45 Rules You Didn’t Know <i>Survivor</i> Contestants Have to Follow

They have to fill out a ton of paperwork before hitting the island.

The show’s production team doesn’t take any risks—they make sure each contestant has dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on their contract before they start filming.

“Survivor School” is in session before filming.

All cast members must attend classes led by a seasoned producer to prepare for the game before shooting starts. They learn things like jungle safety, basic shelter building, and how to make a fire.

They must disclose all of their medical history.

Including all medications.

Vital medications are allowed, but the show’s medical team needs to be informed beforehand. In 2022, Jackson Fox was removed from the game after failing to disclose that he was taking lithium until the day before filming started. “The cumulative effect of this show would have a potentially very bad impact on you, and we don’t want that,” host Jeff Probst told Fox in the episode.

They must be at least 16 years old to apply.

While the minimum age is 16 years old, there’s no maximum age limit. The late Rudy Boesch, who competed in the very first season of the show, was 72 when he was cast.

Personal items are limited.

Each contestant is allowed to arrive at the camp site with two handheld items—and nothing more. These are called “luxury items,” and are supposed to be things that bring emotional comfort, such as family photos or meaningful jewelry.

Most toiletries are forbidden.

There’s a reason the cast members leave their location looking scruffy: the contestants are stripped of toiletries like razors, hairbrushes, and toothbrushes. The only things they do have access to are important necessities like medication, sunblock, insect repellent, or contact solution.

Clothing has to be pre-approved.

Contestants can’t wear logos on television.

There’s a reason you don’t see anyone rocking t-shirts with their favorite sports teams or brands. The show has strict rules against shirts or caps with logos on them.

Everyone has to abide by local and U.S. laws.

Even though contestants are usually isolated in the wilderness in foreign countries, per their contract they still have to obey all laws set forth by both the local and the United States government.

Contestants have to compete in tribes.

Upon arrival, the show splits the contestants into tribes and they compete against the opposing tribe for elimination immunity and rewards before it becomes an individual competition. Usually there are only two tribes, but producers can split the contestants into as many as they want.

No visiting the other tribe’s camp.

Cast members are not allowed to visit the opposing tribe’s camp or communicate with them in any way. Doing so is grounds for elimination.

Some zones are off-limits.

The contestants don’t always have miles of land to roam, even though it may seem that way. There are a number of areas that are off-limits, including a “small section where we keep extra camera gear and things like that,” Probst told People.

Contestants can’t steal from one another.

They can’t take anyone else’s private property—that includes personal luxury items, clothing, and anything given to contestants by the producers.

But they can search through someone’s belongings.

Ah, a loophole. Think your tribe mate might have a hidden immunity idol tucked away? While stealing is prohibited, contestants have searched through one another’s things in the past. There’s nothing in the rules that says they can’t take a quick look, so long as they don’t take anything.

There’s no tie on ‘Survivor.’

Only one person can take home the $1 million prize at the end. If there’s a tie, a tie-breaking second vote will determine a winner.

Contestants have to follow directions.

In terms of safety, it’s not surprising that contestants are required to follow any and all instructions from the production crew.

They agree to being filmed 24/7.

Due to safety concerns, the cast members are never alone in the wilderness. The show also specifically mentions in its contract that “contestants will have no expectations of privacy.”

Contestants agree to let the show film them both nude and partially nude while they’re on the show. Zero privacy means…well, zero privacy.

Damaging the environment is cause for elimination.

Survivor is allowed to film in such breathtaking landscapes partly because the cast and crew agree to take care of it. The show has strict rules against disturbing the environment, whether that means removing rocks and shells or leaving litter behind.

Contestants can only build a shelter with what they can find.

Cutting down trees would obviously disturb the environment and go against the previous rule. So they’re only allowed to build their camps by foraging or using items given to them by the producers.

Contestants can forage for food.

While competing on the show, the contestants are only given a ration of small sacks of food, like rice and beans. If that isn’t enough, they can supplement their food supply by foraging in the wilderness.

Everything they eat has to be approved.

As contestants forage across the landscape for fruits, plants, and wildlife to consume, the producers are there to double check that everything is safe to eat.

