Inside the “Survivor” Casting Process: Here’s How to Apply (and Prove You Have What it Takes!)

Thousands of fans submit audition tapes for 'Survivor' every year, but only 18 are chosen to compete

<p>Robert Voets/CBS/Getty</p> The cast of

Robert Voets/CBS/Getty

The cast of 'Survivor' Season 39.

Before the buffs are drawn, Survivor hopefuls must “outwit, outplay, and outlast” one another during the rigorous casting process.

The competition reality series, which first premiered in 2000, unites a tribe of unlikely castaways as they compete in a series of mental and physical challenges while vying for the final $1 million prize. And as any former Survivor player will admit, the only thing more cutthroat than a blindside at a tribal council is the lengthy process of becoming a contestant on the CBS reality show.

If you’re a Survivor superfan, you may be familiar with some of the more obscure in-show Survivor guidelines and the infamous audition tape process. However, in order to get cast, applicants need to also complete several rounds of interviews, paperwork, health examinations and in-person meetings with the host himself, Jeff Probst.

Related: Where to Watch Every Season of Survivor

Thousands of applications pour in each year, but according to Probst, in order to stand out, aspiring contestants need to show drive, self-awareness and authenticity.

“Sometimes people apply and even though they say and do all the right things, you can tell that the drive just isn't there. And if we don't sense a real need to be on this show, then we know it's not the right time for you,” the host told Entertainment Weekly in 2023.

Do you think you have what it takes to become the next “Sole Survivor"? Here's everything to know about the Survivor casting process.

What are the requirements to get cast on Survivor?

<p>Robert Voets/CBS/ Getty</p> Danny Massa, Josh Wilder, Frannie Marin, and Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt on Season 44 of 'Survivor'.

Robert Voets/CBS/ Getty

Danny Massa, Josh Wilder, Frannie Marin, and Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt on Season 44 of 'Survivor'.

In order to be eligible for Survivor, applicants must have a valid United States or Canadian passport as filming takes place in Fiji, and be at least 16 years old. However, there are exceptions to the age requirement — those living in Alabama, Nebraska or Wyoming must be 19 years or older, while Mississippi and Washington, D.C. residents must be 21 years or older, per CBS’ eligibility requirements.

Related: All About 'Survivor' Alums Rob Mariano and Amber Mariano’s 4 Children

All applicants also need to complete a background check. Semi-finalists are required to fill out medical history documents and complete physical and psychological examinations and testing, according to CBS.

Furthermore, the network strictly enforces that “applicants who are selected as contestants cannot be candidates for public office until after the initial broadcast of all programs in which they appear.”

How hard is it to get cast on Survivor?

<p>Robert Voets/CBS/Getty </p> Jeff Probst, Lindsay Dolashewich, Maryanne Oketch, Romeo Escobar, Tori Meehan, Rocksroy Bailey, Drea Wheeler, Hai Giang, Mike Turner, Omar Zaheer and Jonathan Young on Season 42 of 'Survivor'.

Robert Voets/CBS/Getty

Jeff Probst, Lindsay Dolashewich, Maryanne Oketch, Romeo Escobar, Tori Meehan, Rocksroy Bailey, Drea Wheeler, Hai Giang, Mike Turner, Omar Zaheer and Jonathan Young on Season 42 of 'Survivor'.

During the 2022 casting cycle, Survivor producers received more than 16,000 audition tapes. Twenty-four lucky individuals advanced to the final in-person casting call, and of those, only 18 went on to compete in season 45. Suffice to say, Survivor is one of the most sought-after reality TV competitions.

If you think you have what it takes to be the next “Sole Survivor,” you can apply to become a contestant via the online submission portal. The whole process, which includes answering basic personal questions and uploading a recent photo, must be completed in one sitting. Most importantly, applicants also need to submit an audition tape in which they share what type of Survivor player they will be and how their real-life experiences will help them win the game.

"It's just the easiest way for the casting team to see their personality and the things they want us to know about them," the production team told PEOPLE in 2023. "Then, if there is interest on our end, one of our casting producers would reach out to them and begin the formal process."

