With season 41 of Survivor delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EW is reaching back into the reality show's past. We sent a Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to a batch of former players to fill out with their thoughts about their time on the show as well as updates on what they've been up to since. Each weekday, EW will post the answers from a different player.
Was the picnic worth it? Alec Merlino may have asked himself that question a few times over the past three years. After winning individual immunity on Survivor: David vs. Goliath, and then following it up by leading his team to a reward challenge victory for a picnic complete with wraps and wine, he took center stage as the biggest physical threat left on the beach. With tribemates now determined to take him out, Alec had to save himself in the next endurance competition, but there was one thing standing in his way: Christian Hubicki.
In a challenge that had the contestants balancing their feet on a narrow perch while holding a handle above their heads, it came down to a battle of wills between Alec and Christian - a battle that lasted almost six hours. Ultimately, Christian won, and Alec was unanimously voted out, sending him to the jury on day 28.
Now, in his Quarantine Questionnaire, Alec goes public with his demand for a rematch. He also looks back at the highs and lows of his Survivor experience, updates us on his current relationship status with tribemate Kara Kay, and discusses his new foray into acting courtesy of tribemate Mike White. Plus, he reveals the big question he wishes he had asked at Final Tribal Council.
David M. Russell/CBS via Getty Images Alec Merlino on 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what have you been up to since appearing on Survivor?
ALEC MERLINO: I've been running a lot! Not from my problems… I mean literally running miles and miles every day. It's been over a year now and has become a new obsession-turned-career path. It started with your normal beach trail jogs, then to challenges, which then led to me signing up for ultra marathons where you run 50-plus miles through rough terrain somewhere in the desert (don't ask me why I do those).
Currently, I am training for an Ironman, which I will explain in food terms: Your appetizer is a nice 2.4-mile swim, followed by your main course, a hearty 112-mile bike ride, and finally finished off with a sweet 26.2-mile run, also known as a marathon. I've been doing all of this training here in Carlsbad, where I live, and I share it with a small audience on my YouTube channel. Also, I'm growing out my hair again because I think it will up my chances of a possible return to the show. We'll see if it works.
What is your proudest moment from playing Survivor?
I have a lot of proud moments from Survivor. I am proud of my immunity and challenge wins, both team and individual. I am proud of the perch challenge with Christian that went for six hours. Christian, if you're reading this, I want a rematch. However, I am proudest that I didn't waiver from who Alec was as a person. I stayed true to the dude I was at home, to the dude everyone saw on that island.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I should have charmed more! Looking back, I wish I had fought more to stay alive in the game. I could have put more work into with my relationship to Gabby, in particular, in facilitating that Carl be voted out rather than me that night. I was young at the time, 24 years old, and I've learned a lot since then. I don't want to give away my secrets as to how I would change my approach should I ever be asked on again, but there are definitely some changes I could have made that would have helped keep my ass on that beach.
Also, I should have spoken up at Final Tribal Council, but I was so nervous. I felt like I was back in grade school sitting there waiting to be called to present in front of everyone who already went. Being that I was seen as the challenge threat, I would have asked Nick how he controlled the game even when he had the immunity necklace. He won three times, and I'd want to know: Did he control the flow of the game even when he knew he was safe? Or were Mike or Kara steering the ship?
We all know Mike and Kara are a tie for [having] the best social game during our season. Everyone told those two everything without fail. I'm not saying Nick didn't deserve to win by any means, but I oftentimes wonder what would have happened had I stood up and made some grandiose speech advocating on Mike's behalf - kind of like what Kara was doing, even though I ended up voting for Nick.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened in your season but never made it to TV?
If only fans got to see what went down on the Goliath beach that first week… There's only so much they can pack into an episode, and it's obvious why they didn't include it, because we were acting like elementary kids at summer camp. We would have stretch circles in the morning led by John, followed by massage trains where we all sat in a single file and massaged each other, and Jeremy single-handedly had us all in tears laughing as he sang Destiny's Child's "Survivor" while in his underwear, army crawling up the sand from the shoreline. What I would give to be able to watch some of that footage.
