The Cast of 'Survivor: Winners At War' Answer Fan Questions
These returning Survivor champions answer fun questions from the fans.
With Survivor filming for seasons 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.
Nick was blindsided at his first visit to Tribal Council, making all his return trips there as a member of the Kaoh Rong jury. As a result, the then-personal trainer and Survivor obsessive never got a chance to put his immense knowledge of game mechanics to use down the stretch, but it doesn't mean he can't put his fandom to use five years later in a Quarantine Questionnaire!
Below, not only does Nick do a deep dive into the highs and lows of his Kaoh Rong experience, but he presents nine highly-detailed ideas to improve Survivor. Why he did not just round up and provide 10 is anyone's guess. It's like, dude, you're that close! Just say the show should go back to a final two and you're good to go! But nine it is! Read on for Nick's take on his Survivor journey, and see if you agree with his ideas on ways to shake up the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEKELY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
NICK MAIORANO: Kaoh Rong aired in 2016, and I'm still one of the best one-time players ever. In all seriousness, things in my personal life and career have progressed. I got engaged and started a writing career. Pandemic permitting, the plan is to head to Louisiana and Fiji this year. I'm helping my writing partner on his TV series, then there's a feature we wrote for a production company that we hope to shoot. Fingers crossed at least one of our projects gets made post-pandemic!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My sense of pride comes from the little things. I don't like talking about them because they come across as braggadocious, but keeping my mouth shut would be Qs without the As! My proudest moment came when I was in pain and hobbling on Dara Beach (formerly Beauty/Gondol) due to a knee injury, but I kept brushing off my agony. When I was hobbling beside a producer they said something along the lines of: "That's what I like about you... you never complain." Could that producer have been buttering me up? Of course. But it felt good because I take great pride in not being a complainer.
Then there's finding tiny edges in the challenges. Hint hint: It starts by listening and NOT asking Probst questions or for clarifications when he explains the rules (because whatever you ask, the answer must be shared with the opposing tribe/your competitors). A few examples are:
In the episode 2 immunity challenge "Dragging the River," I pulled the anchored platform forward to get Caleb closer to the target.
In the episode 4 immunity challenge "Snake, Rattle & Roll," I suggested to Michele we run on the tarp instead of the sand.
In the episode 7 immunity challenge "Roller Ball," I laid the disc on my entire forearm for better support.
Even getting a tiny read on someone and it proving to be correct gave me a sense of pride. Those are the moments where you're like... phew, my perception is actually reality.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I'll say my biggest mistake was prejudging Michele based on her audition video. Since I'm slightly obsessive compulsive, I was able to find it on YouTube during the casting process (before it was posted to the forums where Neal eventually saw it; hence his juror removal speech).
My Survivor placement/experience snowballs from that moment. I built up in my head Michele was gonna be my strategic partner in crime. I was never able to get past my preconceived notions and the advantage I thought I had — that I secretly knew Michele. When my imagination wasn't lining up with reality, I became frustrated with her. It was completely my fault and I'm still annoyed with myself to this day. There are so many other little things/mistakes I'll never forget — especially on the day I was voted out. Things that couldn't make air: How Aubry and Julia were talking under the mango tree, and how I asked Michele if Julia could be trusted, but that question annoyed Michele, causing me to stop dead in my tracks (she was annoyed because I was being voted out at that point and when she told me I was the target earlier in the day, I abruptly left the conversation to snuff out if Jason and Scot were the orchestrators of my blindside).
Or how at Tribal Council, Julia and Michele told Probst they felt like they were on the bottom of the totem pole. Like the true dummy I am, I thought they were lying because they were at the TOP of the totem pole. Instead of grasping they were expressing their true feelings, I was so proud of them for lying to Probst. How's that for patronizing? Lastly, there are the questions I was asked in confessionals and Tribal Council that day. I'll never forget. Ever. Well, unless I get Alzheimer's. So all those little mistakes, those words, the body language, the questions, stuff I'm choosing not to share. I still wouldn't call them regrets, because if I'm ever awarded a second chance, I'd call them gifts.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Who am I to say what would blow fans' minds!? Let's try these on for size...
When Debbie and I were hitting it off (i.e. flirting) at Nu-Chanloh, I offered her a final two/three/four alliance, but she totally skated my offer. When I had a confessional later that day, I was cracking up and disheartened. I said something along the lines of: "At least lie to me, Debbie!" Then when we merged, I asked Tai about having the idol and he lied straight to my face. When I had a confessional later that day, I was cracking up again, but this time I was happy BECAUSE he lied to me! He was playing the game!
