Survivor has been thrilling audiences since its sensational first season in 2000, and it continues to operate as one of the best reality shows on TV even all these years later. But how does a reality show of this sort keep running like a well-oiled machine? What goes on behind the scenes of Survivor? Turns out, there are many things you never knew about Survivor, like the elaborate challenge-testing process you don't get to see on TV.
Producers on Survivor are very invested in making sure the game is engaging for the audience. All of the behind-the-scenes decisions are orchestrated months before the show even starts shooting to create compelling drama and keep the audience coming back week after week, season after season. And of course, a reality show can't go on this long without a few scandals here and there.
A "Dream Team" Tests Out Challenges Before The Contestants
The challenges provide some of the most exciting moments on Survivor, and there is a lot of work that goes into making them both fair to the contestants and fun to watch. There is a designated "Dream Team" that tests out every challenge beforehand so the producers know if they should tweak a certain portion, whether it be eliminating a difficult task or making it more challenging.
This Dream Team consists of young college-aged students who fly out during the spring and summer, and they get paid to play in some of the most fun competitions on television. This team essentially gets a taste of the Survivor experience without all the starvation and paranoia. Not bad for a summer vacation.
Sound like a fantasy job to you? Turns it out the process for getting hired on this team is rather elusive. Some former dream team members happened to know someone in production, while others managed to catch challenge producer John Kirhoffer's eye with a snazzy cover letter.
Jeff Probst Almost Quit In 2009
Feeling burned out by Survivor, Probst actually quit the show after hitting what he describes to The New York Times as a low point with Season 17, Gabon, in 2008. He went to CBS president Les Moonves to announce he was quitting the show, saying he was tired of just being known as "a white guy with dark hair who was just a game show host... that in terms of my own self-image was the thing that could gut me. It was like a kidney punch."
Moonves told him to take a few months off to reenergize, and Probst changed his mind. The rest is history, as Probst is more involved now than ever.
Contestants Have Smuggled Tools Into The Game
You're not allowed to bring outside tools to help you in the game of Survivor, but some contestants have tried. One of the most infamous examples is Season 1 winner Richard Hatch returning for Survivor: All-Stars. Fellow contestant Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien alleged that Hatch actually smuggled matches up his butt to help start fires.
Before returning for Survivor: Cambodia - Second Chance, Peih-Gee Law designed a pair of fish hooks as earrings, in addition to sewing flint into her cardigan, which she fully admits. Anything for an advantage!
Some Contestants Are Recruited
While Survivor encourages its viewers to apply every year, not all contestants who make it onto the show sent in a tape. Some of the show's castaways were actually recruited by casting producers, usually in Los Angeles or New York.
This has led to some consternation among die-hard Survivor fans who perhaps sent in a tape because they really wanted to be on the show but weren't accepted, while some model/actor who may not even watch the show gets on. But many recruits have picked up on the game's intricacies quickly, like Aras Baskauskas, Yul Kwon, and Earl Cole, who went on to win their respective seasons.