Survivor (U.S. TV Series) - Controversies and Legal Action

Controversies and Legal Action

  • In February 2001, Stacey Stillman filed a lawsuit claiming that producers interfered in the process of Survivor: Borneo by persuading two members of her tribe (Sean Kenniff and Dirk Been) to vote her off instead of Rudy Boesch.
  • During a reward trip on Survivor: The Australian Outback, Colby Donaldson removed corals from the Great Barrier Reef and in the same trip, a helicopter involved with the production crew flew around protected sea bird rookeries. Both acts violated Australian law and the incidents could have resulted in fines up to A$110,000. Mark Burnett, the executive producer, issued an apology on behalf of Donaldson and the Survivor production team.
  • At the tribal immunity challenge for the final four players on Survivor: Africa, host Jeff Probst asked which female player in their season had no piercings. Kim Johnson answered Kelly Goldsmith, got the point, and went on to win the challenge, which put her through to the final three and ultimately (after winning another immunity challenge) the final two. Unbeknownst to the producers, another contestant on "Africa", Lindsey Richter, also had no piercings. Lex van den Berghe's answer had been Lindsey, but the show did not award him a point, which could have significantly changed the outcome of the challenge and the overall game. CBS later paid van den Berghe and Tom Buchanan, who had finished in fourth place, a settlement.
  • In an attempt to win a reward challenge on Survivor: Pearl Islands, contestant Jon Dalton conspired with his friend, Dan Fields, before the show even started, in what Probst has described as the greatest lie on Survivor to date. Fields told Dalton that his grandmother, Jean Cooke, had died, in order to win sympathy from his tribemates and subsequently win the reward. In reality, Cooke had not died, a fact that only emerged to his tribemates once the episode had aired. After the challenge, Dalton admitted in a confessional that his grandmother was alive and "probably watching Jerry Springer right now". When the show's producers learned of Cooke's alleged death, they called Dalton's family to offer their condolences, only to have Cooke herself answer the phone. On the "Pearl Islands" reunion show, Probst had a short interview with Cooke, who was indeed alive and well.
  • In the fifth episode of Survivor: All-Stars, a naked Richard Hatch came into contact with Sue Hawk after she blocked his path during an immunity challenge. Hatch was voted out that day for other reasons, but Hawk quit the game two days later as a result of what had happened. Hawk considered filing a lawsuit against the parties involved, but appeared with Hatch on The Early Show the morning after the sixth episode aired, stating she opted out of legal action because CBS had helped her "deal with the situation".
  • Rupert Boneham, a contestant on Pearl Islands and All-Stars, was extremely popular with television audiences, but finished eighth and fourth, respectively, in his appearances on the show. As part of a special on the All-Stars reunion (Survivor: America's Tribal Council), a contest for the 18 players was created, where the winner would be selected by the viewing audience to receive a $1 million prize. Boneham unsurprisingly won this prize, with more than 80% of the votes cast. Many fans of the show saw this as a way of diluting the overall concept of the show, that instead of outwitting, outplaying and outlasting your fellow tribe members to win the game, a player could now play specifically just to gain popularity with the show's audience, regardless of how well they played the game, and still be rewarded with a large prize.
  • In January 2006, Richard Hatch, the winner of the first season of Survivor, was charged and found guilty of failing to report his winnings to the IRS to avoid taxes. He was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.
  • In the beginning of Survivor: Cook Islands, the tribes were grouped according to their race. Probst claimed the choice came from the criticism that Survivor was "not ethnically diverse enough", but several long-term sponsors, including Campbell's Soup, Procter & Gamble, Home Depot, Coca Cola, and General Motors dropped their support of the show shortly after this announcement, leading to speculation that the decisions were in response to the controversy. Each company has either denied the link to the controversy or declined to comment, although the decision for General Motors to discontinue their sponsorship had been made months prior to the announcement of the racial split, and was thus purely coincidental.
  • The selection process for the 14th season came under fire when it was revealed that, of the entire Survivor: Fiji cast, only Gary Stritesky had gone through the application process for the show; the rest of the contestants were recruited. Probst defended the process, citing finding diversity of cast as a reason.
  • At the Survivor: China reunion show, Denise Martin told producers and the audience that she had been demoted to a janitor from a lunch lady due to the distraction she was to students from her appearance on the show. Because of her misfortune, Burnett awarded Martin $50,000. But Martin would later recant her story after the school district she worked for publicly stated that she had taken the custodial position before appearing on the show. Martin then decided to donate the $50,000 to charity.
  • A brief uncensored shot of Marcus Lehman's genitals during the premiere episode of Survivor: Gabon led to the show and network being asked to apologize for the incident.
  • Jim Early (aka Missyae), who was a user on one of the fan forums for Survivor, was sued by Burnett, his production company, and CBS in August 2010, for allegedly releasing detailed spoiler information for Survivor: Samoa and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. Early revealed that he was getting his information from Russell Hantz, a contestant on both seasons, through both phone calls and emails. Early complied in the lawsuit by providing such evidence, eventually leading to its dismissal in January 2011. Although legal action has yet to be taken against Hantz, the contract for a player in Survivor includes a liability of up to $5 million for the premature revealing of a season's results. Hantz has stated that the claim is false.
  • Controversy was caused after contestants that did not make the jury in Survivor: Caramoan were not allowed on stage for the reunion show. While Jeff Probst claimed that the new stage could not accommodate all 18 of the attending contestants, the format change was panned because the show's fans and fellow contestants felt that it was unfair for them to be left out in the audience. Erik Reichenbach, who finished 5th and did not even get a chance to speak at the reunion, called out the producers for their treatment of the contestants. Calling it a farce, he criticized how the reunion show left so many unanswered questions about the other contestants and his own evacuation during the season finale. He also criticized how the pre-jury members were completely left out in favor of featuring the show's older contestants, like Rob Mariano and Rudy Boesch.

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