Survivor Season 45 and still “just” $1 million?!

By Gen Terblanche23 May 2024

Survivor Season 45 and still “just” $1 million?!

Back in 2000, the first season of Survivor sparked the reality television revolution. And in August that year, winner Richard Hatch walked away with $1 million. Fast forward, and February 2024 saw the launch of the (ongoing) 46th season, with the winner set to go home with (checks notes) … um, still $1 million?

It’s not worthless, but it’s certainly worth less. If Survivor’s prize money had merely kept pace with inflation to hold the same buying power as back in 2000, it would have to be set at $1 820 836.24 in 2024. To put it in perspective, here’s how some median cost of living prices have changed between 2000 and 2024

  • House: $137 200 to $405 615
  • Rent: $600 to $2 000
  • College education: $3 300 to $12 000
  • Raising a child to the age of 17: $117 390 to $306 924
  • Movie ticket: $5.39 to $10.78

Perhaps $1 820 836.24 just doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly as “one million dollars”. And while Survivor’s parent company CBS has remained tight-lipped about prize money negotiations over the years, we’ve spotted five reasons it could be “just” a million yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Watch the trailer for Survivor S45

Binge Survivor Season 45 on Showmax now.

1. Everyone’s obsessed

Survivor on Showmax

Once upon a time more than half the cast per season was made up of people approached by Survivor’s staff, or drawn from audition tapes for sister reality series like Big Brother and The Amazing Race. But ever since Survivor parted ways with its original casting director Lynne Spillman in 2018, the show has stopped recruiting contestants.

The Castaways are now drawn from online applications and videos only. Survivor Season 45 (which was cast simultaneously with Season 46) had just 18 positions for castaways open and 25 000 videos on the table, of which 18 000 were submitted after casting on the previous season closed. Apparently a “measly million” isn’t stopping our obsession. Many people apply multiple times, even when they aren’t eligible. Season 45 Survivor castaway Brandon Donlon admits that he started sending in audition tapes when he was just 11 years old. 

2. It’s not about the money

Survivor S45 is now on Showmax

Taking part in Survivor is a privilege, as the time commitment alone is a massive luxury that few can afford. Survivor hopefuls endure multiple audition interviews, training at Survivor School, and physical and psychological exams before even reaching the shooting location in Fiji. They need to prepare to be away from home, family and work for a minimum of 26 days, even if they return earlier. And while the show days pay a minimal “salary” (the longer you stay, the more you get paid), all prizes and cash are paid out only after the show is on air, so you won’t come home with any cash to fill the gaps. 

Most of the castaways see Survivor as the adventure of a lifetime and a personal challenge. Season 43 winner Mike Gabler even pledged to donate his entire $1 million prize to veterans. And for all the LA_based “bartenders” and “entrepreneurs” looking to break into the entertainment industry, the real prize is the kind of exposure that hasn’t lost its shine.

3. Ratings and advertising

Survivor S45 is now on Showmax

Survivor launched seven years before the dawn of the streaming era. By its second season, the series was able to keep offering that massive prize, knowing that they’d be able to lure in advertiser sponsorship and sell airtime during a show that had over 51 million people watching the finale together, and an estimated 125 million showing up to catch parts of it. That’s not the market now.

Not only have advertisers trickled away from linear TV to spend their dollars on social media and across multiple platforms, Survivor itself can’t promise the same number of eyes on the prize. In the US, Season 45 pulled in more than 6 million viewers per episode across the season – even though the finale was the most live-streamed entertainment show on the Paramount Plus platform, and viewership had increased by nearly 20% from the previous season.  

4. Viewers don’t care

Neither the viewers whose eyes were locked into the first finale, nor the latest fans cheering on their favourites at the end of Season 45, were there for the prize money. There’s no official Survivor after-show to follow that lets us see how the money changes lives for the show’s winners and runners up. In the eyes of fans, winning itself is the prize. What we’re really there for is the journey, the strategy, and the impressive feats of physical strength, endurance and skill.

5. … And this one will shock you!

The number one reason that prize money isn’t increasing might be because nobody who matters is asking … or offering! 

Survivor Season 45 on Showmax
Survivor host Jeff Probst

During an Entertainment Weekly interview, Survivor host Jeff Probst discussed the decision to double the prize to $2 million for the all-stars season, Winners at War (Season 40, in 2020). But Jeff let slip something telling. He revealed that then-CBS President of Entertainment Kelly Khal was the one who suggested giving the winner more money, and set the prize at $2 million.

Jeff, who takes home an estimated $4 million per season (this estimate goes as high as $8 million on some platforms) as a high level producer and showrunner on the series, admits that Kelly was absolutely astounded when Jeff told him that he didn’t think the extra million would make any difference, since everyone would still say yes to being on the show anyway. In Jeff’s defence, it wasn’t as if he was there to fight for his own salary increase!

Go forth and think about what you could do with $1 million as you binge Survivor Season 45 on Showmax now.

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