Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. Out of control. These are the wildest, most shocking moments that have ever occured on Survivor’s long run.
Grab yourself an Immunity Idol and take a trip through these insane reality TV episodes. Would you be able to survive?
Survivor: Caramoan – A rushed election
Contestant Brandon Hantz behaved wildly from moment one on Survivor’s 26th season. As a result, all of his fellow contestants pretty much can’t stand the guy. All of this lead to an unprecedented Reward Challenge that resulted in an abrupt, bitter decision.
Hantz was screaming in his teammates’ faces, throwing around their food. So his team asked to forfeit the challenge, just so they could vote Hantz off.
Instead, host Jeff Probst called an impromptu Tribal Council meeting right then and there — Hantz got axed speedily.
Survivor: The Australian Outback – A fiery exit
The contestants on Survivor are asked to do a lot. Live in the wilderness, build your own shelter, compete in physically and psychologically demanding challenges. It makes sense that you’d sleep when you can. Ideally, “planned in a bed.”
Not “passed out in a fire.”
Michael Skupin was hanging with his teammates peacefully around a campfire. And then, suddenly, began screaming.
Apparently, he got a mouthful of smoke, and passed out into the fire. He got third-degree burns on his hands and was helicoptered out of the game immediately.
Survivor: All-Stars – Personal space case
In the show’s eighth season, producers brought back a series of fan-favorite contestants, including first season winner Richard Hatch and fellow contestant Sue Hawk. You’d think they’d be used to each other’s quirks and strategies.
But Hatch took it to a new level.
Hatch got fully nude — which he did often during the first season. But then he, still naked, got inappropriately close to Hawk during a Reward Challenge. It made Hawk so uncomfortable that she left the show quickly. Her teammates vowed to win the next challenges in her honor.
Survivor: Kaôh Rōng – Three’s company
What kind of releases and waivers do Survivor contestants sign? We hope they have some kind of coverage for crazy accidents. Because during the Kaôh Rōng season, three contestants, had to be medically evacuated — the most evacuations performed during any season.
Caleb Reynolds got heat stroke and exhaustion, and was evacuated when his heart rate dropped dangerously low. Neal Gottlieb got an infected knee wound that doctors thought could ruin his joint. And Joe Del Campo started feeling sick after a celebratory feast, prompting the medical team to make him leave.
Survivor: Cook Islands – Kiss me deadly
Here is where we give a quick shout-out to Jeff Probst. With professionalism and panache, this multiple Emmy-winner has kept the peace on more than 35 seasons of Survivor.
And this is why, when he lets himself off the leash, we love it even more.
After being eliminated, contestant Candice Woodcock smooched fellow contestant Adam Gentry in front of everybody. Probst quipped immediately, “A kiss is nice. Maybe if it were love he would have given you the Immunity necklace.”
And for once in his career, it wasn’t just the campfire that got burned.
Survivor: Borneo – The best-laid plans of rats and snakes
The first season. The final episode. An absolutely astonishing final speech.
In making her case for Hatch winning, Hawk calls him a snake. She calls runner-up Kelly Wiglesworth a rat. And she says that for nature to take its course, the snake must eat the rat.
Sue “Shakespeare” Hawk, everybody.
In the middle of her calmly communicated “evil genius speech,” Hawk also said that if she approached Wiglesworth lying on the ground, dying of thirst, she would not give her a drink of water. Ouch!
Wiglesworth could only muster a one-word retort: “Interesting.”
Survivor: The Australian Outback – When nature calls
Just because you’re filming a successful reality show, doesn’t mean you can’t be green about it.
During production of the Australia-set second season, a CBS helicopter flew through a protected area dedicated to conserving the lives of at-risk seabirds. But that’s not all they did to Mother Nature.
Contestant Colby Donaldson actually removed some coral from the Great Barrier Reef. Not only is that detrimental to our planet’s ecosystem, it’s highly, wildly illegal. Did Donaldson think it was an oceanic gift shop?
Executive producer Mark Burnett apologized for both incidents on behalf of CBS.
