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 eighteen castaways, including Russell Hantz and "Boston" Rob Mariano, arrive in Nicaragua and learn that ousted players are sent to Redemption Island, where they live in exile and are given a chance to reenter the game if they can defeat other banished players in head-to-head competitions.
One castaway's kind gesture causes others to take notice and question his loyalty to the tribe, while Francesca settles into solitary life on Redemption Island and speculates who will join her next.
One tribe considers a risky move, while on Redemption Island it's do or die as Matt and Francesca face off in the first duel to see who earns the right to stay in the game and who exits for good.
Secrets are revealed on Redemption Island and the second duel reduces one castaway to tears when he is eliminated from the game for good.
Two unlikely castaways unite over their shared frustration with their tribe members while another castaway hides clues to keep their tribe from searching for the idol.
One castaway digs deep to find a way to weaken the strength of a powerful alliance, while a luxury item creates an unexpected bond between the dueling castaways on Redemption Island.
Matt and Stephanie duel on Redemption Island, and information gathered there results in some castaways questioning tribal loyalty.
The former tribes have big plans for one castaway who has the potential to change the game. Meanwhile, this same castaway grapples with the decision of whether to make the powerful move.
With a double Tribal Council sending two more castaways to Redemption Island, paranoia sets in and causes one castaway to dig deep for a chance to prolong their life in the game.
When one alliance's food supply is contaminated, a heated argument at camp sparks an explosive Tribal Council. Meanwhile on Redemption Island, the three remaining castaways compete to stay in the game and avoid becoming the first member on the jury.
One castaway is on the verge of a breakdown, while other castaways speculate about the contents of a mystery package and how it affects their strategy.
Tree mail leaves one tribe member with a tough emotional decision, and one castaway exhausts all efforts to ensure their safety in the game.
One castaway gets a taste of their own medicine on Redemption Island, while another castaway's plan for a big move could prove to be their biggest mistake.
The last chance for immunity is a fight to the finish with an unlikely pairing of castaways, and the Final Three plead their case to the jury. Find out who will outplay, outwit and outlast the others, on the two-hour season finale.
The winner is revealed as the 18 castaways reunite to discuss the season.