Everyone knows that reality television isn't a prefect representation of reality, but you may still be surprised at just how far the producers of your favorite series will go to trick your eyes and change what happens on set. Even the people who appear on "Survivor" have no idea what they're really in for until they actually get to the island. Here are some secrets that you may be stunned to find out...
Nudity is Allowed On Set
Cameras are on the "Survivor" contestants 24 hours a day, which includes any time that they might not be exactly camera ready. Before reaching the island, all contestants sign forms that allow the crew to film them in the nude, although this footage will always be censored before it reaches the airwaves.
No Toothbrushes Allowed
Contestants on "Survivor" are only allowed to bring a few personal items, so unless they choose a toothbrush as one of their important items, they will have to go without one during the entire run of the series. Former contestants have advised people to visit a dentist immediately after returning home, for their own safety.
Some Scenes Are Reenacted During Filming
When it comes down to it, "Survivor" is purely entertainment, so not everything you see on screen is true to life. The crew will often ask the contestants to reenact crucial moments or reactions so they can capture other camera angles of the action. When you're watching the tribal council scenes, you're probably seeing quite a few reenactments.
Body Doubles Are Used On Set
There are frequently body doubles on set, but they're not used to do stunts or replace the contestants in important scenes. More frequently, these body doubles are used to fill out crowds or make it look like everyone is present even when contestants are somewhere else filming some other content for the show.
Every Player Signs An NDA Before They Arrive
Every contestant on the series signs an iron-clad NDA before they get to the island to stop them from sharing secrets about the show or their season before it airs. They could be fined up to $5 million dollars for divulging these secrets, which one contestant nearly found out recently. Alec Merlino posted a photo of himself on the island before the premiere of season 37 and was subsequently uninvited from the finale episode filming. He got off lucky because he wasn't sued for his actions.
Producers Can Control the Players' Lives On The Island
The producers are the invisible forces who really run what happens on the island, so you don't want to get on their bad sides. Previous contestant Malcom Freberg mentioned in an interview that the producers “will make your life hell if you’re constantly breaking the rules.” So as long as you do what you're supposed to, you shouldn't have to face their wrath.
Every Contestant on “Survivor" Gets Paid
It's well known that the winner of "Survivor" gets $1 million dollars for their feat, but every contestant who appears on the show is paid pretty nicely for their appearance. Even if you're booted off the island first, you'll still go home with about $12,500 in your pocket. There's even more money to be made if you're invited to the finale because you will be paid for your appearance.
Be Careful What You Bring to The Island
There's a good reason that each contestant doesn't bring a toothbrush with them on their adventure. That's because everyone is allowed only one handheld personal item to bring with them. And they know ahead of time that they will be responsible for this item the whole time, so they shouldn't bring anything too precious to them. There's also rules about what clothes they can bring.
The Show Pre-Approves All Clothing
The producers work with the contestants on their outfit choices long before they reach the set. Each contestant is told what items of clothing to bring with them, and some producers will go as far as to tell contestants which stores to shop at to reach the desired look for filming. They want everyone to be camera ready instead of just throwing on something that would look dingy on film.
Tribal Councils Take Hours to Film
Every week on "Survivor," each contestant attends the tribal council and makes a vote for who they'd like to leave the game. But this process can take two hours or more as every contestant waits for the decision to be made. Overall, the editors of the show have over 500 hours of footage to sort through for each episode, making the show a herculean effort to make.
The Show Provides Some Toiletries
There are a few necessities of life that are provided to each contestant, but they don't include beauty supplies or many toiletries. Medicines, female hygiene products, bug repellant and sunscreen are all given freely to the castaways, but razors and toothbrushes aren't deemed necessary, which leads to a strong odor for every contestant.
There Are Always Medics on Standby
Every contestant receives regular checkups with the medics on staff on the island. You may remember the episode during the "Survivor: Kaôh Rōng" season where three contestants collapsed and all had to be checked out by the medical team. They are always on standby in case anyone is injured during a game or sick at any other time.
Every Contestant Stays On the Island for 39 Days
It may seem like the contestants who are voted out get to go home immediately after they leave their camp, but everyone has to stay on the island until the season's filming has wrapped. There aren't many ways for the crew to get off of the island at all, so they can't ship every contestant home by themselves every few days. But they have somewhere nice to stay while they await their returns home.
There Are Luxury Accommodations on the Island
The contestants who are voted off of the series get to stay in what is basically a hotel until filming is done. They have access to running water, comfortable beds and plenty of food while they sit around to wait out the days. This is also where Jeff Probst prepares for the show each day before being transported to the filming locations.
Natural Disasters May Strike During Filming
The show is filmed on an island, so there can sometimes be unpredictable weather events during the month of filming. During season 33, a cyclone ravaged Fiji and the producers did everything in their power to make sure that filming wouldn't cease. The tribes were separated in base camp rooms instead of their normal camping arrangements, but everything else about the game went on as usual.
