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Things You Forgot Happened On The First Season Of Survivor

When "Survivor" first debuted in 2000, no one knew how viewers would react to the idea of 16 castaways being marooned on an island, where they were forced to compete in challenges and vote one another off in a bid to win a million buck. Fast forward more than two decades later, and the game is still going strong.

There were plenty of notable things that went down during that first season, like villain/winner Richard Hatch walking around naked, or Kelly Wiglesworth and Susan Hawk having an epic fallout that led to Sue's now-famous "snakes and rats" speech. Most fans even remember that back then, host Jeff Probst didn't host the reunion special: that honor went to sportscaster Bryant Gumbel.

After re-watching the series again on Paramount+ all these years later, however, there are plenty of other notable things that went down over the "Borneo" run. Things that, for better or worse, helped to shape the series into the historic franchise that it is today.

Sonya was the first contestant ever voted off the island

Remember Sonja Christopher? Not everyone does. That's because the 63-year-old Californian lasted three days on the Tagi tribe before she became the first contestant in "Survivor" history to ever be voted off. It wasn't totally her fault. During her three days on the island she tried to help out and slugged it with the younger contestants, but her bruises gave away the toll this game took on her. Sadly, her fate was solidified following a dual Reward and Immunity Challenge, when she slipped and potentially cost her team the win.

Before she was ousted that night by one vote (she received four, Rudy Boesch received three, and Stacey Stillman received one), Sonya did her best to be memorable. At one point the former musical therapist busted out her ukulele (luxury items were still a thing) and performed "Bye Bye Blues" to Richard Hatch, beachside. To this day the contestant deserves kudos, because in the history of the series she still remains the oldest female contestant to ever play the game. The only other woman to ever crack 60 was Gillian Larson, when she took up residency in "Survivor: Gabon."

B.B. wanted to throw the bug-eating challenge

From the second B.B. Andersen landed on the Pagong beach he thought he knew better than everyone else. The contestant was the oldest on his tribe (he was 64 years old when he played the game), and he was all about comfort. So he headed up the construction of the shelter and refused to break even when the younger players went off frolicking in the water or relaxed in the shade. At one point Gretchen Cordy tried to explain to him that the tribe wanted to stay strong for the challenges, but B.B. was having none of it. "I just want to make my life here as comfortable as possible and then get the hell off," he told the cameras.

Fast forward a few days though, and B.B. had clearly had it. The shelter continued to be an issue for the guy and the tribe was forced to redo it several times. He also annoyed his teammates by accusing them of not working hard enough, but then at one point he turned around and washed his shirt with the tribe's drinking water. It was obvious he wanted to go home, and he hinted as much to Pagong ahead of the bug-eating challenge by suggesting they throw it. He was outvoted and the tribe tried their best, but when Gervase couldn't swallow his bugs in the sudden death overtime fast enough, they were sent to Tribal Council. There, all the other players except Greg Buis axed B.B. in a 6-2 vote.

The Tribal Council conch

Jeff Probst may be known as a legendary host these days, but back when "Survivor" kicked off he wasn't exactly a household name. In fact, his biggest claim to fame had been hosting "Rock & Roll Jeopardy!" So he was still getting the lay of the land at Tribal Council during that first season, and figuring out how exactly to push the contestants' buttons to make the game a little more interesting.

Enter the conch. The "Lord of the Flies" inspired prop only ever made one appearance, at the third tribal council with the Tagi crew, when Stacey was voted out. The idea was that only the person who was holding the shell could speak, and the contestants were supposed to pass it around and take turns commenting on the events from the past three days. Even the contestants seemed unimpressed by the idea, and while they accepted things like the chest full of cash just sitting across from them, or the gong they got to smack every time they entered the circle, the conch was axed as quickly as it appeared.

Everything made Ramona sick

There's nothing like making your debut on international television with a little dry-heaving action. From the second Ramona Gray jumped off that boat and onto the raft that the contestants paddled to their respective beaches, the woman had a rough go of it. Being on the water made her sick, so she wasn't much help on the three-hour ride "home." And, once the team arrived at their beach, things didn't exactly improve.

Ramona spent a lot of time laying down and unable to eat even rice, telling her teammates that the food shouldn't go to waste and they should just enjoy it instead. She was often sleepy (which tends to happen when you don't eat), and wasn't helpful in building the shelter, which really put B.B. off. Eventually Gervase Peterson had a talk with Ramona about her self-contained attitude, and even though things improved, the 29-year-old research chemist was voted out on Day 12 of the competition.

Dirk was a 23-year-old virgin

There were all kinds of colorful characters on the first season of "Survivor," including a 23-year-old dairy farmer named Dirk Bean. Although the guy seemed pretty chill at the outset of the competition, and most of Dirk's co-stars were cool with his beliefs, the sermon-like chats eventually started to annoy fellow Tagi teammates. Dirk brought a bible with him and was frequently seen reading passages to himself on-camera, something that didn't sit well with Richard — an openly gay man who had some issues with organized religion.

