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My 51 favorite Survivor stories

My 51 favorite Survivor stories
Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett at the Paley Center exhibit commemorating Survivor's 30th season. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Survivor begins its 30th season tonight, and this felt like a good occasion to look back through the archives of all my Survivor coverage from 15 years. There were more than 1,700 stories and posts, for a total of 69 pages, and I decided to highlight some of my favorite writing about the show I still love 30 seasons later, even if it sometimes disappoints me. What Mark Burnett created and Jeff Probst now runs really is an exceptional body of television.

A disclaimer: This list of stories is not an exhaustive history of the show in link form, and there is somewhat of a bias toward later seasons. That’s primarily because, in the early years of reality blurred, I was mostly just linking–to stories in local papers or things buried on the web–so there isn’t a lot of writing.

Also, I’d planned on choosing just 30, but I couldn’t cut some of these out, so I went with 51: one for every million viewers who watched the season-one finale. And yes, I totally cheated by using many links on some of these. Enjoy.

Early Survivor

  1. The night that sealed the deal: 51 million people watched Rich win Survivor (and also freaked out).
  2. Mark Burnett admits what the show was really all about.
  3. As part of Stacey Stillman’s lawsuit claiming her elimination was rigged, which got her counter-sued for $5 million, Dirk Been says Mark Burnett suggested an alliance.
  4. Remember the time when Survivor Sucks was thought to be Mark Burnett, and when spoilers came from analyzing web code instead of talking to former cast members?
  5. Who is Ellipsiiis? The better question now: remember Ellipsiiis?
  6. By far my favorite early headline was this one: on Pulau Tiga, the body odor was like “hot garbage.”

Some Survivor news I broke

  1. The big one: Survivor’s rule book and cast contract.
  2. Survivor spoiler sued, gives up Russell Hantz as the source of the leaks (a lawsuit Mark Burnett denied known about).
  3. Blood vs. Water, the twist that seemed almost unbelievable at the time.

Behind the scenes on Survivor

  1. The last milestone: Survivor’s 10-year anniversary party, which reunited more than 200 of the show’s cast members.
  2. My first time observing Survivor’s first three days in person.
  3. Behind the scenes of Schmergen Brawl, the brutal challenge that made Survivor history.
  4. I reported on how challenges are created for NPR.
  5. Something that people still ask: where Jeff Probst gets his shirts.

Old and new Jeff Probst

  1. Probst: “I will ride this motherfucker down until it crashes me on the sand.” I love early Jeff Probst so much.
  2. Probst: “I want to be liked.”
  3. Jeff wins the first-ever reality host Emmy.
  4. I still want Probst and CBS to let the Survivors tweet.
  5. Yes, I sometimes admit I’m wrong.
  6. Survivor’s status quo sexism: barely noticeable, totally Probst
  7. More sexism: Why Survivor’s returnees tend to have penises
  8. RIP Survivor, murdered at 26 by Jeff Probst. I still stand by the central ideas in this piece, even though, yes, that season recovered and the show is still very much alive.
  9. Cats react to John Rocker and Jeff Probst. I should do this more. But with tarsiers.

Interviews with winners and others

  1. Survivor producer Mark Burnett told me: “You ask such stupid questions”
  2. After CBS called Survivor Gabon Marcus’ penis “virtually undetectable,” he told me, “even my penis was surprised to see itself on TV.”
  3. Colby Donaldson says “reality was manipulated” on Survivor Heroes vs. Villains–specifically, using pick-up shots to fake some action.
  4. Before she won again, Sandra Diaz-Twine told me she’d have the same strategy “because they’re dummies.”
  5. My first conversation with Tyson Apostol.
  6. When I first met Russell Hantz, he said he controlled everyone.
  7. Eventual winner Bob Crowley had a surprising approach to the game.
  8. Rob Mariano had the right idea but he was one season too early.
  9. Rob Cesternino talks RHAP, Survivor, spoilers, and more.
  10. Ben “Coach” Wade talks about the response to him and his game play: “It’s hurt me; I’m human.” I later went and spent time with Coach, including staying in his home, for a Playboy story.

A recap of Survivor recaps

  1. Survivor’s magnanimous, selfless queen graciously steps aside to let others play.
  2. Survivor contestants pee in their own pool.
  3. Oh, the old ABCs: thanks to Sean’s brilliant voting strategy, Jenna gets kicked off.
  4. How the Survivors would introduce themselves at the merge if they were honest
  5. Why Survivor Philippines was so satisfyingly great.
  6. Jon lies about dead grandma. I was very mad about that, clearly.
  7. Rob Mariano’s win: the most satisfying, well-deserved, obvious victory in Survivor history.

Survivor news and Survivor in the news

  1. Mark Burnett admits to using stand-ins and re-enactments during Survivor. Because it’s done so well, this still surprises people, even me. (Just watch for the doubles during helicopter shots.)
  2. Survivor 2 production cards reveal biographical details, character roles.
  3. Todd Herzog on Dr. Phil: exploitative and necessary
  4. An early note to journalists, where I asked them to please watch the show before writing about it.
  5. A former cast member comes out, admitting, “I truly hate myself.”
  6. The middle of many years of legal drama: Richard Hatch sentenced to more than four years in prison for lying “repeatedly.” Oh, the irony.
  7. How Survivor winner Cochran got a job writing for a CBS sitcom (which recently got cancelled, alas).

Survivor is just the best ever

  1. One of many attempts to explain why Survivor continues to amaze me.
  2. Why I’m thankful for this season of Survivor: a Thanksgiving reflection when the show came roaring back to life.
  3. Thoughts on Survivor’s 10th anniversary.
  4. The an entire high school played Survivor. Yes, Survivor still is the best.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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