- “Survivor” players told Insider the reality of getting their periods during the competition.
- Competitors can request a set number of period products in advance and take birth control.
- The castaways said it was stressful to menstruate on a remote island with limited supplies.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Getting through the daily challenges on “Survivor” is hard enough without worrying about bleeding, cramping, and mood swings.
Insider spoke with former “Survivor” players about what it was like to get their periods while competing on the reality show.
Players can submit requests for period products and other necessities before their season starts
The “Survivor: Island of the Idols” player Elaine Stott said producers allowed them to submit necessities in advance. Once they get to the island, those items are kept in an off-camera medical box in the woods.
According to players, med-box items may include contact lenses, medicine, bug spray, sunscreen, and period products.
“If you needed any of that stuff, you could just go to the med box,” Stott said.
She added that the crew allowed only one player at a time to get what they needed from the box to ensure that no one was “congregating back there” and strategizing off camera.
One competitor ran out of tampons after getting her period twice on the island
The “Survivor: Island of the Idols” castaway Lauren-Ashley Beck had the unfortunate experience of grappling with two periods on a single season.
“I was ending my period the first day that we started, so then I actually had my period again there,” she said.
Like other players, Beck submitted a set number of tampons for the med box before her season began. But when she started menstruating a second time, she quickly realized that she’d run out.
“I’m just bleeding, and I go to one of the producers and say, ‘Can you please get a tampon?'” Beck told Insider.
She said she ended up waiting “about 24 hours” before the producer returned because the crew member had to go to a nearby village to restock her supply.
Competitors who got their periods on the show said it was difficult to feel clean
The three-time “Survivor” castaway Andrea Boehlke said that one of the most difficult parts of getting your period on the island was not being able to use soap or change into a clean pair of underwear.
“It sucks to change your tampon out in the jungle next to a med box with no supplies or way to fully clean yourself,” she told Insider. “It’s pretty gnarly.”
Boehlke said she would often be “anxiety-ridden about what is getting up there.”
Stott agreed, adding that “you can’t wash your s—” properly when the ocean is your bathroom.
While competitors have limited options for staying clean on the island, gynecologist Dr. Mary Jane Minkin told Insider that washing in the ocean was probably the safest option.
“If you take the underwear and wash it off in seawater, that’s probably reasonably safe,” Minkin said.
She said the high salt levels in the water would likely make the clothes stiff and a little irritating to wear but that it’d “probably be OK from a bacterial point of view.”
While the players have access to hand sanitizer, the gynecologist strongly advised against using it near their vaginas.
“I would not put hand sanitizer on one’s perineum. It’s pretty tough stuff for a delicate tissue like that,” she said.
One player expressed concern about being around sharks while on her period
The “Survivor: Island of the Idols” player Karishma Patel expressed concern about bathing and washing her clothes in the ocean during her period because the coastal waters of Fiji and the Philippines are home to sharks.
“You know, there’s sharks in there,” she told Insider. “We don’t need to spell it out, but it’s pretty scary.”
According to the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File, period blood is detectable by sharks like any bodily fluid, but “there is no positive evidence that menstruation is a factor in shark attacks.”
Period blood flow is also usually reduced in the ocean because of the water pressure.
Sometimes players can get an extra pair of underwear, but it’s a rare occurrence
According to multiple “Survivor” players, getting an extra pair of underwear is rare, even if you’re on your period. But it’s not unheard of.
Stott said she was able to change her underwear on “about day 30” after she lost a visible amount of weight.
She also said she heard that Beck received a second pair of underwear, adding that if “you have certain issues, they don’t just leave you hanging.”
But Patel said this was an exception to the rule. She said that if competitors with vaginas readily received extra underwear, others might complain and “consider that an advantage.”
She told Insider that it was just another reason why players who menstruate had to “be tougher” to succeed on the show.
Because of the stress of competing, some castaways didn’t get a period, and others experienced irregular cycles
Multiple players said their periods were irregular on their respective seasons.
“On two of my seasons, I never got my period, which was great,” Boehlke said.
She added that other players got their periods for longer stretches of time, which she assumed was because of “all the stress” and “starving” that comes with competing on the show.
“Your body is not sure what’s going on … so sometimes you just don’t get your period,” Boehlke said. “Sometimes your period lasts three times as long, and you just don’t know how your body’s going to react to it.”
Drastically changing a diet or cutting the number of calories consumed can also cause a period to stop.
Minkin wasn’t surprised that players reported having irregular periods on the show, and she said that people may be getting “funky periods” during the coronavirus pandemic for similar reasons.
“The supposed unifying theme is stress,” she said, adding that what happens during a period isn’t controlled by the ovaries but by the brain.
The gynecologist said the pituitary gland and the brain “send messengers” to stimulate the ovaries but “a tremendous amount of stress” could shut down ovulation entirely.
“So you can start skipping periods,” she said. “Or the other thing that you can see is you can get your periods sort of willy-nilly without regulatory ovulation going on from your pituitary gland, and that’s directly from stress.”
Some players said they experienced worsened PMS symptoms on the island
In addition to tracking irregular periods and worrying about dirty underwear, some competitors said their premenstrual-syndrome symptoms worsened during the show.
Patel said “Survivor” was already a “dirty, nasty game,” and getting a period makes matters only worse.
“You’re hormonal, and you’re also getting extreme levels of fatigue,” she said.
Beck told Insider that simply having a period in unfamiliar territory made managing symptoms more difficult.
“Periods, in general, are hard to deal with, even when you’re not starving on an island and you have an actual bathroom and toilet paper,” she said.
Some castaways bonded over their periods while they were on the show
Boehlke said that while periods were rarely discussed on the aired version of the show, competitors talked about them behind the scenes.
“When you’re out stranded on an island, and you’re with all these people, I find you actually bond very quickly and you become very comfortable with everybody,” she said.
The player said that no one ever used that information against each other across her three seasons on the show.
“It would be pretty sexist for someone to vote you off because you were on your period,” Boehlke said.
There are a few ways players can choose to skip their periods so they don’t have to deal with them on ‘Survivor’
Minkin said her best advice for future menstruating “Survivor” players was to purposefully skip their periods with continuous birth-control pills, if possible.
“If you don’t take the placebos, you generally won’t get a period,” she said, speaking of the seven placebo “sugar pills” in a typical pack of hormonal birth control.
The gynecologist added that players may still experience spotting but it was the most effective way to “suppress” a full period for the length of the competition.
Minkin said they could also get a Depo-Provera injection, a type of contraception that delivers a similar result that lasts about three months.
“If men got their periods, I do believe that it would be mandatory that you would get that three-month Depo shot,” Stott said. “They would make it that way, just so they didn’t have to deal with it.”
Stott said she wished the show would just offer all the menstruating competitors the birth-control injection before their season.
When asked if there were any risks involved in skipping a period, Minkin said it “would not be risky at all” and it was what she’d do if she were going on “Survivor.”
“A lot of women take birth control to stop their period,” Beck said. “I don’t do that. It was definitely, you know, flowing out there.”
Representatives for CBS didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Follow along with our series of interviews to see what else the former players told Insider.