Survivor: Africa – A pierced arrow
In a final four immunity challenge, Probst asked two contestants which female contestants didn’t have piercings. Kim Johnson answered Kelly Goldsmith, was correct, won the challenge, and went on to the final two. Lex van den Berghe answered Lindsey Richter, and was determined to be incorrect.
However — Richter didn’t have piercings. No wiggle room there, that’s an objective fact. In other words, Van den Berghe was absolutely correct, but was punished anyway.
While he didn’t officially go further on the show, he received a settlement with CBS afterward.
Survivor: Cook Islands – Problematic with a capital P
At the beginning of Cook Islands, Survivor’s lucky 13th season, tribes were divided… by contestant race. For real. In 2006, this happened.
The tribes were African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, and European American. And the public’s reaction was divided into factions of Shocked, Horrified, Repulsed, and Hated.
Eventually, after an eerily coincidental dropping out from big-time sponsors like Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, producers mixed the tribes more normally. Probst claimed that the racial component came from a good-hearted attempt at increased diversity on the show.
There’s just got to be a better way. Right?
Survivor: Gabon – The naked truth
People on Survivor are sometimes nude, as people are sometimes in real life. But something screwy happened in the premiere episode of the Gabon-set 17th season: Marcus Lehman’s privates were made very public, and very uncensored.
How on earth did this slip past everybody?
The Parents Television Council went after CBS: “Although this instance was brief, it was nonetheless shocking and purposeful. Unfortunately, with the number of people inside the network reviewing every frame of video, CBS knew full well of this nudity and elected to include it anyway.”
Survivor: Game Changers – Crossing a line you can’t uncross
On episode six of Game Changers, a 2017 season of returning contestants, Jeff Varner did something unconscionable.
In an attempt to paint Zeke Smith as an untrustworthy contestant, he outed Smith as being transgender without Smith’s consent. The fallout was immediate, and the fallout was deserved.
Probst berated Varner immediately. Varner’s fellow contestants turned on him, too, chiding the immoral depths he chose to plunge. Varner was immediately eliminated. He’s since been fired from his former job as a real estate agent, while apologizing profusely for the incident. He also claims Smith forgave him.
Survivor: Samoa – All Hantz on deck
On the 19th Samoa-set season, Survivor fans were introduced to a new love-to-hate villain.
Russell Hantz was an absolutely bonkers contestant who stooped to wild levels to win. Among his many strategies? Lying about being a firefighter who survived Hurricane Katrina.
Hantz’s strategy was simple: psychologically weaken the competition and manipulate them so he can win. This single-minded mission gave him the room to justify actions like burning his teammates’ socks and emptying their canteen water. Hantz didn’t win, but he made one heck of an impression.
Survivor: Micronesia – Breakdown
During the entirety of the Micronesia-set season 16, where returning contestants battled new ones, Kathy Sleckman was seen as a bit of an odd duck. But on one episode, things turned a corner into danger.
And Probst had to intervene quickly.
Sleckman had an onscreen emotional breakdown, as the result of a severe depression spurred in part by the show’s conditions and her dependencies on medication. She even threatened to cut herself with a machete. She said she wanted to quit immediately — with the help of Probst, she did.
Survivor: Panama – Bathroom blues
On the Panama season, Survivor’s 12th, tribes were divided into tribes based on age and gender. Bruce Kanegai, a karate teacher who got through challenges easily, was immediately a standout in the older men tribe.
But one unexpected hurdle proved to be insurmountable.
Kanegai started to get sick, complaining of stomach pains. And then, his pain got so bad that he had to be medically evacuated and immediately removed from the show.
The reason for his distress? He stopped using the bathroom after a reward of fast food on a previous episode.
Survivor: Samoa – Swan song
Probst called this moment the scariest thing that’s ever happened on Survivor.
Contestant Russell Swan was going through a physical challenge involving blindfolds, cages, and mazes. He was looking disoriented and dizzy, but he kept pushing through.
Until he passed out.
