The Rumor Mill – What’s The Story With Survivor Season 40?

A look at the casting process for Survivor’s all-winners season.

Photo: Bill Selak via Compfight cc

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the size of a Boston Rob statue, you’ll know by now that Survivor season 40 is the much-anticipated all-winners edition. Inside Survivor revealed the rumored cast this past Saturday and the reaction throughout the Survivor community has been one of giddy excitement. A season that many fans have wanted to see for years is finally happening, literally, right now, on the islands of Fiji, twenty former champions are battling it out for the ultimate Survivor crown.

But how did we get here? There was a lot of talk and many questions following the cast reveal. When did CBS decide on an all-winners season? Who else was considered? Why didn’t this person make the cast? Hopefully, this post will explain some of those details, as we look back at all the news, rumors, and speculation from the past six months.

November 2018 – January 2019

  • Back in November, SEG (Survivor Entertainment Group) casting first started making the initial calls to former castaways. These were merely preliminary calls to gauge whether people would be interested in playing Survivor again for season 40.
  • These calls continued intermittently throughout December and January. Some of the players called were asked to fill out paperwork and were given projected dates for filming and casting finals.
  • The list of players called covered a broad spectrum of Survivor; names from at least season 3 all the way up to season 37. Without giving away specific names, I can say that calls went out to former winners, runners-up, first boots, pre-mergers, post-mergers, legends, second chance type players, multi-time players, old schoolers, new schoolers, etc. Basically, everyone was in contention.
  • It’s unclear if SEG/CBS had a specific theme in mind at this point, though based on past returnee seasons, by January, they usually have a solid idea of what they want to do. Based on the wide variety of names called, it appeared the theme was going to be something broad and open to a range of past players (think along the lines of All-Stars or Game Changers).

February 2019

  • In February, something changed. Numerous players who had previously received calls – including several big-name Survivor castaways – were suddenly cut. Based on the information I heard, there seemed to be some frustration between SEG and CBS when it came to the casting process and sudden changes.
  • There was a certain phrase that kept popping up when a player got cut: “…it will become obvious when you hear the theme.” That suggested the theme was very specific and restrictive. Whatever CBS had decided on for season 40 quickly ruled out a whole host of former players who had previously been in the mix.
  • After checking in with various sources, it started to become clear that the only names still in the mix were past winners. Though at this point I didn’t have confirmation on enough winners to determine whether CBS was going ahead with an all-winners season or some sort of tribe of winners versus whatever (first boots? celebrities? These were some ideas that crossed my mind at the time).

March 2019

  • In the first week of March, the first round of casting finals took place in Los Angeles, and things started to become a little clearer, though some false rumors posted on social media confused the situation slightly.
  • In terms of what “finals” mean for a returning player season, it means the potential players undergo medical and psych checks to ensure they are fit for returning. Usually, around 30-40 players are invited to finals, and the cast is later whittled down to the final 20. This time around there were far fewer people at finals than usual. Also, SEG had things on extreme lockdown; all medical/psych evaluations took place individually rather than in groups and players were restricted to their rooms at all times.
  • The above restrictions again suggested a specific theme that casting didn’t want the potential players catching wind of (after all, if the finalists noticed it was only winners in the mix, that would tip them off to the theme and ignite potential pre-gaming).
  • While I still didn’t have a full list of names, at this point, I had reliable information that it was only winners who attended casting finals. There were rumors elsewhere online of several old schoolers being in LA – leading to speculation of an Old School vs. New School season. As far as I know, that was never the case; while some non-winner old school castaways did receive prelim calls, none of them attended finals.
  • In mid-March, the cast for season 39 flew out to Fiji for the Island of the Idols. “Boston” Rob Mariano and Sandra Diaz-Twine also departed to take part in the season as “mentors.” It’s believed that Rob and Sandra had already committed to participate in season 40 before leaving – whether their roles in season 39 were part of the deal remains unclear.
  • Another round of finals took place in the last week of March, and once again, only former champions attended. By this point, it was safe to say that season 40 was going to be an all-winners season.

April 2019

  • On April 5, calls started to go out to those who had attended finals to confirm whether or not they had made the final cast. Cuts also happened around this time. It’s believed the likes of Mike Holloway and Tina Wesson were informed they were out of the running – though it’s unclear if they ever attended finals.
  • By early April, the rumors of an all-winners season were beginning to circulate throughout the Survivor community and amongst former players, including those in the mix for season 40. On April 14, I announced the rumored winners theme on Inside Survivor.
  • Speculation on who was on the cast was rife across message boards and social media. There were several lists posted online, some more accurate than others, and lots of false information. The names I had all-but-confirmed by the end of April included: Adam Klein, Ben Driebergen, Danni Boatwright, Denise Stapley, Jeremy Collins, Kim Spradlin, Michele Fitzgerald, Natalie Anderson, Nick Wilson, Parvati Shallow, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Sarah Lacina, Sophie Clarke, Tony Vlachos, Tyson Apostol, and Wendell Holland.
  • Ethan Zohn and Yul Kwon were names I heard were in the mix but couldn’t fully confirm at the time.
  • After checking in with various sources, I was able to confirm Sandra was still indeed taking part in season 40, but the Rob situation was a little more confusing. Rumors began to circulate that Rob had dropped out of the all-winners season causing last-minute panic at CBS/SEG. These rumors persisted into May; however, I was never able to confirm this, and in hindsight, it sort of sounds like something made up to throw people off the scent.
  • The season 39 cast, along with Rob and Sandra, returned home April 29/30.

