Teeuwynn has been a game designer, author, and TV writer since her career began back in the '90s.
Worst Injuries on Survivor
The American version of the Survivor TV show has been a mainstay on the CBS network since it first debuted on May 31st of 2000. Throughout its run, a number of contestants have faced accidents and injuries, some very serious. Although no one has died on the show, that has happened on another version of the show. In the French version, 25-year-old Gerald Babin was evacuated the first day of his season and later died of a heart attack. That season was never aired.
Many contestants suffer minor injuries, infections, serious bug bites, dehydration, and even intestinal issues. This article will cover the more serious injuries and accidents contestants have suffered in the game. Injuries and accidents are collected into loose groups, by type.
Survivor is played in the jungles of many subtropical and tropical lands. Most recently, Survivor has filmed its seasons in Fiji. In such damp, warm conditions, infections are a constant concern. The following players have been taken out of the game due to staph, and other infections, that threatened life and limb.
Jonathan Penner (Survivor: Micronesia): Jonathan Penner was doing well on his second season when he competed in a challenge with other Survivors where the production tied teams of two to each other and then pairs of teams had to race each other up, under and around thick branches of wood.
The challenge led to numerous minor injuries, such as Parvati’s busted lip, but Penner had what he would later find out was the worst injury as a puncture wound on his knee sustained on the course grew infected. Jonathan didn’t want to leave the game, but after a medical evaluation, the medical staff informed him that leaving such an infection in his leg could result in the loss of his leg or even a blood infection that could kill him and that they were removing him from the game.
Neal Gottlieb (Survivor: Kaõh Rδng): Neal Gottlieb also suffered a penetrating wound in his knee. “Mount Saint Neal” grew so big as to worry the crew and Neal was taken out for the same reason as Penner was in Micronesia.
James Clement (Survivor: Micronesia): James Clement suffered a lot of bad luck during his many times on Survivor. In Micronesia, James was doing well but developed a cut on the knuckle in one hand. The knuckle began to swell and the doctors were brought in. As with the guys above, James was told he had a dangerous staph infection too close to a joint, risking the health of his hand, and even his life, so he was forced to leave the game.
Joe Dowdle (Survivor: Tocantins): Joe is our third example of a staph infection taking a player out of the game. Joe’s leg developed a scratch that slowly filled with puss until the medical team pulled him aside and out of the game for his own good.
Papa Smurf (Survivor: Fiji): 55-year-old Gary Stritesy, or “Papa Smurf” was on the rich side of the island on the Have/Have Not season of Survivor. However, he began to have problems with his health early on in the game. Gary began to get sicker and sicker, complaining of shortness of breath, dizziness, and saying he felt worse than he ever had.
The contestants noted that Papa Smurf was covered in thousands upon thousands of bug bites. Once Papa Smurf was diagnosed, he was removed from the island and treated with anti-toxins to help his body heal.
Physical accidents are common on Survivor with all the demanding challenges, not to mention the physical environment the Survivors have to live in.
Michael Skupin (Survivor: Australia): Michael Skupin is probably the original poster boy for Survivor injuries. One day at camp in Survivor: The Australian Outback, Mike was making fire. He got dizzy, whether from smoke, lack of sleep, or dehydration, and passed out falling hands first into the fire. Skupin needed to be helivacced out for emergency treatments, including a number of surgeries. It took over a year for his hands to heal completely.
Skupin After Burning Himself - Caution! Graphic may be too Strong for Some
J.T. Thomas (Survivor: Tocantins): The contestants were playing a game where two players, one from each team, shot slingshots at the other players. The other players tried to use nets to catch the beanbags and earn points for their team.
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J.T. was so intense that he actually knocked his tooth out while competing. Once he realized he had done so, he threw it into the mud, but Jeff. Probst and other contestants found the tooth so J.T. could get it fixed.
Rupert Boneham (Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains): In the very first challenge of Heroes vs. Villains there was a lot of rough play as both teams tried to get heavy bags across their finish line while pitted against an opponent from the other side. Rupert managed to break one of his toes while skirmishing for one of the bags. The injury plagued him for the rest of the season.
James Clement (Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains): James Clement played in three different seasons of Survivor (Survivor: China, Survivor: Micronesia, and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains). In Heroes vs. Villains, James had to play in “Schmergen Brawl,” a vicious game where three people fight it out in a pit trying to get balls to two people waiting to make shots above. James got caught up in the brawl and twisted his leg brutally. After that, his leg was never the same. James tried to race J.T. on the beach to prove his worth, but he just couldn’t come near to beating him and his tribemates voted him out of the game.
