As one of the most influential and long-lasting reality TV shows of all time, Survivor has earned equal amounts of praise and scorn during its more than 10 years on the air.  

Long-time fans of the show tune in every week to see how contestants fare in heated challenges and battles of wit, while opponents regularly criticise the program for being overly dramatic and exploitive. 

But there is one question that unites Survivor lovers and haters alike: How much of what we see on our screens is real, and how much is a simulation?

The contestants

In order to answer this question, we first need to look at the cast members who make up the various tribes on the show. 

While Survivor does encourage applicants from all walks of life, the fact of the matter is that most of the participants come to the show with extensive on-camera experience.

According to an NBC News interview with Andy Dehnart, creator of reality TV news digest Reality Blurred, "about 85 per cent" of the cast of Survivor: Cook Islands was recruited by the show's casting director.

Many competitors are out-of-work actors or models, which might explain why they are often unafraid to bare their chiselled abs or toned midriffs on screen. 

That said, some of the most memorable Survivor competitors have been everyday people, such as the infamous Jon "Johnny Fairplay" Dalton from Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: Micronesia. 

The island

But what about the island itself? How much of what goes on in the campsites and challenges that we see on TV actually played out in real life?

Actually, quite a lot of it. Earlier this month, Survivor: Cagayan competitor David Samson told People Magazine that "Survivor is as real as it gets". 

"They don't give you food when no one is looking. No one sneaks you Twinkies off-camera. I was eating my fingernails out there, and 10 fingernails don't make a good meal," said Mr Samson. 

However, Survivor is designed to be a form of entertainment, and as such the producers of the show are often required to simulate certain events in order to deliver the best possible show to viewers.

Shortly after the conclusion of the very first Survivor season, show creator Mark Burnett confessed that body doubles had been used to shoot extra footage during challenges, a practice that has continued throughout the program's run. 

So while Survivor may be a gruelling and intensive process for everyone involved, make no mistake, it is a simulation – albeit an entertaining one at that! 

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