Sixteen plain Jane and average Joe Americans are marooned on the deserted island of Puala Tiga in the South China Sea for 39 days, where they must survive not only the island, but each other, as every three days, one person is voted off. The 16 are split in to two tribes of 8. Tagi consists of Dirk, Kelly, Richard, Rudy, Sean, Sonja, Stacey and Susan. Pagong consists of BB, Colleen, Gervase, Greg, Gretchen, Jenna, Joel and Ramoana. In the first 3 days, the tribes get to know each other, and while BB's domineering attitude annoys some of his tribemates, Richard also begins to get on the nerves of the Tagi camp as he attempts to lead them in a group direction. When Pagong won the first Immunity Challenge (a competition), Tagi had to go to Tribal Council, where they must vote someone off of the island. Despite Stacey's attempts to form a female alliance against 72-year-old Rudy, it was Sonja Christopher who was voted off of the island with 4 of the 8 votes. The tribe has spoken.
Pagong are growing weary of BB's bossy and domineering attitude, and as Greg and Colleen begin to get friendly, the crabby 60-something clashes with Ramoana and Joel. Meanwhile, at the Tagi camp, Stacey and Rudy's personality clashes are getting worse, but Rudy does have a fond admiration for gay islander Richard. Tagi works as a team and prevails in the second Immunity Challenge, where they must eat live bugs, mostly due to Stacey, who competed with Gervase in a tiebreaker round. BB's fate was sealed when he used the tribe's only supply of clean water to wash his clothes, and when it came to Tribal Council, BB Anderson was voted off of the island. The tribe has spoken.
At Pagong, Greg and Colleen continue to grow closer as the younger tribe members begin to grow more accustom to their island home. Meanwhile, across the island at Tagi camp, Stacey's raw attitude continues to annoy the rest of her tribemates, especially the elder members. While both tribes are on the verge of running out of rice, Tagi wins a reward challenge, giving them fishing equipment., leaving Pagong's only hope to eat the island's selection of rats. At the immunity challenge, a last minute decision to switch a weak Jenna into an athletic part of the challenge could have proven detrimental, but Pagong pulls through in the end. At tribal council, Stacey tries to shake things up by trying to recruit some of the older members to vote off Rudy, but in the end, only Kelly stays loyal, and a surprised Stacey is voted off. The tribe has spoken.
Stacey's departure seems to have brought peace to Tagi, though Susan feels some people still could work harder. Across at Pagong, Ramona feels left out and Greg has developed an odd penchant for pretending to talk on the phone. Tagi runs a clean sweep, claiming a chest full of supplies in a "build the best distress signal" challenge, followed by a victory in a swimming/rowing/running/digging relay race challenge to win immunity. Even though Ramona made strides to fit in and work more, it's not enough to save her from being the 2nd person voted out of Pagong.
At Tagi, everyone begins to get annoyed by Dirk and Sean's inability to contribute anything worthwhile to the tribe, although the duo has been searching for tapioca and fishing. Pagong's accuracy drives the team to a victory, winning fruit and three live chickens. Joel & Gervase begin to have strong bond and others get interested when Greg & Colleen go off all the time together. At Immunity, Pagong wins, and at Tribal Council, Dirk recieves 4 votes, enough to send him packing. The tribe has spoken.
As Tagi and Pagong prepare to merge into one tribe, both teams are looking to the future, but not all of them will make it there. As Rudy finally agrees to join with Richard, Susan, and Kelly as the fourth member of the Tagi Alliance, the Pagong females are enraged when Gervase makes a nasty comment comparing girls to cows, and were even angrier at Joel for congratulating him on making the sexist remark. Also, as Pagong strategizes, Susan makes her decisions about who she wants to get rid of, and Gretchen shocks her tribemates with a surprising remark. Pagong wins the Reward Challenge, but are shocked to find the chickens they won in the last contest have been eaten by a lizard. To add to their sorrows, Pagong loses the final tribal Immunity Challenge, and are sent to Tribal Council, where Joel Klug, the 28-year-old travelling salesman from Arkansas, is voted off of the island. The tribe has spoken.
Finally, the two tribes are set to merge into one. Jenna and Sean serve as ambassadors for their tribes, meeting at one another's camp to discuss where the new tribe should stay. At the end of their pow-wow, which includes dinner, a warm bed, and wine, the two finally decide on Tagi beach, naming the new tribe Rattana. Once merged, the Pagong members annoy Rudy, and the women attempt to fix things up around camp while the men relax. Greg wins the first-ever individual immunity challenge, and at the confusing tribal council, Gretchen becomes the victim of a strong Tagi alliance. The tribe has spoken.