Robert Voets/CBS Alec Merlino on 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Sometimes I watch myself and think, 'Wow, you look a little lost,' but all in all, I feel great about the edit I got. They for sure could have made me look worse. Most of the time I couldn't string a sentence together in confessionals.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment?
I got lucky because Kara and I had each other. We would go out to dinners and see tiki torches lit and look at each other and think about Survivor. We would stay up late talking about what a fun time it was, and we even played scenarios in our heads as to what would have happened if certain things were different.
I feel other contestants come home from this insane experience and it's nearly impossible to relate to anyone unless they've lived it too. It's why there's this insane bond between players regardless of whether or not they played a season together. We just understand each other. The biggest shock was coming back and having responsibilities again. Kara and I would say, "Should we just go back to Fiji and forget about all this?"
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back when you regretted going on the show?
Never! I am so grateful for the experience I had. I think about it all the time. How rad is it that the show I watched growing up was an experience that I got to be a part of? All of the people I met and the things I learned - it was a priceless experience.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with from your season?
You know, I could breeze over the obvious one and act like it's not the elephant in the room, but everyone wants to know, "Are Kara and Alec still together?" The short answer is… no. Kara and I broke up a while ago, being that we're just in two different places in our lives. However, it was the most normal and amicable breakup. Kara knows I'll always love her and have a special place in my heart for her. Or as I like to say, "You'll always own prime real estate ([with an] ocean view) within my heart, Kara." We will remain in each other's lives forever, I'm sure.
Of course, the closest friend I have from the show would be Mike. We connected early on, bonding over traveling and leading "cool lives," as Mike would say, full of adventure. I got to step into Mike's world while spending three months in Hawaii acting on his show The White Lotus, which he wrote, directed, and produced. I could go on for hours about that experience, but to sum it up, it was full of laughs and good times. I'm hoping for a season 2.
In the meantime, I'll beef up my résumé and acting chops. I know a lot now, but the internet deems Mike, Kara, and I as having the fourth-best friendship, although with all of the things we've done together I'd say it's number one. But I still text with just about every person on the show, whether it's through social media or phone.
CBS The cast of 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
Do you still watch Survivor? And if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Of course, I do! Patiently waiting for season 41 to air. Also looking forward to it because it looks like Jeff and I now have competing hairdos. My favorite season would have to be San Juan del Sur: Blood vs. Water 2, where Natalie's sis gets voted off first and she goes on to win. What a social and physical game she displayed in that season. Just a lone warrior out there getting the job done every step of the way.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would love to play against Tony or Boston Rob, because they're considered the best. Tony would just be a trip to play with because of his high energy, and Rob, on the other hand, I feel like that's just an experience in and of itself. Rob is by far one of the most popular and entertaining, yes, but he's played five times and won one time. If I shoot five baskets and make one, am I a good basketball player? Relax, I'm only half serious. Point is, I'd like to see how skilled he really is at Survivor.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Less food. I would say the big food rewards should be given toward the end of the show. Instead, wear everyone down to their absolute worst. Imagine this: Survivor contestants walk in for their reward challenge on day 31. Jeff says, "Wanna know what you're playin' for?" And the contestants stand there anxiously waiting for him to pull back the cloth over the table in hopes of burgers or pizza. Instead, Jeff says, "A nice big bowl of carrots with hummus and ranch."
Maybe then contestants wouldn't try as hard, but everyone who's played on Survivor knows that food is food, and on day 31 a carrot sounds like a piece of tiramisu. It would just be funny to watch the reactions of contestants when Jeff tells them that he's not joking.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I would say yes, 100 percent! I feel like Survivor fans want me back on, but I'm sure there's a bunch that still think about my TMZ incident and feel I have no shot. My question? Since when did TMZ care about Survivor contestants, let alone contestants that hadn't even been announced yet? That was a classic blindside, I'd say, but hey, it's all good, baby! Anyway, I guess we'll have to see what CBS thinks. Who knows? An HBO actor may be a good option.