May 2019

  • On May 15, the day of the Edge of Extinction finale, the season 40 cast were sequestered at a hotel in LA. They were still allowed access to their phones until the following day.
  • On the night of May 16, the twenty former winners departed from LAX to Fiji.
  • Over the following two days, I checked in with sources and worked with legendary Survivor Sucks poster SurvivorsUnite to confirm the final cast; this is when we finally received verification on Ethan and Yul. SurvivorsUnite was also able to confirm that Rob was still a part of the cast, as well as his wife and All-Stars champ Amber.
  • On May 18th, I announced the finalized cast on Inside Survivor. No alternates were flown to Fiji.
  • As for those who didn’t make the cast, here is what I know:
    • Todd Herzog – the China champ was on a lot of rumored cast lists, but from the information I heard, he was never even called.
    • Vecepia Robinson – the Marquesas winner posted on Facebook on April 15 stating that she never received a call.
    • Chris Daugherty – according to SurvivorsUnite, the Vanuatu winner was never called.
    • Tina Wesson – as previously noted, Survivor’s first female winner was apparently called but later cut.
    • Mike Holloway – as with Tina, the Worlds Apart champ was said to have been called but later cut.
    • Brian Heidik – the Thailand victor never received a call.
    • Jenna Morasca – rumors suggest the Amazon winner was not called.
    • Tom Westman – unknown.
    • Aras Baskauskas – unknown.
    • Earl Cole – the original king of Fiji is believed to have turned down the offer due to the premature birth of his second child.
    • Bob Crowley – unknown.
    • J.T. Thomas – unknown.
    • Natalie White – unknown.
    • Jud “Fabio” Birza – the Nicaragua winner apparently never received a call.
    • John Cochran – the Caramoan champion and current Star Trek writer is rumored to have turned down the offer.
    • Chris Underwood – when asked by EW’s Dalton Ross if he had any interest in returning, the most recent winner said, “I feel really at peace with my Survivor experience… I think for now I’m going to sit on the sidelines and be a fan, enjoy the game from the sidelines. But, who knows. A few years from now, things might change.”
    • Richard Hatch – the absence of the show’s original winner caused the biggest reaction when we first posted the cast list. Personally, I never had confirmation on Hatch being in the mix for the season, despite his name appearing on several rumored cast lists. Initially, when asked on Twitter why he wasn’t part of season 40, the Borneo winner said he “wasn’t invited to play.” However, in an alleged message to a fan, Hatch claimed he was cleared to compete but then dropped days before being scheduled to fly to LA. He also stated that the decision to cut him had nothing to do with the infamous All-Stars incident involving Sue Hawk, in which he says he was “completely cleared of any wrongdoing.” That said, whether Hatch was “cleared” or not, it isn’t a leap to believe that CBS was worried about fans and the media bringing the incident back up had Hatch been part of the cast, especially with CBS recently facing its own Me Too controversies.
  • Season 40 began filming on Wednesday 22 May. The cast will return to the U.S. early July.

Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for all the latest news and rumors.

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.

28 responses to “The Rumor Mill – What’s The Story With Survivor Season 40?”

  1. I’m not surprised if either Hatch’s or the fan’s rumored story is true. Considering all of the stuff Hatch and CBS have been through over the fast few years I don’t think they would be interested in each other.

  2. It’s too bad Todd was never called. I would have loved to see him come back! But maybe after all that Dr. Phil press… that ruined his chances?

    • I doubt this tbh, the show has had former felons on the show including Jennifer Lenzetti and Vytas.

    • He probably wasnt called, because they knew the situation could be very stresful for him, theres talk he is recovering very well from his second fall, and that throwing him off balance in a game like survivor could be very bad for him, so he wasnt called, but it wasnt out of malice, instead it was for his well being.

  3. This was an interesting read!
    FWIW, I’d be surprised if Cochran was contacted at all. With him being a writer on Star Trek, there’s probably a conflict of interest issue.

    • CBS employees are not allowed to compete, though I heard that they made an exception just for Cochran about competing in the future (as in, since he was a contestant before he was an employee, he could compete after a certain time).

      It’s likely that Cochran was not contacted because of that conflict of interest.

  4. It bothers me that Brian Heidik didn’t even receive a call.

    This is a very detailed rundown of the events leading to it. Can’t wait for Jeff to explain his change of heart toward the theme in interviews. Jk.

    • Brian will probably never be called considering his actions after the show. He’s a bit of a sociopath.

        • Mike was supposedly somewhat blacklisted due to post-show incidents of him getting drunk and marking an arse of himself among other returning players and fans. He also posts angry conservative rants on Twitter which has led to a bunch of other players blocking him, etc.