Everyone rushed to Swan’s side, and he came to — though his heart rate dropped dramatically. Swan tried to keep going, but passed out again, this time with his eyes open. Probst made him leave the show immediately, even though he protested, saying his family needed him to stay.
Survivor: All-Stars – Twice bitten, never shy
In one of his typical naked escapades, Hatch was splashing around in the ocean when he found a small shark in the water. The shark did what sharks do and tried to bite Hatch’s arm.
But Hatch was not about to let swimming sharks lie.
Hatch responded… by biting the shark back.
Hang on a second, we just want to make sure you understood what happened. Richard Hatch, a human man, bit a shark! And they aired it! On national television!
Survivor is the greatest show ever!!
Survivor: Blood Vs. Water – That’s the way the cookie Cumbies
Colton Cumbie previously appeared on the One World season, making a splash with his villainous play and abrupt exit due to appendicitis. When he returned to the show on Blood Vs. Water, he heightened his antics.
And Probst had enough.
Cumbie started complaining that no one was strategizing with him and said he wanted to quit. And Probst laid into him. We’d never seen him get so invested and upset. He even accused Cumbie of faking his appendicitis last time! Cumbie left in a huff, and Probst didn’t stop him.
Survivor: Pearl Islands – All’s Fairplay in love and war
Jonny Fairplay has the perfect name for reality TV — he legally changed it from the much less awesome Jon Dalton. But in one iconic episode of Survivor: Pearl Islands, he played anything but fair.
He mentioned to fellow contestants that his grandma died, garnering immediate sympathy. Just one problem.
His grandma did NOT die. She was completely alive. It was all a strategic ploy to manipulate his fellow contestants.
Probst and producers commented on how insane this lie was, with Probst calling Fairplay perfect for television, but terrible for real life.
Survivor: Gabon – Fake it ‘til you make it
Eventual winner Bob Crowley gave Randy Bailey a hidden immunity idol. And during the episode nine Tribal Council ceremony, Bailey had no choice but to use it to fight back against the growing votes.
Unfortunately for him — Crowley totally lied.
It was a fake immunity idol.
Crowley crafted a convincingly real, actually fake immunity idol, and gave it to his opponent. Talk about dedication!
When Bailey confidently pulled it out, Probst called it for what it was, and threw it in the dang fire. Bailey went home that night.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – Double trouble
Episode 10 of the Heroes vs. Villains season was called “Going Down in Flames.” And maybe that was runner-up Parvati Shallow’s plan when she made the never-before-attempted play she did. But somehow, it all worked out, making Shallow a new Survivor star in the process.
Shallow nabbed two hidden immunity idols through some cunning playing of her opponents’ psychologies. And she played them both at once, to save both Jerri Manthey and eventual winner Sandra Diaz-Twine. Unprecedented! But it gave Shallow’s alliance exactly what they needed.
Survivor: Micronesia – The immune system
We’ll be blunt: Nobody much liked Erik Reichenbach. And in episode 13 of the Micronesia season, it was down to him and four remaining female contestants. Reichenbach thought he played it perfectly, ensuring himself another week on the island.
In reality, he played himself.
Natalie Bolton convinced Reichenbach to give her the immunity necklace at the Tribal Council, as part of a plot that would swing favor with the other women. But this was a lie — by snatching the immunity from Reichenbach, all the women unanimously voted him off with no contest.
Survivor: Redemption Island – All’s fair in lava and war
Rob Mariano, a returning contestant and eventual winner of Redemption Island, won an obstacle course challenge involving rope crawls and makeshift basketball hoops. His team’s reward: Feasting nearby an honest-to-goodness active volcano. So Mariano took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something strange.
Mariano found a clue for a location for a Hidden Immunity Idol, without his team noticing. And instead of telling anyone else about it, or keeping the clue, he tossed that sucker into the active volcano!
We wish we had the confidence to literally toss our problems into a volcano.
