Based on the Swedish show Expedition Robinson, the American reality series Survivor is nearing its 40th season and 20th year on the air. The show has served as the template for basically all other competition-based reality shows that have come out since, even ones that don't take place outdoors or have "survival" as their main element.
It takes a lot to make a show like Survivor tick, and with so many moving parts and so much that can potentially go wrong (or just go boringly), producers often have to get a bit creative with the way the show is presented. Of course, this is the same for any reality show, but with Survivor in particular there seems to be an awful lot that we are misled about.
20 Totally Fake: Contestants Aren't Thrown Into Challenges With No Prep
We are given the impression that Survivor contestants are only given a quick rundown of the rules of a challenge before they are thrown in to compete. This is not the case. In reality, the explanation contestants get about the rules and mechanics of each challenge is much more lengthy and in-depth than viewers are shown, and they are much better-prepared than producers want us to believe.
19 Totally Fake: Body Doubles Are Used In Many Shots
If you're going to have a reality show that takes place in gorgeous tropical locales, you're going to want epic, sweeping aerial shots of the area. And Survivor has no shortage of those. Unfortunately, body doubles are almost always used for the wide shots rather than the contestants themselves. Otherwise, all aerial shots would include the crew with all of their equipment posted all over the place, and that would take away from some of the beauty of the shots.
18 Totally Fake: The Crew Helps With Building Campfires
When you are trying to survive out in the wild, there is no skill more important than being able to build and maintain a fire. Much is made of the contestants of Survivor struggling to start fires and getting worried about the ramifications of not being able to do so, but previous cast members have admitted that the crew sometimes helps with fire starting, even if it means literally using a lighter to get things going.
17 Actually Real: Contestants Don't Know Where They Are
Contestants of a given season of Survivor obviously know what country or island they are going to be spending their days on, but that's about all they know of their geographical location. When they are being transported to the main area of land where the show will primarily take place, their cars are covered so that the contestants can't see where exactly they are (or where the crew's cushy base camp is located).
16 Totally Fake: The Water Doesn't Need To Be Boiled
One of the reasons a fire is so important in the wilderness is that you can't always trust the safety of the water in the area, so you need to boil it in order to kill any bacteria or other contaminants that the water might contain. Boiling water is something that basically every Survivor cast is seen doing, but it's all for drama: The crew adds perfectly potable drinking water to the wells near the camps, and other than a little bit of dirt or a stray bug, they could just draw it and drink it as-is without the need for boiling.
15 Totally Fake: Producers Recruit Actors And Models For The Show
Have you ever noticed that a lot of Survivor contestants just so happen to be extremely attractive (and look really good in very little clothing)? Well, there's a reason for that: While the show does accept random applicants, the producers also draw a lot of contestants from existing pools of models and actors, ensuring both eye candy and a strong on-camera presence.
14 Totally Fake: The Contestants' Clothing Is Chosen For Them
Survivor: Caramoan winner, John Cochran, spilled a lot of tea about the show after the fact, including one particularly interesting tidbit: he never wore a sweater vest in his life prior to being on the show. So how did that become his iconic look on Survivor? Well, because the show picked that look for him. Several other former Survivor contestants have also corroborated this, saying that their attire on the show was chosen for them, typically in an attempt to play up some aspect of their "character" that producers wanted to sell.
13 Actually Real: Tribal Council Voting Results Are Real...
It has been one of the most iconic parts of Survivor since the very first episode: the Tribal Council, where one of the contestants is voted off by the others in a dramatic ceremony that culminates in host Jeff Probst putting out the ousted contestant's "fire." And fans will be happy to know that everyone is allowed to vote for whoever they want to go– that that is one aspect of the show that producers don't completely control.
12 Totally Fake: ...But The Contestants Are Nudged To Vote A Certain Way
Just because producers don't outright demand contestants to vote a certain way, doesn't mean that there is zero meddling. Producers, and Jeff Probst himself, do try to subtly suggest to contestants who they should vote off, not wanting fan favorites to go too soon. Ultimately, the contestants are free to make their own choices, but it's still a bit shady that producers try to sway the votes one way or another.
11 Totally Fake: Tribal Council Sessions Are Heavily Edited
While we're on a roll with the Tribal Council, there is one more aspect of it that isn't all it's cracked up to be. The version of the Tribal Council we see on TV typically only encompasses about 10 minutes, and it's all very fast-moving and interesting. The actual Tribal Councils last much longer than that, sometimes as long as an hour, and involve a lot of less-exciting interactions between the contestants and Probst where he asks them a lot of questions to try and get the exciting bits that end up being what we are shown.
