Survivor 30 Ghosts: The Returnee Season That Almost Happened

Inside Survivor reveals details on an abandoned Survivor Season 30 idea.

Earlier, we revealed the title for the thirty-sixth edition of Survivor – Survivor: Ghost Island. The details regarding what exactly the theme entails remain unclear, but the speculation has already been rife amongst the fan community.

Early guesses include everything from a new game twist similar to Redemption Island to castaways competing against their exes or enemies (ghosts of their past). A reworking of the Outcasts twist from Survivor: Pearl Islands is another popular theory. Others think it may just be a title based on an aesthetic choice, with ghostly themed set designs, props, and challenges.

Here at Inside Survivor, we’re just as clueless as everyone else on how exactly Ghost Island will work, but we have been sent some information in the past couple of hours which may offer some insight. The information is not only relevant to Season 36 but is fascinating in its own right as a look behind the curtain at Survivor creative.

Ghost Island of Survivor Past

After posting the Ghost Island news earlier, a reliable source emailed Inside Survivor a document relating to a potential idea which was on the table for Season 30 back in 2014. In the planning stages, SEG/CBS had come up with various themes for the show’s milestone thirtieth season, one of which was Ghost Island. The document reveals that the season was to include not only a Ghost Island twist but THIRTY returning players divided into three separate tribes.

The notion that Season 30 would consist of returning players is not news in itself, back in 2014, it was strongly rumored there would be a big all-star season to commemorate the monumental occasion. I was in the early days of my Survivor spoiling antics in 2014 but had heard through the grapevine – as had many others – that CBS was putting together a list of potential returning castaways.

Host and executive producer Jeff Probst confirmed that a returnee season was under consideration in an interview with Entertainment Weekly back in 2015. “Leading up to 30, we spent almost a year talking about whether we should do some sort of all-star season with returning players,” Probst told Dalton Ross. “And that seemed to be the conventional wisdom. A lot of people were expecting us to do that. But Mark [Burnett] and I were talking on the phone one day and Mark said something so simple. Mark said, ‘Just keep in mind, Jeff—it is our 30th season, but it is also just our 30th season.”

The all-star season was eventually scrapped in favor of Survivor: Worlds Apart, a season comprised of eighteen brand new castaways divided into tribes of white collar, blue collar, and no collar. However, the document regarding the abandoned all-star concept is continuously compelling in both its ambition and the way it might tie into Season 36.

The Season That Almost Was

The document is formatted as a creative pitch, detailing the theme and the logistics of how it would work. It refers to the cast as “second chance” players “who have only played one time.” The pitch begins:


What is intriguing here is the use of the term “second chance.” As we all know, Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance followed Worlds Apart in the fall of 2015; a season centered entirely around the conceit of former players returning for a second shot at glory. It appears that Second Chance was a reworking of this original Season 30 idea, which becomes clearer in the next part of the document:


Instead of bringing 30 returning players out to the island, Second Chance included a ballot of 32 former one-time players and let fans vote on which 20 they wanted to see return. Watching the hopeful Second Chancers have their dreams crushed in front of a live television audience was hard to stomach, but the thought of flying them all the way out to location only to eliminate them Wanda and Jonathan style is perhaps even crueler.

The document continues:


Funny how even fictional pitch Jeff Probst mentions “big moves.” It certainly seems like Season 30 was going to be twist heavy right from the start, and that’s even before the Ghost Island concept is introduced. The “Note” also implies this pitch was sent to CBS executives, assuring them that the casting choices would be of high quality – which is always a questionable claim, especially if the Game Changers cast is anything to go by.

The next section introduces the Ghost Island twist:



In this original version, Ghost Island was intended to be a separate location, similar to an Exile Island or Redemption Island. According to the twist, the ten players who were eliminated – either by losing the opening challenge or been traded from a winning tribe – would live together on Ghost Island until an opportunity arose to reenter the game. The Ghost Island inhabitants could choose to quit at any point, including right there and then on Day 1.

The following part of the document goes into further detail about how this version of Ghost Island works:


As the document shows, the idea behind Ghost Island seemed to be one that would highlight the mental anguish of the players. Those living on Ghost Island wouldn’t technically be “playing the game,” and therefore the focus would be on their survival and willingness to persevere despite their harsh conditions. It also seems like production anticipated quitters on Ghost Island, and the document even mentions players strategically figuring out how to make others quit. Very Lord of the Flies.

