Savaii tribe
Survivor Gameplay
Description: A group of individuals who compete together against another group for an extended period of time.
Appearances: Every season

The competing teams in Survivor are known as tribes. Commonly, there are two tribes in a season, but there have been instances where three or four may be active at the same time. A tribe can have anywhere from four to ten contestants at the beginning of the game.

Dividing Into Tribes

Most commonly, the tribes are divided by the producers before the game begins. However, there have been exceptions.

Gender Equality

One of the most important aspects is to make sure one sex does not dominate a tribe and vote out members of the opposite sex first. Earlier seasons tried to roughly distribute age and gender equally to each tribe. The usual distribution based on the number of contestants are the following: 

  • 16 contestants: Two tribes equally having 4 males and 4 females.
    • In Survivor: Panama, the 16 players were divided into four tribes, with two tribes representing both genders and both age groups.
  • 18 contestants: Two tribes of 9 with one tribe having 5 males and 4 females, while the other has the opposite, or three tribes of 6 with 3 males and 3 females on each tribe.
  • 20 contestants: Two tribes each having 5 males and 5 females, or four tribes of 5 with two tribes containing 3 males and 2 females, and the other two having the opposite.

The Schoolyard Pick

See also: Schoolyard Pick.

Some seasons have had the tribes selected by the contestants themselves. This is known as the "Schoolyard Pick".

  • In Survivor: Thailand and Survivor: Gabon, the oldest male and female castaways were told that elders were given utmost respect in the location, and it was only fitting that they were the ones who will pick their tribe members.
  • Survivor: Palau and Survivor: Fiji had a schoolyard-style picking process.
    • In Palau, the first pick was based on a challenge, while in Fiji, Sylvia Kwan divided the tribes because she was voted as the contestant who contributed the most to building the shelter.

The Schoolyard style selection is not limited to just selecting starting tribes, but can be also used in a tribe switch (see below).


In some seasons, the castaways are divided into tribes with a common theme:

Starting Tribes


The two competing tribes of Tocantins, Timbira and Jalapao.

Each Survivor season starts with 16 to 20 contestants (dubbed as the "castaways") stranded in a remote location and will be left there for the next 39 days (42 in Survivor: The Australian Outback). The castaways will be then equally divided into teams "tribes". These tribes then will be sent out to separate camps identified by a colored tribe banner. Both camps are far apart from each other and they have an equal distance from the challenge areas, the production team's encampment and the Tribal Council set (example, if tribe A has a 1-mile distance from Tribal Council, so does tribe B; see the Camp article for more information). The resources of both camps (food and water) can be either equally found or compromising (example, tribe A's camp may have a better water source, but finding food would be difficult, while tribe B will have the opposite). From there on out, the contestants must fend for themselves in all aspects of survival (foraging for food, creating shelter, fishing, etc.). Tribes will also be given meager supplies (with a machete, water canteens, and a pot as staples), depending on the season (there are seasons that that have limited food rations, but there are some seasons that they they were given only the staples). Earlier seasons allowed castaways to have a "luxury item" (a piece of home), though some seasons pit the players into the game without preparation (merely making them compete with only the clothes they are currently wearing). In Survivor: Palau, running shoes were also provided for the contestants.

Names and Identification

Starting tribes are given unique names (based on local language, culture, or history) and identifying colors which are used on tribe flags, challenge props, on-screen text, and various other items. Each player is given a buff, an elastic ring of cloth generally adorned with the logo for the current season, that can be worn as an armband, headband, tube top, miniskirt, mask, or a bow tie. Players are required to wear the buff with the color of their tribe in a visible location at all times only being allowed to take their buffs off when Jeff Probst tells them to, allowing the audience to identify tribal affiliation.

Tribe Switch

See also: Tribe Switch.

The Malakal tribe of the Favorites drawing stones in preparation for the tribe switch.

A tribe switch is the very first Survivor twist. Jeff Probst asks the contestants to drop their buffs, signaling there will be a change in the nature of the tribes. For a tribe switch, the contestants will either end up at their original tribe or they will be swapped into another. They must give up their old buff and must don a new one. If there is a switch, it occurs before the merge, commonly catching players off-guard. As seen in Survivor: All-Stars and Survivor: Gabon, the switch twist may sometimes happen even when there are only ten players left, leading the remaining players to believe that a merge is coming. The logic of the switch is that the relationships from their first tribe will be tested in their new tribe, and will create additional possibilities when the tribes finally merge. Oftentimes, players who were not successful in their original tribe use the switch as an opportunity to create new bonds, and potentially last longer in the competition.


See also: Mutiny (twist).

Candice turning back from Aitutaki and to rejoin Rarotonga. Jonathan will soon follow.

The mutiny is a variation of the tribe switch. This twist allows players to change tribes at will. Like a traditional swap, the "mutineer" must surrender his/her old buff and will be given the same colored buff as his/her new tribe. The mutiny is a rare twist, as it was unpopular among players (as this is deemed a big, bold move for many, thus doing so will be very risky). Four seasons have offered a chance to mutiny, though from those four times, the offer was accepted only once.

