|Description:||Former castaways compete for another shot at winning the title of Sole Survivor.|
Heroes vs. Villains
Blood vs. Water
Returning Player seasons offer the opportunity to former contestants to play the game of Survivor.
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 featured a cast comprised entirely of returning players. The eponymous season, All-Stars, saw 18 returnees divided into three competing tribes. 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.
Survivor: Cambodia featured a "second chance" theme, consisting of contestants who played only once and lost; and its cast was entirely chosen by viewers through an online poll. Survivor: Game Changers featured former contestants who have contributed to the evolution of Survivor strategy and game play.
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 "superfans." Survivor: Micronesia and Survivor: Caramoan were the iterations of this format.
One Returnee per Tribe
This format featured 2-3 former castaways, each being assigned to a tribe of new players. Survivor: Guatemala, Survivor: Redemption Island, Survivor: South Pacific and Survivor: Philippines followed this format.
Blood vs. Water
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.
Returning Players by Season
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- Of the 91 returnees: 69 have played twice, 18 have played three times, and 4 have played four times.
- Rob Mariano, Rupert Boneham, Cirie Fields, and Ozzy Lusth are the only contestants to play four times.
- Jenna Morasca, Michael Skupin, and Colton Cumbie are the only returning players to never be voted out.
- Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains currently has the most returning castaways, with nine.
- Survivor: The Australian Outback has the most returning players that debuted in that season, with eight.
- The eight returnees from The Australian Outback have returned twelve times total, the most of any season.
- Erik Reichenbach was the only player who debuted in Survivor: Micronesia to return for another season.
- Currently, all aired seasons have had at least one player to return.
- The final four of Survivor: Borneo, the final four of Survivor: Panama, and the final four of Survivor: Cagayan have all been returning players.
- All the returnees from Survivor: Cook Islands have participated in the game at least three times, with Ozzy Lusth having competed four times. This season has introduced the highest number of three-time players, with four.
- Prior to Survivor: Philippines, no contestant to place lower than 10th on their first season 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.
- All four returning players from Survivor: Tocantins have reached Final Tribal Council at some point in their Survivor careers.
- In all three seasons where the tribes were divided as new players against returning players:
- In every all-returnee season in which at least one winner returned, a winner was the fifth person to leave the game.
- In every season with a returnee, at least one returnee reached at the Final Tribal Council.
- Ozzy Lusth is the only person to compete in all different styles of player seasons: an all new players season, an all returning players season, a season with half new players and half returnees, and a one returnee per tribe season.