Any Strategic Reading Tips for a Survivor Applicant?

From a computer scientist (and self-professed “data nerd”) named Scott Griggs:

Hi!  Long time reader/listener here, looking for some quick reading list recommendations…

I have submitted another application to be on CBS’s Survivor, the reality show of outwit, outplay, outlast fame.  The game is physical as well as mental and includes a large social aspect concerning relationships, building trust, evaluating motives, and building/destroying alliances with other contestants.

Do you have any reading recommendations you think could help if I ever get cast on the show?  So far, my short list of titles to consider rereading if I am cast for the show include How To Win Friends and Influence People, portions of Wiseman’s 59 Seconds (persuasion, motivation), and portions of Think Like a Freak (how to persuade people).

You can watch Scott’s audition tape here. Okay, what is your reading advice for him?


Sam L

This article would be a good start:


48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. You'll have them bringing you breakfast.

Sam L

Then, move on to something like this:


Should he maybe consider a wilderness survival manual? :)


As someone who's watched every episode of Survivor, I'd strongly recommend watching past seasons - it's always shocking when people make colossal blunders that were already made in past seasons. If watching every season seems too time consuming, I'd recommend finding old season episode recaps and reading those. And learn how to make fire and how to swim.

Brian MacKay

Survivor is about what happens when people are under extreme stress... Books aren't going to help you much, you need experience, mental toughness, and a very unusual fitness regimen.

I would break this up into two steps.

STEP ONE: know the game, and know yourself.

- Watch at least the last several recent 10 seasons and take notes on the common blunders.
- There are podcasts that analyze this show. As you go through the show, check out the one by Boston Rob, he's an actual legendary player.
- As you go through this, start considering which of the highly effective players you might be able to emulate and which holes you absolutely must close before you show up, to prevent disaster.

STEP TWO: hone your skills
There are a lot of skills to learn and limited time. Based on your notes, look at the list below and choose a combination that allows you to plug your most glaring holes while accentuating your strengths.

- There's a popular game called Werewolf, seek out games like this so you can develop experience with lying, being lied, managing the consensus of a group, and defending yourself in unfair situations. In my town there's a board game meetup and 20+ people play Werewolf at least once a week.
- Develop a fitness regimen that focuses on cardio and athleticism. Swim, run, climb, etc.
- Drill some of the challenge skills that come up a lot, like untying knots, moving around with a blindfold on, and puzzle solving.
- Seek out intense situations to develop mental toughness. Boot camps, 5k races, marathons, etc.

Good luck!


Joe Dokes

I know this is a waste of keystrokes, but I'll write it anyways.

Survivor is a zero sum game and as such it brings out the worst in people. Since it's a zero sum game, the odds of you walking away with any winnings that justly compensate is so small as to not be worth it.

Think about it, a season is thirteen to sixteen episodes, the average contestant lasts eight. If the contestants on Survivor were actors on a sitcom they'd be paid about 70K per episode, plus residuals. The fourth place contestant earns (wins is so stupid, they basically torture you on the show, the 'contestants' earn every dollar) only 70K . Thus if they were a working actor they would make many times what they make on Survivor.

If Survivor were 'fair' it would pay these actors 50K for every episode they 'survive' and reward the winner a One Million Dollar bonus on top of that.

The only real winner on Survivor is Jeff Probst who was paid 4 Million Dollars in 2013-2014 or 2 Million per season. So keep this in mind when you watch Survivor. Probst spends every night in comfortable climate controlled room and comfortable bed. He eats extremely well, and he wins DOUBLE the winnings of the winning contestant on Survivor.


Joe Dokes



Only takes 39 days to film an entire season, all players are compensated for being on the show from $2,500 for the first boot to $100k for second place, plus an additional $10k for showing up at the reunion. If you go prejury you not only get to see whatever location you're filming in, you get an all expenses paid trip to a neighbouring country while the rest of the game is played out. If you make jury you get to stay in Ponderosa, usually a beautiful beachfront resort until the game is done.

Plenty of castaways have also leveraged their 15 minutes into new opportunities - Survivor has produced TV writers, motivational speakers, appearances on Shark Tank and other reality TV shows, even reality shows of their own, all with their own additional payoffs.

The show's also produced 3 marriages, so there's the tax benefits.

Sure, Survivor's pure economic (or at least financial) benefits may not outweigh the cost of 3-39 days of starvation and time away from home, but let's not undersell its value.

(Also if we're going by the 50k per episode model, Jeff's not the only winner. Each winner turns roughly 14 episodes into $1M dollars - that's over $71k per episode. Sandra did it twice.)



The Survivor podcast mentioned is actually by Rob Cesternino, not Boston Rob, close though! An excellent Survivor resource, here's one he did with Ken Raskoff from Survivor's casting unit on how to get on the show/the casting process

Find what makes you unique and exaggerate it. Make yourself stand out! That being said it may be useful to know your casting type - here's just one way they can be divided up, done by Angie Caunce

Do puzzles, all kinds of puzzles. I've heard past contestants recommend doing it in the morning after exercise and before food so you get used to focussing your limited brainpower on the task at hand while starving and sleep deprived.

All the obvious survival stuff (that so many contestants seem to forget), learn to make fire a couple different ways, learn to swim, increase your general fitness.

This got a little off topic but just wanted to give a well rounded recommendation - I'm sure you'll have noticed the recent trend of superfans with great strategic abilities digging themselves into a hole by over preparing and getting too convinced of their own abilities, not realising how they come off to their tribe.

Good luck and I can't wait to see you on the show ;)



This is ScottG - Survivor applicant. Thanks everyone! I'm looking for every edge I can.

Obviously the main thing is to watch Survivor, which I've done a lot of (including re-watching older seasons). Love it!

@Sam - I'll work on the lighting.
@Scott - 48 laws sounds interesting.
@Brian - I love games. Haven't played Werewolf.
@Jessica - I know of Rob C's podcast. I've listened to some survivor podcast, but not the ones you provided. I'll check those out.

Thanks again!

Michael Y

I normally don't do this, but I cannot believe something is on Freakonomics that I'm an expert on. I'm a Casting Director for nonscripted programming. I have not worked on survivor, but several shows almost exactly like it.

It pains me to say so, but survival skills, familiarity with the show, reading books...none of that has much, if any value for getting on the show.

What does get you on the show is being interesting, and holding the network executive's attention for more than :20 seconds into your edit. Frankly, I have been in the room where my favorite cast applicant was about to get pitched, and a female executive yelled "Oh my God, he looks like my Ex!", and she immediately hit "next" on the dvd.
The applicant was charming, good looking, could read the phone book in an interesting way, and he still got skipped.

Obviously, looks are not everything, but they are important. Very, very important. Look at the cast photos of the past 30 (yes, 30) seasons. 75% of the cast is very attractive. Anybody that looks relatively average either has some exceptional skills, has NO filter and will say anything to anyone, or has a very distinct and contagious charm that makes you want to watch them every week.

At the end of the day, the very sad fact is out of a random sampling of 100 people, 90 of them have zero percent chance of getting on survivor. Those remaining 10 now better hope they they are memorable enough to make it through several rounds of eliminates by both production company and network. Oh and tape quality is not really an issue. If we can hear and see you and you're right for the show we're casting...we will call you and get better tape.


Matt S

Not that I watch Survivor, but if you're looking for a reading list I'd recommend everything that Robert Greene has written. Mastery, The 48 Laws of Power, The 33 Strategies of War, and the Concise Art of Seduction.