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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.