While on Nu-Chanloh, I tore my meniscus leaping off the first obstacle in the episode 6 immunity challenge "Get Over It." My knee was swollen, clicking, and I hobbled around a bit until getting surgery on it back in the states. CBS was incredibly gracious in regards to my recovery. Guess you could say... I got over it. Anyway, you didn't know about this because injuries ain't nothing to a player like me.
This one is gross, but it's a favorite of mine because it's when I fell in love with a producer. Before going to the restroom, you have to announce it so cameras don't follow you. Well, I strongly disliked having to announce every time I had to use the restroom. It's like c'mon, I don't want to keep announcing I have to relieve my bladder/large intestine. So one time I decided to not announce. I go off. Do my thing in the lagoon, which for the record, was a terrible idea because the lagoon lost water flow from the ocean. Anyway, I. Could. Not. Relieve. Myself. I nearly cried. Thought I was gonna have to be evacuated. I already don't like announcing my bathroom needs. Now I'm gonna have to call in medical!? F---ing motherf---er. After some time and a s---load of worry, I. Manually. Relieve. Myself. I nearly got Joe Del Campo-ed before Joe got Joe Del Campo-ed. Not cool (for those who read Erik Cardona's Q&A, I wasn't on Samoa). Afterward, I clean up at the med box with sanitizer then come plodding into camp. Traumatized really. One of the producers sternly approaches me. NOT happy. She admonishes me for not announcing. They sent a camera crew after me in case I was idol hunting, so now I was being reprimanded. And you know what? I liked it! I told the producer they were right. Because they were. Those were the rules. I didn't follow them. And I like getting called out on my... s---.
Lastly, there's Neal's medevac. I think this one is cool as a slightly obsessive-compulsive Survivor fan. After Probst tells us Neal is being pulled from the game, Neal lectures us on how he would have won (in what universe, I'm still not sure), then he and Probst go to the boat that's gonna take Neal away. But! Probst forgot to tell us there would be no Tribal Council that night. So Probst strides back up the beach, but his entire lower half is now soaked from nearly getting on the boat to leave. Before reaching us, he signals to executive producer Matt Van Wagenen to keep the shot above his waist. Inside, I'm soaking this up like a sponge. It's little stuff like that where I always knew I was watching the TV show being made. And secretly fantasizing/noting everything Probst does because this is how I become the host when he wants to retire.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Enjoyed it! Especially the merge episode. Thankfully, the producer of that episode threw me a bone. I've been on many Rob Has a Podcasts and I rarely, if ever, try to defend my edit/game. I'll certainly make passive-aggressive jokes/comments/tweets, which is my way of getting the truth out there. I understand why players defend themselves, but to me, it feels fruitless. Ego-driven. Rich coming from me, right?
The people who don't like me aren't going to believe my version of events. And even if I change a few minds or even all minds, why would I want to do that? Because I want to be viewed in a better light? That's where I have a disconnect or find myself potentially on the spectrum. To me, life is more fun when less people are in on the joke/truth. I can hear you shouting: "Oh please, a turd in better light is still a turd!" And you know what? You're right!
Sure, I would have loved for it to be shown that I consoled Michele after losing the episode 6 reward challenge "Baba Buoys" to Scot and Nu-Gondol. This was right after Debbie joked that Michele was gonna drown herself due to underperforming in the challenge. Or how Michele informed me that I was the target as soon as we hit the beach after the episode 8 immunity challenge "Uncomfortably Numb." Or how I said in a confessional Julia and Michele wouldn't flip on me because then they would be on the bottom, which proved to be true.
But c'mon, none of that can be put in the TV show. Michele wound up winning. In that outcome, I'm her foil. If Eddie Fox wins Caramoan, that's a completely different narrative. And I'm annoyed with myself for even mentioning all this for the first time, because I'm obviously sharing this information for a reason. Lastly, I've never shared this either, but screw it, I'm going HAM in this Q&A. If Neal doesn't get medevaced, the entire end game is different. I know... duh... butterfly effect. You could say that about Caleb, Joe, or any little thing. I totally agree! I'm with you! But I'm trying to be like the typical Survivor player and refusing to take blame for my actions/game.
It's the merge, days 17-19. Neal's knee isn't looking so hot. If I'm a producer and I know Aubry or Neal is 100% going home due to a split vote, why not just pull Neal now? Sure, we could continue to monitor Neal's knee, but if Aubry gets voted out at the merge and Neal gets pulled soon thereafter then we lose the opportunity to shake up the game as producers. I hate saying this because 1) It's a wack-a-doodle, crackpot conspiracy theory and 2) I should have recognized all the red flags that were blatantly waving in my face.
