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|The eighteen All-Stars returnees.|
|Description:||A twist that former players are brought back to the game for another chance against new players or other returning players.|
Heroes vs. Villains
Blood vs. Water
The idea of former players returning originally occurred in Survivor: All-Stars. Executive Producer Mark Burnett wanted to showcase "The best of the best" after the ratings increase of Survivor: Pearl Islands. During pre-production for All-Stars, Burnett wrote down the series' most likable, villainous, and memorable players on a legal pad and shortlisted eighteen names within minutes.
All-Stars seasons feature a cast comprised entirely of returning players. The eponymous season, All-Stars, saw 18 returnees divided into three competing tribes. Amber Brkich ultimately won the season against Rob Mariano. The All-Stars twist was revived for the ten-year anniversary season, Heroes vs. Villains. This season divided the returnees based on the heroic or villainous reputations. Sandra Diaz-Twine became the first two-time winner of Survivor, beating Parvati Shallow and Russell Hantz.
Although proving to be a success for fans of the show, some critics argued that the survival aspects were completely removed in favor of strategy and exuberant challenges. Fans also responded negatively to players that, according to popular opinion, had little to no impact on their original season. Notable casting controversies include Amber Brkich in All-Stars (who had been a backup to Elisabeth Filarski and Colleen Haskell), and Candice Woodcock in Heroes vs. Villains (whose mutiny was seen as more villainous than heroic, if either at all).
Fans vs. Favorites
Although initially intending to produce a second all-stars season, Burnett pushed for Survivor to experiment with different twists in their 16th season. The result was the Fans vs. Favorites twist that saw a tribe of ten returning players pitted against a tribe of ten "die-hard" fans of the show. Both iterations of this twist have seen the favorites tribe comprised solely of contestants who had only played once previously and who did not win.
One Returnee per Tribe
The One Returnee per Tribe twist sees two to three returning players competing against new castaways, with one returnee placed on each of the competing tribes. In all seasons featuring this twist, a returning player has made it to the Final Tribal Council.
The twist was first introduced in Survivor: Guatemala. Two former castaways from Survivor: Palau, Bobby Jon Drinkard and Stephenie LaGrossa, returned for a shot at redemption after being the final two members of the infamous Ulong tribe. New contestant Danni Boatwright won the season against Stephenie.
The Redemption Island twist saw the resurrection of this method for introducing returnees. In Survivor: Redemption Island, Rob Mariano and Russell Hantz were brought back to settle their rivalry from Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. Russell was targeted early when his tribe threw a challenge to vote him out. Meanwhile, Rob won the game against fellow Ometepe tribemates Phillip Sheppard and Natalie Tenerelli.
The Redemption Island format was revisited in Survivor: South Pacific, with Coach Wade and Ozzy Lusth returning to improve on their weak social games. This was the first time the two returning players had not previously competed on the same season. New contestant Sophie Clarke claimed the prize, beating Coach and Albert Destrade.
Survivor: Philippines introduced three previous contestants, Russell Swan, Michael Skupin, and Jonathan Penner, all of whom were evacuated due to medical reasons. This is the only iteration of the One Returnee per Tribe twist to bring back more than two returning players. New contestant Denise Stapley won the game against Lisa Whelchel and Skupin.
Another type of Returnees vs. New Players format is the couples format, where returnees would compete against people they personally know. It was first used in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, where ten returning castaways would compete against their loved ones. However, each castaway would compete individually, so a castaway would still be in the game even after their partner was voted out. The twist would play its part when a castaway can opt to replace their partner who is currently on Redemption Island before a duel takes place, thus allowing their partner to take their place in the tribe.
The most recent type of returning player season is Survivor: Cambodia in which the public had the opportunity to vote for 20 of 32 certain contestants to return and have another shot. These players each have only played once and have never won, while also originating from multiple seasons, all the way from season 1 to 30. These players can also be runner-ups, jury members, or even pre-merge boots.
Success in the Game
It should be noted that during every season thus far that has featured returning players competing against new players, at least one returning player has made it to the Final Two/Three in those seasons. These players include Stephenie LaGrossa (Guatemala), Amanda Kimmel (Micronesia), Parvati Shallow (Micronesia), Rob Mariano (Redemption Island), Coach Wade (South Pacific), Michael Skupin (Philippines), John Cochran (Caramoan), Dawn Meehan (Caramoan), Gervase Peterson (Blood vs. Water), Monica Culpepper (Blood vs. Water), and Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water).
Returning Players by Season
|Season||Returned to Future Season||Season||Returned to Future Season|
- Of the 79 returnees: 63 have played twice, 14 have played three times, and 2 have played four times.
- Rob Mariano and Rupert Boneham are the only contestants to play four times.
- Sandra Diaz-Twine, Jenna Morasca, Michael Skupin, and Colton Cumbie are the only returning players to never be voted out.
- Survivor: The Australian Outback currently has the most returning castaways, with eight.
- The eight returnees from The Australian Outback have returned eleven times total, the most of any season.
- Erik Reichenbach was the only player who debuted in Survivor: Micronesia to return for another season.
- Survivor: Caramoan, Survivor: Cambodia, Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, and Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X have had no players return.
- The final four of Survivor: Borneo and the final four of Survivor: Panama have all been returning players.
- All the returnees from Survivor: Cook Islands have participated in the game three times, and it is the season to have introduced the highest number of three-time players, with four.
- Prior to Survivor: Philippines, no contestant to place lower than 10th had returned. Philippines broke this pattern by returning Michael Skupin (11th) from The Australian Outback and Russell Swan (14th) from Samoa.
- Kelly Wiglesworth currently holds the record for the longest period between appearances on Survivor, with 30 seasons.
- In all three seasons where the tribes were divided as new players against returning players: