'Survivor' Casting Director Reveals Secrets to Landing on Show: "We Will Break You"

Lynne Spillman tells season-16 winner Parvati Shallow what reality hopefuls can do to increase their chances of competing for the million-dollar purse.
Courtesy of CBS
'Survivor'

It’s a numbers game. Millions of people watch Survivor. Thousands apply. And each season, only 18 to 20 people make it through the grueling casting process to go experience the adventure of a lifetime and play the game. For those who dream about competing on Survivor, this is a must-read. 

Since Survivor’s inception, Lynne Spillman has been the force behind bringing together the great casts of characters that help to make Survivor so compelling: She’s responsible for casting every season of Survivor and The Amazing Race since day one.  

Read more 'Survivor: Second Chance': Parvati Shallow Picks the Top 3 Contenders

The Survivor casting process is the game before the game. Potential participants need to know how to play and what to do to get Spillman’s attention. 

Here are Spillman’s do’s and don’ts for increasing your odds at making the cast:

Do be yourself and take a risk. 

Don’t try to be a character. "Don’t try to be the villain if your lifestyle and life choices have been different. Because we will call you out and we will break you," warns Spillman. 

Do study the show before applying, know why you’re going to be good and talk about why you’re a winner. 

Don’t be shy or quiet or say that other people tell you that you could never win. 

Do get a sales job. Spillman is looking for young people with life experience and social skills. If you’ve never worked a job or still live with your parents, you lose points. Casting wants to know that you have cultivated your people skills in the real world and that you can compete with the big boys or bullies like Russell Hantz

Don’t talk about your failures. "People make the mistake all the time of saying they’d be perfect because they just got out of school, and they don’t have a job, or they got laid off, so the timing is perfect," Spillman says. "And they highlight all the negatives about them or the failures as opposed to showing us why they would be successful at a game that’s socially challenging, challenging from a physical standpoint and emotionally draining."

Do keep applying. Spillman says, “People don’t realize how much they change in two years. As your life changes, you should keep applying. As you grow and overcome new things in your real life, it starts to click a little bit more."

Do apply every way that you can. "Come to open calls, make a video, apply anyway you can because you never know which one is going to get our attention," she says. 

Don’t wear costumes.

Do understand what it takes to win and talk about how you already play the game in your real life. "We need to know that can win and that you won’t quit," Spillman explains. 

Spillman will be watching video submissions and attending open calls. Candidates would be wise to integrate her final words of wisdom into their application: "Watch the show. Keep applying and figure out how you already play the game in your real life. That’s the biggest, best advice I can give you."

Survivor casting is now open for business. Visit CBS.com/casting to apply. The full interview with Spillman can be seen below.

Parvati Shallow competed on 'Survivor' seasons 13, 16 and 20. She was the winner of season 16 and the runner-up on season 20.

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