Survivor productions have trashed Panama, but US production praised for keeping it clean

International Survivor productions have left the Pearl Islands trashed, although the US producers, Mark Burnett and his Survivor Entertainment Group, has been praised for their commitment to minimizing the impact.

A scuba instructor in Panama told the Los Angeles Times that “[s]ome people come here just because of ‘Survivor.’ It makes it really attractive. The goal of people coming here should be tourism, not television. TV productions ruin islands.”

Countries that have filmed there include the United States, Israel, Sweden, Colombia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Serbia, and the paper reports that “[e]vidence of environmental neglect and insensitivity stemming from ‘Survivor’ shoots around Panama’s idyllic settings aren’t hard to find” and one “production left a large pile of trash including water bottles and feminine napkin boxes on Mogo Mogo, and in Bocas del Toro, a group of 40 islands on Panama’s Caribbean side, a local group says the Colombian production disturbed the nesting grounds of turtles during mating season.”

A representative for Castaway Television, which licenses the format, said the company has trouble enforcing the requirement that production companies “respect the environment” and “return the location to its natural state after filming.” Julia Dick told the paper, “What we really don’t want to have is a country with a bad experience with a production and who won’t want people to use the location again. We don’t want to damage the ‘Survivor’ worldwide brand.”

The scuba instructor, Guillermo Schuttke, told the paper that “The U.S. comes in like a military expedition and cleans everything up. They don’t leave a toothpick.” And executive producer Mark Burnett said, “You can’t risk kids playing on some prop. We’re very much environmentalists. It’s very accurate to say we leave places better than we arrive.” The paper reports that “production crews are required to photograph the sites before the shoot and compare them with photos afterward to make sure the environment looks the same.”

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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.