Survivor rules: the contract that details pay, tie-breakers, prohibited behavior, and more

Like any game, Survivor has rules, but as viewers, we’ve never seen those rules. Until now.

The nine-page document below is part of the legal contracts and agreements Survivor contestants sign before they are interviewed in Los Angeles. Contestants told me it is the only rule book they receive. (These rules may change from season to season, of course, never mind the clauses that say producers can change the rules whenever they want.)

The rules includes ones we’ve never heard of, and ones that have clearly been broken. For example, quid pro quo is not permitted, nor may “one Contestant receive a benefit of some form of consideration” from another, but there was Yau-Man promising a truck in exchange for immunity. There are also very clear rules against two things we saw Russell Hantz do during the last two seasons: communicating with members of the other tribe and taking and/or damaging personal property.

The document’s longest passage has to do with procedures to break ties, including the infamous purple rock, though its color is not specified. There are many permutations beyond that, however, that have apparently never been necessary. It also includes clauses that haven’t been invoked before, but that could be, including allowing a medically evacuated contestant to return to the game.

Some of the other details about the game in the rules part of the contract, which is identified as Exhibit A of the “Applicant Agreement”:

  • details about consolation prizes, which aren’t guaranteed.
  • details about voting and being on the jury, and staying at Ponderosa and/or the travel location (where non-jury members go) post-season.
  • a rule about what is considered private property (only the luxury item and clothes brought to the location, which have to be pre-approved), and a clause that says “criminal damage” is grounds for expulsion.
  • a disclosure about the lack of privacy, and the fact that contestants may be filmed even when they don’t know they’re being filmed, even while naked.
  • the consequences of disobeying rules about plants and wildlife.
  • consequences of disobeying producers or refusing to vote, among other things.
  • insistence that contestants obey US law, and a clause that says they may help prosecutors if contestants violate US law.
  • a rule that says producers can change the rules any time, including mid-challenge.

There’s a lot more here, too. I have modified the document to conceal personal and identifying information, including some references to the particular season, using black boxes. I’ve also eliminated stray marks, and highlighted interesting and newsworthy passages with arrows, but it is otherwise unmodified. (I suggest clicking on Full Screen in the reader below to read it). And check out the full cast member contract, too.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.