Recruited Models, Evacuation Protocol and Birth Control: Survivor Secrets That Will Surprise You

Did you know Tyler Perry actually created one of the most-hated twists in the CBS reality hit's 37-season history?

By Tierney Bricker Dec 19, 2018 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Zeke Smith on Being Outed By Jeff Varner on "Survivor"

Outwit. Outplay. Outfact. 

No, that's not a typo, it's just something you're going to be able to do at your next Survivor viewing party, thanks to the secrets and fun facts we're about to reward you with ahead of tonight's David vs. Goliath finale. 

It's hard to believe that the CBS reality hit created by Mark Burnett premiered over 18 years ago, with Jeff Probst going on to ask 37 seasons' worth of castaways to drop their bluffs, come on in and if they want to know what they're playing for. 

And it's sometimes hard to forget just how much work goes into playing the ultimate game of survival—on and off camera, with a crew of over 300 people working for 39 days straight in crazy conditions to produce a 13-episode season. Oh, and then there's the fact that over 556 castaways have agreed to forgo every comfort they've ever known in the name of winning $1 million. 

Secrets You Might Not Know About Survivor

Given that reality TV can sometimes be anything less than real, it makes sense that some viewers may question just how rough the conditions are for the competitors. But you'd be surprised by just how little they are given by producers...but you might be even more surprised by what is provided to them. 



So what really happens once a contestant is voted off the show? And what happens when there is an emergency evacuation and the game is forced to stop? Oh, and where does Probst sleep?

We're answering all that and, you'll never believe which celebrity actually helped create one of the show's most hated twists of all-time. 

How the Cast the Castaways

Tens of thousands of people now apply to be on the show, and ultimately, the casting producers will mix a bunch of Survivor aficionados with people, who usually end up being models or actors, they recruit. Still, those recruited players must go through the full casting process.

"Believe it or not we receive many applications from the same people year after year," former casting director Lynne Spillman, who had been with the show from the beginning until last season, told Reality Wanted.

Now, Probst is handling casting

Everyone Wins…Sort Of

Even if you get sent home first, you make money by going on Survivor (though your ego may be forever wounded).

Here's a quick rundown of what competitors make:

For castaways who are voted out early pre-jury, they basically get an all-expenses paid trip as they are required to stay for the entirety of production to avoid spoilers. Plus, each contestant reportedly gets $10,000 for the live finale and reunion taping at the end of the season. But in an interview with TMZ, Jonny Fairplay spilled the beans on how much castaways allegedly make: the first person eliminated can make $12,500, according to the infamous contestant, who noted jury members get $40,000. "I'm not sure I was  allowed to say that," he noted after. "I might've broken an NDA." Classic Fairplay move.

While the winner of Survivor gets $1 million, the runner-up pockets $100,000 and the third place finisher earns $85,000. Though they no longer do the fan-favorite award, the winner of that public vote would receive $100,000 or a car, if it was sponsored.

Timing Is Everything

The only season of Survivor to run longer than 39 days? Season two (The Australian Outback), most likely because of the breakout success and monster ratings for the first season.

Aside from that, each episode is about three days of the competition, so editors have the fun task of trimming 300-500 hours of footage down to a tight 44-minute episode. (Contestants are filmed 24/7.)

As for the tribal councils, those can take anywhere from 1-2 hours to film, as Probst actually has each castaway answer the same question. As for how and where he tallies the votes, Probst consults with his fellow producers (who are watching the contestants cast their votes via a live-feed), and they decide in which other the host will read the votes. 

Packing Woes

So what are the castaways allowed  to bring with them? Per Survivor Wiki, they are not allowed to bring their luggage during filming "except for one hand-held item."

And as for the clothes they wear (and tear) during the 39 days, they have to be pre-approved by production. 

"I would have given anything to bring my parka jacket with me into the game, but alas, what we wear is not entirely up to us as contestants. Our clothes are supposed to be a good representation of who we are and what we would normally wear in our day-to-day lives., " David vs. Goliath's Angelina told EW after she infamously tried to get a just-voted-out Natalie to give her her jacket (she didn't get it). "We start with one pair of clothing, and what you start the game with is what you end your game with, unless you get creative.

In a Reddit AMA, former competitor Max Dawson revealed, "They can be very specific, to the point of sending you to a specific store with photos of the items they want you to bring." John Cochran's iconic sweater vests? Picked for him!

Some Toiletries Provided

Per Today, contestants have "access to a container with necessary supplies, such as feminine products, birth control, vital medications, contact lens solution, sunscreen, and insect repellent."

Not provided? Toothbrushes or razors, which is why some competitors get laser hair removal and/or teeth whitening treatments before filming begins.

Crew Conditions

So...where are Probst and the crew members staying while the competitors are roughing it? 

"The crew sleeps in whatever accommodations are available. In the Philippines we were situated in the middle of the ocean. On this one island there just happened to be a massive (usually empty) casino and a large hotel (usually empty). No idea what goes on there when we're not around but it made for an awesome base camp for us as we all had our own rooms with showers and air conditioning! We have slept in tents many times in the past. Especially those first seasons," Probst revealed during his Reddit AMA. "I remember so vividly being in these single person tents in Kenya. It was incredible. Every time you'd pull your cot out to look at the stars and then every morning when you unzipped your tent you did it as quietly as possible because you knew there was a good chance you'd have a herd of Zebra or a few giraffe outside your tent. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sure."

As for what a "normal" day looks like for Probst, he answered, "No day is alike, they're longer than you would imagine and much more fun than you would believe. The show runs 24/7 and as Exec Producer that means you are always 'on' - but we have one of the most kick ass production teams in the world."