          I get the feeling that was NOT the sort of energy casting was looking for…

  5. Interesting that they seem to know which winners no one cares to see. Vecepia and Brian Heidik are two I could care less about watching. Not sure how to feel about Rob & Amber playing. No matter which one wins, they would both win since they are married. Will be interested to see how that plays out.

    • vecepia is way way way underrated.
      She played the best (& possibly only) passive aggressive game of all time. she was a real sh*t-stirrer.

      • yeah, she did the Sandra thing, and the shifting voting blocks thing before they were things.

  6. Here’s what I wonder about… If production went out of their way to keep things on extreme lockdown with the evaluations even being carried out individually, all so that the players wouldn’t figure out the theme and start pre-gaming, than how did they sold this season to all those winners and legends in the first place? A couple of people have said that they would return only for an all-winners season, some have said that they’re done and won’t ever play again… And here we are with all these players like Parv, Kim, Rob, Tony, Yul, Amber etc. on board. They must have revealed the proposed theme to at least some of them or I don’t see why would they agree to play. Parv having a little child and a lot to lose by returning is a perfect example of the theme probably being crucial in her decision.

    I mean, they could have just offered them lots of money and said that they are doing another HvV-like all-star season with legendary players to commemorate the 20th anniversary, perhaps even revealing some names that should be on (“And btw, Parv, Sandra is on too, so if you want to take that queen’s crown from her…”) to further motivate/tempt them… But disclosing the theme would have been the biggest temptation of them all.

  7. Although it is not known if Aras was contacted or not, they probably realized that he wasn’t worth coming back because he is a forgettable and unlikable winner. Richard Hatch returning would’ve been bad with the MeToo Movement happening and all of the allegations against Les Moonves. Right now Jenna and Todd really need to focus on getting their lives back together with everything that’s been happening to them. I actually don’t care for Jenna at all. Looking back on Todd’s victory, I actually found it very predictable. Jean-Robert said in the very first episode of ‘China’ that Todd would be the mastermind for that season and no one was doing anything to stop him.

    • I highly doubt Aras was considered for a third-go round after he bored everyone in his second stint. Likewise, J.T. disappointed big time on Game Changers and he’s not enough of a character to give a fourth try.

      I mean, casting did a pretty good job on loading up on One Timer champions and then filling out the rest of the cast with some character icons like Parvati, Tyson, etc. It’s also great that the four full-on All Star season winners are back (Amber, Sandra, Jeremy and Sarah).

      • The fact that Aras was even brought back for a second time astounded me because I never found him to be a good winner at all. If anything good came from him taking part in ‘Blood vs. Water’, it was that his torch finally got snuffed when it should’ve happened in his initial season.

    • What does Richard have to do with #meToo (a movement which has been disgraced in large measure)?
      Is he buddies with Les Moonves? (for whom I except my suspicion of #metoo. Scumbag.)
      He’s a *convicted felon.*
      That’s why he’s not on.
      He’s also cannon fodder in the modern age of Survivor.

  8. the biggest loss, to me, is Earl Cole. He would have made the mix more interesting; his absence hurts. I’d have also liked to have seen Vecepia in there. Although I’d liked to have seen Todd play, not sure it’s best for him personally. There’s no way they’d bring Brian back.

    • Todd was going to have a hard time fitting in as Adam, and to a lesser extent, Nick kind of fit his “young skinny guy gamebot” mold. And the latter two were arguably more interesting characters given the paths they had to take to the win.

      Brian was never going to be given the time of day and Vecepia is the most forgettable winner they have ever had (under-the-radar victory way back in Season 4). I think the only chance Vecepia would have had is if so many women declined that casting had no choice. But, even then, I think they would have just gone with mis-matched genders (8 women and 12 men).

      • fair enough. I’d just like to have seen the most one-time players as possible. Vecepia fits that, and Natalie White. Todd, too, of course. And the sorely missed Earl. I haven’t re-watched Marquesas in several years, but the last time I did, I remember noting that Vecepia actually played a very stealth shifting game. At the time it first aired, I was too pre-occupied w Kathy, and was soured on the final two. But, re-watching, V. could be interesting to see how her approach holds up in a different context. I could say the same for the Natalie W. as well. The winners that are considered to be ‘weak’ winners — I’d like to see how they play in a different context, and see if they can prove that wrong.

    • Earl is the standout not-in.
      He would have been my #1 pick.
      That mofo won Survivor without SEEING Survivor (hardly.)
      Also I think there’s an edge for corporate types this season. Experience managing alpha types.

      Really hope his kid is okay.

  9. They really put together the cast they wanted and left little room for error. Essentially, not even calling most of the names that did not end up on S40. It’s even more bizarre when it comes to the women since there’s only 14 names. Since Tina likely got somewhere in the process, they at least contacted 11 of them, but you figure someone doing their casting job would have at least sent out calls to Vecepia, Jenna and Natalie White in order to have SOME back-up options. Perhaps they were saving them for last in case their preferred contestants dropped out.

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