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Surviving Survivor: Peeling Back Reality TV History

February 04, 2010 08:21 PM by Ryan Haidet


With the 20th season premiere right around the corner, CBS delivered a one-hour special looking back at the show’s decade-long history — “Surviving Survivor.”  Filled with new interviews with former contestants and several castaways participating in Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, the impact of Mark Burnett’s reality giant was covered from top to bottom.  Memorable water-cooler moments from the game, emotional updates on Ethan Zohn and even a short moment remembering Jenn Lyon made Surviving Survivor worth watching.

Back In Borneo

It kicked off by peeling back the years and going to the first day in Borneo when Richard Hatch sat in a tree and looked down at Susan Hawk who told him corporate world wouldn’t work in the bush.  Host Jeff Probst has said in numerous interviews that this was the moment in which he and the producers knew the show would be a success.


They couldn’t have been more right.  The morning after an episode would air, talk shows, television programs, radio hosts and everyday office workers were chatting about the latest Tribal Council or crazy moments that made jaws drop.

Back to season one, Richard’s success didn’t come without instant arrogance.  On the first day he said in a confessional that the producers had already written him the $1 million check because he knew he was the winner.  Not only did he build a successful foursome with Rudy, Kelly and Sue, he also walked around camp in his birthday suit.  “The main reason I was naked initially was because I wanted some time on my own, and I knew not too many people are going to want to be hanging around me naked,” Richard said.  “And it worked.”

Watch the video slideshow below to hear Ryan Haidet’s exclusive interview with Jeff Probst discussing Survivor’s history:


His influence on the game is undeniable and has affected the way Survivor has been played throughout the last 10 years.



Villain Jerri Manthey of seasons two and eight said Sue’s first speech at the original final Tribal Council remains the best.  In the end, Richard won the first $1 million prize by just one vote as he took down Kelly.  “That was a happy happy moment,” he said.

Wear & Tear

“Outwit.  Outplay.  Outlast.”  The now well-known motto for Survivor that’s featured on nearly every logo in the show’s 20 seasons (you’ll notice Heroes Vs. Villains says “Return.  Revenge.  Redemption”).  But enduring the stresses of the game takes far more than that.


The challenges have been brutal, as villain Russell Hantz said the toughest thing he’s ever done physically was the first challenge during the Samoa season.

Then there’s Mother Nature’s wrath.  Jerri said the worst moment ever was when there was a major thunderstorm during the All-Star season in Panama.  She was soaking wet, and the rain never seemed to stop.

Oh, and the lack of food.  Hero Stephenie LaGrossa said the first week is always the worst when dealing with hunger.  The desire to eat has pushed some contestants to reach desperate measures, too.  Just like Heidi Strobel and Jenna Morasca did in the show’s sixth season, Survivor: The Amazon.  In the middle of an endurance challenge, both women took their clothes off as a bargaining tool to get themselves some chocolate and peanut butter.  It’s also that moment that likely led to their appearance together in Playboy.


Memorable Players

Hero Rupert Boneham didn’t win Survivor the first two times he played (seasons seven and eight), but he did win America’s vote as the winner of $1 million as the favorite castaway ever.  After he completed his first two stints on Survivor, the pirate-like reality star kicked off Rupert’s Kids — a mentoring program used to motivate young people.  It has been working in the community for more than five years now.

On the opposite side of the Survivor spectrum, Russell, who was instantly labeled as “evil” during Samoa, claimed to be the greatest player of all time — even better than Rupert.  “It’s like Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan.”  Russell said.


Then there is villain Parvati Shallow and her flirtatious style, which was showcased the first time she played in the Cook Islands.  During a reward, Parvati got in a hot tub naked with both Yul and Ozzy — who were also naked.

Speaking of Ozzy, his love-fest with Amanda in Fan Vs. Favorites grossed hero Cirie Fields out.  “How can you have a first kiss when you haven’t brushed your teeth in 13 days?”


Survivor: Africa winner, Ethan Zohn, has proven to be a Survivor in the truest sense of the word.  Last year he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and his relationship with Jenna has helped him deal with the battle.  The pair has dated publicly since Survivor: All-Stars, and have the common bond since they each won the show and lost a parent to cancer.

Known for his curly, poofy hair, Ethan decided to shave it all off when he learned chemotherapy would make him slowly lose it.  “Bald is the new afro,” he said.  With his cancer in remission, Ethan went into isolation in late December for stem cell transplants.  He said that now he isn’t playing for $1 million — he’s playing for his life.

Survivor’s Impact

Survivor‘s influence on television and pop culture has been remarkable.  Not only has it been mocked on other shows, but it is the reason reality television exploded on every network.  Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly said Survivor can go on forever, but when it does end he thinks it will be remembered as the show that changed the face of television.


Without Survivor, Elisabeth Hasselbeck likely never would have landed a co-hosting job on ABC’s The View.  But that’s not all, she is still designing clothes, which is what she had been doing before she was selected for Survivor.

An Epic Battle

Next Thursday, 20 of the most popular contestants return for Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains.  The challenges look intense and the rivalry will be incredible.  Instead of giving us something worthwhile, the episode ended with a commercial for next season.  Kind of a bummer considering this really showed us nothing new.


During my time at the 10th anniversary party in Hollywood last month, Russell offered me his own preview.  He said that this season is so incredible that it should win an Emmy.


Before the credits rolled, a picture of Jenn Lyon was shown in her memory.  She passed away last month after a long battle with cancer.

Game images courtesy of CBS.  Pictures from the 10th anniversary party by Ryan Haidet.

Stick with RealityTVMagazine.com for complete coverage of Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains.

Which side will you be rooting for?  The adventure continues February 11 on CBS.

For other great Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains news, please feel free to check out SirLinksALot: Survivor Heroes Vs. Villains.  You can also give us discuss the show on our reality TV message boards.

Topics: CBS Reality TV Shows, Survivor, Survivor Videos |

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