The other element of Ghost Island is similar to Redemption Island, where two players would have a chance to reenter the game, one at the merge and one on Day 37 (it was Day 36 in the Redemption Island seasons). At the merge, those remaining on Ghost Island would compete in an endurance challenge with the winner immediately returning to the game. The same thing would happen on Day 37, in the season’s finale episode.

The document finishes with some extra info on the Ghost Island twist:


Once again, the document makes it clear that Ghost Island is about “testing their will power” rather than simply watching people starve. What it doesn’t make apparent is whether or not the voted out players join those on Ghost Island or if they are eliminated permanently.


Ghost Island of Survivor Future

The most important question now is, will Season 36 be using the same Ghost Island concept or has the idea been tweaked over the past three years? We know the season won’t include returning players and I’d be highly surprised if it featured a cast of 30. Perhaps they’ve further combined the idea with Redemption Island, and the eliminated players live together on Ghost Island, and rather than competing in duels every couple of days, they instead just have to survive until they get a shot at returning come the merge and Day 37?

But for all we know they could have come up with a completely new idea for Ghost Island in Season 36. Once again, as soon as we have more information we will update.

What do you think of the abandoned Season 30 theme? Would the season have worked? What are your thoughts on Ghost Island? Let us know in the comments.

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

33 responses to “Survivor 30 Ghosts: The Returnee Season That Almost Happened”

  1. I think that would’ve been one of the best seasons depending on the cast

    It could totally work for newbies, maybe even better. The newbies would lose their mind a lot faster adding entertainment value

  2. This is actually an interesting and very daunting idea. I think it’s more interesting than the constant needless tribal divisions. XD

  3. I don’t like the Ghost Island twist as described. Sounds like a cheat really against the people actually competing on tribes. So if you’re playing then you’ve played well and set things up and have the alliances then ‘Hey here’s these new people who will now screw everything up!’ and all that work you did doesn’t matter anymore.

  4. I hope it’s just 20 players and like a modified redemption island. I hate the thought of 30 players going out there and 10 of them, some of which are probably huge fans, end up with no real shot to play the game. Who would vote for someone at final tribal that they have never met and entered the game on day 37? What do they have to show? It sounds fun, but only if it is modified from the 30 player version.

  5. I don’t like this. First, a Day 37 returnee is stupid to do. If someone who hasn’t been in the game at all until the last three days makes the end, who the hell is going to vote for them to win a million bucks when they weren’t playing at all? I would never vote for someone to win a million dollars if they weren’t playing the game for the first 36 days, regardless of where they were. The big thing is that they’d be someone I’d have never gotten to meet.

    If this also means no reward challenges, it’s clear that Survivor hasn’t learned their lesson with that. Those are needed to split the merged tribe into groups.

    It’s a very fascinating idea, but I don’t know if it’s going to work. It looks like Redemption Island with a slightly different concept – just a larger amount of people new to the game competing together and only one getting in. I highly doubt there would be many quitters in a second chance season with this concept, given how, as these documents noted, everyone was there to finish their story. They ain’t quitting. Therefore, it’s a great thing they’re doing it with newbies, where some of them might be weak enough to quit.

    Predicting this is a very similar concept, only with three tribes of 8, so 24 new castaways. They have two tribes of 8 compete against each other and merge them after six rounds – so it’d be 11 people at the merge. Basically, it will end up being an 18-person season, with a jury of 8 and a final 3 as they’d want the new person on Day 37 to be in the finals even with them having no chance. Could that person be an even goatier goat than the likes of Lill Morris, Dreamz, and Woo?

    • Day 37 person could’ve been someone swapped out as noted in the last screencap above, and managed to win his/her way back into the game. That would seem a little more fair, I suppose.

    • Dude, read my comment that I jut posted. XD
      I literally completely said that same thing.
      They WILL get to FT, but that’s because the other players know they will receive no votes.
      It doesn’t make sense.


  6. I kinda like idea but I don’t think the chance to swap a member would result in much there would be at least one other person who doesn’t want the switch. And if there claim of no weak links is true there would be no quitters either. And I had the same question as you Martian what happens to the eliminated players? If they go to ghost island that is possibly first 17 players then 25 players competing. If they are eliminated permanently then that is weird cause it might almost be better to be at ghost island then in the game cause you still have a chance

  7. This is actually a really cool idea, I think. Not perfect, but I’d like to see it play out at least once.

  8. The swedish, and original version of Survivor, had several semi-Redemption Island versions going on in various seasons, none of which benefitted the strategic game the slightest. One season (the first one in the world to include returning players, half and half of the fans vs favorites variety) had a special island where after the merge, the first player out of the reward challenge every episode got sent. Before the merge it worked as redemption island where eliminated players went to duel for their spot but once a player would be sent there after every reward, they started having three way duels where the winner would get back into the game. Every episode. Very confusing and an unfair and bad twist.

