|“||You're out of the game but not exactly out of the game, you're back in the real world but not exactly in the real world.||”|
–David Murphy describing Ponderosa
Ponderosa is a special holding area for Survivor contestants before they compete and after being eliminated from the game. It is usually located at a resort or a hotel.
The contestants are sequestered at Ponderosa upon arriving on location and are not allowed to talk to each other until the game officially begins.
Eliminated castaways are taken away from Tribal Council and interviewed by a psychiatrist for debriefing, after which they proceed to a medical tent where the castaway undergoes a medical examination which includes treatment of wounds incurred during the game and comparison of pre- and post-game weight. They are then led to Ponderosa where they receive access to amenities usually uncommon to the game of Survivor such as food and creature comforts and contact with the outside world. Though access to mobile phones, social media, and the Internet altogether, are still prohibited to maintain the secrecy of the game's outcome, sequestered contestants have access to television, local newspapers, cameras, DVD, VCRs, and video game consoles. Occasionally, the eliminated castaways are taken on a field trip to experience local culture, buy souvenirs, and take pictures. In very rare cases, contestants may not be sent to Ponderosa and be immediately sent home as was the case in Survivor: Cambodia where Vytas Baskauskas refused to be sequestered and requested to be sent home to be with his newborn son. In the same season, Terry Deitz had to be urgently flown home to attend a family emergency.
The castaways are sequestered in two batches, the first being the pre-jury, and the second the jury and the finalists. Once the pre-jury is complete, they will vacate Ponderosa and be sequestered in a neighboring country until the end of filming. With Ponderosa empty, it is prepared to be occupied by the jury and the finalists. Beginning from Survivor: Micronesia, the jury's stay at Ponderosa is chronicled through a web series called Life at Ponderosa, which can be viewed through the CBS website and YouTube channels. The day after the Final Tribal Council, the jurors and the finalists will have one final meal before heading home.
- Ponderosa is not located near Base Camp. Furthermore, while Jeff Probst, by virtue of being the show's Executive Producer, is allowed access to Ponderosa, he does not visit it.
- The Australian Survivor and Survivor NZ counterparts of Ponderosa are both called, "The Jury Villa".
- The final Ponderosa videos of Micronesia, Gabon, Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, and Redemption Island are the only ones to have videos of the finalists being at Ponderosa on the final day before the cast heads home the following day.
- Since Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, jury members are given loved one visits if they were eliminated close to the Family Visit.
- Winners at War is the first season to feature a Ponderosa video for a pre-merge boot.