The number of reality competition shows has grown for decades, but hopefuls still clamor for the opportunity to be marooned on an island and compete on Survivor. The CBS staple premiered in 2000, and fans are preparing for its 45th season, which is set to premiere this fall.
To compete on Survivor, players must leave their loved ones, comforts, and possessions behind. They exist with only the bare necessities — water, rationed rice, and a shelter that they build — while surviving the elements, all in pursuit of $1 million. The game lasted 39 days for most of its run, but now the newer seasons wrap filming after 26.
Because of the extreme nature of the television series, a common question asked is whether or not anyone has died on Survivor. The answer’s no; no one has played the game to the bitter end.
Production has safeguards in place (especially as the show’s evolved) to mitigate and prevent injuries and of course, fatalities.
For example, they have on-site doctors who will diagnose players with ailments if they’re showing signs or symptoms. And if the doctor deems a player’s health is not to standard, they’ll eject them from the game. The structure of Survivor has led to medical emergencies, but only a handful of hundreds of players have been forced to leave the island for treatment.
Former Survivor contestants have passed away, however
Although no one has died filming Survivor, several former players from the U.S. version have passed away since their time at Tribal Council. The first death that rocked the Survivor community was when Jenn Lyon from season 10’s Palau died in 2010 at age 37 after battling breast cancer. She made it to the final four before being voted out on day 37.
B.B. Andersen, a contestant who was voted out second in Borneo (the franchise’s inaugural season), then died in 2013 from brain cancer. He was 77 years old.
Season 27’s Blood vs. Water featured Survivor veteran Colton Cumbie and his then-fiancé, Caleb Bankston. Sadly, Bankston died in a train accident around a year after filming the show. He was 26 and it happened in 2014. Although Cumbie quit the show on day 7, Bankston lasted until day 29 and he filled the third jury member’s seat.
Less than three years after Bankston’s death, Dan Kay died. He played on season 18’s Gabon and was the eighth person to have their torch snuffed by Jeff Probst. Kay “died unexpectedly” in 2016, according to People. He was 40 years old and his cause of death has never been made public.
Ashley Massaro, a former professional wrestler and competitor in season 15’s China, died from “apparent suicide” at age 39 in 2019, People also reported. Like Andersen, Massaro only made it to day 6 before her campaign to earn the $1 million prize ended.
Nine more ex-Survivor contestants have also lost their lives.
Perhaps the most famous alum that’s died is Rudy Boesch. The former Navy SEAL starred on Borneo as well as season 8’s All-Stars. He was the final jury member on season 1 and was booted off the island second in All-Stars. Boesch lived until he was 91. He died in 2019 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Former NBA player Cliff Robinson — who served as the first-ever professional basketballer to try their hand at Survivor — died the next year at 53 from lymphoma. He was a part of the “Brawn” tribe during season 28’s Cagayan but was voted out after a tribe reshuffling on day 14.
A second cast member from Palau died in 2021. Around 17 years after being voted out sixth, Angie Jakusz passed away from cancer. That same year, season 33 Millennials vs. Gen X’s Sunday Burquest succumbed to cancer as well. She was 50. Burquest made it deep into the merge, placing seventh on day 35.
Last year marked the deaths of four former Survivor cast members. First, season 22 Redemption Island’s alum Ralph Kiser — the iteration’s fourth jury member — died from a heart attack at age 56. Then, the runner-up of season 5’s Thailand — Clay Jordan — passed away around a month later after being hospitalized due to an undisclosed illness, per US Magazine. He was 66.
A few months after that, Dan Lembo died at 75 from a “rare brain disease,” according to a report from TMZ. He secured fifth place in season 31’s Nicaragua. The final Survivor alum the community mourned in 2022 was Roger Sexton. He was featured on season 6’s The Amazon and was the seventh person voted out. Sexton fought Lewy Body Dementia and died at 76.
The most recent competitor to pass is two-time contestant Keith Nale. Nale placed fourth in season 29’s San Juan del Sur and fifth in season 31’s Cambodia. He died of cancer at age 62.