‘Survivor’ contestants share 17 facts about being on the show that would surprise even the biggest fans

Tyson Apostol, Boston Rob Mariano and Ethan Zohn standing on the beach on 'Survivor: Winners at War.'
From left, Tyson Apostol, Boston Rob Mariano, and Ethan Zohn on ‘Survivor: Winners at War.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
  • Former “Survivor” contestants shared facts about the show that even die-hard fans might not know.
  • There is a box in the woods containing supplies like sunscreen, bug spray, and vitamins.
  • Competitors aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom in the ocean at night.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

CBS’ hit reality series “Survivor” features the highs and lows of competing on a remote island for more than a month, but there are some things about the game that aren’t shown on-screen.

Eight “Survivor” competitors spoke with Insider about their time on the show and shared behind-the-scenes secrets that might surprise even the series’s biggest fans.

Competitors commonly get laser hair removal before competing

“Survivor: Island of the Idols” competitor Lauren-Ashley Beck said she had forgotten about habits like shaving and wearing makeup while on the island, which she found “very freeing.”

But Beck said when talking to other players about preparing for the “loved ones” visit, she found that many of her fellow castaways got laser hair removal before the show.

“Apparently everyone on my season got laser hair removal, but I did not,” Beck said. “I had a mini jungle in my armpits. As well as other places.”

Contestants’ job titles might not be completely accurate

The contestant Davie Rickenbacker holds a plate with two round objects on it.
Davie Rickenbacker on ‘Survivor: David vs. Goliath.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

When a contestant appears on “Survivor,” their name is often shown alongside a job title.

The “Survivor: David vs. Goliath” competitor Davie Rickenbacker was labeled a social-media manager, but he said that wasn’t his actual title at the time.

“I did not tell CBS I was a social-media manager,” he said. “I was a health-communication specialist.”

Rickenbacker said that when he described his job to the showrunners, he mentioned social media as one aspect of his workload. After that, he said, he was “just slapped with the label social-media manager.”

Supplies like contacts, sunscreen, and bug spray are kept in an accessible medical box

The “Survivor: Island of the Idols” contestant Elaine Stott said that competitors have access to a medical box in the woods with supplies like sunscreen, bug spray, and vitamins.

Stott also said that competitors submit tampons and contact lenses in their “own personal little bag” before they get to the island.

“If you needed any of that stuff, you could just go to the med box,” Stott said. “They only allow one person at a time to go so you’re not congregating back there.”

Beck added that the cameras stop rolling when contestants are at the med box or putting on sunscreen “because they want to keep the illusion that it’s a reality show.”

“We’re explicitly told that we’re not allowed to talk strategy if we’re helping each other put on sunscreen,” Beck said, adding that the cameras don’t want to miss anything.

Competitors can sometimes get medication while on the island

Karishma Patel looking sad and concerned in a close-up on survivor
Karishma Patel on ‘Survivor: Island of the Idols.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The “Survivor: Island of the Idols” contestant Karishma Patel told Insider that she was given antibiotics while on the island because she was dealing with a “really bad” urinary-tract infection.”

“If anybody’s ever had a UTI, it is one of the most painful things you can go through, and they do give you antibiotics,” Patel said.

But Patel said she still experienced “significant side effects to taking the medication,” like fatigue, dizziness, and diarrhea.

Her fellow “Island of the Idols” contestant Janet Carbin said she also received antibiotics for what she suspected was a UTI.

Patel added that some competitors also got access to pain medication.

“There were some people who got pain meds,” Patel said. “And maybe they had preexisting injuries that qualified them for it – which is probably the case – because I can’t imagine they just handed them out.”

Some castaways might not be as hungry as you’d expect

Survivor cast members standing in a circle enjoying food with the jungle in the background
Lauren-Ashley Beck, Janet Carbin, and their fellow castmates enjoying food on ‘Survivor: Island of the Idols.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

In addition to rationing supplies like rice, Beck fished in the ocean and foraged for food, like coconuts and breadfruit, she said.

