Survivor: Fiji was originally supposed to start out with 20 contestants, possibly four tribes divided by race like in the previous season, Cook Islands. However, Mellisa McNulty pulled out of the show the day before filming started due to a panic attack. This left the season to start with 19 contestants, making the four-tribe plan unfeasible. As a result, a new twist had to be quickly concocted.
When the game began, all 19 contestants arrived on a beach with no tribal indicators such as buffs. A crate was dropped via parachute. Inside were building supplies, tools, and instructions instructing the castaways to build a shelter. A luxurious camp was built by all 19 contestants, complete with sturdy shelter, bedding, kitchen area, benches, hammocks, and other amenities. The next day, Jeff Probst arrived and had Sylvia Kwan (who lead the contestants in building the campsite) pick the two tribes. Sylvia was then sent to Exile Island. The winner of the first challenge would win the already built campsite and immunity, but the losers would have to live at a basic campsite and build their own camp. Moto won and had the nice campsite, and Ravu had to live at the unfurnished campsite. Sylvia would join Ravu after the first Tribal Council, replacing the contestant who was voted off.
Critics and fans alike expressed their distaste for the idea, as the "rich" Moto tribe predictably dominated challenges, leaving the "poor" Ravu tribe severely diminished. The producers, however, argued that the lack of comfort would make the Have Nots fight harder. It was widely believed that the twist was influenced by the sixth season of The Apprentice, which had finished taping several months before Fiji and used the same basic idea (the winning team lived in a mansion, while the losing team lived in tents in the backyard).
When the game actually unfolded, the Have Nots of Ravu were not as functional as a tribe as Moto. Ravu only won one Reward Challenge. Ravu lost 6 members before the merge while Moto only lost two, with one of them quitting due to illness. (Also note that Moto had one less member, as Sylvia joined Ravu after the first Tribal Council.) It is assumed that the tribes would never have been evenly matched even if the Haves vs. Have Nots twist did not exist, but without a doubt, the lack of luxury made things harder for Ravu.
At the merge, the original and post-switch Ravu tribes were both outnumbered by two members. Earl Cole, an original member of Ravu, did manage to make it to the end and win despite his disadvantage.
Jeff Probst, the host and public face of Survivor, stated that the idea worked on paper, but heavily poor in execution. Having one contestant choose the tribes was probably not the best idea, but the tribe switch helped even things out. He has stated that it will most likely not happen in any future seasons.
- Being the one that chose who would be on each tribe, Sylvia Kwan was the only contestant that would be placed on the Have Nots tribe either way, replacing a contestant of the losing tribe.
- The terms "Haves" and "Have Nots" was also used on Big Brother, where the have-nots could only eat slop, take cold showers, and get bad sleeping arrangements while the haves would get to sleep in good beds and eat good food. However, on Big Brother, there would be different groups of haves and have-nots from week to week.