The Survivor Rulebook is a contract that is to be signed by all contestants before competing in the game of Survivor. Though these rules are not explicitly revealed on television, they are to be followed by every Survivor castaway, or face expulsion with possible forfeiture of any prize money, and in rare cases, incarceration. The said set of rules are applied to the American and Philippine versions as of their latest seasons.
A copy of the rulebook was leaked by TV critic Andrew Dehnart, on the website, Reality Blurred.
While most conversations about these rules are low key both in and out of the Survivor series, this has influenced castaways to how they should act based on their signed contract, or face legal problems. Despite these limitations, there are few instances where players have tried to use them to their advantage, or, in other instances, evade them.
The rulebook is a nine-page contract signed by all castaways before being subjected into the competition. Though the rules may vary per season, and are subject to change, depending on the sole discretion of the Producer and/or if the US and/or local governments say so. The following is a summary of the terms and conditions in effect as of May 31, 2010.
Contestants are expected to abide by both US and local laws.
Contestants may not bring his/her luggage to camp during filming except for one hand-held item (known on the show as Luxury Items). Also, they are only allowed to wear pre-approved clothing. In some seasons, castaways are to wear outfits that are the same color as their tribe (e.g. members of a red-colored tribe should wear clothes that have shades of red). Furthermore, prior to filming, contestants would be strip-searched.
Contestants must disclose their full medical history.
Contestants may receive meager food supplies such as small sacks of rice, beans, and the like, thus expecting significant weight loss. In pre-determined cases, food will be provided as prizes in Reward Challenges.
Stealing personal items from other contestants is strictly prohibited. This includes personal clothing and luxury items. The Hidden Immunity Idol is considered a personal item, thus cannot be stolen from its owner, but that does not mean a contestant is not allowed to look through another contestant's belongings if he/she is suspected of possessing one.
The contestant should be responsible for his/her actions, as the Producers may not protect the contestant once he or she faces public scrutiny.
Daily island living is to be videotaped and/or recorded 24/7, whether they are clothed, partially or fully nude. Additionally, contestants may talk to the cameramen, though they will not talk back.
Players may be divided into a predetermined number of tribes (usually two), though there have been cases where the cast was divided into three or four tribes. Castaways are expected to stay with their tribe unless a Tribe Switch or a Merge happens. They are forbidden from visiting the opposing tribes' camp.
There are parts of the series location that are "off-limits" to the tribes.
During conflicts between castaways, they are not allowed to purposefully inflict physical harm to each other. Doing so could result in disqualification and forfeiture of any consolation prize.
Breaking these rules would not only result in forced expulsion from the game, but would result in violation of both US and local law, and the contestant in question may face prosecution.
Castaways may only eat food items (both flora and fauna) that are approved by the Producers. They may only hunt for food and not for any other reason.
Castaways are not allowed to destroy or litter the camp, voluntarily or otherwise.
Rare and endangered species native to the location are not allowed to be hunted for food.
Castaways are only allowed to use certain flora and producer-given materials to create their shelter. There would be a list of vegetation they should not use as shelter materials.
Castaways are to participate in challenges that can be physical and or mental. Castaways are expected at the challenge sites at all times, even those who are not participating in the challenge (known as "sit-outs").
Castaways must follow the rules stated in the instructions. The Producer always reserves the right to disqualify a castaway from a challenge if he/she fails to comply with these rules.
The Producer has the sole discretion to continue or cancel a challenge, should the need arise.
During individual challenges where castaways are assigned individual stations, physically assisting other castaways on the challenge is forbidden.
A tribe may forfeit a challenge, whether before or after the challenge (where there is already a winner), as long as it is a unanimous tribe decision.
Similar to challenges, complete attendance of any tribe is expected at every Tribal Council, unless a castaway is sent due to twists, such as being kidnapped, sent to Exile Island, etc.
A castaway may not cast a vote against him/herself, nor immune castaways. Doing so will force the castaway in question to redo his/her vote.
The Producer has the sole discretion to increase/decrease the number of jury members. There is a possibility that the jury may be fewer than seven, depending on circumstance. Furthermore, the jury is required to watch subsequent Tribal Councils.
If a castaway refuses to vote, he/she will either face expulsion or become ineligible for immunity at the next Tribal Council.
Only a plurality of votes is needed to eliminate a castaway, not a majority.