Dirk had his qualms with Richard too, telling the cameras that Rich's tendency to make chitchat about his sexuality was annoying. Bean was voted out on Day 15 of the competition, but before then he revealed to his co-stars (and by extension the rest of the world) that he was a virgin. That got all kinds of sex talk going with the rest of the crew, and at one point Kelly told the cameras, "I think he's really sexually frustrated."

Stacey launched a massive lawsuit against the show

Back when "Survivor" first filmed, no one had any idea who the castaways were. So after their elimination, producers sent the ousted competitors to a hotel. It was there that Dirk told Stacey how producer Mark Burnett had approached him and Sean Kenniff and told them they should keep Rudy and send Stacey packing in Episode 3. That little bit of info didn't sit well with Stacey, an attorney.

So, she launched a lawsuit against the show, and "Survivor" countersued her to the tune of $5 million for breach of contract (the countersuit was ultimately tossed out by the court). Dirk spoke up for Stacey at the time, but he was the only contestant to do so. To this day, whether there was any validity to her claims that the show was rigged is unclear — everything was settled out of court. Still, you can bet that producers used the entire process as a learning experience in drawing up contracts and making future seasons of the show.

Rats were on the menu

In the earliest days of the show, there was very little protein available for the cast members to snack on. Tagi was setting fishing traps with very little luck, Sean's homemade Super Pole 2000 fishing rod was garbage, and the only real thing the castaways could bank on was rice — rationed rice, at that. But there were plenty of rats available, and before long some of the contestants got desperate.

At the Pagong Tribe, some were more desperate than others. In Episode 3, Joel Klug trapped a couple of the critters, chopped their heads off almost entirely on camera, and then charred them up on the fire. Ramona and Gervase, who watched the entire thing with trepidation, eventually got in on the action. "We gots to kill some more rats tonight!" Gervase said with a smile on his face after that first taste of roasted rodent.

Although it seemed gruesome to some viewers (and fellow tribe members), killing those rats set the stage for later episodes, when the castaways killed fish and eventually, three chicken named Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner that Pagong had won. Unfortunately they didn't get to eat all of the chicken, however, when a monitor got one of the escaped birds right before the merge.

The contestants ate dog food

Speaking of desperate times, in the sixth episode of the season, the tribes' tree mail came with a canned surprise: wet dog food. Or at least, that's what the contestants believed the unmarked goods to be. 

It seemed like producers just wanted to see how desperate the tribes were to get some nourishment in their bodies, and what better talking point for viewers than the age-old question, "Would you eat dog food?"

As it turned out, some of the contestants would. Richard Hatch popped it down the hatch, while Jenna Lewis hesitantly gave it a taste and then chowed down alongside Gretchen. Those two even tried cooking it, but after a few bites they decided they were done with the mystery meat. Others straight-up refused to eat the stuff, and the entire situation served as extra motivation for the Reward Challenge, in which real canned goods and a bar of chocolate was up for grabs. Indeed, Pagong was pretty pumped when they won, while all Tagi was left with was gross scraps back at camp.

Joel and Gervase were kind of chauvinistic

Gervase definitely got by on his charm. Despite arguably losing some of the challenges for the Pagong tribe and not really helping out at camp when it came to building the shelter, his teammates loved him and kept him around for a long time. Case in point? During Episode 6, "Udder Revenge," the YMCA basketball coach said that, "Girls are the stupidest things on the planet next to cows."

Sure, his comments set the girls off, and Gervase immediately tried to backtrack. But the damage was done. 

From that point on, the women of the tribe were fed up with the chauvinistic behavior, not just from Gervase but even more notably from Joel. Aside from giving Gervase props for the comment, Joel's overall behavior and comments around camp had started to annoy the women, so when the tribe lost the Immunity Challenge that week, they had no problem voting Joel off. As for Gervase? Call it "udder" proof that his charm is what kept him in the game.

Alliances weren't a thing

These days it seems like "Survivor" contestants make alliances with their eyes before they can even jump off the boat or get to the beach. But back when the show first started, the contestants weren't thinking strategy. In fact, the idea of an alliance hadn't even been introduced. 

Enter Richard Hatch, who decided early on to form an alliance with Susan Hawk, Rudy and Kelly. Together, the four of them managed to blindside their fellow Tagi members for weeks at Tribal Council, but it wasn't until the merge that others began to notice.

As fans may remember, the alliance was so successful that it landed the quadrant of contestants in the Top 4. Since Richard would ultimately win the show, he is now credited as the person who started the concept of alliances. 

However, it's worth noting that before she was voted off, Stacey also spoke about strategy — specifically with Kelly. They tried to get Sue on board to create a female alliance, but Sue wasn't having it. That's all to say that while Richard may have created the first successful alliance, many fans feel it was actually Stacey who originated the idea.

Gretchen had a really had time fitting in

Gretchen was 38-years-old when she joined "Survivor," making her about a decade older than most of her Pagong teammates. While she tried to fit in with the younger crowd, her strong work ethic made her gravitate towards B.B. in the early days of the show. Although she was liked, she never really felt as though she fit in. At one point before the merge, she even revealed to the cameras that she probably would have fit in better with the older crew at Tagi.