Challenge Accepted

Did you know Survivor has its own "Dream Team"? They are the group of crew members who run through and test all of the challenges the castaways will compete in, usually running through them at least twice--first, to see how it works and to make sure it does work (along with figuring out the best camera angles), and the  second  time is so they can be filmed as if they are the contestants to use while Probst is explaining the challenge during the episode. 

And if you ever find the rules as explained by Probst confusing at times, you are definitely not alone, as the contestants are usually given a more in-depth explanation by challenge producer John Kirhoffer, who leads the team responsible for all of the show's games, answering any  questions they might (and likely) have. Also present is someone from CBS' legal team to ensure the competition remains fair. 

Let's Get Physical(s)

Before and after each challenge, contestants individually meet with the show's medics, which makes a lot of sense. And medical staff is always on-call and standing by should any emergencies arise (see that time THREE competitors collapsed during a single challenge in Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.)


Even if you are the first person eliminated from the competition, you still spend the full 39 days wherever your season is filming. (Spoiler prevention can have its perks!) "Ponderosa" is where eliminated contestants who last long enough to become members of the jury are sent to live, where they have access to food, entertainment, running water, etc., and it's usually in a resort or hotel.  And they are allowed to socialize with their fellow jury members. 

During Micronesia, CBS introduced Life at Ponderosa, available to watch online, which gave fans the opportunity to see what goes down once the torches are snuffed out. 

if you are eliminated earlier on, not making the cut for the jury, you live in a neighboring area once the jury starts to assemble. 

In Case of Emergency

Believe it or not, the first time the show had to evacuate the cast due to a natural disaster wasn't until a cyclone hit Fiji during Millennials vs. Gen X (Season 33). And when the game has to be stopped, it really stops. 

"We made the decision to bring them to base camp so that we would all be together. We put each tribe in a separate room with absolutely nothing in it," Probst told EW of the shutdown. "No food, no blankets, no pillows, nothing. They were monitored by producers the entire night. And, to their credit, they did not talk or try to form alliances. They honored the good faith agreement we had made. The next morning, we returned them to the beaches and the game resumed."

And in season 37, the castaways had to be evacuated two times due to cyclones. (Fiji, man!) Again, they are sequestered and monitored to prevent gameplay. But Probst commended the competitors for their "respect" for the game during the two breaks. 

"They appreciated we were looking out for them," Probst told EW. "Equally important, they also respected that the game, while temporary on hold, was still alive and so they did not challenge us or try to get away with anything."

Car Service

While players are often seen walking to challenges and tribal councils, they are actually shuttled there by production, but But they are also prohibited from any talk/game-play when they are being transported.

Highs and Lows, According to Probst

During a Survivor Panel for EW, Probst, who is also the showrunner, actually revealed his favorite winner: Season 26's John Cochran. But he also shared his picks for the contestants that have played  the best game, which were Parvati Shallow and Rob Mariano.

And during a Reddit AMA, he revealed his least favorite Survivor twist ever: the Medallion of Power. 

"I never liked it. Didn't speak up loudly enough. We do make mistakes - we know that. But I hope you guys feel that generally we make good decisions. Here's the truth and any show creator will tell you this -- you don't know what will work until you try it." 

His pick for the best twist, however, was simply the hidden immunity idol, which was introduced in season 11. 

Celeb Fans Pitch Ideas (and They Are Used!)

Probst revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that the show has actually used several of Tyler Perry's ideas, including the idea of the "special powers" idol that allowed a contestant to use it after the votes were read. (It ended up helping Tony secure his win in Cayagan.) People weren't exactly thrilled with that idol though.

Aside from Perry, Jimmy Fallon has also made suggestions, as well as a group of TV showrunners and producers who run a super-fan pool, with a $200 buy-in. The winner gets all the cash, the loser has to pay for a massive dinner at season's end. (It once hit $8K!)

Consequences Off the Island

Of course, each contestant is asked to sign a contract before going on the show, entering an agreement with the show and CBS to not "defame, disparage" the show or its producers, along with acknowledging the risks and potential injuries that come with doing Survivor.

But there's also a massive warning—a $5 million one—if you violate the confidentiality agreement aka spoil the damn thing or even reveal you are a contestant before CBS announces it.  

And in season 37, Alec faced a possible lawsuit when he posted a photo of him with fellow competitor Kara on Instagram before the season premiered. his caption? "F--k it." While they didn't ultimately use the NDA clause to slap him with a $5 million penalty, they did disinvite him from the live finale taping.

"It's been the main bone of contention for my entire Survivor experience. The thing is, with social media, I feel things can be misconstrued, but I have nothing but the utmost respect for CBS, for Survivor, for Jeff. I went out there and I had the experience of a lifetime," Alec told EW of the controversy. "That picture, it was unfortunate. I take 100 percent ownership of it. It sucks. But I think things can be misconstrued and that's all I really have to comment about that."

Is it Rigged?

Way back in 2001, Stacey Stillman, the third contestant booted off the island in the original Survivor, sued CBS and the show's creator Mark Burnett, claiming he arranged her exit and "orchestrated" the show's outcome. In her lawsuit, she alleged Burnett "improperly abused his relationships with the contestants," and convinced two castaways to change their votes.

At the time, CBS and Burnett call the suit "frivolous and groundless." The network counter-sued for $5 million for violating the contract. (Remember that whole rule about not speaking out against the show?) The case was ultimately settled out of court. 

Love In a Hopeless Place

Many romances have blossomed on Survivor, like its most successful couple, Boston Rob and Amber, who now have four children after falling for each other during All-Stars.

And even Probst unexpectedly found love, as he started dating competitor Julie Berry after production on Survivor: Vanuatu wrapped. They kept their relationship a secret until after Berry's season aired and were pretty serious for a few years before eventually breaking up in 2008.

Survivor's season 37 finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS.