‘Survivor’: The Most Disturbing Things to Ever Happen on the Show

A group of people pose in front of the ocean on a beach in bathing suits

Season 35 of Survivor | CBS

Fans of Survivor are getting ready for another season of intense competition, with Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers premiering on Sept. 27, 2017. Now in Season 35, the reality competition will again push contestants to their limits, as 18 strangers meet up in Fiji to compete for the $1 million prize and the title of “Sole Survivor.”

Since the show debuted in 2000, Survivor has brought viewers plenty of epic feuds and alliances, but it’s also delivered some of the most shocking and truly disturbing instances ever seen on TV. Here’s a look back at the most jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching, and gruesome moments we’ve witnessed over the past 34 seasons (leading up to the one most disturbing Survivor moment of all time).

15. Stephenie LaGrossa’s dislocated shoulder is popped back in place

During Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Stephenie LaGrossa’s shoulder was dislocated. She was in obvious pain, and when the medics came to her aid, they told her that they were going to pop it back in place. As they did so, you could hear an awful sound that was like a cross between a crunch and a snap.

The sound grossed out some of her fellow castaways — and probably most of the viewers at home.

14. Contestants are way too comfortable being naked

Richard Hatch goes shirtless and looks ahead

Richard Hatch | CBS

Taking it all off while the cameras are rolling has become a recurring theme on the Survivor series. In Season 1, Richard Hatch decided to play the game in his birthday suit and it disturbed his teammates, but the trend has continued. There have been more than 20 contestants that have gotten naked during their time on the show.

This could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps they think it’s a good idea to use such a distracting strategy — after all, Hatch did win. Or maybe they just feel free shedding their grimy clothes. Either way, whether it bothers the other castaways or not, look for it to continue in upcoming seasons.

13. Colby Donaldson removed coral from protected reef

Colby Donaldson holding a microphone.

Colby Donaldson | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This move is one that really disturbed Aussies and environmentalists everywhere. During an episode of Season 2, Survivor: The Australian Outback, contestant Colby Donaldson didn’t consider how terrible of an idea it was to break off pieces of the protected Great Barrier Reef. The move got him into hot water with Australian authorities and forced show producer Mark Burnett to issue a formal apology.

“On behalf of myself, production and the survivors involved, we extend our sincerest apologies for this error,” Burnett said. “I remain steadfast in my commitment to environmental concerns and continue to put forth great effort in order to improve a situation whenever possible. Please know that this was an honest mistake which we deeply regret.”

12. Erik Reichenbach gets evacuated just before game concludes

Erik Reichenbach stands behind a 'Survivor' logo.

Erik Reichenbach | Frederick M. Brown/Stringer/Getty Images

A scary moment occurred when Erik Reichenbach collapsed during Tribal Council on Survivor: Caramoan. He was dehydrated and had an infection, so medical personnel would not let him stay in the game.

This was very upsetting for Reichenbach and those rooting for him, as it was the second time that he exited the competition early. Making matters worse? This time, he was only three days shy of the end.

11. Colton Cumbie used racial slurs and gets accused of faking illness

Colton Cumbie sits in a pink shirt and khaki shorts.

Colton Cumbie | CBS

Two-time Survivor castaway Colton Cumbie is one of those contestants that no one liked (and for good reason.) He was a backstabber and directed racial slurs at his teammates.

Cumbie shocked viewers when he exited Survivor: One World early and, according to show host Jeff Probst, lied about his illness with a tearful performance to get out of the competition. Cumbie later admitted that he didn’t have appendicitis, but rather a stomach infection.

10. Joe Dowdle sustained serious infection

Joe Dowdle getting his leg checked out by a medic.

Joe Dowdle | CBS

Joe Dowdle developed a serious leg infection while competing on Survivor: Tocantins. He was told it was so bad that it could result in a leg amputation or even death if left untreated.

Needless to say he had to leave the competition. But he ended up healing completely and considers himself lucky.

9. Jonathan Penner is told his knee infection could cost him his leg

Jonathan Penner sits in front of an ocean view.

Jonathan Penner | CBS

Another contestant who was told that he could lose his leg was Jonathan Penner on Survivor: Micronesia. It was during Penner’s second time on the series (his first was on Survivor: Cook Islands) when he suffered a puncture wound. Penner was given antibiotics, but his injury only got worse.

