Here’s What Happens When Australian Survivor Contestants Get Their Periods

Image courtesy of Channel 10
Sam Gash and Amy Ong on Australian Survivor: Blood v Water
With gruelling physical challenges, a stringent rice and bean diet and being left to their own devices for shelter, Australian Survivor contestants are truly roughing out it during their time on the show.
It's difficult enough as it is, so imagine getting your period on top of it all. It's a normal part of life yet we rarely hear about how contestants deal with menstruation while filming. From hygiene to privacy, there are a lot of questions to be asked.
Former contestant Shannon Lawson says dealing with her period while on the show was a "real challenge".
"Periods are hard enough as a woman, then throw in the Survivor experience, the outback and no access to showers/flushing toilets and you have a real challenge on hand," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
Lawson, who competed on Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn in 2021, explains contestants undergo several medical checks before the show and are given the option to take the contraceptive pill to help manage their cycle if they wish.
"Should we elect to use the pill on the show to help manage or stop our periods, we are absolutely allowed to have them in our medical bag," she says. "Keeping in mind these are your responsibility and should you lose them or run out, producers find it hard to source more for you while filming."
There are no proper flushing toilets during the Survivor experience, but rather a "drop hole" – a toilet seat and a 10-metre long drop. There, contestants can access pads and tampons, but things can get a bit sticky if your flow is heaviest when you're out at a challenge that's far from camp.
"The upside is you have access to female sanitary products at the drop hole but again need to carry these with you through the day should you need them," she explains.
"Between challenges, should you need to change you sanitary towels or tampons, it would become a challenge if access to the drop hole was out of sight and you would need to go behind a tree."
It's important to remember there are no proper showers either, and without access to running water and soap, the question of hygiene comes into play yet again, along with privacy.
"Privacy is a limited luxury as cameras, producers and contestants are always around suspicious of you as you hunt for idols [which provide immunity from being voted out], so taking a swim to wash one's self is a bit tricky but doable," she explains. "You just have to tell the world what you're doing so you can get some privacy.
"It's pretty intense having this as another factor to distract you from your game but it just goes to show, women just make it work."
Female contestants on the American version of Survivor experience the same challenges, and many have turned to bathing themselves and washing their underwear in the ocean to get a good clean. US-based gynaecologist, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin told Insider last year that washing in the ocean was probably the safest option for the contestants given their limited options.
"If you take the underwear and wash it off in seawater, that's probably reasonably safe," Dr. Minkin told the publication. She explained that while the water's high salt levels may stiffen the clothes and make them a bit irritating to wear, it would still "probably be OK from a bacterial point of view."

"Between challenges, should you need to change you sanitary towels or tampons, it would become a challenge if access to the drop hole was out of sight and you would need to go behind a tree."

Shannon Lawson
Kristie Bennett, who was the first woman to win Australian Survivor back on the third season in 2016, has previously opened up about how her menstrual cycle was impacted by competing on the show.
She explained one's "body is under intense circumstances" when filming 24/7, and she actually didn't get her period at all despite expecting it to naturally come.
"About a week in, your body realises WAY less food is coming its way," she wrote in a post published on Medium last year. "It starts preparation for shutdown. You feel your body evaluating essential and non-essential survival organs."
Bennett said her period didn't come back until just over three months after she finished the show. She's not alone, three-time US Survivor star Andrea Boehlke has said she didn't get her period during two of the three seasons she participated in.
Dr. Minkin said stress can be a key factor in this scenario, explaining the pituitary gland (gland situated at the base of your brain) and the brain "send messengers" stimulating the ovaries, but "a tremendous amount of stress" could shut down ovulation altogether.
Another Aussie contestant, Hayley Leake, says a separate issue women face going onto the show is the scrutiny around body hair. The 2021 Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn winner (who is now on Australian Survivor: Heroes v Villains) reminds us that with no showers and shaving products, the fuzz will grow back. It's what online trolls actually criticised her about when the show went to air.
"I didn't have laser on any of the hair on my body," Leake tells Refinery29 Australia. "And a lot of the other women had had that for years and so they didn't have any hair under their arms or anything, just as a part of their normal life.
"I think when some viewers see us do challenges with our arms up, and the women don't have hair, they think "Oh, this must be fake. They must have showers and stuff" but it's like, "No, laser," she laughs.
When a challenge aired where Leake had her arms above her head and there was hair under her armpits, some social media users were quick to judge while others jumped to her defence.
"On social media, I had people saying, 'Eww gross, shave your underarms' and then other people combating them," she explains. "I had some nice comments saying, 'Thanks for representing and normalising female body hair on TV – we never see that.'"
Lawson competed alongside Leake in the same season and says she'd had a few laser treatments prior to the show but that "only gets you so far."
"I knew ahead of time that I would be caught with lip hair, armpit hair or a fuzzy bikini line on camera and I just had to embrace it," she says. "Picking a certain type of wardrobe can help cover up a few hairy situations but alas you just need to grin and bear it.
"Viewers are always so curious or quick to judge women while on the show for their physical appearance but it just shows that we as female Survivor players go beyond our looks and once again have to prove our strength and smarts in other ways."

"I had some nice comments saying, 'Thanks for representing and normalising female body hair on TV – we never see that.'"

Circling back to period talk and the limited resources on-set, Lawson says filming Survivor put things into perspective and reminded her of those who don't have adequate access to sanitary products.
"The whole experience made me empathise with girls suffering from period poverty and made me appreciate how amazing we are as women."
Yes, we truly are.
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