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With Survivor filming for season 41 and 42 indefinitely postponed 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.
She was so close. Jenna Lewis not only achieved instant fame as a contestant on the national sensation that was season 1 of Survivor, but she almost reached the zenith of reality competition glory by winning Survivor: All-Stars. However, when Jenna ever so slightly lifted her foot off the pole while holding on to the idol in the final immunity challenge, her million-dollar dreams of Survivor immortality were snuffed, just like her torch.
Considering she was part of the very first season and almost won the first returning player installment, you would think Jenna would be a shoo-in for a third appearance on the show at some point, yet while she says she has been approached countless times about playing again, she has never made the final casting cut since back in season 8, and she has a theory as to why. “Jeff always called me out as an instigator,” says Jenna. “I don't think he liked the way I played. Probably why I wasn't asked back. I played to win, but not to win over viewers, or Jeff Probst. He has always liked the good old boys… like Boston Rob. I don’t play like Rob, but I did play very well.”
What else does Jenna have to say about her two seasons on the island? And what has she been up to since? We sent the OG our Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to fill out, and in her answers, the All-Star reveals a lot of what we didn’t see on TV, how she feels about her edit, and the gory details of her absolutely brutal plane trip home from Panama.
Monty Brinton/CBS Photo Archive via Getty
ENTERTAINMENT WEKELY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JENNA LEWIS: Spitting out Survivor future hopefuls. I have gotten remarried, and spit out two more munchkins, which makes four. So pretty much single-handedly contributing to global overpopulation. Living in Woodland, Calif., just outside Sacramento, and working as a realtor. Loving life, except for Covid. I'm very happy, not as skinny and emotional as I was in my 20s, when I last did Survivor. I am quite sure those two are most likely related.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Well, since I never won an individual immunity, it would have to be either eating the butod in season 1, gutting and eating rats in 1, or commanding a lot of the game in All-Stars. There was a challenge on Survivor 1 on the sand spit where we did a quick run through and my bikini broke. I finished the challenge — army-climbing under nets, and over a wall — with my bikini strap held in my teeth.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experiences?
Hands down it is that they did not introduce the final 3 during All-Stars. I would have won. And that is why I deserve another shot. Like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in one of your seasons but never made it to TV?
So many things. What they never capture enough is the fun. Yes, you’re starving. Yes, you hate people because you're hangry and they are standing between you and a million dollars. But we also played games, sang songs, chatted intimately about life, and sat for endless hours enjoying the most beautiful starry skies.
Oh, I did go firewood collecting on All-Stars and as I reached down for wood there was a snake there coiled up. I didn't dare to move because it was striking distance, so I just held position and started slowly calling for Rupert. As the cameramen ran up the hill, their heavy footfalls scared the snake and he took off and so did I.
Also, during All-Stars, Jerri, Rupert, Ethan and I were left on our own island of Saboga (staff, crew, Mogo Mogo and Chapera were all on a separate island together), and a hurricane hit. It flooded our well-concepted, newly dug, underground shelter (a story captured by the show). The camera crews all left the island, completely leaving us standing on the beach huddled for warmth as the jungle flooded and came streaming onto our beach from overhead, snakes and all. It was the longest most miserable night. And none of it was captured on camera because the crew were in danger so they took off (union standards, I'm sure). It ended up happening on Ethan's birthday, so in the middle of the night, shaking and huddling, just us 4, I started to sing 'Happy Birthday.' It was a nice reprieve from Jerri's mantra of "We are all going to die. I can't believe they left us out here to die." We all still agree that was the worst night of all of our lives.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
It's fine. It is like a harsh mirror. You are at your worst, living on adrenaline and practically nothing else. Forced into situations that bring out pathos like therapy in warp speed. I think that in the early seasons of Survivor nobody wanted to be the bad guy. The public made it VERY clear that you were rewarded only for being nice. Everyone wanted the hero’s edit. You were rewarded for that, not scheming and game play. I definitely went into both games planning on being duplicitous and yet sweet, so people could not pin anything on me. I came across as fun-loving, energetic. and too talkative. Pretty accurate. It comes with the excitement I have for living life!