In my humble opinion, I think players need to accept their edit for what it is (if it's harmless). If anything, lean into it. Especially when the online fan base doesn't like you. Angry people on the internet get confused and disarmed when you agree with them.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
For context, I'd classify myself as an introvert for the most part. Anyway, after I got home, I was a groomsman at my buddy's wedding. As everyone knows, the wedding party is supposed to bring the fun, but I was out of it for this one. I was socially drained from the entire Survivor experience. And I was at Ponderosa for 17 days! But it did a number on me having to be around people and cameras all day for approximately seven weeks. All I wanted to do was dig ditches. Not in the mafia sense. But I had this craving to do hard manual labor and not speak to anyone. For a long time. Maybe a year. I just wanted to dig in silence. I thought... huh, maybe this is why James Clement is a gravedigger.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
No, never. Not even when it was raining on us all night. Or when I was voted out. Or when I kept my mouth shut and painstakingly listened to all seven jurors' indignant opinions every single day so I could make an informed vote for the winner. Or watching the televised product and scratching my head at some narrative choices. But then again, there's probably something wrong with me. I'm not like Keith Nale. I think every part of Survivor is fun. To be fair though, I had a positive experience. It's understandable why others might not feel the same way.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I keep in touch with Neal here and there. A couple more are sprinkled in on occasion. I'm a bit of a recluse, so my lack of communication has little to do with my castmates. On second thought, it has everything to do with my castmates... they're beneath me.
Do you still watch Survivor and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I've watched every episode of every season. Favorite newbie seasons are China, Cagayan, and David vs. Goliath. When I first applied in September/October 2011, South Pacific was airing. Once I got my foot in the door with casting, I watched all the seasons in reverse chronological order for the most part. Therefore, my first love was China. I was asked my favorite season at my first casting finals by a producer who is no longer with the show (and also stood up for me during the casting process when I was bombing with Burnett in the room). But, to my point, China is great because of the characters. It's funny AND strategic. That's all a person like me needs. Exactly what I'm lacking... humor and brains.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Let's do a what if approach...
I was at casting finals for Philippines and Caramoan in early 2012. Eddie and I got cut mid-way through Philippines casting because it was my understanding Burnett decided to go with Pete. In that season, I probably connected with Denise, Malcolm, Penner, Jeff Kent, and/or Dawson. Speaking of Philippines, I live in Los Angeles and I've seen Carter a handful of times at the grocery store. I always dip into another aisle before he can see me. Why? I don't know. But the Survivor subreddit needed to know this. Then there's Caramoan. Every single one of the fans except Michael Snow was at "my" casting finals. As were Jeremiah, Tyler, and Max. Anyway, did you know that the hotel hot tub is where the cool kids' alliance first germinated? If I take Eddie's spot, I probably connect with Michael Snow and Laura Alexander the most. Laura and I shared many laughs about certain people and their actions during casting that week. Generally speaking, I'd want to align with physical and/or strategic players. More specifically, someone who appreciates group dynamics. Questions like: What happens if we remove this player from the group? How might that affect the group and everyone as individuals? My brain doesn't operate by let's vote out who's annoying me or the person who messes up or who's the biggest threat. I think in terms of trying to predict how it'll impact our group dynamics.
And I despise the "we need the numbers" strategy. No, you need the right numbers. What's the point of being in the numbers if you don't have a path to victory? I also despise the strategy of thinking what's in each player's best interest. Which is exactly what I did in Kaoh Rong. Players rarely act in their best interest — myself included. It'd be nice to have one ally who can have these discussions.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
One?! C'mon, D-Ross! We're digging deep! Because I'm with Probst when he says so many people are critics without creating/pitching anything themselves, let's brainstorm these half-baked ideas... (FWIW, some of these ideas can't coexist in the same season because they contradict/cancel each other out.)
I think we're losing some character/emotional impact in player eliminations. Therefore, I would put more focus on the stakes of the game. Earning a million dollars and the crown of Sole Survivor is as high stakes as it gets. What else drives these people? Other than winning, I want to know what each player wants from the game. That way their elimination could be more impactful when they do or do not achieve their "want" outside of winning.
As a few Survivor fans will adamantly point out, the narrative leans into advantages and twists a lot. Imagine if basketball had secret game mechanics that NBA commissioner Adam Silver threw in. Sure, it can make the game more unpredictable, but at what cost? At what point are the players no longer competing against each other and instead competing against Adam Silver? Do the fans want the entire second quarter revolving around a three-pointer nullifier? Daryl Morey can't strategize around that. Survivor is a cerebral and relationship game. But! You must cast it that way first. Speaking of basketball, college coach and cancer victim Jim Valvano once said: "If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special." As long as a Survivor season can make the audience laugh, think, and cry, we're good in my book.