10 Totally Fake: Contestants Get A Ride To The Challenges
It's a striking visual: the line of contestants hiking to their latest challenge or Tribal Council, giving the impression that they have to hike a great distance from their camp(s). Not only do they not actually have to walk all that far, in some cases, they don't have to walk at all— former cast and crew have admitted that contestants are sometimes actually driven from place to place while on the show!
9 Actually Real: People Have Suffered Serious Injuries
At last count, fifteen people have had to leave Survivor because they supposedly suffered injuries too great for them to continue. And that is completely true: Every one of those medical emergencies has been completely real (and in some cases, extremely serious). There is only so much producers can do to ensure the safety of the contestants, and at least some of the inherent danger of the show is all too real.
8 Totally Fake: Camera Confessionals Have Multiple Takes
A reality show staple since the genre has existed is the "confessional," those cutaways where we see a cast member giving their thoughts on the current state of things while looking either directly at the camera or to some sort of interview just off screen. It's too important of an aspect to leave entirely to a single take, and so confessionals will often be done multiple times in order to get them just right for our viewing pleasure.
7 Totally Fake: Contestants Have To Recreate Conversations Missed By Cameras
Speaking of Survivor contestants being asked to repeat themselves, they are sometimes required to recreate entire conversations. Camera operators can't be everywhere at all times, and they occasionally find themselves coming upon a juicy conversation having already missed part of it. So what do they do? Ask the people to just have it again, of course, so that the entire thing can be caught on camera.
6 Totally Fake: Final Jury Speeches Are Written And Rehearsed
Sometimes, just asking a contestant to repeat a few lines of "dialogue" a couple of times, with a suggestion or two from a producer, is all it takes to get a speech polished enough for TV. But when it comes to the exciting final jury speeches that fans look forward to each season, it would seem those are too important to leave entirely to the contestants to come up with on the fly. Many jury speeches have not only been completely written out beforehand, but actually rehearsed by the contestant before the final "performance."
5 Actually Real: "Millennials Vs Gen X" Cast Had To Be Evacuated Due To Cyclone
An entire cast having to evacuate due to a major natural disaster seems like a perfect bit of staged drama on the part of Survivor producers, but the cyclone that temporarily halted production of Survivor: Millenials vs. Gen X was very real and very dangerous. While previous seasons have seen individual medical evacuations due to weather, that was the first time an entire cast had to be cleared out.
4 Totally Fake: Winners Don't Actually Get $1 Million
It was easy to judge season one winner, Richard Hatch, for trying to get away with not paying taxes on his winnings, but you might change your mind when you realize just how much the government takes of a Survivor winner's million-dollar payday. While none of the winners have given an exact amount, most estimates say that they probably only take home around $600,000 of their promised prize. Not an insignificant payday, but still nearly only half of what they are advertised to get.
3 Totally Fake: Contestants Have Access To Various Amenities
One of the things we are told about Survivor contestants is that they are allowed to bring a single "luxury item" and are of course given clothing but, beyond that, they have to live entirely off the land. That, of course, isn't entirely true. Each camp has access to a kit that contains various things, including basic first aid items, feminine hygiene products, and even contact lens solution for contestants who need it. Sure, it would be cruel to withhold such necessary items, but they could at least be honest about it.
2 Totally Fake: All Contestants Are Given A Survival Handbook
Does it ever seem like the contestants on Survivor are just a little too good at the whole living-in-the-wild thing, even those who claim to have no experience in that area? Maybe that's because every single contestant is given a handy little guidebook that gives them most of the information they need to live in the wild, including how to hunt, how to make a tent, and which plants are safe to eat.
1 Actually Real: Contestants Do Have To (Mostly) Find Their Own Food
Guidebook or not, contestants do have to procure almost all of their food themselves, be it via hunting, picking, or preparing fruits and plants. The crew wouldn't let them literally starve and some sources have said that cameramen have been known to slip snacks to contestants from time to time; but for the most part, the contestants really are required to live off the land to fill their bellies by whatever means necessary.
Sources: RealityBlurred.com, Daily Mail, The Today Show, ABC News, The L.A. Times, Reddit interviews with cast and crew