Are the Castaways on ‘Survivor’ Really Starving?

Survivor is a grueling experience. There’s a reason Jeff Probst is always telling contestants they need to “dig deep.” Survivor is a mental, social, and physical game all rolled into one.

With Season 38 — titles Survivor: Edge of Extinction — airing now, viewers may be wondering how much the players are really suffering. Typically, castaways are given a sack of rice, and if they get lucky in a reward challenge, fishing gear to catch food. But do they really need it?

Are the castaways as hungry as they look?

Rumors of help

The castaways prepare to share a meal at camp
The castaways prepare to share a meal at camp | CBS via Getty

Survivor prides itself on having a high standard for its “true-to-life” scenarios. Probst often explains that Survivor is all real, and that they try to interfere with the castaways as little as possible.

At Northwestern University, a class learning about reality television had several Survivor alumni discuss the show with them. Several cast members revealed that the castaways might not be as uninterfered with as we’re lead to believe.

Most notably, Erinn Lobdell mentions that a cameraman helped light a fire for her and shared candy with her on Exile Island.

“The producer was gone … and the camera man set down his camera, took out his lighter and lit the fire,” explained Lobdell.

Kelly Goldsmith and Mookie Lee also mentioned instances of interference. Goldsmith explains that her tribe actually received matches to start a fire. Lee says that a lighter was used to start a fire, and that the incident was edited to appear as if glasses were used to create the flame.

CBS continues to claim, however, that the producers follow a serious non-interference protocol, which extends to helping with life on the island.

The hungry beg to differ

ulie Rosenberg and her loved one on the twelfth episode of SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction
Julie Rosenberg and her loved one on the twelfth episode of SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction | CBS via Getty

While the cast may occasionally be helping with fire, it sounds as if players really do go hungry. Typically, we see castaways granted a single sack of rice to make it through their time on the show. The rest is up to them.

Castaways find food in a variety of ways. This can include using fishing gear won from a challenge, harvesting coconuts or other local flora, or hunting down wildlife like fowl, or resorting to eating insects when the need arises.

In fact, many players reference hunger as one of their worst memories of the show. Jenna Morasca, from Seasons 6 and 8, said it was hellish.

“Anyone who has played Survivor longer than a few days that tells you they never had a moment of darkness while playing is a liar. The days get long, your fellow contestants grate on your nerves, and you feel so hungry you think your stomach is just going to dissolve,” explained Morasca.

Ethan Zohn of Seasons 3 and 8 had similar things to say. “My insides were screaming for food, my brain was mush from lack of sleep, my tongue was puffy from dehydration, and we just lost two epic challenges,” said Zohn.

Let’s all weigh in

Eric Hafemann and Ron Clark strategize
Eric Hafemann and Ron Clark strategize | CBS via Getty

One of the best indicators of how hungry and starved the castaways are is their behavior and physical shape after the show. Many castaways lose tons of weight on the show, and some also lose plenty of muscle. Survivor can wreak havoc on the human body.

Natalie Anderson, the winner of Season 29, said that Survivor did a number on her. “My body was wrecked. My hair was falling out. I lost all my muscle. I was so frail.”

Anderson isn’t the only one who struggled after the show. Firefighter Jeremy Collins of the same season experienced extreme physical deterioration. Collins struggled to run for more than a few minutes at a time, because his body was so depleted.

With contestants returning so physically wasted and malnourished, it seems as if their starvation might be genuine.