James On Leaving Survivor Due to His Finger Injury
Parvati Shallow (Survivor: Cook Islands): In one of the later episodes of this season, Parvati is chopping a coconut with a machete, when she accidentally chops through most of her thumb with that machete. The medics arrive and help stitch it up, and Parvati manages to remain in the game.
Kourtney Moon (Survivor: One World): Hippie chick, Kourtney Moon, was ready to have the adventure of a lifetime when she stood at the top of a long jump onto a rope slide. Contestants had been instructed to cross their hands over their chests when they jumped, but Kourtney didn’t and suffered a fractured wrist as a result, forcing her to exit from the game.
Shamar Thomas (Survivor: Caramoan): Shamar was seen as a layabout by most of his tribe, but Shamar continuously complained about having trouble seeing out of one eye after a bit of a sandstorm. Doctors looked at Shamar and determined it was possible he had a corneal scratch and that his eyesight might be in trouble if it wasn’t taken care of, so Shamar left the game early, leaving some skeptics in his tribe behind.
Mike Borassi (Survivor: Samoa): Mike Borassi was 62-years-old when he played Survivor. He was doing alright when the teams came up to the “Schmergen Brawl” challenge. During the melee in the bottom pit, Borassi was hit so hard he spent a while wandering around the field in a state of confusion. After the game, Survivor Medical looked at him and found he had very low blood pressure. The doctors were too concerned with Mike’s health and pulled him from the game.
Schmergen Brawl was such a violent game that Survivor only played it in the back-to-back seasons of Survivor: Samoa and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. After that, it was retired.
Stephanie LaGrossa (Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains): In the very first challenge of Heroes. Vs. Villains, perhaps the best season ever, Stephanie got caught in a challenge and had one of her arms dislocated from her socket. Instead of quitting, Stephanie had the medical staff help pop her arm back into place and continued on in the game.
Missy Payne (Survivor: San Juan del Sur): Missy was doing well in the game when she participated in a challenge where she had to climb over a balancing net. Missy severely twisted her ankle and had trouble pushing through the challenge.
Once she did, medics checked her out and recommended she leave the game as the injury was probably a bad sprain or a fracture. Missy knew there was only a handful of people left in the game and she didn’t want to leave. Missy convinced the medics to put a type of cast on her and she managed to hobble through the rest of the game.
Pat Cusack (Survivor: David vs. Goliath): The 40-year-old maintenance manager from Watervliet New York made it through his first challenge in Fiji. Although the David tribe lost, Pat was still raring to go.
Unfortunately, due to Tropical Cyclone Josie, the weather was awful and on the boat ride back to David beach the boat came down especially hard after a wave. The sudden movement injured Pat's back and the crew decided it was bad enough to turn around and head back to the challenge beach where the crew was. Medical came in to take a look and determined Pat's pain was bad enough to need morphine. He was also having some trouble concentrating. Due to the fear of major damage to Pat's back, Dr. Joe decided to remove him from the game, devastating Pat. His injury has since healed.
Bi Nguyen (Survivor: David vs. Goliath): The mixed martial arts fighter from the David tribe suffered a sprain to her MCL in her knee on the third episode of the show. Although the doctors said the Houston resident could continue, they warned she could do further damage to her knee. As a professional athlete, Bi decided to quit the competition rather than risk more permanent damage.
Karishma Patel (Survivor: Island of the Idols): The personal injury attorney herself fell victim to an injury in episode three when she managed to stab her hand with a knife, cutting to the bone. Although Karishma was shaken by the injury and the Lairo tribe's cavalier attitude towards it, once the medics bandaged her hand she went on with the game.
Several players in Survivor have been brought low by intestinal issues after starving for so long and then cramming their bodies with meat and other sudden delicacies. Sometimes the body can only handle so much abuse and it's not only a sudden injury that can take a player out.
Bruce Kanegai (Survivor: Panama): Bruce had worked his way far into the game when he joined a reward celebration. After consuming a lot of food, including meats, Bruce began to feel bad. He hadn't gone to the bathroom in days and his pain began to grow. The medics arrived and determined Bruce had a blockage that needed treatment at a hospital for his own safety.
Joe del Campo (Survivor: Kaõh Rông): Like Bruce above, Joe had made it to the end of the game when he got a reward. The reward involved what Joe described as eating “three feet” of meat. Since Joe is normally a vegetarian, this was probably even more of an assault on his system. Like Bruce, Joe’s intestinal system shut down to the extent the doctors had to extract him to take care of him at the hospital.
