Once cast, contestants are asked to invite at least two loved ones they would like to see in the challenge. One loved one would actually be flown on location, while the other is an alternate. If a castaway is eliminated close enough to the day of the Loved Ones Challenge, his or her loved one may be brought to Ponderosa instead.
The first appearance of the challenge was in Borneo, host Jeff Probst showed everyone a sneak peek of videos recorded by their family members which included Richard Hatch's adopted son Chris, Kelly Wiglesworth's boyfriend Tracy, Greg Buis's sister Julie, Susan Hawk's husband Tim and their dog, Colleen Haskell's parents and cat, Rudy Boesch's wife Marge and their granddaughter, Sean Kenniff's parents, brother, and sister, and Gervase Peterson's girlfriend and daughter. Jenna, however, did not see hers because Production never received a video from her family. Greg won the challenge, and as a reward, he saw his home video from his sister Julie and got the chance to send one back to her. In "Long Hard Days", after winning the Reward Challenge, Sean was surprised by his dad Jim at the yacht. He brought his dad Jim back to camp to meet everyone. The latter attempted to update them on current events and the stock market, and before he left, gave each contestant a care package from their loved ones.
In The Australian Outback, Tina Wesson's husband Dale and children Katie and Taylor, Elisabeth Filarski's parents Elisabeth and Kenneth and brother Ken, Rodger Bingham's wife Pat, daughter Angela, and son-in-law Kevin, Keith Famie's girlfriend Katherine, and Colby Donaldson's mom Gay answered the questions for their castaways. Tina's family got 4 answers correct and won more time to spend with her. Each person got one final goodbye, and Keith took the opportunity to propose to Katherine, who said yes. In "The Final Four", Colby won reward and received a Pontiac Aztek and a good night's sleep, a hot shower, and meal. After the dinner, Colby's mom Gay showed up to spend the night with him. Colby brought his mom back to camp, who gave everyone a big hug and updated everyone on what was going on at home. She brought care packages from everyone's families.
In Africa, the Moto Maji members were to be asked a series of personal questions which their family had previously been asked on videotape. The loved ones included Kim Johnson's husband, children, and grandchildren, Teresa Cooper's husband Brian, children Tyler and Ellie, and her parents, Ethan Zohn's mother and siblings, Tom Buchanan's wife, son Bucky, and Tom's father, Kim Powers's mother, and Lex van den Berghe's wife and sons. If each tribe member's answer matched the answer their family gave, they would score a point. The winner would take a plane to an exclusive resort in the Masai Mara, go on safari to see the migrating wildebeest, sleep in a real bed, and enjoy fabulous food, all charged to a Visa credit card. Demonstrating a great familiarity between himself and his wife, Lex won the challenge. As Lex was about to board the plane, he was given the opportunity to choose someone to accompany him. He chose Tom, and they hopped on the small plane and took off for the resort.
In Marquesas, the loved ones would be competing in the challenge, instead of the castaways. The loved ones were Neleh Dennis's mom Rebecca, Robert DeCanio's sister Diana, Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien's son Patrick, Sean Rector's friend Darryl, Vecepia Towery's husband Leander, and Paschal English's wife Beverly. After a close finish, it was Kathy's son Patrick who won the challenge. Jeff informed the tribe and a highly emotional Kathy that her son would be joining the tribe for an overnight stay at Soliantu beach.
In Thailand, after each castaway was given a brief preview of their loved ones, Jeff explained the rules and the reward for the challenge. In the end, Brian outwitted Helen Glover and won the right to watch the entire video from his wife. In "A Big Surprise... and Another", the castaways were surprised by their loved ones showing up at the Reward Challenge; the loved ones were Helen's husband Jim, Ted Rogers Jr.'s brother Aljuwan, Brian's wife CC, Jake Billingsley's wife Jenny, Clay Jordan's wife Linda, and Jan Gentry's son Jeff. Jeff then explained that the loved ones would be competing in the Thai Menu challenge for the right to stay 24 hours at the camp. The final round came down to Helen's husband Jim against Jake's wife Jenny. Jim ate his way to victory as he devoured a boiled tarantula and scorpion. At the Immunity Challenge, the contestants were surprised again by their loved ones showing up to compete alongside with them. In a close finish, Ted and his brother Aljuwan outwitted the rest and won the challenge.
