Daily Press (Sunday)

Clothes always make the ‘Survivor’ player

Wardrobe is key to storyline on CBS’ hit series

- By Bennett Madison CBS

Year after year, with each new crop of “Survivor” castaways, it’s easy to see that they’re meant to represent a familiar cross section of archetypes.

Even in their off-the-rack tank tops and cargo shorts, characters like the cranky old military vet, the arrogant corporate executive and the pharmaceut­ical rep next door are recognizab­le on sight.

That’s no accident: While the convention­s of reality TV encourage viewers to believe that these contestant­s arrive with whatever hastily selected items they can grab, their clothing is carefully vetted and assembled with producers and wardrobe staff to maximally portray players’ personalit­ies and emphasize the show’s “Robinson Crusoe” mise-en-scène.

Since it debuted in 2000 on CBS, “Survivor” has had an ever-shifting cast and has regularly introduced new twists for contestant­s as they compete to be the last person standing and win a cash prize. Over time, players’ wardrobes — dirt-crusted and minimal though they may be — have helped further plots and create through-lines in the series, which continues to draw among the highest ratings on network TV.

Jeff Probst, the host of “Survivor” and its executive producer and showrunner, said clothing was at the foundation of the show’s premise.

“The idea is, what if you were shipwrecke­d with a group of strangers?” Probst said. “A lawyer’s clothing should look very different from a nurse, who looks different from a pizza maker.”

Caitlin Moore, a “Survivor” casting producer, works alongside the show’s longtime wardrobe supervisor, Maria Sundeen, to help contestant­s select clothes for the show. It involves “a lot of going through the closets, trying to find the pieces that will work,” Moore said.

“We are very much in a collaborat­ive process, working together to come up with what really feels like a reflection of their own personalit­y yet also meets the needs of production.”

‘You should wear a red sweater vest’

John Cochran was completing his studies at Harvard Law School when he was cast in the 23rd season of “Survivor.” He and his mother were at a mall looking for practical attire that could get him through 39 days without shelter on the Samoan island of Upolu, he said, when he got a call from Moore.

“We were, like, looking at REI camping stuff,” said Cochran, now 36 and a television writer in Los Angeles. “And Caitlin says, ‘We don’t know what you’re going to think of this, but we’re thinking you should wear a red sweater vest.’ ”

Moore explained that red would be a color scheme for that season, he said. She was hoping to play up his Ivy League bona fides — and his nerdiness — with the vest.

Cochran initially balked at the request: “I’d never worn a sweater vest before. I already exude nerdiness. I’m trying to downplay my ruddy complexion and rosacea and red hair.”

But in the first episode of “Survivor: South Pacific,” which was broadcast in 2011, Cochran could be seen furiously paddling a boat across that ocean in a crimson sweater vest, a pink collared shirt and khakis, the tropical sun beating down on his reddening face.

This rather ridiculous image made the impression that Moore and her team had suspected it would, and when Cochran agreed to join the cast of “Survivor: Caramoan” the year after, it was a no-brainer that he would show up wearing the same attire.

“It was a fun journey to go on,” Moore said, “and to see him start to lean into it.”

Cochran said he acquiesced to the producers’ vision for his wardrobe partly because, as a fan of the show, he recalled how the attire of other contestant­s had helped them connect with viewers.

A sartorial plot twist

Probst said the biggest change to the show’s approach to wardrobe came with its seventh season, “Survivor: Pearl Islands,” broadcast in 2003.

Before then, each contestant had been permitted a knapsack of clothing items, including some survival gear. But for “Pearl Islands,” the players, who included Rupert Boneham, were surprised to enter the competitio­n with significan­tly fewer items than they had worked with producers to select.

Once cast members arrived at the shooting location, Probst said, they were asked to dress in certain outfits they had brought to wear for press photos that would be used to promote the show. Boneham wore his tie-dye. Lillian Morris, a Boy Scout leader, dressed in a full Scouting uniform. Shawn Cohen, an advertisin­g sales executive, was in an Armani suit.

But instead of going to a photo shoot, cast members were plunged immediatel­y into the game, wearing only the clothes on their backs.

“Some of the most iconic looks of ‘Survivor’ came from that season,” Probst said.

Sandra Diaz-Twine, the winner of “Pearl Islands,” said she was shocked when she realized that most of the clothes the production crew had approved for her to bring couldn’t be used.

“I had charged like $500, $600 on my credit card,” said Diaz-Twine, 49, who lives in Fayettevil­le, Arkansas, and has appeared in several subsequent seasons of the show. “I wanted to make sure that I had a different clean outfit like every day. And then they say you’re jumping off the boat with just the clothes on your back. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I charged all this stuff to my credit card.’ ”

Since then, “Survivor” has gone back and forth on what clothing — and how much of it — contestant­s may bring.

One garment worn by all contestant­s who have appeared on the show is the buff: a scarflike band of stretchy cotton emblazoned with the “Survivor” logo. It is rendered in different colors each season and has become one of the series’ sartorial signatures.

“There are clearly guys who have ordered a buff before they go on the show and have put it on in the mirror looking at all the different ways they could wear it,” Probst said.

Parvati Shallow, 41, who first appeared in “Survivor: Cook Islands,” broadcast in 2006, said the buff is critical for players who have only so many clothes: “You can wear it as a shirt, a skirt, a headpiece, a scarf.”

For Diaz-Twine, returning to “Survivor” after winning the “Pearl Islands” season offered the chance to upgrade those clothes. In preparatio­n for the show’s 20th season, “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains,” she said, “for the first time ever, I bought a Victoria’s Secret bra. I won a million dollars, I can’t show up in panties from Walmart.”

 ?? ?? Eighteen castaways were abandoned in the islands of Fiji for the 45th season of“Survivor,”which wrapped Dec. 20.
Eighteen castaways were abandoned in the islands of Fiji for the 45th season of“Survivor,”which wrapped Dec. 20.

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