Sixteen or more castaways are split between two or more "Tribes", are taken to a remote isolated location and are forced to live off the land with meager supplies for roughly 39 days. Frequent physical challenges are used to pit the tribes against each other for Rewards, such as food or luxuries, or for "Immunity", forcing the other tribe to attend "Tribal Council", where they must vote off one of their players. Once about half the players are remaining, the tribes are merged into a single tribe, and competitions are on an individual basis; winning Immunity prevents that player from being voted out, while several that are voted out at this stage form the game's "Jury". Once down to two or three people, a Final Tribal Council is held where the remaining players plead their case to the jury members. The jury then votes for which player should be considered the "Sole Survivor" and win the $1 million prize. Survivor has introduced numerous modifications, or "twists", on the core rules in order to keep the players on their toes and to prevent players from relying on strategies that succeeded in prior seasons. These changes have included tribal switches, seasons starting with more than two tribes, the ability to exile a player from a tribe for a short time, Hidden Immunity Idols that players can use to save themselves at Tribal Council and a chance to return to regular gameplay after elimination through "Redemption Island".
The 20 castaways stranded on the Cook Islands are divided into four tribes along ethnic lines: African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic and White. Once the tribes are formed, they set up camp and get to know one another. After the exhausting Reward and Immunity Challenge, the losing tribe gets one perk: they can send someone to Exile Island. During Tribal Council, one castaway is voted off the island.
At the Aitu camp, Billy quickly becomes a deficit to his tribe and his tribemates become conflicted over what to do. Do they push to win the challenge and keep their tribe intact or throw it so they can vote Billy out? After just a short time in the Cook Islands, one castaway is already claiming their affections toward another. Love is in the air - or is it? Tension mounts between Jonathan and Adam when Adam refuses to waste his energy on what he sees as a "stupid" task.
Having sized up her tribe, a giddy and flirtatious Parvati starts using the only strategy she knows: to manipulate the men and draw them into her "web". Jonathan quickly grows frustrated with Jessica when he tries to talk strategy and she seemingly wants nothing to do with "playing the game". Nate shocks himself when he scores big while spear fishing and brings back enough food for the entire tribe.
Can the men and women of one tribe find a way to pull it together and work as a team, or will their gender division be their downfall? When Candice returns from Exile Island, her tribemates want to know why she thinks the other tribe decided to send her, thus keeping her safe from Tribal Council. J.P.'s dominance and controlling demeanor around camp anger some of the women in his tribe. Will this behavior put a target on his back? As the only member left from his original tribe, Ozzy proves his worth by catching a feast of fish, but will this be enough to keep him in the game?
While exploring the islands around their camp, some Aitu tribe members unknowingly land on Raro's island and walk into their camp. The awkward encounter make the Raro tribe testy when one Aitu tribe member asks for some of Raro's coconuts and spices. Adam catches a large octopus, but Cristina, whose bossy attitude is already annoying her tribe, accidentally lets the octopus escape while rinsing it off in the ocean. Trust and individual work ethic becomes a big issue with both tribes. As the Raro tribe continues to be split by gender, will the men of the tribe prove their worth or will they be picked off one by one?
After a feast is put on the line as a Reward, the castaways are left in shock when Jeff Probst tells both tribes they'll be going to Tribal Council that night. At Raro, Cristina feels alienated from her tribe after Adam says she is annoying. Meanwhile, one Survivor proposes a plan that may expose the hidden Immunity Idol. Will others follow along or will "Plan Voodoo" backfire on the instigator? One tribe member finds it hard to play the game with integrity and honesty and battles with feelings of guilt. In the end, two castaways are voted off the island.
Loads of never before-seen-footage includes a scene where Candice and Adam go on a boat trip only to encounter a storm that leaves them cold and shivering and stranded on a sandbar. Another new scene involves Yul who, after discovering the Immunity Idol on Exile Island, decides to cover the evidence by taking the small box that once held his prize, wrapping it in coconut husks and setting it adrift. During their individual time on Exile Island, Jonathan, Adam and Candice search in vain for the Immunity Idol. In addition, the Raro tribe enjoys their wine reward around a campfire and the normally soft-spoken Stephannie becomes deliriously drunk and nearly passes out.