I also caused a lot of animosity and fights between other players by dropping small comments and letting them fester until other tribemates were fighting (the Joel vote off, Rob and Big Tom’s huge blowout, all because of me)…but because I was purposely doing it without cameras, they could never really show it was me, so instead Jeff always called me out as an instigator. I don't think he liked the way I played. Probably why I wasn't asked back. I played to win, but not to win over viewers, or Jeff Probst. He has always liked the good old boys…like Boston Rob. I don’t play like Rob, but I did play very well. And if there had been a 3-person finale, I would have won because of the fights I had started amongst other players. It doesn’t matter what I say, the public may not love the way I play, but it is not a sit-back strategy, it is a sneaky strategy.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
HUGE culture shock. On All-Stars, I was off the show at night 38, ate a ton, and couldn’t sleep in a bed, it felt too soft — or inside, it felt claustrophobic — so I tossed and turned all night. The next day, I kept to myself at Ponderosa and went to vote. The very next morning, we were on a plane back home. I was emaciated, my body covered in bug bites, and these poor plane saps sitting next to me must’ve thought I was harboring the black plague. Every time I took a bite of food, it was immediate bloating and bathroom trips. Super skinny, uncomfortable with society, oozing puss, and farting like I was rotting from the inside out, I must’ve been the world’s worst middle-seat dweller ever.
When my parents picked me up at the airport near midnight in Augusta, Maine, they drove through a Dunkin Donuts drive-through and I was bawling as I shoved Munchkins in my mouth. They stopped for gas and I fell to my knees inside the gas station just running my hands over all of the food. I grabbed Hostess cakes and peanut butter. During Christmas break while at my parents in Maine, I couldn’t sleep in a bed, and kept getting up thinking I was in the jungle. Then I’d sneak out and make hot cocoa and dip anything I could find in peanut butter. How has peanut butter not been the ultimate sponsor of Survivor?
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
No, never. I went on this show not even knowing it would actually turn into a show. I went to test myself at 22. As a single mother of twins going through a divorce from her high school sweetheart while going back to college working two jobs, I knew that story was common for my hometown, but I also knew there was more, and I wanted to test myself to know what I could handle.
The second I landed on Pulau Tiga, the world made a little more sense. I felt more at home in it. It’s hard to explain, but I landed and threw off my shoes and was not afraid of all the things that could kill me, and there were a lot! But I completely adapted instantaneously. Rats crawled all over us night one, and I remember just trying to kick them through the trees like football uprights. Nothing physical bothered me. I felt at home. And it set the stage to give me confidence in myself I had never garnered from previous accomplishments.
Who do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?
I still keep in touch with Gervase, Ramona, Gretchen, Richard, Boston Rob, sometimes Jenna M, and Ethan. From other seasons, I chat a lot with Mitchell and Fairplay. They are my favorites. Mostly through social media, but I keep begging everyone to plan and execute a small reunion at our family’s lake Tahoe home…desolation wilderness would feel very Survivor-esque.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I have been in and out. I watched some seasons sporadically, but my life got busy. I did watch Beauty vs. Brains vs. Brawn, and of course Winners at War. I am still butt-hurt at how many times Survivor Casting has called and had me on stand-by for a season, or had me in the “finals” of casting, including signing packets of NDA’s, so I can’t bring myself to watch, knowing how I would’ve manipulated each player. I remember sitting at Ponderosa with my Saboga tribe mates and writing in my journal how to “connect” with each player. And it played out how I wrote it out. I knew I’d try to get Rudy with me for sentimentality and loyalty (man, what a hero…RIP to the toughest man to ever play!)
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Sandra. Who doesn’t want to play against the Queen? Tyson is up there, too, I wanna laugh out there. Ultimately, I’d love to play with Colleen, Greg, Gretchen, Gervase, Ramona and Richard again. That would be full circle and complete the trinity of my Survivor experience. I miss them.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I know it is a game show first and foremost, so they need to capture “edits” for continuity, but I would advise that Jeff NOT be shown all the information before Tribal. He outs people and colors the dialogue leading the voting conversation to “his” territory. Also, I would have an iPad hidden immunity idol, so if you found it, you’d activate a message specific to you by your fingerprint. Yes, it is introducing the outside world, but it would be an “advantage.” Perhaps you choose a coaching session by a past player, perhaps you choose a message from a loved one, or perhaps you choose a good old-fashioned advantage. But the choice is the main thing.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
F--- YES! I have been contacted so many times, it’s like CBS is my own personal d--- tease. This last time I had signed over 100 pages of documents and gone for shots, and started the whole mental prep….Just do it already, Mark and Probst…. Third time’s a charm.