In The Amazon, Matthew von Ertfelda won the Reward Challenge and a visit from his mom. Jeff then proposed to him to give up his reward for his tribemates have the chance to meet with their loved ones. Matthew accepted the proposition and the other Jacaré members were given the chance to briefly talk with their family members; Butch Lockley's wife Cindy, Christy Smith's boyfriend Brent, Rob Cesternino's mother Roseanne, Heidi Strobel's mother Kathy, and Jenna Morasca's father Michael. After everyone had left for camp, Jeff rewarded Matthew with a dinner with his mother in an Amazonian village.
In Pearl Islands, Sandra Diaz-Twine's husband Marcus, Tijuana Bradley's high school sweetheart and still best friend William, Burton Roberts's mom Didi, Lillian Morris's husband Loonie, Darrah Johnson's boyfriend Bradley, Christa Hastie's fiancé Peter, and Jon Dalton's best friend Dan arrived. Before the challenge started, Jon was saddened to hear from Dan that his grandmother had "died". With Lillian's husband Loonie and Jon's friend Dan left on the challenge, Burton was the one who decided which one would jump off the plank. Feeling sorry for Jon, Burton sent Lillian's husband off the plank. When Jon won reward, he learned that him and Dan would share the Balboa camp on their own, with the other castaways banished to a separate island without their loved ones.
In All-Stars, as in Thailand, the loved ones would compete in the Survivor Smorgasbord challenge. Amber Brkich's mother Cheryl, Shii Ann Huang's mother Lily, Jenna Lewis's brother Jai, Rob Mariano's brother Mike, Tom Buchanan's son Bucky Bo, and Rupert Boneham's wife Laura competed. After Jenna L.'s brother Jai broke the rules by drinking water during a tarantula dish, it was down to Rob M.'s brother Mike and Tom's son Bo. Bo quickly ate the final item, winning a night at the old Chapera camp. Tom was offered the chance to invite one other castaway and their loved one to join them. He chose Rob M. and Mike to join him.
In Vanuatu, Jeff shocked the castaways by announcing that the winner would get to communicate with their loved one for one hour using a computer satellite hook-up. The castaways were given a one-minute taste of the contact before the challenge started. The challenge came down to Eliza Orlins and Julie Berry, with Eliza winning reward. Jeff shocked Eliza by telling her that she would actually spend a whole night with her mother Susan. Jeff invited the loved ones for a tearful reunion with the castaways. At the Immunity Challenge, the castaways were surprised again when they told that their loved ones would compete with them. It came down to Ami Cusack and her girlfriend, and Chris Daugherty and his fiancée, Lorie. Ami and her girlfriend completed the puzzle before Chris and Lorie, and Chris sadly told her his fate in the game was sealed.
In Palau, Gregg Carey won the challenge and selected Jenn Lyon and Katie Gallagher for a yacht trip where they were surprised by the visit of their loved ones (Gregg's best friend also named Greg, Jenn's sister Kim, and Katie's brother-in-law Stan; Katie's sister was unable to attend due to having recently given birth).
In Guatemala, the castaways were given the right to buy an overnight at the camp with their loved ones at the Survivor Auction. Judd Sergeant's wife Kristen, Cindy Hall's twin sister Mindy, and Stephenie LaGrossa's boyfriend Michael were permitted to stay overnight at camp.
In Panama, Terry Deitz won and he chose himself and his wife Trish, along with Shane Powers and his son, Boston, to spend the night at a villa. He also chose Cirie Fields's husband H.B. to spend the night at Gitanos camp, Aras Baskauskas to just get a hug from his mother Teresa, and Danielle DiLorenzo to get a few words with her mom Denise from where she was standing.