If a tie occurs, a second vote would commence, where only the people involved in the tie will be eligible for elimination (see Tiebreaker).
Castaways are forbidden to speak to each other during transport to and from challenges. Along with a certain time period before leaving for Tribal Council, as well as transport to and from. This is to prevent strategies that cannot be filmed from being discussed.
Castaways may be evacuated from the game for medical reasons. With this, Tribal Councils will be cancelled if the castaway is evacuated on the same day of Tribal Council. However, in any other situation Tribal Council would still go on.
Castaways are responsible to report to the Producer about any situation that might compromise the safety of both the contestants and any personnel on location, such as infections and diseases.
While the aforementioned rulebook is currently in effect as of May 31, 2010 (up through Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains), these are the rules that are added as of the latest season:
At the Survivor: NicaraguaReunion Show, it was revealed that after the controversial back-to-back quits of NaOnka Mixon and Kelly Shinn, the producers decided that starting from Survivor: Redemption Island, not only is quitting considered a violation of their contract, but that this would result in a contestant's exclusion from the jury (if the quitter left the game during the jury phase of the game) and withholding their consolation prize.
If a tribe wishes to go to Tribal Council after winning an Immunity Challenge, they may do so, as long as this choice is a unanimous decision.
After filming, castaways are not allowed to reveal "the ways of production" until three years after his or her appearance on the show.
All castaways, including the winner, may only collect their prizes under the discretion of the Producer, and after all episodes have been aired. The Producer may give an extra consolation prize, but is not obliged to do so.
Each castaway is liable for paying taxes or any other legal obligation that has something to do with the cash prize.
Conspiring to share winnings between castaways is strictly prohibited.
Known Rule Breaches and Exemptions
While the producers are mostly silent on legal issues that surround the show, there are the known cases where the Survivor Rulebook was either breached or almost breached:
At Pagong's first Tribal Council, the tribe jokingly voted for host Jeff Probst. They were asked to redo their vote.
Jury member Paschal English, who was eliminated on Day 37, skipped the Day 38 Tribal Council due to him passing out immediately after his elimination. Given his situation, he was excused for being absent at the said Tribal Council.
Multiple members of Sook Jai were disqualified from the Pilfering Pirates challenge for attacking members of the rival Chuay Gahn outside the attack zone. This caused them to lose points, which were carried to the other tribe.
Helen Glover wrote a column for a local newspaper about behind-the-scenes information on the show, including some production-restricted secrets, within three years of Thailand finishing its run. Glover's column was discontinued.
Jenna Morasca's hat contained metal wire that she used as hooks for fishing. She revealed on the unauthorized commentary for this season that she deliberately brought this hat for that reason.
Richard Hatch smuggled a set of matches between his butt cheeks. Since then, it has been required for contestants to be strip-searched prior to filming.
An impromptu Tribal Council was held immediately following the Final Immunity Challenge, which lasted so long that the challenge ended late at night. The jury was absent from this Tribal Council.
Three castaways from the Aitutaki tribe accidentally came across Rarotonga's camp while exploring another island. They did not know beforehand that the other tribe lived on that island. The former came to wager supplies with the latter, but went back to camp empty-handed.
A twist forced the Rarotonga tribe to vote out two people at Tribal Council instead of one, with both becoming members of the jury. Because the twist was not revealed until after Rebecca Borman had been voted out and sent to the jury, Rebecca was absent at Jenny Guzon-Bae's elimination.
Following an Immunity Challenge win, a twist forced the Moto tribe to choose between keeping their immunity in exchange for their luxurious shelter, ostensibly giving to the losing Ravu tribe what they did not pick. This is the first incident of a tribe deliberately forfeiting immunity.
Russell Hantz infamously burned a pair of socks belonging to another contestant. It is assumed that he was not penalized for damaging said contestant's clothing.
Ben Browning was pulled out from an Immunity Challenge for continually inflicting unnecessary physical harm to the other contestants after several warnings from the host (i.e. intentionally tripping members of the other tribe).
Russell Swan was medically evacuated in the middle of a Reward Challenge due to severe low blood pressure. With Swan's condition being the closest to a life-and-death situation, the challenge was cancelled with neither tribe declared as the winner. It should be noted that there was supposed to be a Double Tribal Council, but due to the unprecedented harrowing incident, the twist was called off as well. In subsequent seasons, when a challenge has been cancelled due to a tribe being physically unable to compete, the other tribe has been declared as the winner. This was impossible in this case, as the reward would have been to sit in at the other tribe's Tribal Council, and awarding the challenge to the opposing tribe would have had no effect because Swan's evacuation meant that there would be no Tribal Council.