Hunting is only allowed for food.

Contestants can fish and hunt for survival, but hunting for sport is not allowed on the show.

Endangered species are off-limits.

Again, this one should go without saying, but endangered species aren’t on the Survivor menu. If any endangered species do inhabit the area, producers will let contestants know they’re not to be hunted.

Dangerous wildlife must be avoided.

Producers make a point to educate the contestants on the dangerous plants and animals within the region they’re inhabiting. Afterward, all cast members are expected to avoid interactions with them.

Contestants must remain physically fit.

Competing on Survivor is taxing, to say the least, which is why production has each contestant undergo a medical evaluation before the physical challenges. If a contestant does not appear to be in good enough physical health, they can be eliminated.

Contestants must also be strong mentally to compete. There’s no doubt that a contestant’s mental health is challenged throughout the competition, due to prolonged isolation and intense competition.

Idols can’t be taken home.

Previous contestants were lucky enough to keep them as souvenirs, but now all idols must be returned to production. “Several years ago, we realized that we might want to use those idols again in the future for one of our creative ideas, so now we take them back and keep them,” Probst told People.

Contestants can’t talk to the crew.

Tribes are specifically told not to interact with the camera crew “because it would be an interference with the game,” former contestant Lauren-Ashley Beck told Insider.

They have to participate in every challenge.

Challenge rules can change at any time.

Producers have the right to alter the rules of any competition. If a contestant breaks the rules, whether on purpose or by accident, they could potentially be disqualified.

Talking strategy before a challenge is allowed.

“Off-camera, I take each tribe separately through the entire challenge with our challenge team,” Probst told People. “We explain the challenge in detail and answer any questions they have. This is a very interesting process because you can see the different strategies for each tribe starting to form.”

Contestants are required to vote in Tribal Council.

They must attend and vote at each week’s Tribal Council to reveal who will be eliminated.

They can’t vote for themselves.

Although a contestant can drop out of the competition willingly, it’s against the rules to vote for him or herself to be eliminated. Per their contract, this would result in a re-vote.

They don’t get to return home after elimination.

You’d think getting voted off would mean hopping on a plane and returning home to friends and family, but cast members are required to stay with production until the season is done being filmed—win or lose.

Some contestants become jury members.

The production crew gets to select which eliminated competitors will stay on the show as the jury. Not only are jury members sent to live in the Ponderosa house together, but former competitor Jonny Fairplay claims that they can each earn up to $40,000 for their continued appearance.

The others go on vacation.

The remaining eliminated cast members are sent to a separate location, where they remain until filming is complete. The good news: It’s basically a free vacation. That’s one upside to being eliminated!

Tribes can’t strategize during emergencies.

Throughout the series, there have been extenuating circumstances that put the competition on hold, like in season 33 when production was shut down due to a cyclone in Fiji. According to Probst, the cast is expected to uphold their good-faith agreement to refrain from strategizing or forming alliances while sequestered.

There’s a prize for second place.

A lot of emphasis is put on the $1 million dollar grand prize, but there’s no shame in snagging second best on Survivor. The runner-up can bring home anywhere from $100,000 to a sponsored prize; it varies each season, and is up to the discretion of the producers.

Contestants can’t scheme to share the prize.

Agreeing to share any portion of the $1 million prize after the show ends, as a means to form an alliance, is prohibited.

They have to pay taxes on their winnings.

That $1 million may have been earned through blood, sweat, and tears, but come April 15, a percentage of it will still go to good ol’ Uncle Sam. The winning contestant is responsible for all taxes on money earned.

Votes must be written and spoken out loud to count.

During Tribal Council, each contestant casts their vote for who they want to eliminate by writing it on the official paper, while showing the paper to the camera and saying the name aloud.

The show offers counseling after filming ends.

It’s not a rule, exactly, but it is a valuable resource.“When players return home, and as the show airs, our psychologists continue to check in with the players on a regular basis,” producers told People. “After the finale, we offer a closure session and tell them to reach out to us anytime in the future if they need additional counseling.”

Lifestyle Editor
Janaya is a Lifestyle Editor for Hearst Magazines.