In Cook Islands, at the Reward Challenge, the castaways were surprised by the arrival of their loved ones, who partnered up with them in the challenge. An injured Parvati Shallow was able to work through her injury and win. Her reward was a picnic with her dad Mike and the right to send somebody to Exile Island. Mike was allowed to select two other castaways to join in the picnic without any input from Parvati. He selected Sundra Oakley and her mom Jeannette, and Adam Gentry and his dad George.
In China, the castaways' loved ones showed up oat the Reward Challenge set to compete with them. The loved ones were Erik Huffman's mother Denise, Amanda Kimmel's sister Katrina, Peih-Gee Law's father Lawrence, Todd Herzog's sister Brandi, Courtney Yates's father Graham, and Denise Martin's husband Robert. The team of Denise and Robert won, and selected Amanda and Todd, along with their sisters, Katrina and Brandi, respectively, to join them on the reward and spend the night at Hae Da Fung camp.
In Micronesia, the loved ones were Parvati Shallow's mother Gail, Erik Reichenbach's brother Kurt, Natalie Bolton's mother Rockie, Alexis Jones's brother Nathan, Amanda Kimmel's sister Katrina, James Clement's father James Sr., and Cirie Fields's husband H.B.. Alexis won the challenge to take a trip to Jellyfish Lake with Nathan and opted to take along Cirie and H.B., and Natalie and Rockie.
In Gabon, at the Reward Challenge, the castaways got to view a short video clip from their loved ones. Bob Crowley won the challenge and while he was watching the video from his wife Peggy, she stepped out from behind a tree to surprise him. Bob and Peggy then walked hand in hand to the Nobag camp to meet the rest of the castaways. After introducing his wife to the tribe, Bob turned and whistled to signal the other castaways' loved ones to make an appearance. Matty Whitmore proposed to his girlfriend, Jamie, while Sugar Kiper and her sister Rena spreaded their late father's ashes in Gabon. The loved ones departed camp before sundown.
In Tocantins, on the last item up for bid at the Survivor Auction, Jeff presented a cell phone loaded with a video message from loved ones at home and announced that the usual auction rules would be suspended and that the castaways could pool their money in order to get one of the castaways to win. Everybody gave their remaining money to Taj Johnson-George so that she could win the item uncontested. At the very end of the video message, Taj's husband, Eddie George, said that he would see them back at camp. After pointing out the last line in the video, Jeff told Taj that only Eddie would be back at camp, but if Taj offered to go to Exile Island where Eddie would join her, the other castaways' loved ones would be at the Forza camp. She immediately accepted the offer. Back at camp, the castaways were joined by Coach Wade's assistant coach, Debbie Beebe's husband, Erinn Lobdell's father, J.T. Thomas's younger sister, and Stephen Fishbach's brother.
In Heroes vs. Villains, the loved ones included Parvati Shallow's father Mike, Jerri Manthey's sister Jennifer, Russell Hantz's wife Melanie, Colby Donaldson's brother Reid, Rupert Boneham's wife Laura, and Sandra Diaz-Twine's uncle Fernando. After emotional introductions to the castaway's loved ones, the challenge was won by the team of Jerri and Jennifer. After winning the challenge, Jeff told Jerri that she could pick another castaway and their loved one to go along with them. Jerri chose Parvati and Mike. Jerri then asked Jeff if she could take one more pair. Jeff agreed and Jerri picked Sandra and Fernando.
In Nicaragua, at the Reward Challenge, Jeff introduced the castaway's loved ones. The team of Chase Rice and his mother won the challenge. Chase then selected Sash Lenahan and his mother, and Holly Hoffman and her husband Charles to join them on a sailboat along the Nicaraguan coast with food and drinks, reneging on his promise to Fabio Birza.