Survivor: The Amazon – Chocoholics
In one episode of The Amazon season, Heidi Strobel and eventual winner Jenna Morasca participated in an immunity challenge where they stood on a perch as long as they could. Producers offered contestants various food items in exchange for various actions. Strobel and Morasca decided to bite.
Strobel and Morasca stripped completely naked, getting chocolate cookies, colas, and peanut butter in return. This eliminated them from the challenge, but solidified them in Survivor history.
The two tying victors (Christy Smith and Deena Bennett) broke the tie… by playing rock-paper-scissors. Wow.
Survivor: Cook Islands – Lovefool
Billy Garcia really put himself out there during a Tribal Council. Believing the feelings to be mutual, Garcia took his opportunity on the floor to profess his love for fellow contestant Candice Woodcock. Keep in mind: This was episode two, and they had just met.
In fact, Woodcock had said, more generally, “we love you,” referring to her tribe trying to cheer Garcia up. Garcia, it would seem, had made a wild leap based on this fundamental misunderstanding. Everyone voted him out that night.
What can we say — love stinks.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – Fighting fire with fire
On the second to last episode of the Heroes vs. Villains season, where the final three made their case to the jury, eventual winner Sandra Diaz-Twine was sick of Russell Hantz’s wily ways. So she got her revenge.
And it was a dish best served… flaming hot.
Diaz-Twine threw Hantz’s favorite hat into the fire, burning it to a crisp. She didn’t know it at the time, but this was a callback to something Hantz did in his first season on the show, when he burned contestants’ socks.
Survivor: Palau – One is the loneliest number
On Palau, the 10th season of the show, contestants chose their tribes schoolyard-style. Tribe captains picked people against a wall, one at a time. Producers didn’t re-equalize the tribe numbers as contestants eliminated each other.
Which led to a curious situation.
Stephenie LaGrossa watched as one by one all of her teammates were eliminated. Until she became a tribe of one.
LaGrossa shocked and intimidated her fellow competitors with how well she continued to play the game. Eventually, producers absorbed her into another tribe.
Survivor: Samoa – Rock the vote
Contestants voted Erik Cardona out in episode eight of the Samoa season. Cardona didn’t use his immunity idol because he didn’t think he would need it. His fellow contestants blindsided him. But in his later appearance, where he sat as a jury member deciding a victor, he really made an impression.
Cardona delivered an impassioned speech that won the game for Natalie White. He detailed why White was the real winner — because she didn’t feel entitled or deserving, which meant she deserved it all. It moved people to tears and clinched her the votes.
What a mensch!
Survivor: Pearl Islands – Blast from the past
Pearl Islands was the seventh season of the show Survivor. While the Probst/Burnett reality sensation was still pulling in the ratings, it was in need of a creative rejuvenation.
And it got one, thanks to a particularly dramatic history lesson.
Episode seven, appropriately called “What the…?”, introduced an Outcast tribe of previously eliminated contestants fighting to get back into the game. And while the eventual winner was not one of these outcasts, this was still quite the twist, quite the game-changer, and quite the influence on reality TV.
Survivor: China – Don’t keep your idols idle
Audiences loved James Clement. On the reunion episode of the China season, he won $100,000 and the title of most popular player. But after his notorious Tribal Council meeting, he likely felt anything but popular.
How did he make such a serious miscalculation?
Clement had two hidden immunity idols. Which means, in effect, that he could protect himself from elimination — twice. But in a Tribal Council meeting, he didn’t feel he needed either of them, and didn’t use them.
And his fellow contestants blindsided him, eliminating the heck out of him.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – Everybody hurts
On the very first episode of the Heroes vs. Villains season, widely regarded as one of the best of Survivor, viewers immediately knew the contestants weren’t playing around.
In the first challenge, involving a beach race and a digging competition, something wild happened.
Two serious medical injuries, right out of the gate!
During the challenge, Stephenie LaGrossa dislocated her shoulder and Rupert Boneham broke his toe. Thankfully, both contestants kept competing, not needing evacuation. In fact, their team, the Heroes, wound up winning that challenge.
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