Ever since watching the first episode of “Survivor” (US) on May 31, 2000 I’ve been obsessed! To say I’m a superfan is an understatement. I’ve watched every episode, growing up I ran full-scale “Survivor” games as a hobby, I’m in “Survivor” fantasy leagues, my college friends annually reunite to compete in “Survivor” games, I wear buffs to bed, Jeff Probst is my go-to Halloween costume, I compete in 10-week “Survivor” competitions every summer and I literally think about getting on and winning the show every day… see what I mean?! “Survivor” is my first true love.
As a “Survivor” superfan and adventure traveler I’ve always dreamed of traveling to Pulau Tiga, the small island off the coast of Borneo where it all began. When I was recently interviewed by travel agency ClickStay and asked about my top 3 bucket list travel destinations I clearly named Borneo… and a few weeks later I made it happen! I’m so excited to share my once-in-a-lifetime experience on Pulau Tiga, home of “Survivor: Borneo.”
From Los Angeles, I flew to the Philippines and after a 24-hour layover exploring Manila I boarded an AirAsia flight to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Malaysia – the same city the 16 original castaways were flown to. I was then picked up by Pulau Tiga Resort – the same accommodations the “Survivor” crew lived at during filming and my incredible host for two nights.
After a 2-hour drive along the coast of Sabah, I hopped on the Pulau Tiga Resort boat and headed 30 minutes toward Pulau Tiga (aka “Survivor Island”). The moment I caught my first glimpse of the island I was transported back 15 years to the first moments of “Survivor” when the original castaways were marooned. Flooded with emotions, this dream was coming true.
As soon as I stepped onto the “Survivor Island” pier, I was welcomed by Julius who laughed at my “Survivor” hat and instantly became my best friend. Julius worked on the island during the filming of “Survivor: Borneo” and did everything possible to provide a superfan experience beyond anything I could have imagined. For starters he set up a kayak so I could catch the sunset at Pulau Burung (Bird Island) where the “One Survivor” scene was shot for the show open.
As I paddled my heart out to make it in time, I was completely blown away. There I was, on the island for only a few hours and already watching a gorgeous “Survivor” sunset. After paddling back in rainy dark, feeling like I might actually be forced to survive on the island alone (which I wasn’t against) I spent the night watching episodes of “Survivor: Borneo” with Julius. The pride he and the rest of the staff had for living on “Survivor Island” was infectious and made me feel right at home.
The next day Julius gave me a “Survivor” experience that exceeded all my expectations. As a fan himself, he gave me a tour of the island to check out memorable filming locations. After six incredible hours trekking through my superfan fantasy, I was surprised to learn this wasn’t a tour they regularly offered. I encouraged Julius to create a “Survivor” hiking tour for future guests — and he agreed! Our first stop – Tribal Council! Just a 5-minute walk from the Pulau Tiga Resort, Julius led me into the forest and I stood in the jungle where 52 million viewers watched Jeff Probst crown Richard Hatch as the first sole survivor.
Our next stop was Ramis Beach where the Tagi Tribe lived. Julius told me that although most people believe they lived on Tagi Beach they actually lived near here. This was the beach where Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch, Kelly Wiglesworth and Sue Hawk created the first “Survivor” alliance and implemented a “Pagonging” strategy to become the coveted Final Four.
From Ramis Beach we walked along Rocky Beach as Jeff Probst did when he explained the merge. This was also the same beach tribe ambassadors Jenna and Sean walked with Kelly and Greg to check out opposing tribe camps before heading the Sand Spit for their overnight merge summit.
After Rocky’s beach we finally arrived to Pagong-Pagong Beach where the Pagong Tribe lived. Near their tribe camp location, we built our own “Survivor”-style fire to cook our lunch and relaxed.
While Julius cooked, I lounged in the water where I (secretly) went skinny dipping in honor of Richard Hatch… I mean, when in Pulau Tiga! Spending an extended amount of time on the beach which I recognized from the show and swimming in the South China Sea, I’ve never felt closer to being on the real show (which I’m more determined than ever to make happen!).
The last stop (or so I thought) on my “Survivor” tour was the mud volcano the Pagong Tribe ventured to after voting out B.B.
When we returned back to Pulau Tiga Resort I couldn’t thank Julius enough for taking me on such a memorable “Survivor” trek and just when I thought it was over, I was wrong! Julius took me to Pulau Burung (Bird Island) for sunset and brought a tiki torch so I could recreate the iconic scene from the “Survivor” show open. Staring off into the sunset, torch in hand, I was the “One Survivor.”
