obsessed Survivor fan who found himself in the millennial tribe in the series' Millennial vs. Gen-X face-off.
After his win, the homeless shelter manager used his $1 million to become a cancer research advocate in honor of his mother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. He has partnered with organizations such as Stand Up 2 Cancer (donating $100,000 of his prize money), American Cancer Society and American Lung Association. Adam and his mother Susie, a fellow super-fan, applied to be on the show together for Blood vs. Water before she was diagnosed, with Adam going on to join the cast of the following season; she passed away just nine months later, shortly after Adam was able to return home and tell her that he won.
"I had absolutely no idea what I was coming home to. And the thing is, she was strong throughout the entire season because they had made the decision to stop treatment," he told EW after his emotional win. "My mom did not want to pull me from the game. That was not an option in her mind. But they made the decision that if I was voted out, even if I were on the jury, that I would come home immediately...I believe that she waited for me."
Aside from donating money to the causes and charities he believed in, Adam said, "I really just don't spend a whole lot of money, but something my family has always loved to do is traveling so I will definitely use some of my winnings for that. But for the most part, that money is going to get locked away and allow me to continue to live the kind of life I want to live."
Game Changers provided the police officer with the ultimate redemption following her loss during Cayagan in the final tribal council, as Sarah was crowned the Sole Survivor in season 34.
"I will do whatever it takes to win. The only purpose for me going back out there is to win a million dollars," Sarah said after her crushing loss in season 28. "I don't care about making friends or what anyone thinks of me. They'll get over it."
Still, she had no big plans for the $1 million despite, you know, it being her only purpose to play again.
"It's really boring. Just responsible things," she admitted to EW. "Someone asked me, 'Are you going to splurge on anything?' Honestly, no. I just want to be really smart with it."
In the battle of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, the marine from Idaho took home the $1 million.
Ahead of the season, he told CBS his reason for being on the show was simple: "Winning a million dollars and being on an island and living with nothing."
But Ben, who opened up about his struggle with PTSD during his time on the show, was ready to live with nothing even after winning, telling EW his plan for the money was to just not spend it.
"I'm going to put it away and figure out what the heck to do because this is more money than I've ever thought about," he said. "So we're going to stash it away for three months and live our life and figure out how we can save instead of how we can spend it."
(Ben and his wife did pay off their debt and pay off their house.)
Practical 'til the very end, the furniture company owner had "smart" plans for his big prize.
"I'm going to be smart with my money," he told Entertainment Tonight. "I'm probably just going to invest it or save it and let it work for me."
First though, he was going to tackle his student loans, which he talked about during his time on the island.
"I have a tremendous law school loan debt, so I'm going to find the smartest way to pay that off. Whether it's giving them a big chunk of money or whether it's paying monthly, but that's the one monkey on my back," Wendell explained. "So as much as I want to just invest the whole million, I need to be smart about how I spend it on my law school loans."
Wendell's win in season 36, Ghost Island, was historic in that it was the franchise's first-ever tie, with the 34-year-old ultimately beating his best friend and ally in the game, Domenick.
Survivor's reigning champ had no major plans for his $1 million payday after David. vs. Goliath.
"I did get a truck, and I'll pay that off," the lawyer from Kentucky told SheKnows. "then I'll hopefully just chill for a little while until I can get a sense of what to do. I've never had this much money before, and I never dreamed I would."
The district sales manager staged an unexpected win on Edge of Extinction in 2019 after he fought his way back into the competition following weeks on Exile Island. After he was voted Sole Survivor for season 38, Chris shared his sweet plans for the money in an interview with Entertainment Tonight.
"I just got married a few weeks ago, so I've always had a dream to take a little time and travel and actually get a sail boat and live on that with my wife," he said. "It's kind of a crazy dream, but so is winning Survivor, so the sky's the limit. I'll definitely put some to savings because I want to have a family someday, so I'll have some money in the bank. But it's such an incredible opportunity and I'm really just really happy. I'm just really happy."
Even though he ended season 39 with the $1 million check, Tommy was about to give up his day job as a fourth grade teacher.
Winning "hasn't changed me at all," he told Newsday last year. "I do get recognized now and then, but also get asked, 'Oh, you won a million dollars, are you still going to be a teacher?' I don't care if I won a hundred million dollars. I was coming back to teach that next day."
In addition to proposing to his longtime girlfriend after returning from Fiji, Tommy's sister also revealed to the Long Island newspaper that the "Island of the Idols" champion helped her with a down payment on her house, gushing, "That's what makes him him."
Yep, Tony became just the second person to win two seasons when he was crowned Sole Survivor of season 40, which brought back 20 winners to duke it out for a historic $2 million prize.
During the finale, the fan-favorite told Jeff Probst that the money was "lifechanging," especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which made Tony realize how "financial security is so important."
He added that he was planning to pay off several mortgages after using his previous winnings to invest in several properties. But his biggest priority was to "make sure I secure my family and be financially secure for the rest of my life."
Not only was the season 41 victor the first woman to win in seven seasons, but Erika was also the first Canadian citizen and the first person of Filipino descent to take home the title on America's Survivor. And the communications manager definitely had plans for her cash prize.
"Number one, figure up the U.S. to Canadian taxation situation," Erika told Entertainment Weekly after her almost-unanimous win in 2021. "But my second priority has always been making sure that I set up my parents with whatever they need. My parents worked so hard to make sure I'm in a position to make my dream of winning Survivor come true. So my number one priority is my parents. And then my number three priority is buying some really expensive handbags."
After revealing the underdog had a secret immunity idol at final tribal, the 24-year-old seminary student and Survivor super-fan secured a vote of 7-1-0 to win season 42.
"I just graduated from my master's a couple of weeks ago, so I think I'm going to be taking a year off and working," Maryanne told TV Line of her plans for her winnings. "Then I might go back to school again because I just love learning, and now I can foot the bill."
Not only did Maryanne leave with $1 million, the title of Sole Survivor and legions of fans, but she also found love after leaving the island.
She revealed to Entertainment Weekly in May of last year that a past acquaintance reached out while her season aired and they are now dating—but don't expect a wedding to happen anytime soon. "It's a new relationship, so I think it's a little too far ahead to thinking about that," Maryanne said. "so no, the winnings will not be paying for any wedding."
While the unexpected season 43 winner was underestimated throughout his time in Fiji, the self-titled "AlliGabler" proved to be a major threat in the infamous fire-making showdown. When the heart valve specialist, 52, was chosen as the Sole Survivor, he made history in two ways: Not only did he become second-oldest person to ever win the game—only coming behind Robert "Bob" Crowley of Survivor: Gabon, who was 57 at the time of his victory—but he also became the first person to donate the entire $1 million prize to charity.
In honor of his father, Robert Gabler, a Green Beret, Gabler offered all of his winnings to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric problems. Though Gabler had been telling cameras about his plan for days before final tribal council, he shared his intentions with his fellow castmates during the season's aftershow, which was filmed moments after his win.
"We're going to save lives and do something good," he told his tribemates. "Season 43, all of us did this. A million dollars is going to them. We made history, guys."