Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Survivor'
Photo: CBS

Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Survivor'

Survivor has thrilled audiences since its sensational first season in 2000, and it remains one of the best reality shows on TV. 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, including the elaborate challenge-testing process you don't get to see on TV. 

Survivor's producers are invested in making sure the game is engaging for the audience. Behind-the-scenes planning begins months before shooting in order 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

    A 'Dream Team' Tests Out Challenges Before The Contestants
    Video: YouTube

    The challenges provide some of the most exciting moments on Survivor, and a lot of work goes into making them both fair to contestants and fun to watch. A designated "Dream Team" tests out every challenge beforehand, letting producers know if they should tweak a certain portion, eliminate a difficult task or make it more challenging.

    This Dream Team consists of college-aged students who are 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 out the position is rather elusive. Some former team members knew someone in production, while others caught challenge producer John Kirhoffer's eye with a snazzy cover letter.  

  • Jeff Probst Almost Quit In 2009

    Feeling burned out by Survivor, Probst quit the show after hitting a low point during Season 17, Gabon, in 2008. He went to CBS president Les Moonves to give his resignation, saying he was tired of being known as "a white guy with dark hair who was just a game show host." Probst explains, "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 in outside tools to help you win Survivor, but some contestants have tried. One of the most infamous instances occurred when Season 1 winner Richard Hatch returned for Survivor: All-Stars. Fellow contestant Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien alleges 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 hook earrings, and also sewed flint onto her cardigan, which she fully admits. Anything for an advantage!

  • Some Contestants Are Recruited

    While Survivor encourages viewers to apply every year, not all contestants who make it onto the show send in a tape. Some of the show's castaways are actually recruited by casting producers, usually in Los Angeles or New York.

    This has led to some consternation among diehard Survivor fans, who feel they deserve a spot on the show over model-actors who may not even watch the series. But many recruits have picked up on the game's intricacies quickly. In fact, recruits Aras Baskauskas, Yul Kwon, and Earl Cole all went on to win their respective seasons.

  • Even The First Boot Gets Paid

    Since the very first season, Survivor has awarded the winner $1 million and the runner-up $100,000. While we never hear about payment for any of the unlucky contestants who have their torch snuffed, rest assured that each and every one of them gets a paycheck for appearing on Survivor.

    Yep, even the first person eliminated after just three days on the island gets a chunk of change for appearing on national TV. While Survivor producers have not commented on the pay scale since 2005, one report after Season 11 revealed that the first boot got $2,500. From there, the pay gradually increases, with contestants who make the merge/jury portion earning at least five figures. 

  • Every Contestant Gets A Designated Camera Operator


    Each of the 16-20 Survivor contestants gets their own camera operator who captures their every move. This way, editors are guaranteed to get everything they need on camera, especially important moments like heavy strategy sessions and Hidden Immunity Idol finds.

    The only camera break contestants get is when they have to relieve themselves. Of course, it's possible that some clever contestant could use this lack of camera presence to sneak off and find an Idol without being detected, but again, this is strictly forbidden.