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Survivor Contestants You Might Not Know Passed Away

For more than 20 years, "Survivor" has been one of the most popular shows on television, cranking out an average of two seasons a year across its impressive run.

What eventually became "Survivor" was first aired in 1997 as a Swedish reality competition show called "Expedition Robinson" (later shortened to just "Robinson"). That transformed into the American series "Survivor" three years later, and since then, more than 50 countries have had their own version of the show — some using "Survivor," some using "Robinson," and some going with a different title entirely — at various points. While everyone who has ever competed on the show has lived to make it off that season's island and/or out of its jungle (though some have endured frightening injuries), a few castaways have passed away since their time on the series came to an end. Here's a look back at the U.S. "Survivor" contestants who are no longer with us.

Jennifer Lyon

Season 10, "Survivor: Palau," had a World War II theme and even used actual relics from that war for the backdrops of challenges and the Tribal Council set. The season also introduced audiences to Jennifer Lyon, who quickly became a fan favorite for her upbeat, positive attitude. She stuck around in the competition for quite some time, and made history when she was eliminated in the series' first-ever final four fire-building challenge after a deadlocked Tribal Council vote. 

After "Survivor," Lyon took a crack at acting when she appeared in the films "Daddy Day Camp" and "Cannibal Feast" — though not to be confused with actor Jenn Lyon, known for the TV shows "Justified" and "Claws." Unfortunately, Lyon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, undergoing treatment for five years before passing away in 2010. She attended the "Paulu" reunion in 2005, at which time she reconnected with "Survivor" host Jeff Probst and some of her fellow contestants, and was able to rekindle some of those friendships in the final years of her life. Probst in particular spoke of how he and Lyon "became very close, very fast" during that time and had a lot of emotional discussions about the effect of her disease on herself and her family.

Cliff Robinson

Not all "Survivor" castaways are new to television. Take, for example, Cliff Robinson of the "Survivor: Cagayan" season. Prior to competing on the 28th season of the show, Robinson had been an 18-year veteran of the NBA. The second round 1989 draft pick was awarded Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1993, followed by being voted onto the All-Star team in 1994. For only one season in his entire career did Robinson's team miss the playoffs, meaning he had been used to competing with the best of the sport. This made him an ideal candidate for "Survivor," despite his age (47) at the time. 

Although he proved himself a capable competitor on the show against a field of almost all younger contestants (only Trish Hegarty was older, at 48), Robinson's health took a bad turn a few years after his time on "Survivor." At 51, he suffered a brain hemorrhage, followed by being diagnosed with lymphoma the following year. In 2010, at 53 years old, the NBA and "Survivor" veteran — known to his fans as "Uncle Cliffy" — passed away from the disease.

Ralph Kiser

A competition show like "Survivor" can't go on for years and years without introducing twists and gimmicks along the way to keep things fresh. For season 22, "Redemption Island," that meant a new wrinkle where players voted out during the Tribal Council not only didn't go home, but they went to the titular Redemption Island where they could win their way back into the competition. Contestant Ralph Kiser made it to the final ten in the season with this unusual format, and also became a frequent source of comic relief for viewers as he frequently struggled to spell his fellow castaways' names properly when voting in the Tribal Council.

After "Survivor," Kiser went back to his home in Virginia where he returned to the animal auction he owned and operated. Eleven years later, in 2020, Kiser passed away from a heart attack at age 56. Following his death, Jeff Probst said of Kiser via the "Survivor" Twitter account: "His huge smile, his positive attitude and of course his infectious rooster crow made him one of the most likable to ever play Survivor."

Ashley Massaro

Another "Survivor" contestant who was famous before her time on the show, Ashley Massaro had already been a WWE wrestler for two years when she appeared on 2007's "Survivor: China," the 15th season of the series. However, her time on "Survivor" was as contentious as it was brief, finding her instantly butting heads with her fellow contestants and voted off in only the second Tribal Council of the season. 

A year after her short time on "Survivor," it was announced by the WWE that Massaro had been released from her contract with the company. She said at the time that she asked to have her contract terminated early due to her daughter being sick, but she later detailed what she said were poor working conditions and joined a 2016 class action lawsuit against the WWE for failing to look after the health and safety of its wrestlers — a legal conflict that came to be known as the "WWE Concussion Lawsuit." Three years later, Massaro was found unconscious at her home and was taken to the hospital, where efforts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

Caleb Bankston

Various seasons of "Survivor" have brought back castaways from previous seasons, and one of the most interesting ways the show did that was seen in season 27, "Blood vs. Water." The gimmick: Ten contestants from previous seasons were put together on a tribe called Galang, and that team went up against another tribe of ten called Loved Ones — so named because everyone in the tribe was a loved one of someone from the Galang tribe. This brought Caleb Bankston to "Survivor" via the Loved Ones team, as he was the fiancé of Colton Cumbie from the "Survivor: One World" season. Bankston lasted on the show until the inevitable merging of the two tribes, but didn't make it to the top eight.

