It's Not Easy to Eat When You're a 'Survivor' Contestant — Alum Ethan Zohn Reminisces (EXCLUSIVE)

Jamie Lerner - Author

May 11 2022, Published 1:10 p.m. ET

Hai Giang, Rocksroy Bailey, Mike Turner and Omar Zaheer. Day 17 of Survivor 42.
Source: CBS

Every season of Survivor, one of the biggest transformations that the contestants undergo is a serious loss of weight. Some contestants joke about it when they go on the show, ready to lose some pounds, but for all of them, it can look and be very dangerous. On average, contestants lose about 20 pounds each season they compete, so do they eat at all?

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Well, Survivor contestants wouldn’t survive if they didn’t eat. And production would never allow that to happen — they would never want a lawsuit on their hands, and they haven’t let a contestant face death yet (although some have come close). So, what do the Survivor contestants eat each season? Of course it varies, but there are some common staples.

Maryanne Oketch, Lindsay Dolashewich, Romeo Escobar and Drea Wheeler. Day 19 of Survivor 42.
Source: CBS
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In the new era of ‘Survivor,’ contestants have barely anything to eat.

Because Seasons 41 and 42 are part of Survivor’s “new era,” which means that the seasons are only 26 days, production made some changes to make the new seasons more challenging. One of those changes is that the contestants aren’t given any rice. Before Season 41, Survivor contestants were given portions of rice that equaled about one cup per person per day, which is very little to sustain oneself. However, now contestants don’t even get that.

So, in order to eat, contestants need to survive off of what Fiji has to offer. Luckily for them, there are plenty of coconuts, fish, and crabs around. Some contestants even learned how to cook coconut in a way that feels more substantial than just drinking the coconut juice directly. And in Season 42, Jonathan knows how to catch fish, so the contestants are still well-fed enough.

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Maryanne and Omar with fish in 'Survivor 42'
Source: CBS

However, every season, contestants need to calculate if catching fish is worth the caloric energy. It really becomes a major thought process for Survivor contestants who realize that sometimes, not using the energy to get the food is more valuable than the food itself. In Season 41, Tiffany was a major provider, which she discussed on Rob Has a Podcast, thanks to her expert crab-catching.

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There have been past seasons that were even more challenging when it came to finding food to eat.

In some ways, new era contestants do have it easier than some old-school contestants. Ethan Zohn shared exclusively to Distractify what it was like just to get water on Survivor: Africa, during the third season. “Now, ‘let's go to the well,’ just means, ‘let's go strategize,’" Ethan explained.

Ethan Zohn during 'Survivor: Africa'
Source: CBS
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“When we said let's go to the well, it meant we're walking 45 minutes," Ethan continued. "We're encountering a dangerous cape buffalo. We get to the water source. There's giant piles of elephant feces that we have to move away to fill up our canteens. We go back. We have to filter the water through a buff. We have to boil it for five minutes. We have to wait for it to cool and then we can drink it. So just to get one sip of water is a three to four-hour experience for us.”

‘Survivor’ contestants notoriously get to eat more during rewards.

Despite the little food Survivor contestants can get for themselves during the season, many contestants also win rewards that allow them to eat a bit more. In seasons past, all contestants are given the “merge feast,” but in the new era, only one group of people gets that feast. And in Season 42, it was hilariously and very obviously sponsored by Applebee’s.

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Tori Meehan, Jonathon Young, Chanelle Howell, Rocksroy Bailey and Mike Turner. Day 15 of Survivor 42.
Source: CBS

Other seasons have brought in Outback Steakhouse, Chinese food, and other delicious food options. However, some past contestants revealed to The Ringer that the reward food isn’t typically that great, especially the pizza. Past contestant David Wright shared, “The worst thing about the food that you get in a reward is when it’s Fijian pizza, which doesn’t come anything close to what we know as pizza in the States.”

Malcolm Freberg corroborated this when he explained, “It’s actually made of cardboard. There’s no flavor, there’s no sauce, the cheese … Everything about it was horrid.” For the most part, however, contestants say the rewards food has gotten better over the years — in Season 42, contestants were given PB&Js as a reward, which is almost impossible to mess up. And after days of eating nothing, Survivor contestants will probably eat anything.

New episodes of Survivor air every Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.

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