Because the casting team receives thousands of submissions every year, Survivor hopefuls are required to submit a new application (including a new audition tape) every year.

How are Survivor contestants chosen?

<p>Robert Voets/CBS/Getty</p> Jeff Probst on Season 41 of 'Survivor'.

Robert Voets/CBS/Getty

Jeff Probst on Season 41 of 'Survivor'.

The Survivor casting team, which is led by Jesse Tannenbaum, is busy vetting potential new contestants year-round, with serious contenders getting a phone call in the fall.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Tannenbaum explained that the team begins casting by conducting multiple interviews with a small pool of strong applicants. During that process, candidates are often workshopping their audition tapes as well.

"Sometimes we give them pointers like that it's okay to be vulnerable and open and tell us about who you are," explained Tannenbaum. "So the producers will work with them to create a great audition video."

Once the casting team has their picks, Tannenbaum sends those reshot audition tapes to Probst and the show’s producers, who select 30 semi-finalists they’d like to meet. During this round, potential contestants speak with the casting department, show producers and executives. This is also when physical and psychological examinations are done.

From there 24 people are invited to the last round of casting finals in Los Angeles, where they sit down for even more interviews. Of those, only 18 are picked to compete.

"If a player is going to panic, this is the stage where it happens," Probst told Entertainment Weekly. "The pressure ratchets up when the room is full of producers and CBS executives. This too is by design. If you drop the ball at this stage, you probably won't get on the show this season."

Are there any tips for getting cast on Survivor?

<p>Robert Voets/CBS/Getty</p> Lindsay Carmine and Karla Cruz Godoy on Season 43 of 'Survivor'.

Robert Voets/CBS/Getty

Lindsay Carmine and Karla Cruz Godoy on Season 43 of 'Survivor'.

“Actually make an audition video,” Tannenbuam advised future Survivor contestants in a 2021 casting tips video.

“You’d be surprised at how many countless TikTok videos we get or just a 15-second video of someone working out or shooting a gun. That doesn’t help you whatsoever,” he revealed. “We’re looking for authenticity. We’re looking for somebody we’ll become emotionally invested in.”

Tannenbaum also suggested “shooting from the hip,” rather than relying on a script. “You want to be yourself, unfiltered, uncensored, unapologetically yourself. If you curse, you curse. It’s OK,” he said, reiterating that “this isn’t a job interview.”

Speaking with Business Insider, three-time Survivor contestant Malcolm Freberg emphasized that “it’s all about being a storyteller.”

"It's not about what you're saying at all. It's about how you're saying it,” he explained. Freberg recalled “walking around the house with a Four Loko” for his audition tape.

Meanwhile, it took season 42 contestant Tori Stanley six years to get on the reality competition series. Her biggest piece of advice? “The most important thing when it comes to auditioning for Survivor if you want to be on the show is you can’t give up,” she said in a 2023 casting tips video.

Do Survivor contestants get paid?

<p>Robert Voets/CBS/Getty</p> Romeo Escobar, Mike Turner and Maryanne Oketch on Season 42 of 'Survivor'.

Robert Voets/CBS/Getty

Romeo Escobar, Mike Turner and Maryanne Oketch on Season 42 of 'Survivor'.

Not only is the winner of each season given the title of “Sole Survivor,” they are also awarded a $1 million prize. Traditionally, the runner-up receives $100,000, while the person in third place walks away with $85,000. Additionally, all contestants on the jury are paid — albeit, those amounts haven’t been made public.

Survivor contestants have also earned upwards of $100,000 without making it to the merge or jury because of the generosity of a particular superfan. Singer-songwriter Sia is a self-declared lover of the show and surprised her favorite contestants with monetary rewards from 2016 to 2024. The “Sia Award” ranged from $14,000 to $100,000 and was sometimes bestowed to multiple players in a given season.

“She gets a lot of joy from watching Survivor players take on such a personal and often vulnerable life adventure. And she has been incredibly fortunate in her own career and wants to share some of that fortune with others,” Probst told Entertainment Weekly of Sia’s generosity in 2022.

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