Heads up: There aren't any spoilers for Survivor winners, but if you're avoiding any info about seasons you haven't watched, there are images and explainers from late-season auctions in Survivor seasons 2, 3, 6, 16, 18, 26, 28, and 30 ahead!
Survivor — aka the greatest televised game ever created — is known for its cutthroat nature, nonstop gameplay, and the physical toll it takes on its contestants. There used to be a brief reprieve to all of this. A challenge designed to fill survivors' bellies, lighten things up, and entertain viewers. It was a beautiful thing. And it was known as the Survivor Auction.
Rules varied from season to season, but overall, the Survivor Auction was exactly what it sounds like. Players were given an envelope of money to bid on various items host Jeff Probst put up for auction, including food, letters from home, game advantages, and the occasional luxury item.
Now, let's revisit some of the very best moments in Survivor Auction history, shall we?
The Survivor Auction first appeared in Season 2, The Australian Outback. Simpler times. Survivors were delivered 500 Australian dollars via tree mail (also RIP for the most part), read a fun little poem about the challenge, and participated in an auction with only food items up for bid.
The first item ever up for auction of Survivor? "Four tasty Doritos and a nice big ol' thing of salsa to go with it." The starting bid? $60. "Wow!" Amber blurted out, with what sounded like genuine glee.
Tina and Elizabeth made a bid together and shared a plate of turkey. Colby paid $280 for an iced coffee and protein bar. Jeff got in his first lil' prank that ended with Amber paying $200 for a glass of river water under a covered dish. Everyone walked home feeling sick, and a beautiful tradition was born!
The Survivor Auction has occurred in 16 glorious seasons, but has been dormant since Season 30, Worlds Apart. Rules and up-for-grabs items shifted as time went on, sometimes via Jeff and sometimes due to players getting wise to the auction's usual rhythms. Evolution of gameplay is the key to Survivor's greatness, and happens even in a challenge as light as the auction.
Even by Season 3, Africa, players were bidding amongst themselves after someone bought an item from Jeff. There was practically an entire side auction after Kim Johnson won a plate of fried chicken and potatoes that was under a cover and everyone got really jealous.
The auction in Season 6, Amazon, introduced many auction tropes we would see over the years, namely trading what you bid on for a different mystery item. In Season 26's auction, Survivor super fan turned amazing player Cochran said it was a monty and usually the right choice to switch. And, ya know what, he wasn't wrong!
Amazon's auction also introduced luxury items. Butch won a bed to take back to camp along with his breakfast! In later seasons, showers and baths, an opportunity to brush your teeth, clean clothes, and a mosquito net were some of the most coveted luxuries.
I mean, come on. Look at Parvati just chillin' in a bathtub in the background of the Cook Islands auction and tell me it's not iconic.
Letters from loved ones were also up for grabs for the first time at the Amazon auction, and boy oh boy did the tears flow. They always do!
It's hard to think of someone who cried harder than Taj in Season 18, Tocantins, who the tribe let receive a video message from home on a new, state of the art Sprint phone for the low, low price of $20 because she'd been missing her new baby so much.
There are simply too many joyous and bonkers moments to name from the early days. Like when the final item of the auction started becoming a huge piece of food that multiple people only had 60 seconds to dig into...
...which ultimately led to situations like Erik offering anyone $40 to lick their fingers after eating a cake with their hands and Cirie accepting.
Or when James ate some bat soup that nobody else wanted and actually seemed to kind of like it!
And when Tom got a letter from home that had this somewhat terrifying but mostly adorable drawing from one of his kids inside.
There was much rejoicing, feasting, and even reuniting with loved ones. We got to know our survivors better, and we loved them all the more for it. The auction remained mostly finger lickin' good for all 16 of its iterations. Alas, nothing gold can stay.
But the introduction of advantages started to make the auctions far too serious. Watching VERY hungry people struggle to save their money for an advantage at the end of the auction instead of having some fun wagering for spaghetti could, at times, feel bleak.
Especially once maps to hidden immunity idols and huge advantages in immunity challenges started being up for grabs, the Survivor Auction became a waiting game for a rock draw for anyone who still had $500 at the end and wanted a shot at the biggest advantage. By Season 28, Cagayan, Spencer even said it was a "buyer's market" when Woo bought some ribs for just $40.
But things really came to a head in the final Survivor Auction in Season 30, Worlds Apart. First of all, it opened with Will bidding on a mystery item which was...getting booted out of the auction and having to go back to camp?!
Jeff then asked for a show of hands from everyone who would be ignoring the food and luxury items to save all of their money for a chance at the advantage at the end. Surprise, surprise. Pretty much everyone raised their hand.
Those who saved their money agreed to all spend $20 on their letter from home so nobody could outbid each other for the final advantage, but they could all still have their letters. Then this guy Mike sneakily backed out at the last second and decided not to buy his letter. Everyone was so mad at him; he ended up buying it anyway, and everyone drew rocks. TL;DR it was a mess and, most importantly, barely an auction at this point. And just like that...the Survivor Auction was no more.
At its best, the auction revealed and further cemented alliances, showed us more of our favorite players' personalities, and gave Jeff a good opportunity for some goofs. At its worst, it made people hangry, dragged on camp drama we desperately needed a break from, and was an over-complicated game of chance.
While Jeff has reportedly said he doesn't think the Survivor Auction will return, it should come as no surprise that I think it should make a comeback. Season 41 simultaneously emphasized a back-to-basics approach along with plenty of new twists, and I can see a stripped-down version of the auction making its way into newer seasons to the delight of Survivor heads everywhere.
My plea to producers? Reintroduce the auction with old school rules, and let players know there are no advantages at the end. The only items up for auction are food and luxuries, and they can pool their money as long as they split their winnings. Jeff could even have a little sign like he did at the first and last auction, because, oh yeah, in the last one they busted out this set piece:
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