Colleen, Jenna, Gervase & Greg return to camp shocked that fellow castmate Gretchen was voted out. Jenna admits that there is some kind of alliance. Richard is angry after receiving a vote and decides to stop fishing to punish the tribe. Susan admits that she really wants Greg gone. Sean tells everyone his alphabet voting strategy, which Susan calls dumb. At the Reward Challenge the winner would recieve a video from home. Jenna breaks down when Jeff tells her they never received a video tape. Greg ends up winning the reward and watches a video from home. Richard realizes that Greg is a big threat. At Immunity, Gervase wins. At Tribal Council, Jenna recieves 3 votes while Greg receives 6 votes and is voted out and making him the 1st Jury Member.
The former Pagong members finally realize that Tagi members Richard, Susan, Kelly, and Rudy have an alliance. Kelly becomes close with Jenna & Colleen, although she lies to them by telling them that there is no alliance. At the Reward Challenge, Colleen wins at a rope course and takes Jenna with her to a BBQ, because included with the food is a letter from home. As Jenna & Colleen eat, they decide to stick together and form an alliance, choosing to target Richard first. At the Immunity Competition, Rudy wins an event dealing with strategy. Jenna, who already knows that she will be receiving one vote at Tribal Council (from Sean's now-open alphabetical voting strategy), and sure enough, she becomes the second member of the jury when the Tagi alliance exploits Sean's voting scheme. The tribe has spoken.
It's a day of luck for Gervase - who, after hearing news of the birth of his baby boy, wins the Reward Challenge, giving him a chance to chat with his girlfriend, Carmella, about the baby, and a big slice of pizza. But his luck runs out there. He struggles with the Immunity Challenge and loses to Richard, whose alliance of four bands together to vote him out of the tribe. Before the vote, the relationship between Kelly and Susan reaches a tense boiling point, as the once-friends quickly turn to become each other's enemies. As Kelly's unwillingness to play the game "dirtily" emerges, the Tagi alliance begins to crack.
As the game of Survivor draws to its conclusion, the remaining six contestants fight it out for a place in the final four. The Tagi Alliance begins to crumble, as Rudy and Richard make plans to be in the final two, and Susan and Kelly's friendship begins to disintegrate. When Sean wins the Reward Challenge, he gets a night on a luxury cruise liner and meets up with his father. The Alliance is very divided, and at the time of the Immunity Challenge, where the six must stand on a plank in the sea for as long as possible, Richard, Susan and Rudy decided that either Sean or Kelly would be going home. When Kelly won Immunity, it seemed Sean was doomed to go home, but then the Alliance changed its mind, and with four votes, Colleen Haskell, the final member of the original Pagong tribe, was voted off of the island. The tribe has spoken.
It's day 34, and the five remaining Survivors are all members of the original Tagi tribe. As mind games and manipulation accelerates, Kelly and Susan get in to a heated argument, and Richard begins to realize that everything is playing to his advantage. The final Reward Challenge sees the Survivors make their way into the mud volcano, and when Kelly wins, she receives a trip to a bar with Jeff Probst and the chance to see the first five minutes of the first episode of Survivor. At the bar, Kelly admits, "The game's finally gotten weird." As Sean seems to come to realize that money is at stake, the contestants take part in the Immunity Challenge, which deals with island superstition and folklore, Kelly wins, once again screwing up Richard's strategy to get her out. When it comes to Tribal Council, Sean, the only member of Tagi not in the Alliance, is voted off of the island, sending Richard, Kelly, Susan and Rudy in to the final four. Who will win?
We're down to the Final Four - Richard, Kelly, Rudy and Susan, the original Tagi alliance. With alliances being formed and broken at a rapid rate, friendships crumble, and when Kelly wins Immunity at the first challenge, Susan is voted off of the island (following a tie vote between her and Richard). Then, the three remaining Survivors are forced to take a ceremonious walk past the extinguished torches of their old tribemates, and take part in an endurance challenge that pushes them to their limit. Kelly wins Immunity for the second time in only a few days, and, with the sole vote cast at Tribal Council, votes Rudy off of the island, propelling herself and Richard into the final two. Following an emotional final Tribal Council, in which the two Survivors make their opening and closing speeches, and are interrogated by each member of the Jury, the seven former members of Ratanna cast their votes for who they want to win. In the end, it comes down to a 3-3 vote between the pair. Greg casts the deciding vote, and with a 4-3 majority, Richard Hatch, the 39-year-old Corporate Trainer from Rhode Island, wins Survivor, and walks away with $1million.
In this special reunion of all castaways, Bryant Gumbel poses questions to the castaways about their 39 days on the island. Reliving their experiences for the millions watching, the sixteen castaways reveal who they've stayed closest to, and end rivalries that went on during the season. This reunion show may be the last chance that the contestants will have room to breathe in the upcoming media blitz that will soon be sweeping the nation. Among other things, viewers are also given a sneak peek of the second season of Survivor, this time occuring in The Austrailian Outback.