Sonja Christopher, First “Survivor ”Castaway Ever Voted Off, Dead at 87: 'One of the Kindest People'

Despite an early exit, the ukulele-playing 'Survivor' icon said she never missed an episode of the series

<p>Justin Kahn/WireImage</p> Sonja Christopher

Justin Kahn/WireImage

Sonja Christopher

Sonja Christopher, the very first person who was ever voted off of the American Survivor franchise, has died. She was 87.

The official Survivor Instagram account confirmed Christopher’s death in a post on April 27, sharing a photo of the series legend alongside a statement penned by host Jeff Probst.

“Sonya [sic] was one of the kindest people to ever play Survivor. Every interaction I had with her over the years was lovely,” the host wrote. “She would always greet you with a smile on her face and joy in her heart.”

Added Probst: “I’m honored that our paths got to cross.”

Current castaway Liz Wilcox was the first to break the news of Christopher’s death on April 26. She did not share a cause of death.

Alongside a photo of the Survivor icon showing off a signed ukulele (her luxury item on the show) over FaceTime, Wilcox wrote on X (formerly Twitter), "Today, the legend herself Sonja Christopher of Season One passed away.”

“I had the pleasure of meeting her on Christmas,” she continued. “She had so much spunk + love for Survivor and what the show brought to her life. I hope you’re singing + playing your heart out somewhere beautiful, Sonja.”

Related: Life After 'Survivor' : 10 Winners Tell All

Christopher competed on the very first season of the CBS reality series, Survivor: Borneo, in 2000. Despite becoming well-liked among her tribe members, she stumbled several times during the first immunity challenge, and her peers opted to vote her out.

Reflecting on her brief stint on the series in 2020, two decades after her early exit, the history maker told Entertainment Weekly, "I had mixed feelings, that's for sure.”

"I was pretty beaten up... To this day, I still have bruises that don't go away,” Christopher told the outlet. “Someone once asked me if I thought my being voted off early was due to ageism. And I said, 'Oh, no.' And you know why is because I had no concept of ageism.”

“I was always good at sports and very active physically. I just didn't realize I was, to some of these people, an old lady,” she added.

<p>Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty </p> The cast of season one of 'Survivor: Borneo'

Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty

The cast of season one of 'Survivor: Borneo'

Elsewhere in the interview, Christopher — who also made history as Survivor’s first lesbian contestant — opened up about the circumstances that led her to apply to be in the series, which she appeared on three years after undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

“I was newly recovering from breast cancer treatment. And I had been in a 11-year relationship and my partner got consolation elsewhere during that time of the cancer," she told EW. "So I had moved to a senior retirement community, and I was by myself, no ties, my son was grown and taking care of himself. I was reading the morning paper, and it said something in an article about CBS looking for 16 Americans to cast away on a deserted island and see who could survive for 39 days."

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Christopher also reflected on knowing her torch would soon be snuffed as she headed home from the first immunity challenge, during which she struggled with transitioning from water to land and keeping up with her younger tribemate’s pace.

“On the way home [from the challenge], I said to my tribe, ‘I'm really sorry, you guys. I feel I cost us that.’ And Kelly [Wiglesworth] put her arm around me, and she said, ‘That's okay, Sonja. That could have happened to anybody.’ And as I looked around at the rest of the tribe members, they were looking at me peacefully, if not lovingly,” she recalled, adding that she “knew then I was going to be voted off.”

Even with her early exit from the series, Christopher remained a big fan, revealing in 2017 that despite having “the dubious distinction of being the first person ever voted off” of Survivor, she had not missed a single episode since.

As for her iconic ukulele, Christopher revealed to EW in 2020 that it’s still “hanging on my wall.”

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