In Redemption Island, when the castaways arrived at the Redemption Island duel, Jeff announced that the first winner of the duel would get to spend time with their loved one in person. Mike Chiesl won the challenge and when his mother arrived at the Redemption Island Arena, Jeff gave him three choices: he could take the visit from his mother, he could opt to forgo the visit with his mother and instead give Matt Elrod and Ralph Kiser a visit from their loved ones, or he could forgo the visit with his mother and give the remaining members of the Murlonio tribe a visit from their loved ones. All of the loved ones entered the Redemption Island Arena while Mike made his decision. Mike took inspiration from the Bible to give the most good to the most people and chose to give visits to the Murlonio tribe. Murlonio then headed back to camp to spend the afternoon with their loved ones.
In South Pacific, at the Redemption Island duel, Jeff announced that there was a twist to the duel, but that he would get to it later. After Ozzy Lusth won the duel, Jeff brought out all of the castaways' loved ones. Jeff then told Ozzy he had to choose one person to spend some time with their loved ones. He picked Albert Destrade and his mother. Jeff then told Ozzy to select another and he picked Coach Wade and his brother. Jeff then said to pick one final person and he picked Brandon Hantz and his father Shawn (also the brother of Russell Hantz). After the other Te Tuna members left the Arena, Jeff handed a phone to Ozzy and told the seven that they would be spending their time at Redemption Island.
In One World, when the castaways arrived at the Reward Challenge site, Jeff brought out their loved ones for a reunion. Kat Edorsson and her cousin Robby just barely beat out Kim Spradlin and her sister Beth in the challenge. Jeff told Kat to pick one other pair to join them on the picnic and she selected Kim and Beth. Kat was then told to pick another pair and she picked Alicia Rosa and her sister Leticia. Kat explained that she picked Kim and Alicia because she wanted to spend time together as friends.
In Philippines, the castaways' loved ones joined them on Day 31's Reward Challenge. The loved ones were Michael Skupin's son also named Michael, Carter Williams's mother Dionne, Denise Stapley's husband Brad, Lisa Whelchel's brother Justice, Abi-Maria Gomes's mother Vera, and Malcolm Freberg's brother Miles. Malcolm and Miles won the challenge. Jeff told Malcolm to pick another castaway and their loved one to stay overnight at camp and he picked Lisa and Justice. Michael then told Malcolm to ask Jeff to let him pick another. Jeff granted the request and Malcolm selected Michael and his son Michael.
In Caramoan, at the Reward Challenge, Brenda Lowe's dad Raymond scored the last point to take the win. Jeff called Brenda over and gave her the offer to select one other castaway and his loved one to join them and she selected Dawn Meehan and her husband. Jeff then pulled out a cellphone that had a video announcing that, not one, but two loved ones were on the island for the visit. Jeff then told Brenda that she could give up both hers and Dawn's visit with their loved ones in exchange for the other four castaways to see their loved ones on the boat. Brenda called the decision a "no brainer" and gave up the reward.
In Cambodia, the challenge appeared as the final eight Reward Challenge. Former castaways Val Collins and Dale Wentworth returned as loved ones for castaways Jeremy Collins and Kelley Wentworth respectively, and a pregnant Val tells Jeremy they are excepting a son. The other loved ones were Tasha Fox's cousin Christina, Spencer Bledsoe's girlfriend Marcella, Keith Nale's wife Dana, Abi-Maria Gomes's mother Vera, Joe Anglim's dad Pat, and Kimmi Kappenberg's father. The challenge had castaways dig four bags of puzzles pieces, all attached to a rope, out of the sand, spin around a handle to release the rope, then propel across a beam, retrieve the fifth bag and decipher a word puzzle that spelt out Nourishment. Kelley won the challenge and chose Kimmi, Abi-Maria, Joe, and Keith and their loved ones to share the reward.
In Millennials vs. Gen X, the challenge appeared at the final nine Reward Challenge. The loved ones were Sunday Burquest's husband Jeff, Jay Starrett's sister Melanie, Adam Klein's brother Evan, Ken McNickle's brother William, Bret LaBelle's father Don, Zeke Smith's father Sam, David Wright's father Doug, Will Wahl's mother Irene, and Hannah Shapiro's mother Liz. Jay won the challenge and he choose Sunday, Will, and Adam and their respective loved ones to join him and his sister on the reward.
