- “Survivor” stopped providing swimsuits to players in 2018, and the change comes with health risks.
- UTIs and other infections from wet, dirty clothes disproportionately affect people with vaginas.
- Several contestants have told Insider about their experience and concerns over sanitary conditions.
For 35 seasons, “Survivor” players typically received an outfit and a bathing suit during the competition. But “Survivor: Ghost Island,” which ran from February to May 2018, marked the last time contestants were seen wearing swimsuits in the game.
This decision to take swimwear out of gameplay adds needless risks to the already intense game, disproportionately affecting players with vaginas.
Multiple former players have spoken about experiencing health issues on and shortly after the show
Four of the five female contestants who previously spoke to Insider said they contracted UTIs during their seasons.
Three of these women — Karishma Patel, Lauren-Ashley Beck, and Janet Carbin — competed together in 2019 on “Survivor: Island of the Idols,” one of the first seasons after swimsuits were eliminated.
In an interview with Insider, Patel said she experienced a “really bad” UTI during the show that left her in “constant, 24-hour pain.”
Behind the scenes, Patel said, she was able to receive
, but they caused adverse side effects like fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. After filming wrapped, Patel said she had to be hospitalized because she “still had traces of that infection” in her body and it spread to her bladder.
Carbin said she also experienced pain from a UTI, but recalled being worried that if she needed an antibiotic she could get kicked off the show. In 41 seasons, 15 players have been medically evacuated from “Survivor,” some for severe infections.
It’s no coincidence players with vaginas are contracting infections from dirty, wet bottoms
With one pair of underwear and no swimsuits, players are often pushed to choose between going bottomless in front of cameras or wearing their wet clothing for long periods of time, which comes with health risks.
Dr. Leah Millheiser, a clinical professor and ob-gyn, said that wearing wet clothes for prolonged periods is far from ideal.
“If you’re in damp clothing, whether it be from sweat or whether it be from being in the water again, you are putting yourself at risk for a yeast infection,” Millheiser told Insider.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a gynecologist, said that even sitting down in wet clothes for a brief amount of time can cause health risks.
“That’s a wet, moist, warm environment,” Minkin told Insider. “It’s not great for keeping you free from bacteria and yeast.”
Although anyone can be susceptible to health risks from bacteria, people with vaginas are more likely to contract urinary tract infections, which can occur when bacteria is introduced to the urethra, bladder, or kidneys.
Minkin explained that people with vaginas are at a higher risk for UTIs because the urethra is “much longer” for those with penises, so bacteria has a longer path to travel to from the outside world.
“Vaginas have plenty of bacteria on their own,” Minkin said. “They’re more susceptible.”
Menstrual products are also essential for many players, but Millheiser warned that tampons can also introduce infections into the body if the surrounding area is exposed to common bacteria, like vaginal discharge.
“When you’re wearing the same pair of underwear, you’re probably being exposed to a lot more bacteria even if you have a typical amount of discharge,” Millheiser told Insider.
Notably, two “Survivor” players from season 41, which aired in 2021, said the show gave players with vaginas extra underwear after they raised their health concerns to production.
It’s also unclear why ‘Survivor’ eliminated swimsuits from gameplay in the first place
Players who were on 2019’s “Survivor: Island of the Idols” said they were photographed in swimsuits for promotional materials and submitted swimsuits for approval but never got to wear them on the show.
Patel, who competed in that season, said players were confused over the seemingly last-minute change.
“It was miserable,” said Patel. “We were talking about it amongst each other, and we think that there was a push towards making us look more like we were shipwrecked.”
On an October 2021 episode of “Rob Has a Podcast,” “Survivor” winner and four-time competitor Parvati Shallow said she was surprised that production now makes contestants compete in one outfit and a single pair of underwear.
Shallow, who competed on 2019’s “Survivor: Winners at War,” said she “put up a huge fight.”
“I was like, ‘I just had a baby. I can’t be out here in my underwear. I’m like a mom now, I need a bathing suit,'” she said.
Shallow said when she asked the production crew why players weren’t allowed to wear swimsuits anymore, she was told that producers felt it would be “more authentic-looking” for contestants to play in their underwear.
For years, many fans on Reddit — and some former players — have attributed the change to a private conversation between the actor and director Tyler Perry and the “Survivor” host and executive producer Jeff Probst.
But Perry, a fan of “Survivor” who once contributed a “special idol” twist to the show, denied the accusations to Insider in 2021, saying he doesn’t know why production pulled swimsuits from the game.
He said he’s not certain how the rumor started, but he thinks it might date back to a text-message exchange he had with Probst in which he pointed out that he saw “brand-new swimsuits in the middle of the season” and suggested production age the replacement outfits so they don’t stick out to viewers.
Fans, health experts, and former contestants hope showrunners will bring swimsuits back
“Survivor” contestants have plenty to worry about without the added pressure of potentially developing infections that could leave them hospitalized.
“I think from a number of perspectives it makes sense to allow them to have at least two sets of clothes,” Dr. Premal Patel, a urologist and a fan of “Survivor,” said. “I definitely think it makes sense, I don’t think it really compromises anything.”
“Island of the Idols” contestant Elaine Stott suggested producers rethink bringing back swimwear or giving players an added pair of underwear regularly.
As more “Survivor” players speak up, fans are also starting to take notice.
“I think the viewers would prefer to see people in bathing suits, because so many viewers asked us, ‘Why don’t you guys wear bathing suits?'” recalled Carbin. “And I say, ‘That wasn’t our choice.'”
Representatives for CBS didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.