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Surviving the Island

First Aid with the Cast and Crew of Survivor


Updated October 21, 2012

Gary Stritesky,

Gary Stritesky, "Papa Smurf" of the Moto tribe, being evacuated from Survivor: Fiji

Monty Brinton/CBS ©2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Survivor is the granddaddy of all reality game shows, and I've been a fan since the beginning. I've always loved the twisted fun of watching a team that has to work together while simultaneously planning how to oust each other.

Come to think of it, it's a bit like a typical office.

Of course, the average cubicle is a far cry from the Australian Outback or an island in the South Pacific. For one thing, there aren't too many poisonous snakes or deadly campfires to worry about. The biggest injury likely to befall an average office worker is the occasional nasty paper cut or knife in the back.

In case of something really terrible, like salmonella poisoning from the Casual Friday potluck lunch, the folks at the office can just call 911.

Not so for the average contestant on Survivor, hence the name of the show.

Wilderness Medicine - Hollywood Style

On Survivor, all the real life dangers present a unique challenge to the crew of the secretive TV show. They work in remote locations and build elaborate sets, with little or no contact to the outside world for more than three months.

Who do they call when they get hurt?

Dr. Adrian Cohen from Immediate Assistants, an Australian company that provides medical teams for events, provided an inside look at the emergency medical care available to the cast and crew of Survivor.

The show's on-site medical team consists of three nurses, three paramedics, and three doctors. The team follow protocols registered in Australia and based on international advanced life support guidelines. Cohen says the team also registers with emergency medical services in whatever country they're filming.

"We are responsible for up to 400 crew (and several native villages), VIPs, Media and local staff as well as the 16-20 contestants," said Dr. Cohen via email. He says the medical team provides "over 1500 medical consultations for each show (6 weeks pre-production and 2 weeks post on location)."

That's a lot of visits to the doctor.

An Outback ER

Cohen says to maintain that level of care in the remote locations where Survivor films, Immediate Assistants has to bring the hospital to the crew.

"We bring over half a million dollars worth of medical supplies and emergency medical equipment to each location…an "outback ER"…and can cater for anything up to major trauma, head or spinal injuries, heart attack, and allergic-shock," Cohen says.

Mostly, says Cohen, the team handles everyday, urban-style complaints out there in the wilderness.

"We have in effect a small city, and get the usual urban problems: coughs, colds, aches and sprains," Cohen says. "Each location is also an industrial workplace, with construction crews, art department, etc."

Since they shoot in remote overseas environments, explains Cohen, travel illnesses are also common, particularly gastroenteritis (Travelers Diarrhea).

Survivor's medical team can handle most of what the jungle can throw at them right there in the bush. "Most issues (over 99%) are handled on location," Cohen says. "On a few occasions, outside hospitals have been used whilst competitors are on location or shortly after having been voted off."

Page 2 looks at evacuating contestants back to civilization and more Survivor first aid.

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