In Game Changers, the loved ones appearing were Sarah Lacina's husband Wyatt, Andrea Boehlke's mother Linda, Aubry Bracco's sister Carrie, Sierra Dawn Thomas's father Dan, Michaela Bradshaw's mother Candi, Troyzan Robertson's brother Todd, Tai Trang's husband Mark, Brad Culpepper's wife and previous two-time castaway Monica Culpepper, and Cirie Fields's son Jared. Unlike previous Loved Ones Challenges which were individual, the castaways were paired into teams of three. The team of Andrea, Aubry, and Brad won a barbeque with their loved ones and chose Cirie, Sarah, and their respective loved ones to join them on the reward.
In Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, the loved ones visiting were Ashley Nolan's dad Jim, Ryan Ulrich's dad Steve, Mike Zahalsky's wife Mary, Lauren Rimmer's sister Sunny, Chrissy Hofbeck's husband Keith, Devon Pinto's mother Sonja, and Ben Driebergen's wife Kelly. The castaways and loved ones would draw either a white or black rock from their respective bags and they had to draw the same colored rock to win. Chrissy and her husband managed to win over Ben and his wife after they drew the same colored rock. Chrissy chose Ryan, Mike, Ashley, and their respective loved ones to join them on the reward.
In Ghost Island, the loved ones visiting were Wendell Holland's father Wendell Sr., Kellyn Bechtold's brother Clay, Donathan Hurley's aunt Patty, Angela Perkins' daughter Paige, Chelsea Townsend's sister Sidney, Laurel Johnson's brother Frank, Sebastian Noel's sister Grace, and Domenick Abbate's wife Kristin. Sebastian won the challenge and selected Domenick, Wendell, Donathan and their respective loved ones to join him and his sister on the reward. However, Sebastian was then given a task to either forfeit the reward and send himself or one of the other three to Ghost Island; if they failed to decide, the decision would then fall to the four not chosen for the reward. Wendell volunteered to go to Ghost Island and gave up his and his loved one's spot on the reward.
Seasons Without a Loved Ones Challenge
- Borneo, The Australian Outback, Thailand, and Vanuatu are the only seasons to have more than one challenge as the Loved Ones Challenge. Thailand is the only season to have three Loved Ones Challenges.
- Parvati Shallow is the first person to compete in this challenge three times. She has won the challenge once and has partaken in the reward twice. She would be followed by Cirie Fields, who has never won, but has partaken in the reward all three times.
- Caramoan is the first season to feature two loved ones coming to the island instead of one.
- Redemption Island had the most players in the game during a loved ones visit/challenge, with 10 – six in the main game and four on Redemption Island.
- Katie Collins and Laura Boneham are the first "loved ones" to compete in a future season after appearing as a loved one in an earlier season.
- There have been some instances where the contestants did not know that the challenge (or Survivor Auction) was the Loved Ones Challenge. Some of those instances include Palau, Guatemala, and Tocantins.
- Gabon contestant Randy Bailey had no loved one to visit him. Luckily for production, he was eliminated the round before the Loved Ones Challenge.
- Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien's son Patrick is the first loved one to experience life at camp in Marquesas.
- Jenna Lewis's brother Jai is the first loved one to be disqualified from a challenge in All-Stars.
- Taj Johnson-George's husband, NFL player Eddie George, is the first loved one to be sent to Exile Island with his loved one castaway in Tocantins.
- Val Collins and Dale Wentworth are the first Survivor alumni to return as loved ones for a castaway, being the loved ones for their San Juan del Sur partners Jeremy Collins and Kelley Wentworth respectively in Cambodia. They would be followed by Monica Culpepper, who was her Blood vs. Water partner Brad Culpepper's loved one in Game Changers.
- Game Changers is the first season in which the Loved Ones Challenge had castaways compete in teams instead of them or their loved ones competing individually or together.
- According to Rupert Boneham in an interview for Blood vs. Water, loved ones were at one point ineligible to play in future seasons of Survivor.