Bankston was in a train accident in 2014, only a year after "Blood vs. Water" aired. He was the conductor of the train when it derailed. An investigation into what might have caused the accident proved inconclusive. He and Cumbie were set to get married later that year, sharing his excitement about his upcoming nuptials with "The Hollywood Reporter" in an interview just six months prior to his death.

Angie Jakusz

Unfortunately, Jennifer Lyons isn't the only contestant from "Survivor: Palau" to have passed away since her time on the show. Her fellow castaway, Angie Jakusz, is the second member of that season to lose her life to cancer. Jakusz initially had trouble fitting in with her tribe due to her quirkiness, but soon won them over with her skill in challenges and felt like a more seasoned athlete than her relatively young age — she was 25 at the time — might have otherwise suggested. Her fellow castaway Coby Archa later praised Jakusz for the way she "broke the casting barrier" by having "dreads and tattoos" at a time when that was almost unheard of on the show, particularly among women.

In 2021, it was revealed that Jakusz had died after being diagnosed with cancer. In the description of her history with the disease on a GoFundMe page set up by her family to cover her medical expenses, it is inferred that her cancer had previously been in remission but returned in March of the previous year. She was unable to fight it off again and passed away in January of 2021 at the age of 40.

Rudy Boesch

The first season of "Survivor" — retroactively referred to as "Survivor: Borneo" — seems quaint now compared to subsequent seasons in that there wasn't yet a need for big twists or clever gimmicks. The basic premise of the show was still novel enough to be exciting, and the initial group of castaways got to become noteworthy by nature of just being the first. Still, various members of that season stood out at the time and remain among the most talked-about in the history of the show, and one such castaway is Rudy Boesch, who would later return for "Survivor: All-Stars" in the eighth season.

At 72 years old during "Borneo" and 75 during "All-Stars," Boesch remains the oldest castaway in the history of the show. With that in mind, it's impressive that he only just passed away in 2019. The retired Navy SEAL was 91 years old and died after complications from Alzheimer's disease. Following his death, fellow first season castaway (and winner) Richard Hatch referred to Boesch as a "dear friend" and pointed out how their unlikely friendship was a great example of overcoming prejudices. 

Dan Kay

The 17th season of "Survivor" was the second shot in Africa and the first to be filmed in high definition. Subtitled "Gabon – Earth's Last Eden," the season introduced viewers to Dan Kay, who claimed he had an early midlife crisis that forced him to quit his job, sell all of his investments, and audition for "Survivor." Given that he had put so much on the line prior to competing on the show, it's a good thing he wasn't voted off quickly: Kay ended up making it to Day 20 before he was eliminated.

While it's not known what Kay did for work after his time on "Survivor," he continued to pursue adventure as an active skier and runner, completing a half marathon. Eight years after he appeared on "Survivor" and hit the reset button on his life, that life was cut short in 2017 when Kay died unexpectedly at age 40. The cause of death was never revealed to the public, with Kay's girlfriend telling Radar Online simply: "We're not releasing how he passed at this time." No further public statement from Kay's loved ones has been released on the matter.

B.B. Andersen

It's no secret that the producers of "Survivor" enjoy casting young, physically attractive contestants, with the official CBS website even having an entire photo gallery devoted to the "Beauties of Survivor." Still, they've also done an admirable job at allowing much older castaways than one might expect from this type of show. The latter was established right off the bat, as the "Borneo" season had not only the 72-year-old Rudy Boesch but also the 63-year-old Sonja Christopher and the 64-year-old Bill "B.B." Andersen. That being said, while Boesch shocked everyone by making it all the way to third place, his fellow 60+ contestants were the first two voted out.

Andersen has the unfortunate distinction of being the first castaway ever voted off of "Survivor" in the show's very first Tribal Council. For what it's worth, he had previously made it known pretty quickly that he didn't care if he was eliminated. Even though his time on the show was brief, he still managed to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into endorsement deals with both Reebok and Home Depot. In 2013, 14 years after ensuring his place in pop culture history as one of the original cast members on one of the most successful TV shows in history, the 77-year-old Andersen passed away after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Sunday Burquest

A few years back, the internet helped to fuel a war between so-called "generations," pitting baby boomers against gen Xers, millennials, and gen Zers. "Survivor" pounced on this in 2016 when they went with the gimmick of "Millennials vs. Gen X" for the show's 33rd season. One of the early standouts of the Gen X team was Sunday Burquest, whose easygoing and likable demeanor meant she had an easy time forging multiple alliances that kept her safe until various back-stabbings led to her elimination at 7th place.

In 2021, only five years after her "Survivor" stint, author and youth pastor Burquest passed away at age 50 from esophageal cancer that also spread to her ovaries. Doctors had only given her "a few months" to live upon the initial diagnosis, but she ended up making it for ten. Prior to that, she had beaten breast cancer in 2012, before her appearance on "Survivor." In a heartfelt Instagram tribute, Jeff Probst spoke warmly of Burquest's smile and her kindness, stating "She seemed to understand better than most that life is for living, so say yes to life whenever possible."