What Is Survivor?

What Is Survivor

Survivor is a very popular competitive game show that has been airing twice a year since its debut on CBS in the year 2000. Each season, a large group of contestants are brought into a tropical/island setting, divided into teams (or “tribes”), and begin to compete in both physical challenges and interpersonal/political struggles to be the last remaining contestant (known as the “Sole Survivor”), who is awarded a $1,000,000 cash prize. 

For the most part, tribes are left to their own devices to survive the island’s elements, being tasked with creating their own shelter, obtaining their own food, etc. Some enhanced survival tools, such as prepared food, fishing equipment, or shelter resources can be won as prizes in team challenges. Each week, one contestant from the tribe who lost the episode’s immunity challenge is voted off the island and eliminated from play. Since its first season, the show has been hosted by Jeff Probst.


The basic format behind Survivor first appeared in 1997 as a Swedish show called Expedition: Robinson. It was adopted for the American market during a difficult financial time in the television industry; amidst labor strikes, skyrocketing production costs, and unrest among workers’ unions, on-location reality TV projects like Survivor provided a cost-effective alternative to traditional scripted series, given that there were no necessary costs associated with writers, actors, set-builders, and many other production-oriented staff positions. 

The first season, which premiered on May 31, 2000, was a massive success, and was one of the most important shows in the reality TV boom of the early 2000s, being generally credited as one of the innovators of the form. The show makes frequent use of the confessional interview, in which contestants provide their inner thoughts on the episode’s events in a private monologue. Survivor has not since recaptured the runaway ratings success of its first season, but continues to fare very well during its twice-yearly airings. Originally, Survivor was played in a different island setting each season, but has remained in islands off the coast of Fiji in recent years.


The ultimate goal of Survivor is to be the final contestant, or Sole Survivor, and go home with the $1,000,000 cash prize. At the beginning of each season, the starting group of around 16-20 contestants are divided into two or three teams called “tribes,” represented by a unique name (such as Baka, Coco, or Vesi) and a colored fabric referred to as a “buff.” These tribes live on different areas of the island and must survive with minimal resources, building shelters and finding food. Periodically, tribes will compete against one another in tests (called “challenges”) of physical strength, teamwork, and problem-solving ability.

How to Play

There are two types of challenges: reward challenges, and immunity challenges. Tribes that win a reward challenge will obtain some sort of luxury item or experience, such as full meals or desserts, useful equipment like fishing spears or tarps, or a mentally refreshing experience such as a spa or contact with family members or loved ones. Tribes that win an immunity challenge are shielded from having one of their members eliminated at that night’s Tribal Council; the losing tribe must convene at a special building with Jeff Probst, the show’s host, and decide as a tribe to eliminate one of their members through a closed and secret vote. 

After each tribe member writes down their vote, Probst reads out the votes in sequence until a majority vote has been reached, at which point that contestant is eliminated, their torch is extinguished, and they are sent home. After votes are cast, but before they are read, contestants can protect themselves from elimination using an item called an immunity idol, which can either be won in certain challenges or, more commonly, found hidden across the island, indicated by cryptic riddles or treasure maps. Frequently, to avoid elimination in the early and mid-game, players will form alliances and vote alongside one another to ensure their move succeeds, as well as not voting against one another.

As the game progresses and more contestants are eliminated, the tribes are eventually merged into one; at that point, when about eight contestants remain, all contestants compete in all challenges individually, and the rewards for both reward challenges and immunity challenges are awarded to a single player. From then on, a Tribal Council occurs after every immunity challenge, and the players eliminated at these councils go on to form the season’s jury. Once only two contestants remain, this jury votes to eliminate one of the two, and the remaining player wins, is crowned the Sole Survivor, and is awarded the $1,000,000 cash prize. This vote is conducted in private, and then read out at a live finale, which involves interviews with players and contestants before the final vote is announced.


Survivor contestants are mostly chosen through an open application process. CBS, the network that produces the show, keeps an open form on their website that applicants can fill out by sending in a photo, video interview, and completed application. Applicants then continue to follow a standard audition practice until the right 16-20 players are found. In addition to this application, some contestants are scouted through connections with the network, casting agents, or being chanced upon through the Internet. 

Though current seasons of the show only occur on the Fiji islands, previous seasons were set around the globe, as show personnel scouted and selected interesting locales to be used on the show. This did come with its fair share of difficulties, however, as many of the non-Fiji settings were hostile and unpredictable; as a result, the show will remain in Fiji for the foreseeable future, as it has all the producers need to film an interesting show, without adding any elements of chaos. The complicated challenges are mostly architected by John Kirhoffer, who serves as the show’s official challenge producer.

Summary of Rules

  • 16-20 contestants travel to a remote island and are separated into two or three tribes.
  • These tribes compete in two types of challenges; reward challenges, which rewards luxury items, and immunity challenges, which safeguard a tribe from having to vote out a member.
  • Tribes that lose immunity challenges must go to Tribal Council, and each member casts one vote to eliminate another player from their tribe.
  • Eliminations can be prevented with Immunity Idols.
  • When only 10 contestants remain, the tribes merge into one.
  • Once only 10 contestants remain, they compete in challenges individually, and only one person can win immunity at immunity challenges.
  • All contestants eliminated after the tribes merge form the jury, who, at the end of the series, will vote to eliminate one of the two remaining players, deciding the winner.


What is Survivor?

Survivor is a competitive game show in which players survive on a tropical island and compete in physical challenges to avoid elimination. The last remaining player is crowned the Sole Survivor and is awarded a $1,000,000 cash prize.

Who hosts Survivor?

Jeff Probst has hosted Survivor since its first season. He officiates challenges and the elimination voting procedure in Tribal Council, provides play-by-play commentary during immunity and reward challenges, and serves as the show’s executive producer and main presenter.