    The only strategic part of it was that some people lost the duel on purpose because they knew they’d get voted out if they made it back into the game. One of the guys there, who really hated strategic voting, would go on to make it back into the game and win his way to the final challenge which he lost.

  9. I hope someone at Survivor learns that “willpower” is one word (as opposed to One World).
    The best diction of the whole document has to be “mentally loopy”.

  10. Okay first off- THANK GOD THEY DID WORLDS APART INSTEAD. I know it gets a lot of flack for being mean and bitter but I liked Worlds Apart. They did the 15th anniversary thing instead with Cambodia- which is a season I really don’t like. I know people think it’s an amazing season but the problem with that season and Game Changers is that I didn’t care for the players as characters. I wanted to but there was so much emphasis on making BIG MOVEZ to the point where these contestants were robotic.

    Now as for Ghost Island- I think what it’ll end up being is a modified version of Redemption Island, with some hints of the Outcasts twist. Whereas it was a surprise in Pearl Islands, the contestants are being told right away. I think the people voted off will just continue to grow until the merge, when they all get a chance to re-enter. The people in the game won’t know what’s going on there (like the Outcasts twist) but the audience will know. Compared to RI, I prefer this because I really don’t care for the RI twist. The challenges or “duels” would get boring. However, I have some problems with this Ghost Island twist. I don’t like that it might be done twice like RI. Just imagine someone re-entering the game on Day 36 or 37. They’re able to make it to FTC but you know close to nothing about them- or even remember them. Then again, if a juror absolutely hated the guts of the other two finalists, they’ll just give their vote to the person they don’t know. Also while I didn’t like RI for the time it took up, at least the people there were doing something. Also, Survivor has always struggled when they have 20 people playing- especially with these ridiculous 13 person merges. The ideal number for Survivor has been 16 or 18.

    However, if I had to chose between a season with all new players or another Fans vs Favorites- I’d easily pick a season of all new players.

  11. I think it could work with some tweaking. I would have the Ghost Island castaways show up at the IC and all 3 tribes compete. If the Ghost Island tribe finishes first, the two losing tribes both go to tribal council and vote someone out. The 2 losing tribes go to TC and the vote someone out. The player voted out from the 3rd place team is eliminated, the person voted out of the 2nd place tribe goes to Ghost Island and picks someone to replace them on their tribe. The new inhabitant of GI would compete as part of the GI tribe and could potentially enter the game again. If you are eliminated from the game, you are out for good and either go on the pre-jury trip or join the jury.

    I like this much better than having 10 people that are hardly seen and then reenter the game.

  12. sounds…..different. Seriously, how worse could it possible be from the crap Game Changers season???

    • Agree. One thing I wish they had thought a bit more about for Game Changers was something that would allow eliminated players to potentially come back into the game. It was such a waste to bring back people like Tony and Malcolm and JT and Sandra and then have them all get cut pre-merge.

    • Game Changers was super mixed, but I feel like some people also give it too much hate.
      Tony vs. Sandra was great, the Malcolm vote out was tragic for the season, but very exciting and seeing Cirie spin her webs in the first episodes after the merge was great too.
      for me it’s definitely the worst all-star seasons, but do I think it’s one of the worst seasons? nope.

  13. Why do none of my posts ever show up and why are they always being moderated? I’ve never posted any swearing comments or anything abusive.

  14. What if someone from Ghost Island gets back in Day 37 then reaches Day 39, the jury won’t have any idea or basis about his or her gameplay.

  15. I really like this idea for all the reasons they thought of. My only pitch is: 24 players; 3 tribes of 8. Then it’s not as cluttered, easier to not have duds in the cast, and then you get the old school feeling of the 16 players in the game to an extent. If it were 24 players I LOVE the idea!

  16. I think the whole concept is absolutely amazing; with one flaw. 🙁 I know, there’s always something to complain about. XD
    Anyway, here’s my problem. I’ll take you through the entire game within a couple paragraphs and show you how I think things will play out. Bear with me throughout this long comment. 🙂
    Day 1: The people who choose to live on Ghost Island (I imagine more will stay than leave, at least initially.) leave the rest of the castaways, and begin their journey. The audience subtly roots for those players while still subconsciously following the real game. It would almost be like having a normal season with three tribes. You would have edits from both competing tribes and then Ghost Island.
    Beyond that, I predict that 25% of the people on Ghost Island will quit before the merge, and then 75% of whoever is left after losing the merge re-entry challenge will quit as well. So I fear that it will be very anti-climactic, and the player that have gone through far more than the other tribes and the audience is rooting for, will just quit, and leave the audience disappointed.