  • In Survivor: Thailand, the first ever mutiny was offered at the Survivor Auction (another first, since Survivor Auctions are commonly held post-merge). No one accepted the offer.
  • In Survivor: Pearl Islands, a mutiny was offered, but was unanimously declined and not televised.
  • Survivor: Cook Islands marked the only time the mutiny offer was accepted. Candice Woodcock, a former Rarotonga member, felt uneasy since transferring to the Aitutaki tribe. When the mutiny was offered, she turned on her tribe and jumped back. Jonathan Penner followed suit, leaving Aitutaki with four members, while Rarotonga's numbers increased to eight.
  • In Survivor: Tocantins, the mutiny was a sub-twist of Exile Island. Both banished castaways must pick one of two bottles. One bottle contains a clue of the whereabouts of the Hidden Immunity Idol and a choice to join the other camp, while the second one holds nothing. Nobody from the players who got that option accepted the offer.

Tribe Dissolves

See also: Tribe Dissolve.

Another variant of the tribe switch is the "dissolve." In seasons that have more than two starting tribes, a tribe dissolution before the merge will take place. The tribe will be permanently disbanded, spreading its old members into the other two tribes. Like in a traditional swap, the members of the dissolved tribe must surrender his/her old buff and must join his/her new tribe.

Merged Tribe

See also: Merge.
S15 Hae Da Fung Flag

The newly-painted flag of the merged Hae Da Fung tribe (China).


The Barramundi tribe (Australia), newly merged and feasting.

The merged tribe is composed of the remaining members of the two starting tribes. Whereas the starting tribes are named by the producers, the new tribe will be usually named by the castaways themselves.

They will be given a new, blank tribe flag and buffs with some paint to decorate the new flag. Usually, a feast is held at the new tribe's camp to celebrate the event. The merged tribe camp is generally the better of the two former tribe camps, but in rare cases (The Australian Outback, The Amazon, and Redemption Island) they will be relocated to a new beach. Reward Challenges may still be team-based (depending on the number of remaining players), but Immunity Challenges will be conducted on a strictly individual basis.

The "Ghost" Tribe


The infamous Outcast tribe of Pearl Islands.

The only ghost tribe that appeared in the show was the infamous Outcasts in Survivor: Pearl Islands, where the six eliminated players returned for a second chance to play the game. This caused a mixed response from fans.

Tribe Colors Per Season

Bold Text Merged Tribe
Italic Text Dissolved Tribe
Underlined Text Expanded or "Ghost" Tribe
Regular Text Lasted until Merge

Survivor (U.S.) Tribe Colors Per Season
Orange Yellow/Gold Green Blue/Teal Red Magenta Purple Black Brown
Borneo Tagi Pagong Rattana
The Australian Outback Barramundi Ogakor Kucha
Africa Boran Moto Maji Samburu
Marquesas Maraamu Rotu Soliantu
Thailand Chuay Gahn Chuay Jai Sook Jai
Amazon Jaburu Tambaqui Jacaré
Pearl Islands Morgan Drake The Outcasts Balboa
All-Stars Saboga Mogo Mogo Chaboga Mogo Chapera
Vanuatu Alinta Yasur Lopevi
Palau Ulong Koror
Guatemala Nakúm Yaxhá Xhakúm
Panama La Mina Viveros Bayoneta Casaya Gitanos
Cook Islands Manihiki Puka Puka Rarotonga Aitutaki Aitutonga
Fiji Ravu Moto Bula Bula
China Zhan Hu Fei Long Hae Da Fung
Micronesia Airai Dabu Malakal
Gabon Kota Nobag Fang
Tocantins Forza Jalapao Timbira
Samoa Foa Foa Aiga Galu
Heroes vs. Villains Heroes Villains Yin Yang
Nicaragua La Flor Espada Libertad
Redemption Island Ometepe Zapatera Murlonio
South Pacific Te Tuna Upolu Savaii
One World Manono Salani Tikiano
Philippines Tandang Matsing Kalabaw Dangrayne
Caramoan Gota Enil Edam Bikal
Blood vs. Water Galang Tadhana Kasama
Cagayan Aparri Luzon Solana Solarrion
San Juan del Sur Coyopa Huyopa Hunahpu
Worlds Apart Masaya Escameca Nagarote Merica
Cambodia Orkun Angkor Ta Keo Bayon
Kaôh Rōng Gondol Chan Loh To Tang Dara
Millennials vs. Gen X Vanua Ikabula Takali Vinaka
Game Changers Maku Maku Tavua Nuku Mana
Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Soko Levu Yawa Solewa
Ghost Island TBA TBA


  • Blue and yellow have been the most recurring tribe colors in the history of the series, with 21 tribes each.
    • On the other hand, brown is the least recurring, having appeared only once.
  • Several tribes have had insignia's based on their tribe names (such as Foa Foa and Galu, which are Samoan words for "trumpet shell" and "ocean wave" respectively), while Manono and Salani have had particular animals represent them (regular animals include stingrays and turtles).
  • Yellow starting tribes have produced the most winners, with 9, and the most finalists, with 22.
    • Blue and yellow tribes have produced the most female winners, with 5 each.
    • Orange tribes have produced the most male winners, with 5.
  • Black is the most recurring merged tribe color, with 12 merged tribes being black.
    • The only black non-merged tribe is Timbira.
    • Black is the only color to appear more times as a merged tribe than it has as a starting tribe.
  • Survivor: Cagayan and Survivor: San Juan del Sur are the only pair of consecutive seasons to lack a yellow tribe.
  • The following seasons have had identical tribe color schemes, including the merged tribe:
  • Palau had the fewest tribes, with two (Ulong and Koror).
    • Stephenie LaGrossa was only contestant on that season who was a member of both tribes, after her original tribe was dissolved.  
    • Also, on the same season, two contestants (Jonathan Libby and Wanda Shirk) had never been members of any tribes.