This week marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most iconic gross-out moments in reality TV: Gervase Peterson eating grub worms on the second episode of the first season of “Survivor.” The date was June 7, 2000. Gervase’s Pagong tribe had won the previous week’s inaugural immunity challenge and was spared from voting someone out at tribal council, so they came into this second challenge with a lot to lose. All they had to do was eat grub worms faster than their Tagi tribe counterparts, and a fresh-faced Jeff Probst would give them the immunity idol again. How did it all play out? Watch the “Survivor: Borneo” flashback video above.
“In Borneo this is considered like sushi,” Jeff explained as he revealed the fish bowl filled with dirty beetle larvae. Gervase was up first for Pagong. He nervously licked his fingers as his tiny adversary — thick, white, slimy — wriggled around innocently in the food bowl. “Prepare yourself, here comes the count,” the host warned as he calmly counted down from five seconds. Finally, just as Jeff hit “one,” Gervase grabbed the worm and shoved it into his mouth, his entire body convulsing as his mind struggled over matter.
All of Gervase’s fellow tribe members cheered him on excitedly: B.B. Andersen, Ramona Gray, Joel Klug, Gretchen Cordy, Greg Buis, Jenna Lewis and Colleen Haskell. The rules stated that if any of the remaining castaways (not counting Sonja Christopher, who was voted out in the first episode) opted not to eat a grub worm, they would automatically lose the challenge. Since nobody quit, each tribe chose a person from the opposite side of the table to eat another two slimy creatures, with Pagong choosing Stacey Stillman and Tagi picking … you guessed it … Gervase.
Stacey ended up eating her two tie-breaker worms faster than Gervase, so Pagong was sent to tribal council for the first time. “I kind of feel like I let my team down by not winning,” Gervase mentioned before the vote. However, they all decided to keep him around for his strength in physical challenges. The two weakest Pagong members ended up receiving all of the votes that night, with B.B. getting six (and going home) and Ramona earning two.
Gervase, who at the time was a 30-year-old YMCA basketball coach, ended up placing seventh in “Survivor: Borneo” when he was voted out by the dominant Tagi alliance. He returned 13 years later to compete in “Survivor: Blood vs. Water,” along with his niece Marissa Peterson, where he made it to the final tribal council. Unfortunately, Gervase received zero votes to win the $1 million, compared to seven for Tyson Apostol and one for Monica Culpepper.