Heroes vs. Villains
Sandra Diaz-Twine burned Russell Hantz's hat on Day 39, a violation of the rule against stealing/defiling personal belongings. It is assumed that she was not penalized for this infraction.
Jane Bright claimed that Sash Lenahan attempted to bribe her by saying he would pay off her mortgage in exchange for jury votes. Sash denied this.
Sophie Clarke asked Albert Destrade to physically assist her in an individual Immunity Challenge in which the contestants were assigned individual stations to help defeat Ozzy Lusth. Jeff Probst immediately interjected, saying that it was prohibited.
In the same episode, in an unprecedented move, the Manono tribe gave up immunity to Salani as a ploy to vote out Bill. In such situations, it has to be a unanimous decision.
The Tandang tribe deliberately forfeited a Reward Challenge in exchange for Kalabaw's remaining food rations. Apparently, such deal-making has been allowed in recent seasons.
The Bikal tribe forfeited an Immunity Challenge in order to vote out Brandon Hantz due to his aggression and desire to physically harm fellow contestant, Phillip Sheppard. While the rulebook would normally force them to participate in the challenge, an exception was made due to Brandon's actions potentially endangering the psychological welfare of the tribe. This Tribal Council was held at the challenge site instead of the normal Tribal Council area, with the other tribe witnessing the event.
Phillip Sheppard was allowed by the producers to sit out of an individual Immunity Challenge involving swimming due to a traumatizing, life-threatening experience he had as a child.
San Juan del Sur
Missy Payne incurred a leg injury during a Reward Challenge, forcing her to use crutches. This forced her to forfeit several challenges thereafter. However, Jeff Probst clarified that Missy was not medically evacuated from the game because her injury was non-life-threatening and there only being a few days left.
Jeff Varner outed fellow contestant Zeke Smith as a transgender man at Tribal Council, causing uproar with his tribemates. This resulted in Jeff Probst conducting a verbal vote instead of a regular vote that resulted in Varner's elimination. In addition, Varner himself was not given an opportunity to cast a verbal vote.
David vs. Goliath
Alec Merlino deliberately broke the non-disclosure agreement by posting a picture of himself and fellow contestant Kara Kay (whom he began dating after filming), potentially spoiling them as tribemates and as an alliance. As punishment, he was banned from the reunion show and his appearance fee was withheld.
Jury member Sophie Clarke, who was voted out on Day 28, skipped the Day 38 Tribal Council due to her falling ill that day. Given her situation, and as Paschal English was in Marquesas, she was excused for being absent at the said Tribal Council.
In Survivor: Fiji, the "Haves vs. Have Nots" (also known as the "rich versus poor" twist) gave one tribe an unfair advantage by giving them luxuries uncommon in the game of Survivor such as a lavish shelter, food, cutlery, and a bed. The rival tribe was only given a machete and a pot. This predictably resulted in a lopsided pre-merge competition, in favor of the "rich" tribe. In one episode, the "rich" tribe won an Immunity Challenge with an added stipulation—a dilemma between keeping their lavish camp in exchange for immunity. Jeff Probst even showed disdain for said twist, but was overruled by Mark Burnett, who was also the Executive Producer of The Apprentice, which used this same twist in the season running at the same time as Fiji.
In Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, after winning the Final Immunity Challenge, Chrissy Hofbeck was awarded an advantage at Tribal Council. In place of the conventional Day 38 final vote out, she would select one contestant to join her in the Final Three, while the remaining two contestants would compete in a fire-making challenge to determine the third finalist. Due to the inclusion of this twist, contestant Ben Driebergen, who almost certainly seemed destined to be voted out in fourth place otherwise, managed to win the challenge and, ultimately, the season. The twist was heavily panned by critics and fans, who felt that, not only was it unfair that the rule change had not been made known to the contestants beforehand, but that it also severely undermined the significance of winning immunity and of the social game itself.
The rule on pre-approved clothing items is likely the reason why most recent seasons have its contestants wearing clothes that are of their tribe color (e.g. a red tribe with its members wearing red at the start of the competition).