Let's Get Real for a Sec — Is CBS's Hit Reality Series 'Survivor' Actually Scripted?

On CBS's reality competition series 'Survivor,' island life certainly comes with its perils, but not everyone is convinced that they're real. Is it scripted?

Bianca Piazza - Author

May 11 2022, Published 7:47 p.m. ET

Source: CBS

While an overabundance of underprivileged people fight to survive on a daily basis, others voluntarily put themselves through hell on a deserted Fiji island to compete for a cash prize, all for our viewing pleasure. There's nothing more American than that. And though CBS's hit reality series Survivor is American, it's based on the Swedish competition reality series Expedition: Robinson, which first aired in 1997.

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With a whopping 42 seasons under its belt, Survivor has showcased hundreds of contestants endure mental, emotional, and physical fatigue for up to 39 days since 2000. From facing the horrors of tropical storms to creepy crawly island inhabitants (don't get us started on the ear-bug situation of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng) to forming bonds with people they may never have given the time of day to otherwise, competitors are forced to get to know a group of strangers — as well as themselves — on an intimate level. And it's all in the hopes of winning $1 million.

Hosted by Emmy winner Jeff Probst, the series is no stranger to meltdowns, drama, and even primal sexual tension (don't worry, they're provided with condoms), but is it all real? You'd think a Castaway-like reality competition series would be entertaining enough on its own, but fans can't help but wonder if it's scripted.

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Source: CBS

Is 'Survivor' scripted?

In short, Survivor is not scripted. With that being said, we all know how reality TV works. Some situations are dramatized in the editing room (it's their job!) and more lackluster portions of the players' stay on the island may be cut out. But, as detailed by Screen Rant, producers never tell contestants who's voting for who prior to Tribal Council Voting, and the winner is not chosen in advance.

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Once again, Survivor doesn't exactly boast cinéma vérité filmmaking (because where's the money in that?), as certain camera shots have been known to require multiple takes.

"[When] they get that shot of us walking down the beach holding our torches ... they do that shot about three times," Survivor: Island of the Idols player Karishma Patel told Insider. "We have to rewind and do it again from different angles."

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According to the Los Angeles Times, executive producer Mark Burnett has been open about the fact that body doubles were "at one point" utilized to recreate "a scene."

Mark responded to the questionable content featured in an NBC News clip of Big Brother producers fully staging and rehearsing a "supposedly spontaneous" interaction between two contestants. “I would never do what we just saw on Big Brother. "I would never reenact [scenes],” Mark told the LA Times.

He clarified, mentioning that "stand-ins" have been used to reenact certain spontaneous, authentic Survivor moments. Why? It's all about camera angles. Producers avoid getting members of the camera crew in the final shot.

He mentioned that an aerial shot of a swim race was reenacted using said stand-ins who swam “exactly at the same speed” as the contestants who participated in the race. Hmm. He detailed that he's not embarrassed to admit this as the outcome of the race was unchanged.

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Understandably, Mark doesn't "know what the line is” regarding enhancing the series while preserving Survivor's "reality" stamp. (They're not actually on the brink of death, people.) “I’m just making entertainment,” he said.

Honesty goes a long way, and maybe that's why the series has been successful for almost a quarter of a century.

Season 42 Survivor continues with new episodes on Wednesdays at 8 p.m EST on CBS, with the three-hour finale airing on May 25.

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