Returning Player seasons offer the opportunity to former contestants to play the game of Survivor again.
The idea of former players returning originally occurred in Survivor: All-Stars. Executive Producer Mark Burnett wanted to showcase "The best of the best" after the ratings increase of Survivor: Pearl Islands. During pre-production for All-Stars, Burnett wrote down the series' most likable, villainous, and memorable players on a legal pad and shortlisted eighteen names within minutes.
"All-Stars" seasons feature casts comprised entirely of returning players. The eponymous season, All-Stars, saw 18 returnees divided into three competing tribes. The All-Stars twist was revived for the ten-year anniversary season, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. This season divided the returnees based on the heroic or villainous reputations.
Survivor: Cambodia featured a "second chance" theme, consisting of contestants who played only once and lost; and its cast was entirely chosen by viewers through an online poll. Survivor: Game Changers featured former contestants who contributed to the evolution of Survivor strategy and gameplay.
Fans vs. Favorites
Although initially intending to produce a second all-stars season, Burnett pushed for Survivor to experiment with different twists in their 16th season. The result was the "Fans vs. Favorites" twist that saw a tribe of ten returning players pitted against a tribe of ten "superfans". Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan both utilized this format.
Another type of "Returnees vs. New Players" format is the couples format, where returnees would compete against people they personally know. It was first used in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, where ten returning castaways would compete against their loved ones, similarly to the "Fans vs. Favorites" format. However, each castaway would compete individually, so a castaway would still be in the game even after their partner was voted out. The twist would play its part when a castaway could opt to replace their partner on Redemption Island before a duel took place, thus allowing their partner to take their place on their tribe.
All the returnees from Survivor: Cook Islands have participated in the game at least three times, with Ozzy Lusth having competed four times. Cook Islands has introduced the highest number of three-time players, with four.