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".
Sixteen contestants arrive on a military airplane in Queensland and immediately form two tribes---Kucha and Ogakor. After a five-mile hike to their respective camps, the tribes compete on an obstacle course for Immunity and waterproof matches. The losing tribe then attends Tribal Council and votes out its first member.
Jerri accuses Kel of eating contraband beef jerky, which he denies. In the “Butch Cassidy” Reward Challenge, the players jump off a cliff into a pool of water, swim to a floating crate and carry it ashore to win blankets. “Tucker'd Out” is the Immunity Challenge. The tribemates eat aboriginal foods (“bush tucker”), such as cow brains, grubs, grasshoppers and mangrove worms. However, Kimmi, a vegetarian, refuses to join in. Later, the second person is voted out of the game.
The players try to win fishing tackle in the “Water Torture” Reward Challenge, which requires them to carry jugs of water over a narrow plank and fill buckets being held by a tribesmate on a cane pole. “Lock Step” is the Immunity Challenge. The castaways are tied together with rope and traverse over and under obstacles until they reach the finish line. At the Tribal Council, the third person is voted out of the game.
Michael catches and butchers a wild pig, which doesn't make vegetarian Kimmi too happy. In the “Mastermind” Reward Challenge, the players unscramble a giant puzzle map to reveal the location of the prize, which is three chickens and a rooster. “True or Falls” is the Immunity Challenge, in which the castaways are quizzed about the Australian environment. At Tribal Council, the fourth person is voted out of the game.
Wildfires threaten the camps, and Kimmi and Alicia get into a heated, fingerpointing argument. In “Triage,” the players compete for comfort items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and spices. To win, they race to a mock first-aid tent carrying teammates on a stretcher. The Immunity Challenge is “The Maze.” Players enter a giant maze and collect numbered medallions in order. The fifth person is voted out of the game at Tribal Council.
Michael suffers severe burns on his hands after he passes out and falls into the campfire. Medics attend to his wounds and he's carried away by helicopter to receive further treatment. The teams compete for a Reward of soda and chips in “Blind Leading the Blind.” The teammates, except for one on each tribe, are blindfolded while the sighted spotter guides them through various tasks.
The Ogakor and Kucha tribes merge to form Barramundi and then set up camp in a new location. The Immunity Challenge, “Perch,”requires endurance as the players must stand on a wooden pillar in the river. The last person standing wins Individual Immunity. At the Tribal Council, the seventh person is voted out of the game.
The players try to win a dinner that includes salmon, chicken and shrimp in the “Return to Sender” Reward Challenge, which requires the castaways to throw a boomerang into a target. For Immunity, it's a mental activity called “Don't Fence Me In.” Ropes are attached to wooden posts and set up in rows of 10. The players link posts together using the ropes. The player who finishes off more squares wins Immunity. At Tribal Council, the eighth person is voted out of the game.
A review of the first 24 days in The Outback includes previously unseen footage.
The winner of the Reward Challenge chooses one person to enjoy a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel and partake in a feast. The Immunity Challenge unfolds in three segments: “Know Your Ropes”; “Rock the Boat”; and “Sinking Ship”. In each part, the players try to make their opponents lose their balance and fall into the water. Later, the ninth person is voted out of the game.
The players are given money to participate in the “Survivor Auction,” in which they can buy various food items. The Immunity Challenge is “Fire and Rain.” The castaways must light a fire in a pan and then raise it to ignite a fuse on an overhead bar. The first to do so wins Immunity. At the Tribal Council, the 10th person is voted out of the game.
A torrential storm produces flash floods that destroy the campsite and carry away the last can of rice. One player wins a rope-course Challenge and receives a horseback ride to a ranch to enjoy a beef-stew dinner, a night's sleep on a cot and a hot breakfast. The Immunity Challenge is “Blue Plate Special.” Each player has three plates with his or her name on it hung from a tree. Using a slingshot, players try to break opponents' plates. The person with the last unbroken plate wins.
The players communicate with loved ones back home in the “Outback Internet Café,” and one castaway wins a 30-minute online chat. “Fugitives,” the Immunity Challenge, takes place at night. After host Jeff Probst tells the castaways a story, the tribemates' hands and feet are shackled. They must then run to various spots and answer questions. A correct answer wins them a key. The first one to return to Probst unshackled and with all of the keys wins Immunity.
The Final Four players compete for Reward in the “Survivor Pentathlon,” which incorporates elements from past challenges, such as walking a plank, solving a puzzle, and being blindfolded and shackled. The winner gets a hot meal, a hot shower and a new car. Each person also receives a care package from home. For Immunity, the castaways must match pairs of items. At Tribal Council, the number of players is whittled down to three.
The Final Three players compete in their last Immunity Challenge, “Fallen Comrades,” in which they must answer personal questions about former tribemates. When only two remain, they are questioned by the Jury, which chooses the winner.
The 16 contestants reunite to discuss their experiences in the Outback. Bryant Gumbel is the host.