    And finally: The biggest problem I have. The amount of time for the Ghost Island survivor to play the actual game of Survivor.
    If you really pay attention to Survivor, and it really isn’t actually that hard to notice, but normally, when there is a tribe swap or a merge, the tribe with fewer members or the people swapped to another tribe and have the lowest number of members in their original tribe in the new tribe, they are immediately considered “The Minority”. This is because, if you want to take the easiest road, which most players do, it makes sense to get rid of all the people you don’t know anything about and are bound to be unpredictable, and the battle it out between your original alliances once the minority is gone. It allows you to get further in the game, as well as giving you more time to decide where you are headed once it comes time to start breaking up the majority alliances in preparation for the final 6 or 7.
    With this theory in mind, you tell me what chances you think a player has of winning if they come into the game on Day 37, literally giving them roughly 24 hours to talk to the people they have not even seen the entire game besides at the merge re-entry challenge. It just doesn’t make sense!
    How in the SURVIVOR REALM could a castaway who has only been in the game “officially” for 24 hours, convince the remaining 4 or 3 players to vote out one of the people they have been working with theoretically the entire game to get this far, in exchange for taking them to FT?
    Trick question 🙂
    I talked super negatively in that paragraph to try to confuse you, let’s see if you caught on.
    Despite my negative connotation, it actually makes perfect sense.
    Don’t get it? Answer this question and THEN see if you do.

    You just won final immunity. You and your closest ally have to decide if you want to take one person or another to FT.
    On one hand, you have your other closest ally who the entire jury knows about, and the jury knows how they play, what moves they have made, how they did in challenges, what they did for the tribe, if they were strategic, if they Outwitted, Outplayed, and Outlasted, if they were trustworthy, if they were a snake, if they were a rat, if they blindsided their closest allies, if they were smart, if they played idols, or even found any, and in short, THEY KNOW HOW THAT PERSON PLAYED THE GAME.
    On the other hand, you have someone who the jury knows absolutely NOTHING about, except for the final member. Literally the ONLY member of the jury that would know ANYTHING about how the Ghost Island play plays, even at all, would be the member that got voted out at this very tribal we are talking about.
    So, you have a jury of 10 members, (roughly) and one of them knows just a little bit, 24 hours to be exact, about this Ghost Player.


    Obviously, you take the Ghost Island player, because no one is going to vote for them. Very low chances. Why would you vote for someone you know nothing about? You don’t know what game they played, they didn’t have to form a single alliance or be part of a single voting block until Day 37, and virtually had to Survive 1 TRIBAL COUNCIL.
    There’s no way in Survivor hell that they are going to win the game.
    Do you see my point?

    So what has this super long comment taught you?
    Basically, this season would be anticlimactic.

    The Day 37 Ghost Island returnee will almost 100% get to FT, but that’s only because the rest of the players in the Final 3 or 2 know that the returnee will receive little to no votes, most likely none.

    So in the end, the audience will be let down by a finale that toggles between the two players who actually played the game, leaving the returnee to sit there thinking about the 36 days they wasted in mental anguish on that island, only to come back from fighting like hell to get to this place and finish in 3rd, with 0 jury votes.

    Hopefully all that helped you see my point, and I feel like it would be a very large hit to Survivor’s ratings. Less people would view season 37 because no one will feel good after watching the season 36 finale.

    If you disagree, please reply to this comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

    Again, this is Survivor Bartlett, headed back to camp. 🙂

  17. mmm not sure sounds interesting . but wouldnt mind seen another fans vs favourites or heroes vs villains. or maybe europe vs USA give some us outiside the US a chance to compete

  18. I want to see this season so bad. Unfortunately, it sounds like the actual Ghost Island won’t be like this Ghost Island. Sure, it has flaws. But the idea of players trying to convince each other to quit is a new idea that we’ve never seen before (unless you count Hatch-Sue in All-Stars). This is how Redemption Island should have been. Sad that it’s probably going into the can for good.

  19. I think it’s cool how they took a concept for one season and got three seasons out of it. Second Chance, Ghost Island (just by name) and Edge of Extinction

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