Steve Helling
March 30, 2016 06:50 PM

And now the game changes.

It’s merge time on Survivor, meaning that the remaining 11 castaways will finally become one tribe.

Merge episodes are always fun, and this one seems destined for greatness. The tribes are generally even: four Brains, four Beauties and three Brawn remain. Of the seven contestants who have been eliminated, five of them were in their 20s, leaving us with the youngest and oldest contestants (18-year-old Julia and 72-year-old Joe, respectively.) Some of the most interesting contestants remain: Tai, the fiftysomething gardner, NBA champion Scot Pollard, and quirky job-hopper Debbie,

Best of all: the three immunity idols are still in play, meaning that anything can happen on Wednesday night’s episode. Check out an exclusive preview of the merge at the top of the post.

But what are some of the things you didn’t see before the merge? The booted castaways – and Jeff Probst – tell PEOPLE some of the secrets of the first half of Survivor: Kaoh Rong

The cast of Survivor: Kaoh Rong
Monty Brinton/CBS

There Were Several Off-Camera Medical Emergencies

Audiences were aghast when Caleb Reynolds was medically evacuated after his temperature hit 107 degrees. But two other pre-merge contestants had surgery after being voted out. “They flew me back to Minnesota after I was voted out to get hand surgery and back surgery from infections” says ousted contestant Peter Baggenstos. “I had a big deep infection in the palm of my hand going up my forearm, and then I had an infection on my back going down to my spine.” Adds ousted contestant Liz Markham: “I had surgery in Phnom Penh after I was voted out, because I had a bad staph infection in my shoulder.”

Traditionally, contestants voted off before the jury go on an all-expense paid trip while the rest of the contestants slug it out. For this season, only four contestants were together on the trip – and three of them were from the dysfunctional Brawn tribe. We hear that it was not a pleasant trip.

During the Brutal Challenge that Felled Three People, Where was ER Doctor Peter Baggenstos?

On Day 9, three contestants swooned with heat exhaustion in the triple-digit heat. Contestant Peter Baggenstos, an ER doctor from Minnesota, wasn’t shown helping. Why not? “It was hard to not jump in,” says Baggenstos. “When there’s a medical emergency, the more people who are in the room, the more chaos there is. So I thought, ‘what can I add from a professional standpoint here?’ And it was obvious that they had it under control, so I just stayed off to the side.”

Additionally, there was a bigger legal question: should one Survivor contestant give medical treatment to another? “You know, I didn’t even think of the liability issue,” says Baggenstos. “I just wanted everyone to be okay.”


Okay, What Was Really Up with the Episode 1 Bathroom Scene with Darnell?

We apologize in advance, but here comes the poop talk. On Survivor, contestants do what they call the “aqua-dump.” Yes, that means that they go to the bathroom in the ocean. There’s apparently an art to it: after you’re done, you’re supposed to wait ten seconds before pulling up your pants. (Seriously, we’re sorry. But we believe you deserve to know the truth.)

The aqua-dump is well-known among the Survivors, but we’ve never seen it on TV – until first boot Darnell Hamilton did it in full view of his tribe. Why didn’t he find a secluded spot?

Monty Brinton/CBS

“I never thought they’d put it on TV,” Hamiton laughs. “It was so embarrassing! But I didn’t want my tribe to think I was off looking for the idol, so I did it close to the camp. I said, ‘just so everyone knows, I’m not looking for an idol. I’m going to the bathroom.’ And then they teased me about it. And the next thing you know, I’m using the bathroom on national TV!”

How Did the Crew Handle The Harsh Conditions?

Hundreds of people bring you Survivor. There are producers, camera and sound crew members, carpenters, medics, challenge builders and “wildlife wranglers.” And despite the fact that the crew gets to sleep in beds and have regular meals, Kaoh Rong was still punishing for them. “We lost a lot of crew members,” Probst tells PEOPLE. “People had to be sent back to the States because of infections. And not just any infection, but limb-threatening infections. It was one of the scariest seasons if not the scariest season we have had from a production standpoint.

The emergencies stressed out Probst. “I lost a lot of sleep,” he says. “I’d just be monitoring the radio, to make sure that we weren’t going to lose any more contestants. We want to put them through hell, because that’s Survivor. But we want them to be safe; we don’t want anyone to get hurt. It’s fun to watch them struggle with hardships, but it’s no fun to watch them truly suffer. So I was really worried.”

Survivor: Kaoh Rong airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.

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