After one castaway collapses from exhaustion during the Reward Challenge, the burden of completing the challenge is left to their other tribemates. When one Survivor chooses to sit out the physical portion of the Reward Challenge, the rest of the tribe becomes resentful of this person after their loss. With little shelter available, a raging storm makes one castaway's trip to Exile Island a nightmare. And, the eight castaway is voted off the island.
A major twist at the Reward Challenge results in betrayal and leaves one tribe stunned. How will this turn of events affect the castaway's morale? Banished to Exile Island, one Survivor worries about being away from their tribe at a critical bonding time. One castaway desperately tries to fit in with their tribe, but suddenly finds they're on the outside. As one tribe bonds at their Reward, sharing mementos from home, the other tribe struggles to find common ground. And, the ninth person is voted off the island.
An obvious flirtation between Adam and Candice is beginning to concern some of their tribemates. Jonathan hopes that his efforts to provide for his new tribe will protect him from elimination despite being low on the totem pole of the Raro tribe. Will one tribe's bickering and inability to work together cost them a festive Reward? Emotions run high as one Survivor is betrayed by friends and unanimously banished to Exile Island. After losing the Immunity Challenge, the defeated tribe is handed a sealed bottle containing a message that will be read at Tribal Council after they have sent someone home. What is the message and how will it change the course of the game?
When the Raro tribe of five merges with the Aitu tribe of four, Yul realizes he needs to sway one of the old Raro tribe members to join his underdog Aitu alliance. To do so, he decides to reveal his possession of the hidden Immunity Idol to a few select tribemates. Will the castaways stay true to their alliances or will this news stir up the game? Also, one castaway considers betraying their alliance at Tribal Council, but worries that this decision will cause drama back at camp.
Jonathan is berated by Parvati, Candice and Adam for turning on their Rarotonga alliance. With nothing left to lose, the three of them try to convince the Aitu alliance that Jonathan cannot be trusted. At the Reward Challenge, the castaways are left stunned when one of them reveals some shocking news to the group. The Immunity Challenge tests the Survivor's recollection of the past 30 days of the game. Which castaway's memory will serve them well and keep them safe for another week? At Exile Island, one tribe member's spirit takes a beating. How will their seclusion from the tribe affect their morale?
Prior to the Reward Challenge, Parvati is seriously hurt when she slices her finger with a machete, forcing the Medical Team to arrive at camp. How will this injury affect her position in the game and her ability to perform at the Reward Challenge? One alliance devises a plan to hide food from their competing tribe members in an effort to make them hungry and weak. At the Immunity Challenge, balance and agility are assets.
Parvati and Adam vow to win challenges and manipulate players in order to stay in the game. Will they be successful in turning the tides? The Reward Challenge forces the castaways to get down and dirty in exchange for luxury pampering away from camp. Relaxing time at the Reward allows one castaway to talk strategy with an otherwise enemy. Can this outsider plant a seed that could turn the game around? Concerned about one of their ally's strengths, two tribemates talk about breaking up the Aitu alliance sooner than discussed. One castaway is caught trying to manipulate a member of the Aitu alliance just before Tribal Council...will they be shrewd enough to change the course of the game?
As the number of remaining tribemates dwindles down, Aitu's members are forced to think about turning on each other. Will this strong alliance finally crumble? At the first Immunity Challenge, the Survivors must complete an obstacle course that ends with the most difficult puzzle in Survivor history. Later, endurance is a key factor in the final challenge for Immunity. Who will be the last one standing to secure a chance at $1,000,000? In the end, the final Survivors battle it out to convince the Jury that they are the most deserving of the $1,000,000 prize. Who will walk away with the money and the title of Sole Survivor?
Jeff Probst asks the castaways some tough questions after the winner is crowned. Did Ozzy believe he had the votes to win? How does Yul feel now that it's all over? And did Billy mean it when he declared his love for Candice? Find out now in this town hall forum, show live after the season finale.