reality TV reviews and news

Survivor contestant contract: the waivers, agreements that cast members, families sign

Survivor has been on the air for 10 years as of today, and to date, 301 people have participated in the series as contestants. While casting has turned to recruiting to find participants, many people, from Canadians to teenagers, repeat applicants to first-timers, are still desperate to be cast.

But in exchange for playing for $1 million and having an unparalleled experience on broadcast television’s best reality competition, contestants must sign detailed legal agreements with SEG, Mark Burnett’s Survivor Entertainment Group. Those agreements are below, as reality blurred received copies of them from someone who signed them. (Despite the timing of Friday’s interview, it is not from Coach.) They are all signed before a contestant goes to Los Angeles as a finalist for casting, meaning many people who never appeared on television have signed these. I was first sent the contract earlier this year, and mining it for newsworthy information, redacting personal information, and producing it for publication took some time. The 10-year anniversary is also the perfect opportunity to examine what it costs someone to participate in the series.

While I have no doubt it is similar to other contracts–compare it, for example, to the Kid Nation contract published by The Smoking Gun–it is very restrictive. The contract allows for, among other things, CBS to register a domain name in the contestant’s name and use it forever; the “fictionalization” of a person, including for “a humorous or satirical effect”; and the assignment of copyright and other rights to material one produces while on the show, such as an original song.

It also prohibits contestants from having a personal web site during the show (incredibly, pre-existing personal sites must be changed to say “Site Under Construction”) or from writing or commenting online anywhere about anything, even if it has nothing to do with the show (tell that to all the contestants on Facebook). They may also never write a book about their experiences, and contestants and family members also agree to resolve any disputes in binding arbitration.

Contestants also have to:

Contracts can, of course, be changed, and these documents may have been modified with “side letters” or through other means for some contestants. (Sugar, for example, once told me she “got the best contract that they’ve given anybody in 17 seasons.”) And I’m sure this has changed and evolved throughout the show’s 10-year, 20-season history, and may have been changed for seasons 21 and 22 already.

This first 32-page document includes three things: “applicant agreement”; the “release and waiver, agreement not to sue, and indemnification and hold harmless agreement”; and the “physical test/trial liability release form for Survivor semi-finalists.” There is also a detailed, nine-page document with Survivor’s rules, which I’ve published separately. These are not necessarily exhaustive; one appendix, at least, appears to be missing.

I have modified these documents to conceal personal and identifying information, including some references to the particular season, using black boxes. I’ve also eliminated some stray marks. But the original text has in no way been modified. I suggest clicking Full Screen and zooming in while browsing the document in the reader below.

The Survivor contract

This next document includes the legal agreements family members sign, preceded by an instruction sheet that explains who needs to sign it and details about telling one’s employer.