Despite having a more limited food supply, Beck said the hunger didn’t affect her as much as she expected.

“A lot of people ask me if I was hungry when I was out there,” Beck said. “And I don’t know if it’s because my anxiety was always high – I didn’t think about it as much.”

Competitors aren’t supposed to go in the ocean at night

Although the water is full of sharks, Beck said the ocean is “the best place to go to the bathroom.” But she added that competitors aren’t really allowed to go down to the water at night because showrunners “don’t want you to die.”

Her fellow “Island of the Idols” contestant Carbin said that she and her castmates went against protocol and made their way down to the ocean “as a tribe.”

“We weren’t allowed, but I would go down to the edge of the water,” Carbin said. “I was a little obstinate about it.”

The production team has a set of ‘identical’ replacement clothes

Lauren-Ashley Beck and Karishma Patel sit on driftwood and converse on 'Survivor'
Lauren-Ashley Beck and Karishma Patel on ‘Survivor: Island of the Idols.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

“Survivor” competitors are largely stuck with one outfit to last up to 39 days. Contestants said they’d wash their clothes in the ocean, scrub them with hand sanitizer, or boil them in the cooking pot to keep them clean.

But Patel said the production team has a second “identical set” of outfits “in case something happens to the clothes that you’re wearing.”

“They can’t put that on TV, but they’ll exchange it,” she added. “I won’t mention who, but there were several people in our cast who got replacement clothes swapped out.”

The three-time contestant Malcolm Freberg said he lost a flip-flop near the start of “Survivor: Philippines” and was given a replacement. He called this “a big deal” because he might not have been able to get around the island with it.

For more details, read ‘Survivor’ players reveal how the show chooses their only outfit and what it’s like wearing it for up to 39 days.

Contestants can also request a new pair of underwear, but it’s not easy

Carbin told Insider she was “getting holes in my underwear” and asked the crew for a new pair but was initially turned down. She said she got a replacement only after they had too many visible tears “for TV.”

A castmate of Carbin’s, Stott, said that she was also able to swap out her underwear once she had “lost so much weight” that they wouldn’t stay on her body.

“My a– was hanging out, and I see the family-visit challenge coming up, and I was like, ‘I have got to get new britches, you know?'” Stott said.

Some competitors forget they’re being filmed

Being filmed 24/7 can be a disconcerting experience for some competitors, but Beck said after a while “you forget you’re on camera.”

Beck added that she sometimes said things out loud before remembering that they could be aired on national television.

“You definitely have those moments of like, ‘Oh my God, what did I say? And are they going to air it?'” Beck said.

Contestants aren’t allowed to directly address the camera crew

Kellee Kim laughing and Lauren-Ashley smiling on Survivor
Kellee Kim and Lauren-Ashley Beck on ‘Survivor: Island of the Idols.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Although “Survivor” competitors are almost always being filmed, Beck said they’re explicitly told not to talk to the camera crew “because it would be an interference with the game.”

But Beck added that after spending weeks with the crew, it’s hard to not notice certain things about them.

“I was on the island for 38 days,” Beck said. “So you pick up on energies, and they laugh at the things that you said.”

Beck said the only time she felt like “that fourth wall was sort of broken” was when several contestants snuck alcohol back from a reward for the others and the camera crew had to intervene.

“We got so drunk, and we were all talking and saying which camera guys we thought were cute,” Beck said, later adding, “They were like, ‘Oh, can we have your water bottle?’ because they realized we were hammered.”

Competitors have to reenact some moments to get the perfect camera shot

Six survivor players carrying their torches to tribal council against a tropical, ocean view
Players walking to tribal council on ‘Survivor: Island of the Idols.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Even though “Survivor” is a reality series, some moments require several takes to capture the perfect shot.

Specifically, Patel said she and her castmates would have to film and reenact the walk to tribal council multiple times.

“They do that shot about three times,” Patel revealed. “We have to rewind and do it again from different angles.”

The process of getting to tribal council can vary by season

“Survivor” has been filmed in an array of tropical locations, like Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cambodia, the Philippines, and more. So competitors have experienced different ways of traveling to and from challenges and tribal council.