The last thing he wanted to do was leave the game, but the medics said that if he did not, his leg might have to be amputated. Penner may not have won the competition, but he kept his leg.

8. James Clement’s infection could have spread to rest of his body

James Clement sits in front of plants.

James Clement | CBS

James Clement’s case was another example of when the reality competition almost turned deadly. Clement was also on Survivor: Micronesia and got an infection following an injury to his hand. The medics said the infection was so serious that there was a chance it could spread to the rest of body.

Fortunately, that did not happen, and after Clement was treated,  he was able to return as a jury member.

7. Jonny Fairplay lied about his grandmother dying

Jonny Fairplay posing for photos.

Johnny Fairplay | CBS

Of course, villain Jonny Fairplay made our countdown. It just wouldn’t be a Survivor list without one of the show’s most infamous players.

The moment Fairplay crossed the line from extremely annoying to disturbing was when he went as far as to lie and say that his grandmother died — all in order to gain sympathy from the other contestants. Who does that?!

It was such a twisted lie that it got him banned from many Survivor events. He was, however, allowed back to participate in the show’s 16th season.

6. Caleb Reynolds, Cydney Gillon, and Debbie Wanner all went down during a Season 32 challenge

Cydney Gillion on the beach.

Cydney Gillion | CBS

There were some truly terrifying moments on Survivor: Kaoh Rong when three of the castaways collapsed from heat stroke. Debbie Wanner was the first to go down, but medics were able to cool her off.

Caleb Reynolds went down next and wasn’t as lucky. The former Big Brother contestant was airlifted from the beach and taken out of the competition. While this was going on, Cydney Gillon collapsed too and needed medical attention.

At that point, no one knew what was going to happen or who might fall next, making it a bit difficult for viewers to take in as well.

5. Hatch rubs his genitalia against Sue Hawk


A moment that totally disturbed and horrified contestant Sue Hawk in Survivor: All-Stars is when Hatch (the Season 1 winner who loves to play the game naked) rubbed up against her while nude. It happened as the two were on a balance beam obstacle, ahd Hatch took a step towards her so their bodies touched.

Hawk was so disgusted by the ordeal that she ended up quitting the show over it.

4. Russell Swan pushes himself almost to brink of death

Russel Swan being attended by medics.

Russel Swan | CBS

Russell Swan was a warrior on Survivor: Samoa when he pushed himself beyond the point of exhaustion for his teammates. Even after passing out during the challenge, he said he was fine to continue, but he wasn’t.

He needed oxygen and his blood pressure was dangerously low. Therefore, he was unable to continue the competition.

3. Michael Skupin jumps in ocean after being burned by fire

Michael Skupin posing for photos on the Survivor Reunion red carpet.

Michael Skupin | Frederick M. Brown/iStock/Getty Images

Season 2 contestant Michael Skupin screamed in agony when he burnt himself while tending to a campfire. In an effort to relieve the burns he sustained, Skupin jumped into a river. His wounds were so serious that he had to be taken out of the competition.

Skupin did return to the game later to compete on Survivor: Philippines. 

2. Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Smith outed as transgender by teammate

 Zeke Smith during an interview.

Zeke Smith | CBS

Another disturbing instance in the show that made people question why someone would do something like that was when Survivor: Game Changers contestant Jeff Varner outed his fellow castaway, Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Smith, as transgender. Varner was about to be booted from the game, and, in a cruel and desperate move, he decided to out Smith at Tribal Council. The reaction from the others was disbelief that Varner did that, and he was sent packing.

When Smith was asked if he thought CBS made the right call in choosing to air the moment he was outed, he told the Hollywood Reporter, “I very much wanted it to air. First, I didn’t go on national television unprepared for the world to know that I’m trans. I was ready, should that part of my life become part of my Survivor story . . . It never crossed my mind that it shouldn’t air.”

1. Worm crawls into Jennifer Lanzetti’s ear canal

What happened to Jennifer Lanzetti on Survivor: Kaoh Rong was definitely the most disturbing thing to happen to any contestant in the history of the show. It’s basically the stuff nightmares are made of. The Utah native began to experience excruciating pain after a creepy crawler made its way into her ear canal and decided to stay there. Gross!

Despite her extreme discomfort and knowing that this thing was crawling around inside her, Lanzetti stayed in the competition. The worm eventually came out of her ear on its own.

Follow Michelle Kapusta on Twitter @philamichelle.

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