Colton Cumbie (Survivor: One World): Colton Cumbie had been bullying and mocking the other folks on One World and generally acting like he was king of that world, but he was starting to feel a pushback when other contestants found him curled up on the ground claiming great abdominal pain. The medics were worried Colton was having appendicitis and had him evacuated.
Later it was learned Colton did not have appendicitis. However, Colton says the doctors did find severe bacterial infection in his stomach and intestines.
Dehydration and Heat Issues
Due to the extreme heat and humidity, along with the demanding challenges, Survivor is a place where it is very easy to suffer problems with both extreme dehydration and heat stroke or exhaustion.
Caleb Reynolds, Debbie Wanner, and Cydney Gillon (Survivor: Kaõh Rõng): The conditions were particularly brutal, moist, and hot when the Survivors attacked this challenge. The second part of the challenge involved digging up bags of puzzle pieces in the 100+ weather. Teams dug in the sun for a long time, with the Beauties finishing first, finally getting their pieces 45 minutes later.
After the challenge was over, one player from each team collapsed. Debbie Wanner of the Brains tribe and Cydney Gillon of the Brawns tribe had heat exhaustion and recovered after a while. However, Caleb Reynolds had really gone all out in the challenge and had pushed his body past the limit. He wasn’t maintaining consciousness and his blood pressure was looking bad. The doctors were worried and immediately called for the helicopter. Jeff Probst told EW Magazine that, “It was the most frightened I’ve been in all my time on Survivor.”
Caleb spent a number of days recovering in the ICU.
Boston Rob Mariano (Heroes vs. Villains): Boston Rob is one of the tougher players to play in this game. He had played four times and gone deep into the game two of those, coming in second in All-Stars and winning Redemption Island.
In Heroes vs. Villains Rob suffered an episode early in the game where he passed out in the woods. Jerri found him and called medical. Rob said he thought the game was getting to him, but after getting re-hydrated he managed to go on.
Russell Swan (Survivor: Samoa): Russell Swan was the leader of the Galu tribe. He took that position seriously. During a challenge, where Russell led his team by getting inside a giant ball and directing his blindfolded tribemates to move him around to a maze he started to feel dizzy. By the time they got to the maze, Russell was struggling and then passed out completely, with his eyes rolling up in his head.
Medical found it difficult to get Russell back to consciousness and he had a very low heart rate. The second they sat him up, Russell passed out again, confirming to the medical team that he had to go.
Erich Reichenbach (Survivor: Caramoan): Erich Reichenbach made it all the way to the end of Tribal Council on day 36 when he collapsed at the end of the proceedings. Although the medical team tried to get Erich ready to rejoin the game, he seemed spent, and they concluded he was too exhausted, depleted, and dehydrated to continue.
21-year-old Lauren O'Connell (Survivor: Edge of Extinction) had made it to the merge, but despite a bit of illness, was doing well in challenges. She also managed to score a fancy new immunity idol all on her own and has stayed calm under significant pressure to use it. When in the April 3rd, 2019 episode the Immunity Challenge arrived, Lauren was ready.
Players just needed to stand on increasingly smaller beams while holding a block of wood on the top of their heads. To complete the challenge, players had to stand on a narrow plank, standing up on their toes, while holding a rectangular wooden block on top of their head and pressed against a top bar. Just keep all this the same, and everything should be fine... But unfortunately for Lauren, the dehydration and stress, combined with her previous illness to make her unable to push herself quite as far as she usually can.
So, Lauren told the production team she was having trouble seeing. After that, Lauren said she had lost all sight. Soon after, Lauren toppled over and fell about four feet to the ground in a dead faint.
Medical immediately came to Lauren's aide and she soon recovered. Lauren was just extremely mad with herself for not staying in the challenge.
More to Come...
Due to the physical nature of this game, there are surely more accidents to come. Survivor is a great game, but it needs to try to walk the line between doing actual harm to its contestants and providing exciting games for the fans to watch.
Here is an article about facts you may not have known about Survivor.
© 2018 Teeuwynn Woodruff
Teeuwynn Woodruff (author) from Washington State on April 13, 2018:
To each their own! I'm a big fan of Reality TV, but it's not for everyone.
Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 09, 2018:
I for one am not a big fan of these reality TV shows. I don't look at Survivor but I like to watch the Amazing Race which has also had its share of injuries. I am a fairly old man and I used to love watching the variety shows that used to be on TV such as The Carol Burnett Show. I feel that shows like that were much more entertaining that these crazy reality shows. Just my opinion!