Players Are Shuttled to Each Location
It may seem like the "Survivor" contestants walk to every location on the island, but in truth, they are shuttled from camp to their challenges and tribal council meetings. The filming set covers a pretty big surface, so it would really take it out of the contestants to have to walk a few miles before every challenge. But they still have to adhere by the game's rules during their travels.
Contestants Have Time to Strategize Before Each Challenge
It may seem like Jeff Probst explains each game and then the contestants blindly have to figure it out as they go, but that isn't true. After the game is explained, the contestants are given plenty of time to strategize with their teammates before attempting each challenge. John Kirhoffer, the man responsible for designing the games, also gives them information about each challenge.
The Reward Food Isn't Always Great
It may seem like every reward meal is top-notch and gourmet, but that just isn't the case. Former contestant Malcolm Freberg said that if he were served that food in a restaurant, he would send it back. It may not be restaurant quality, but every contestant can agree that it sure beats the beans and rice that they have to eat on a daily basis.
Contestants Typically Overeat Their Rewards
But those reward meals can sometimes hinder the contestants performance in future challenges because they tend to overate until they're sick. The temptation of a ton of delicious food is too much for them to resist, and knowing they can't take any leftovers back to camp makes them eat themselves sick.
They Feel Disgusting All the Time
Going a few weeks without a shower, running water or toothpaste would make anyone feel antsy, and some contestants have admitted that they felt completely disgusting during their time on the show. Carolyn Rivera mentioned in an interview that, “You feel totally disgusting all the time — even after going in the ocean to clean yourself.”
Everyone Ends Up Smelling Like Smoke
Some contestants have mentioned that once the show gets going, there are only four smells that you'll be surrounded with on a daily basis. Urine, feces, mildew and smoke. That's right, being around the fire to keep themselves warm at night leads to a constant smell of smoke during the day. But at least it's better than the other typical smells.
Producers Protect Themselves From the Contestants' Smells
Once filming gets going, it's not uncommon for the producers, who have access to showers and toiletries, to protect themselves from the contestants' smells with face masks. When they have to get close enough to put on each contestant's microphone, they definitely hold their breath to avoid the awful stench.
Contestants Dig Holes To Use As Bathrooms
Most people have never had to do their business without a toilet in their lives, so getting used to the experience of digging a hole to go to the bathroom is a harrowing experience. Former contestant Elaine Stott told The Ringer that her team would call the place where they frequently used the bathroom the "Coconut Grove," which sounds a lot nicer than it probably was.
Others Use the Ocean As Their Toilet
There's another way to use the toilet that is only for the brave of heart on the island. Some contestants will simply walk into the ocean to do their business, which can be a lot trickier than it sounds. Former contestant David Wright said in an interview, “I never felt weirder than when I took my clothes off on a beach in Fiji and just walked into the water naked and just pooped in the ocean. It felt wrong somehow.”
Players Are Kept Silent Before Tribal Council
During their ride to tribal council, the contestants are kept completely silent so none of their drama goes uncaptured by cameras. This adds to the tense air at each week's council, and this is when the contestants are watched most closely. But the producers aren't the only ones keeping a close eye on the contestants on the island...
Probst Also Talks Harshly to Contestants
Jeff Probst himself also dishes out some advice to contestants, even if it's harsh. If any of the castaways get out of line in their behavior or language, Probst is the first one to set them straight. One contestant even mentioned that Probst wasn't shy to let contestants know that they could be kicked off the island for messing with the crew. Ouch.
All of the Contestants Are Given a Book of Rules
The castaways know what they're getting themselves into on the series, even if they've never seen the show before. Every contestant is given a sort of manual for island life to prep them for the filming experience so they know what to expect, which includes tips on what to eat and how to use the bathroom. Contestant David Wright said, “For the most part you’re not going to die if you play Survivor, but it’s a riskier thing to do than driving to work in the morning.”
Players Fake Bathroom Emergencies to Hide From the Cameras
Everyone wants a chance to find an idol for themselves during the show, but it can be hard to escape the crew and their cameras to do so. So it's not uncommon for a contestant to tell the crew that they're experiencing diarrhea to get the cameras off of their backs. It's a foolproof way to buy yourself some time alone.
Every Contestant Experiences Mental Fog
Some people might think that a few weeks on a tropical island would do their minds good, but that's not the case when you're also pushing your body to its limits on a daily basis. Former castaway Christian Hubicki said, “The ability to keep track of lots of things at the same time rapidly degrades. So it becomes much more difficult in practice to track people by the movement of the cameras than you might expect.”
Some Contestants Get on the Producers' Good Side
Another way to buy yourself some alone time on the island is to get on the crew's good side. If you're rude to them, they'll probably make your filming experience a lot worse, but kinder contestants are given favors like 5 minutes of time away from the cameras, so it's worth your time to build a rapport with the crew.