Still, that age gap didn't seem to be an issue for the others, and Pagong was more concerned that when it came to the discussion of forming an alliance and voting together following the merge, Gretchen just couldn't commit. As fans now know, swing votes are often targets in this game, so on Day 21 when Greg won the first ever Individual Immunity post-merge, Gretchen was solemnly voted out.

Everyone thought Greg and Colleen were a thing

Greg and Colleen Haskell had instant chemistry when they met on "Survivor," and they would often go on field trips together into the jungle. There, they would play in the mud or come up with fun games for their tribe to play together at night by the fire. It didn't take long for the other players to notice that the pair disappeared for long stretches of time, or that they would sometimes leave the main shelter at night to sleep elsewhere.

When asked about it on camera, however, Greg and Colleen were adamant that nothing was going on. They saw each other as buds and laughed that anyone would make more of it than that. 

The friendship was probably one of the reasons everyone put up with Greg's strange leadership style (which included that infamous Conch Phone), but by the time everyone merged, Greg's original tribe was over it. Especially when Greg got his game on with Richard, whom he openly flirted with in a bid to stay in the game.

Jenna never received her video message from her loved ones

Single mom Jenna Lewis was big energy from the second she stepped on the beach. While that energy may have been divisive with some of the other contestants, overall the 22-year-old was well-liked. She fit in well with the young-set, but her strong work ethic also ingratiated her with the older cast members.

So everyone felt for the contestant during Episode 8, when she was the only player to not receive a video message from home. She had been aching to see her two little girls, practicing archery all morning for the chance to hear from them. Later, she just couldn't understand why her mom wouldn't have sent in the tape. 

As it turned out, her mom had taken the girls on a vacation and didn't receive the request in time. It was so heart-wrenching that in a subsequent episode, when Colleen won a BBQ feast and the chance to read a letter from back home, she didn't even think twice about inviting Jenna along with her when she had the chance.

Gervase's girlfriend gave birth while he was on the show

Getting tree mail is always fun, but in Episode 10 the merged Rattana tribe got an extra special surprise: A cigar, along with a note informing Gervase that his girlfriend had given birth to their second child together. Twenty years ago, that information set off some major side discussions, as fellow players debated having babies out of wedlock (Rudy had some particularly strong views on the subject). Overall though, everyone seemed happy for the new pops.

He seemed to be in pretty good spirits too; knowing that a call home and a slice of pizza was on the line at that week's Reward Challenge, he was extra motivated to win — and he did. 

Always the nice guy, Gervase shared his slice with the rest of the competitors. Later, when he called home (FaceTime didn't exist yet), he had a nice family catch-up with his girlfriend and daughter.

Sean refused to play strategically

Following the merge, Richard, Sue, Kelly, and Rudy strategically eliminated the Pagong tribe one-by-one, unbeknownst to Sean. In fact, Sean refused to participate in any kind of strategy, preferring to vote in alphabetical order instead. That move backfired on him, however, when Jenna's name came up and the rest of the original Tagi tribe voted with him. He was shocked that Jenna had gone home, and so he finally decided to revise his strategy.

The problem was that he refused to align with Colleen and Gervase unless Kelly would join him. Kelly had a lot of misgivings about her alliance and felt that she was compromising her morals by playing that way, but in the end she just couldn't go back on her word. So she stuck with her original alliance, and when Colleen won Individual Immunity on Day 30, the tribe voted out Gervase instead.

Rudy had a lot of outdated views

A contestant like Rudy could never be cast on the show today, with his blatant homophobia and Archie Bunker-like attitude. At the time, the 72-year-old grumbled a lot at camp but overall went with the flow, making rice and pulling his weight. During the confessionals, however, the former Navy SEAL openly admitted how different he was from everyone else, admitting he would have to be the one to learn to fit in.

During his time on the show Rudy talked about how his buddies back home would question his friendship with "a homosexual," and how he thought maybe there was "lesbianism" going on at camp between the women. At one point during a confessional that was in front of fellow castaways, Rudy said "10 more days and it will all be over. I'll probably never see these people again. It's the way I want it." Although others obviously heard the remark, they didn't even react. Maybe because they felt the same way.

Richard threw the final immunity challenge

In "Survivor," immunity is life. That was very obvious in "Borneo," when Kelly's alliance turned on her and wanted to vote her out because they believed that she had been trying to cozy up to the Tagi members in order to ingratiate herself with the jury. In fact, had Kelly not won the last four (yup, four!) Immunity Challenges, it's hard to say who would have made the final two.

That all seemed lost on Richard, who couldn't even be bothered to finish the game's final challenge that determined which player would automatically make the final two and have a real shot at winning a million bucks. He bowed out early, leaving Rudy to carry the weight of their alliance against Kelly on that platform instead — a move that backfired when Rudy accidentally lifted his hand from the pole and was disqualified.

In the end, it didn't matter. Kelly took Richard to the finale, where he won in a 4-3 vote. That vote, by the way, remains the only one in the show's history that was read during the episode and not held for the reunion show. In that and many other ways, the show has certainly evolved over the years.