Pulau Tiga Resort was amazing! The staff was extremely welcoming and attentive. The resort is very well maintained, on the beach and offers a variety of water activities. Every meal felt like I was at a “Survivor” merge feast and was delicious. My house was spotless and very comfortable. I loved that they played “Survivor: Borneo” all the time. I am so thankful they sponsored one of the nights of my stay and how Julius catered to my superfan dreams.
One thing that I should point out because it came as a sad surprise to me was the trash on various beaches that had washed up from the mainland. The resort did a good job of keeping its surrounding beaches clean and I hope Sabah makes efforts to better maintain to the entire island.
For over 15 years I’ve wanted to visit Pulau Tiga. It feels like a dream that it actually happened. Incredible, surreal, emotional, memorable… words can’t describe my epic adventure in Borneo. Being fully embraced for my “Survivor” love and getting to experience firsthand where it all began was priceless. I will cherish my travels to “Survivor Island” for the rest of my life and as dorky as it may sound (but for everyone who knows me, not the least bit surprising) it is one of the best experiences of my entire life. Salamat Pulau Tiga Resort! And now that this dream has come true, I know it’s only a matter of time until my dream of being a contestant and winning the show comes true!
Since posting about my Pulau Tiga adventure, I’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback and support from fellow “Survivor” fans. I was extremely honored when I was asked to write a feature story for the popular reality TV news website reality blurred. Writing the article, “What a Survivor fan discovered on Pulau Tiga, 15 years after Survivor Borneo” gave me a unique opportunity to reflect on my experience and what it means to me in the bigger picture of my life.
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crazy good pictures of Borneo survivor trip
Thanks Tom! It was one of the best travel and life experiences I’ve had. Gorgeous location with so much history and meaning for this Survivor superfan.
As a complete…what’s the OPPOSITE of superfan (never seen a single episode!) of Survivor, this post made me feel the energy you felt being on Pulau Tiga – what a life-changing experience. I am so happy you got to do it – and even happier that I got to see you “on the other side” soon afterward! Here’s to finally making that OTHER big dream….being on the show…a reality… 🙂
Thank you so much Amanda!! I love that you were able to experience the magic of Pulau Tiga through my post.
[…] For more reality TV-inspired mud bath adventures check out my trip to Pulau Tiga, Borneo […]
What a cool experience. I’ve never even heard of this part of Borneo! We did three weeks there for our honeymoon and split it up a week on the west coast around Kotu Kinabalu, then the rest of the time in the Celebes to go diving Sipadan and that area. We also snuck in 72 hours in Brunei, which was wild!
What an awesome place for a honeymoon! Pulau Tiga is a tiny island that is the start of “Survivor” sooo if you aren’t a fan you may not have heard of it. I didn’t get to explore more of Borneo besides the island so when I go back I’ll be hitting you up for tips!
[…] Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, discovering Mayan Ruins in Guatemala and even island hopping in Borneo (where Survivor filmed season 1) to name a few of my solo adventures. I am so thankful for all of […]
Thanks for the article.. I’m from borneo and been a huge fan of Survivor as well. Never missed a single episode of the 1st season. Who knew it would later become a global hit and push Mark Burnett’s career. Sadly, they never broadcast it here anymore after season 5. But I still follow the show on social media. Thanks again for sharing about Borneo.
Hi Jonathan! I always love connecting with fellow Survivor superfans and thanks so much for reaching out. Going to Borneo where it all began was such an incredible trip. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to visit some day too.
I’m embarking on the same journey as well. I am a Survivor superfan from the Philippines and dream of visiting every Survivor location there ever was. Last year, I ticked two of the list – Caramoan and Cagayan (for obvious reasons these seasons where filmed here.)
This year, I’m eyeing on Thailand, Borneo and Cambodia. But might just do one because of schedule. Did you go here alone? Because sad to say, I don’t have much superfans as friends. This gave me the courage to push through. Thanks Justin.
I’m so happy this inspired you to hopefully go to Pulau Tiga! I did go alone and had a blast. When you go, ask for Julius and to take a tour of the island looking at locations the show filmed. You should even try to get your photo taken on Bird Island with a torch in hand! Sounds like fun adventures ahead for you.
Uy! Hello fellow Pinoy Survivor superfan! I have the same pilgrimage goals! I’ve already been to Cagayan (Palaui Island, S27/S28). In September, I am heading to Kota Kinabalu and would like to visit where it all began. Doing solo as well. I will be back with a report on what happened once I visit! 😀
Have the best time at Pulau Tiga! And please let me know how your trip goes!!
[…] a backpacking trip in the Philippines a few years ago I couldn’t resist quickly hopping over to Pulau Tiga, the small island off the coast of Borneo where they filmed season one of “Survivor.” When I […]