It’s easy to get emotional sometimes while watching Survivor. There are players who break down crying because they miss their families, and those who talk about heartbreak and sad moments in their lives. It’s tough to watch the bullying, exhaustion, and the sad looks of defeat as tribes walk dejectedly back to their camps after yet another loss, trying to scrape together whatever food they can.
Now, just imagine what it’s like for the players! There have been some really heartbreaking moments throughout the 38 seasons to date, and probably more to come as we watch season 39 and gear up for season 40.
From medical evacuations to breakdowns, family loss and dreams crushed, here are 10 of the most heartbreaking moments in the history of the show.
10 When Jonny Fairplay Lied About His Grandmother
This moment was more despicable than it was heartbreaking, but it was seriously sad once fellow players discovered that Fairplay was lying all along when he said his grandmother had passed away, and a sad moment when they thought it was true.
Dubbed the “Dead Grandma Lie” from Survivor: Pearl Islands, Fairplay's friend Dan came to visit during the Loved One’s Reward Challenge. The visitor was reportedly supposed to be his grandmother, but Dan delivered the sad news that his grandmother had passed away. Except she hadn't. Unbeknownst to the others, this was all an elaborate plan Fairplay had concocted before coming to the island. His tribemates then let him win the challenge out of sympathy.
9 When Michael Suffered Severe Burns
What was most heartbreaking about this evacuation, from Survivor: The Australian Outback, is that it was the first-ever in the show’s history. Mike Skupin passed out while at camp and fell right into the fire. While medics arrived immediately on site, the burns were too severe and he had to be evacuated, and send to a hospital and thus out of the game.
It was a heartwrenching moment that has been followed by several other evacuations in the game since. Skupin, meanwhile, did get to return to play in Survivor: Philippines, where he finished in a tie for second.
8 When Paschal Drew The Purple Rock
The coloured rock tiebreaker was introduced to the game and puzzled everyone. Meant to decide who should be eliminated if the tribe was in a deadlock, it was a completely random process. And poor Paschal English (Pappy) got the short end of the stick when he pulled the wrong rock and was sent packing.
It was unfortunate because by this time, English had already made it all the way to the final four on Survivor: Marquesas. So to be voted this way out without ever having a vote cast against him throughout the entire season? Terrible.
7 Jonathan and Wanda Not Getting Picked
In a cruel game of schoolyard bully, Survivor: Palau added a sick twist: two leaders would be chosen, then they would go back and forth, picking their tribe. The two people left would instantly go home before the game even started.
Talk about cheating someone out of their opportunity, not to mention making these adults feel like the odd kid out during an elementary school game of dodgeball. It was so sad to see not only the procedure, but the dreams of these two excited players-to-be, Wanda Shirk and Jonathan Libby, get totally crushed.
6 Jenna Not Getting a Loved One Video
On Survivor: Borneo, our hearts went out to Jenna Lewis after seeing everyone receive their video from home except her. She burst into tears at the fact that, of the nine remaining players, she was the only one not to get a video.
The reason is unclear, though some sources suggest that her mother was away on vacation with Jenna’s twin daughters when CBS sent the request for the video. She got the message too late, and once she did, there wasn't enough time to shoot it and get it to the island in time.
5 When Zeke Was Outed
It’s never OK when someone is outed before they are ready to be, but even worse is if it’s done by someone you barely know, and on national television in front of millions of viewers!
This is what happened to Zeke Smith on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, when his tribemate Jeff Varner outed him as transgender. Smith has said that he was fine with the segment being aired. But the horrified reaction by the rest of the tribemates at what Varner had just done made for a major moment on the show. Varner, for his part, was voted out.
4 Pat Getting Evacuated
Talk about raw and emotional. This evacuation was like no other: Pat Cusack didn’t get hurt on camera, during a challenge, or from something like heat exhaustion or dehydration. While being transported back to camp in a boat, the seas were quite rough. After hitting a wave, Cusack fell over, throwing his back out.
After being inspected by the medical team, they decided that it was not safe for him to stay in the game, and he needed to be treated in hospital. He then left Survivor: David vs. Goliath on day 3, while he and all of his tribemates shed tears that he was going out before the game even really began.
3 When Jenna Left the Game To Be With Her Dying Mother
After spending less than a week in the game on Survivor: All-Stars, Jenna Morasca just felt like her heart wasn’t in it, knowing that her mother was suffering from cancer back home. She said she felt a “vibe” that her mother’s condition was worsening. Her mind was elsewhere, and she was even refusing to eat.
By day 9, Morasca made the difficult decision to leave the game. Her departure was an emotional one, as she was met with hugs and words of encouragement from all other players. Sadly, her mother passed away eight days later. But at least she was able to be with her.
2 Kathy’s Breakdown
After being sent to Exile Island not once but twice during Survivor: Micronesia, combined with not winning any reward challenges and thus not getting any real food, and then being separated from her only allies after a tribe switch, not to mention missing her family, Kathy Sleckman started to feel depressed. After discussing cutting the tip of her finger off with a machete in order to be medically evacuated from the game, she was finally allowed to leave. But what she went through before that was tough to watch.
There’s certainly a lot of pressure in games like this, along with paranoia as you constantly feel that others are plotting against you. But it was sad to see Sleckman feeling the way she did. Ultimately, she made the right decision for her own mental well-being.
1 Caleb Reynolds Suffering From Heat Exhaustion
Reynolds was a quick fan favorite on Survivor: Kaoh Rong thanks to his good looks, friendly personality, physical prowess, and familiarity to some viewers since he had previously appeared on another reality series, Big Brother. So it was heartbreaking to see his dream come to an end on day 9 when he suffered from heatstroke. In just nine days, he was on the winning team for four challenges.
He returned for Survivor: Game Changers but, in a cruel twist, was voted out early again after just nine days (again!) when a tribe switch isolated him from his allies.