Borneo, Featured, Southeast Asia

Living My “Survivor” Superfan Dream Of Visiting Pulau Tiga, Borneo

December 2, 2015
Pulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Justin Walter

Around the World with Justin
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.”

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Around the World with Justin
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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Sabah Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Sabah Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Sabah Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Around the World with Justin
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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Justin Walter Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island kayaking aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island kayaking aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Tribal Council aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Suvivor Island Borneo Ramis Beach Tagi aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Suvivor Island Borneo Ramis Beach Tagi aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island beach aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Pagong Pagong Beach aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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!).

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Borneo Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Pulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island mud volcano bath aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island mud volcano bath aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island mud volcano bath aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island mud volcano bath aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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 Survivor Borneo Survivor Island sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Around the World with Justin
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.

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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.

Around the World with Justin
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!

Pulau Tiga Resort Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.comPulau Tiga Survivor Borneo Survivor Island Justin Walter aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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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Are you a Survivor superfan? Take a trip to Pulau Tiga Borneo aka "Survivor Island" where season 1 filmed.

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8 Comments

  • Reply tom December 2, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    crazy good pictures of Borneo survivor trip

    • Reply Justin Walter December 2, 2015 at 6:58 pm

      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.

  • Reply Amanda December 5, 2015 at 12:58 am

    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… 🙂

    • Reply Justin Walter December 14, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      Thank you so much Amanda!! I love that you were able to experience the magic of Pulau Tiga through my post.

  • Reply Getting Down & Dirty at El Totumo Mud Volcano in ColombiaAround the World with Justin February 19, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    […] For more reality TV-inspired mud bath adventures check out my trip to Pulau Tiga, Borneo […]

  • Reply Kristin Luna December 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    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!

    • Reply Justin Walter December 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      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!

  • Reply How I Became a Solo Traveler in the Australian OutbackAround the World with Justin April 25, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    […] 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 […]

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