|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 feature casts 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, similarly to the "Fans vs. Favorites" format. 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.
- Jenna Morasca, Michael Skupin, and Colton Cumbie are the only returning players to never be voted out.
- On every season featuring an all-returnee cast, the eventual Sole Survivor was playing for the second time.
- Kelly Wiglesworth currently holds the record for the longest period between appearances on Survivor, with 30 seasons.
Seasons and Twists
- Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains currently has the most castaways return from it, 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.
- 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 four returning players from Survivor: Tocantins have reached Final Tribal Council at some point in their Survivor careers.
- All the returnees from Survivor: Cook Islands have participated in the game at least three times, with Ozzy Lusth having competed four times. Cook Islands has introduced the highest number of three-time players, with four.
- Throughout his Survivor career, Ozzy Lusth is the only person to compete in all different styles of player seasons: an all-new players season, a season with half new players and half returnees, a one returnee per tribe season, and an all-returnees season. Ozzy has also been to both Exile Island and Redemption Island.
- Stephenie LaGrossa is the only female contestant to return in a season with one returnee per tribe.
- Erik Reichenbach was the only player who debuted in Survivor: Micronesia, as a Fan, to return for another season, as a Favorite.
- Every season pre-Survivor: Game Changers has produced at least one returning player.
- Prior to Survivor: Philippines, no contestant to place worse than 10th on their first season had returned. Philippines broke this pattern by having Michael Skupin (11th) from The Australian Outback and Russell Swan (14th) from Samoa return.
- 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 previous winner returned, a winner was the fifth person eliminated.
- In every season with a returnee, at least one returnee reached the Final Tribal Council.
- Andrea Boehlke has received more votes over her Survivor career than any other returning player, with 36 total votes.
- Cirie Fields is the only contestant to successfully make it to the finale episode of a season on three separate occasions.
- On every all-returnee season that included at least one tribe switch, one tribe had no members remain on the tribe during its entire existence.