Highlights from the Survivor 30 Seasons CBS magazine

Tomorrow on newsstands is a $10 special issue of CBS Watch! Magazine that’s all about Survivor, on the occasion of the Survivor 30th anniversary. Survivor 30 Seasons contains a brief oral history of the show’s genesis, lots of photos, a season-by-season rundown written by Jeff Probst, and interviews with people including casting director Lynne Spillman and challenge producer John Kirhoffer.

It also contains the results of the fan polls, and those are, predictably, the most annoying part. The poll about the series’ most memorable in Survivor history gives that to Russell Hantz’s hat being burned. The runner-up is Ozzy being blindsided; Richard Hatch winning season one comes in at number five.

Rob Mariano comes in first among the “most beloved, feared, and respected characters,” followed by Russell Hantz (sigh), Rob Cesternino, Parvati Shallow, and Ozzy Lusth. The “steamiest castaways” are the most innocuous, finding Malcolm Freberg and his happy trail to be the steamiest man and Brenda Lowe to be the steamiest woman.

The worst poll, though, is the best season poll. The winner: Heroes vs. Villains, followed by Pearl Islands, Micronesia, Australia, Cagayan, All-Stars, and then Borneo. Amazon, China, and Cook Islands round out the top 10. Sorry, season one always wins, always. More of my ranting on the season rankings.

That waste of space aside, it really is a nice magazine (buy it online) with a lot of great content. There’s an interview with two Dream Team members who are now on the crew, Jordan Ferrer and Riley Munday, and great photography, including behind-the-scenes photos of platforms built in the water for the camera crews for a Survivor San Juan Del Sur water challenge and an arial photo of a Survivor Caramoan challenge that shows not just boats, but the challenge beach’s proximity to more inhabited areas.

A lot of what Probst writes is summary of history, like Guatemala being the first season with immunity idols and returnees, but he also offers some insight, not all of which is brand-new but is still fascinating. Here are some highlights from the magazine:

  • CBS CEO Les Moonves says the idea for Survivor sounded like “one of the dumbest things I’ve heard” at first. Of course, he changed his mind, thankfully.
  • How “naive” Probst was about Hatch’s win. Probst admits that the crew feared Richard Hatch’s win during season one. “The only outcome nobody wanted was Richard Hatch winning the show. That simply could not happen. He was a true villain and nobody liked him,” he writes, adding that “Richard winning would be a disaster.” But he points out that Hatch “really set the tone for the way this game was going to be played” and admits, “I was just too naïve at the time to understand it all.” Seriously, can you imagine 29 seasons of Survivor after the nicer person was declared the winner?
  • Survivor Marquesas, Probst writes, “still remains one of my least favorites.”
  • Probst says it was Survivor Thailand that he became more of a presence: “I began to find my voice on the show, and the network became more comfortable with me voicing my opinions. Up until this point, CBS wanted me to remain neutral, have no opinion, show no emotion. But one moment changed all that. During a challenge where some of the Survivors were getting a bit too physical, I yelled at them to take it easy. They yelled back at me, and we left it in the show.”
  • The series’ original CBS publicist, Colleen Sullivan, says that season-one catering “was a local family feeding us. Jeff was having pasta noodles shipped to him every day. Mark showed up with a helicopter of burgers.”
  • CBS’ Chris Ender discusses their decision to let journalists run with misinformation: “So, we made a decision very early on that we would give the same line each time, ‘We won’t confirm or deny any results or any speculation about the results on Survivor, but we will allow the press to run inaccurate information.’ And the reporters would go, ‘Huh? You’re going to let us run inaccurate information?’ Yep!”
  • Lynne Spillman offers casting advice: “At this point, season 30, we need people who are there to play. … The key is telling us what you would bring to the game and why you think you could win. Most people don’t do that. We want you to brag about how great you are and what you’ve accomplished and what you could bring to the game and to your tribe.”
  •  Crew members and location scouts Jesse and Zac Jensen offer some insight into what the show now looks for: a place that is “extremely remote but still has about 180 rooms for our 300-plus crew,” Jesse says. He also gives a good reason why the show returned to comparatively ugly Nicaragua: “In Nicaragua, we had our best season as far as creature comforts. We had great villas on a hill with a view of the bay and the town, and there were restaurants for the crew to go to at night.”
  • Probst writes off Brandon Hantz’s insane and awful exit by saying Brandon just “became overwhelmed and was voted out by his tribe in an impromptu daytime Tribal Council.” No mention of the shoulder massage.
  • Dividing the cast by age “is a division I hope we never do again,” Probst writes.
  • Probst also calls The Medallion of Power “one of the worst named and most poorly executed twists we’ve ever come up with. Embarrassing on all accounts.” No word about the Tyler Perry idol, though.
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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, 37, 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.