You’ve probably been asked this before but I’ve always wanted to know the details of what happens with the cast-offs from Survivor. Where do they go? Is it a party? Are there hook-ups? Fights? Does the game-play continue? Has CBS ever considered a reality show that features this part of the show? —Emily
It’s an excellent question, Emily, and an especially well-timed one because, for the first time in years, CBS does not have such a show. But it did: it’s called Ponderosa, and it’s terrific.
Starting with Survivor Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites in 2007, CBS produced a web series called Life at Ponderosa, later shortened to just Survivor: Ponderosa.
It gets its name from the holding area where players go before filming begins, and after being eliminated from the game. For Survivor: Tocantins, where I reported on location, Ponderosa was a tent city. In Fiji, players stay at a resort hotel, most recently the Malolo Island Resort.
(Those who don’t make the jury are typically sent on a vacation together, clearing out Ponderosa for the jury.)
Survivor: Ponderosa is not a full-fledged series like you suggest, and is not like the non-challenge parts of The Challenge, but does have many of the elements you describe. Each episode is generally under 10 minutes, and primarily focuses on the most-recently eliminated player.
But we get to see so much! Most episodes start with the player leaving Tribal Council, so we see them immediately after they film their final words. There’s typically a meeting with medical staff and a weigh-in; they’re often eating something as they’re transported to Ponderosa.
There, the players who’ve been voted out eat, drink, and interact with one another. They have access to as much food as they want, plus comforts like books and clean clothes, and showers and beds.
People are often reflective at Ponderosa, and they also connect with one another. Sometimes that’s very tense, with emotions from the game still very raw. Other times, there’s unlikely bonding, such as the Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains jury members who created a band, Dragonz.
Survivor Millennials vs. Gen X player Hannah Shapiro wrote about Ponderosa for Mic, but since she only spent one night, she talked to her fellow players who had more time there.
Sunday Burquest (who died last year) told Hannah that Ponderosa offered “a really good time to decompress. I think it would have been really difficult for me to be there a short amount of time and go right back home into my regular life. It was really good downtime for me emotionally and mentally … a forced opportunity to really think back on the experience you just had.”
Will Wahl told Hannah that game play continues at Ponderosa, because that’s where real jury deliberations happen:
Ponderosa is pick who you want to win, try to sway any vote you can and really gather your thoughts on who you want to win and why.
He also said:
“As more and more people fill the jury, it becomes clearer and clearer who’s going to be in the end. And that’s when people become more and more passionate on debating why this person should win or why that person should win.”
That might help to explain some Survivor fans’ sense that juries are “bitter”: We only see the very, very end of their time together, and barely see any of their decision-making.
Why is Survivor: Ponderosa so hard to find?
As I hope I’ve illustrated, Survivor: Ponderosa is great! As someone who loves the behind-the-scenes of reality TV, it’s so fun to see the players in a different context, with additional insight into their lives and relationships with each other outside of the game
What’s even more amazing is that the videos are not produced and filmed by a huge crew, but recently by just one person, sometimes with the assistance of an editor. Survivor 41’s episodes were produced and edited by Ryan Browning. Survivor: Winners at War’s videos credit James Seale as producer and Daria Livshitc as editor.
All of this is amazing—and not easy to find, especially going back to earlier seasons.
For example, Paramount+ advertises that it has all seasons of Survivor, so I searched it for “Ponderosa” and the site helpfully says “Uh-oh, we couldn’t find that!”
That’s perfectly on brand for Paramount+, which is missing a lot of reality TV seasons, and removed international Survivor seasons with only a flimsy excuse.
But it turns out some of the Ponderosa videos are actually there! Here’s Danny’s from Survivor 41. But they’re not accessible via Survivor’s show page. The clips section is only for this season, and switching to past seasons does not show its Ponderosa videos.
CBS does put them on YouTube, but that does not make them any easier to find, alas.
Ultimately, the best way to find a Ponderosa episode is to search YouTube for some combination of Ponderosa <season name>, or Ponderosa <jury member’s name>.
Where is Survivor 42’s Ponderosa?
All of this is very frustrating because of how awesome Survivor: Ponderosa is, as both bonus content and more Survivor, but things got even more frustrating this spring.
Survivor 42’s Ponderosa videos are very difficult to find, because they do not exist.
I reached out to CBS’s Survivor publicists last week to ask if we can expect them later in the season, and, if not, why they’re not being produced this season. I have not heard back, but will update if I do.
In my request, I pointed out that the lack of Ponderosa has led to nutty conspiracy theories, and an official explanation about why might help quell those.
Since then, I saw that the first juror, Chanelle, tweeted that there won’t be any Ponderosa this season.
That’s too bad, both because Ponderosa is so great, and because of what Chanelle told EW:
“Every second at Ponderosa was a gift. It is a really beautiful time that you have to reflect on your game and the experience, and just have gratitude for the fact that you’re even there. And so it was beautiful. I loved it.”
Ponderosa is a gift, and I hope CBS and Survivor give it to us again for Survivor 43, Survivor 44, and beyond.