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Over the years, some legal actions against and many controversies about Survivor have arisen. Turmoil between players is commonplace for any reality series, but Survivor has had several instances that went beyond mere intertribal squabbles:
- In February 2001, Survivor: Borneo castaway Stacey Stillman filed a lawsuit claiming producers interfered in the process of the game by persuading two members of her tribe (Sean Kenniff and Dirk Been) to vote her off instead of Rudy Boesch.
- During a reward trip in Survivor: The Australian Outback, Colby Donaldson removed coral from the Great Barrier Reef. In the same trip, a helicopter involved in the production flew around protected sea bird rookeries. Both actions violated Australian law and resulted in an apology from Mark Burnett.
- At the trivia Immunity Challenge at the final four of Survivor: Africa, Jeff Probst asked which female player in their season had no piercings. Kim Johnson answered Kelly Goldsmith, while Lex van den Berghe answered Lindsey Richter. Kim got the point, and went on to win the challenge, which put her in the final three and ultimately (after another immunity win) second place. Lex did not receive a point, despite his answer also being correct. Tom Buchanan was voted out as a result of Kim winning immunity. Months later, the cast and producers (who were preparing for the live finale and reunion) watched the episode backstage. During the rebroadcast of the challenge, Lindsey shouted to the TV that she had no piercings. CBS later paid Lex and Tom a settlement of $100,000 each.
- In order to win a Reward Challenge in which the castaways competed to win a visit from their friends or loved ones, Survivor: Pearl Islands castaway "Jonny Fairplay" Dalton conspired beforehand with friend Dan Fields in what has been described by Probst as the greatest lie on Survivor to date. Fields told Jon that his grandmother, Jean Cooke, had died, in order to win sympathy from his fellow campers and subsequently the reward. In reality, Cooke had not died, a fact that only emerged to his tribe mates once the episode had aired. When show staff heard the report of Cooke's death, they called Jon's family to offer condolences, only to have Cooke herself answer the phone. Dalton admitted in a confessional that his grandmother was alive and "probably watching Jerry Springer right now." On the Reunion Show, Jeff Probst had a short interview with Cooke, who was indeed alive and well.
- In the fifth episode of Survivor: All-Stars, Richard Hatch sexually assaulted Susan Hawk when he rubbed his naked genitals against her while they were competing in an Immunity Challenge. Hatch was voted out that day for other reasons; Susan quit the game a few days later. Susan considered filing a lawsuit against the parties involved, but appeared with Hatch on The Early Show the morning after the sixth episode aired, stating she opted out of legal action because CBS had helped her "deal with the situation."
- Rupert Boneham from Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: All-Stars was an extremely popular player with television audiences, but finished eighth and fourth, respectively, in his appearances on the show. As part of All-Stars, a special Survivor: America's Tribal Council contest for the 18 players was created, where the winner would be selected by the viewing audience and would receive US$1 Million; Rupert won this prize, with more than 80% of the votes cast by the audience. Many fans saw this as a way of diluting the overall concept of the show: instead of outwitting, outplaying and outlasting your fellow tribe members to win the game, a player could now play specifically to gain popularity with the show's audience, regardless of how well they played, and would still be rewarded with a large prize. As a result, later Fan Favorite Award winners received a much smaller prize.
- Richard Hatch, the winner of Survivor: Borneo, was charged and found guilty in January 2006 of failing to report his winnings to the IRS to avoid taxes. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison.
- Survivor: Cook Islands began with tribes grouped according to race. Host Jeff Probst claims the choice "came from the criticism that Survivor was not ethnically diverse enough." Several long-term sponsors dropped their support of the show shortly after this announcement, leading to speculation that the decisions were in response to the controversy. Each of the companies has either denied the link or declined to comment.
- The program angered its fan base when Jeff Probst revealed that Survivor: Fiji ignored thousands of viewer applicants and instead used their own recruited players. Gary Stritesky was the only actual applicant chosen, while the rest used on the show were recruits. Although Probst defended the process by claiming they wanted to find more diverse players, 10 of the recruits were from California, while 13 players from Cook Islands also resided in California. Fans argued that these players were not apt for Survivor, and many were just young unemployed actors found in places like bars and MySpace.
- At the Survivor: China Reunion Show, Denise Martin told producers and the audience her unfortunate story of getting displaced from her job because of her participation on Survivor. Because of her claimed misfortune, Mark Burnett awarded Martin US$50,000. Martin ultimately recanted the story after the school district publicly stated that she had taken a higher-paying position before appearing on the show, and then asked to return to her old position, which was no longer available after she returned from doing the show. She decided to donate the $50,000 to charity.
- A brief uncensored shot of Marcus Lehman's genitals, during the premiere episode of Survivor: Gabon, led to the show and network being asked to apologize for the incident.
- In Survivor: Caramoan, a very brief uncensored shot of Brenda Lowe's nipples can be seen in the third episode. As with the Gabon incident, it was later removed from the airing by CBS.
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