The four-time contestant and one-time champion Tyson Apostol said he traveled “in blackout vehicles” when going to activities outside of camp.

But Patel said that when she filmed “Survivor: Island of the Idols” in Fiji, she had to take a boat to get to tribal council.

“Many tribals, we had to jump off of the boat, like a quarter-mile back and just trudge through the water through coral, falling, and then you sit in the muddy tent for hours waiting in silence with the bugs everywhere in the ground,” Patel said.

Tribal council lasts ‘a lot longer’ than it does on-screen

Four contestants sit near a fire at the tribal council
Dean Kowalski, Karishma Patel, Tom Laidlaw, and Chelsea Walker at tribal council. Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

Competitors discuss the dynamics of the game and vote off a fellow castaway during tribal council. Although the event lasts about 10 minutes on-screen, Patel said the process is “a lot longer” than viewers might expect.

“Jeff asks the same question to multiple people, and then they pick which answer they like or which answer works,” Patel explained.

She said there’s “a lot of repetition at tribal” so that the crew can capture different angles and reactions. She added that “there’s so much good stuff” that doesn’t get aired.

When somebody goes home with a hidden immunity idol, they get to keep it

A close-up of Andrea Boehlke looking pensive while wearing a blue buff
Andrea Boehlke on ‘Survivor: Game Changers.’ CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

During “Survivor: Caramoan,” the three-time contestant Andrea Boehlke was voted out with a hidden immunity idol – an item to nullify votes cast against her – in her pocket.

Boehlke was allowed to keep her idol, but she said the producers approached her five years later to use it in another season.

“The CBS producers did borrow it for a season called ‘Ghost Island’ where it was brought back into the game, but they returned it to me after the season was over,” Boehlke told Insider.

Boehlke said she eventually lost her idol after attending a “Survivor” viewing party.

Contestants see a doctor right after they’re voted off

Patel said that after she was voted off, a doctor checked her out as soon as she walked across the bridge.

“I had some cuts, some pussing. I had an infection. I was on antibiotics,” Patel said. “The doctor checks you out.”

She added that the doctors also weigh competitors to see how much weight they lost while on the island, which is shown in the additional Ponderosa videos on the “Survivor” YouTube channel.

Some competitors keep strategizing at Ponderosa

'Survivor' player Davie Rickenbacker holding leaves.
Davie Rickenbacker on ‘Survivor: David vs. Goliath.’ Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

Those who get voted out after the merge become jury members and stay at a resort called Ponderosa until the final vote.

Although several contestants said they stopped competing and relaxed at the vacationlike retreat, Rickenbacker said he was still in “game mode” and continued strategizing on behalf of his friend – and eventual season winner – Nick Wilson.

“Nick was the only ally that I still had in the game. I was still playing the game for him,” Rickenbacker said. “I was going up to Goliaths you know, trying to balance for him so that they would get his vote at the end.”

Rickenbacker said that “they give you the opportunity to room with people when you get back to Ponderosa,” so he opted to bunk with the Goliath tribe member Dan Rengering and “sway him to get Nick’s vote.”

Contestants said CBS provides therapy after the show

Several said they were provided with therapy after competing on “Survivor.”

Boehlke said although the show can be “harmful” because “it’s such an intense experience,” she was given “only four sessions” of therapy.

“I would almost encourage the show to provide more therapy to contestants because I’ve seen how being on the show and seeing the edit and the reaction to your edit has really affected people,” Boehlke told Insider.

Several cast members who appeared on more recent seasons said CBS offered them better mental-health resources.

“They do have a psychiatrist for us to talk to within that first year whenever we want to talk to them,” Rickenbacker said. “And the therapist that they had for us, she’s just amazing.”

Carbin also said CBS offered to pay for therapy for “up to a year,” and she said she believes that they would have provided “additional counseling” if needed.

Insider has reached out to representatives for CBS for comment.

Follow along with our series of interviews to see what else the former players revealed to Insider.