EDGE OF EXTINCTION
I'm not a fan of Edge, but Probst swings for the fences and you have to respect that. If you miss, you miss. Get ready to take the next shot. Since he's a fan of the loser's bracket, let's impose two ground rules: 1) Prohibit the unfair advantage of being able to fraternize with jurors. This means Edge must end at the merge or voted out players must be segregated and… 2) Eliminated players must not be rewarded with effort tasks, fire tokens, or an advantage upon reentering the game. If their elimination isn't going to be permanent, Edge must be a quit-inducing invoice and a gargantuan disadvantage. FINAL FOUR FIRE MAKING.
I think the producers have to ask themselves a simple question: Would we force fire making at any other Tribal Council? If the answer is no, then you have to get rid of this twist. With that said, I would replace it with the Know-It-All Advantage. After the merge feast, all players receive the clue to where it is and the chase is on. Its power? Immunity at final four. The catch? You must vote for the eliminated player at every Tribal Council through final five to activate it. If you ever vote for a player that remains in the game, the advantage loses its power. The chance for success is slim, but the opportunity for suspense is sky-high. At final four, there would still be an immunity challenge and typical Tribal Council.
I would replace all reward challenges with individual effort tasks that would take place at camp. The prize for winning effort tasks could be fire tokens, food, comfort, or an advantage/clue. As an individual, you want these things, but as a tribe (and an individual post-merge) you need to stay strong for immunity challenges. This dilemma would result in more conflict and decision-making. With effort tasks being any kind of endurance challenge, it would hopefully free up production to create more elaborate individual immunity challenges.
I would assign a monetary value to fire tokens and prohibit bequeathing. That way, players could cash them in at the season's end. Let's pretend they're $500 each. Could five fire tokens ($2,500) buy a swing vote? Could it buy an idol? Could it buy someone to step down from an immunity challenge? Assigning a real-world value feels imperative for fire tokens to work. Unless you implement a season-long silent auction...
ADVANTAGE/IDOL SCAVENGER HUNTS
I would replace scavenger hunts with the Survivor silent auction via a bid box at each camp. Players would acquire fire tokens via effort tasks and bid on a blind item each day. The items would be the usual food, comfort, and advantages/idols. I understand why getting players active and searching for something is good television in practice, but something feels stale about scavenger hunts. If keeping them is non-negotiable, then I think clues should be awarded to whichever tribe wins immunity. That way, the entire tribe is searching for the idol at the same time and with the same information. Hopefully, this drives more suspense of who will get it first (like when Alecia, Cydney, Jason, and Scot were trying to retrieve the Brawn idol).
INDIVIDUAL IMMUNITY NECKLACE
In a similar vein, the immunity necklace feels too safe and straightforward nowadays. I would replace the necklace with food, comfort, and/or a secret advantage/idol. Preferably an advantage/idol that has an expiration date such as one or two Tribal Councils. Maybe even give the winner a choice of what item they want. A secret advantage/idol in lieu of the necklace would cause more uncertainty and decision-making.
I would allow finalists to vote. Let's get finalists on the record. Some finalists, even winners, say they would have voted for their competition to win over themselves. Are some people truly selfless? Are some greedy despite all indications they played an inferior game? Are some players completely delusional? I think these questions need answers. Hopefully, one season there'd be a payoff.
TWO GAMES TO START
I'd focus on new ways to start the game. For example: 20 players. Four tribes of five. No marooning. For the first episode (two-hour premiere), there are two different immunity challenges. Tribe A vs. Tribe B competes in one and Tribe C vs. Tribe D competes in the other. Two separate Tribal Councils. Two players get eliminated on day three. Would some players think it's a 10-person season? I don't know. But it feels like a fresh start. A different opening to the game. At the next immunity challenge, all the tribes/players would be introduced to each other for the first time and be consolidated into two tribes of nine.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
No, thank you. In all seriousness, let me get this straight... Survivor has done Fans vs. Favorites 10 seasons apart, Blood vs. Water two seasons apart, and Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty four seasons apart... BUT! Survivor hasn't done Second Chance 2 yet? Get outta here! Fan vote or producer selected... let's go. Second Chance 2 for season 43 or 44.
One-timers are HUNGRY. I mean, Blood vs. Water is such a foolish theme, and it had the quickest turnaround. The strategy is to choose which loved one should quit. It's exactly what Amber and Boston Rob should have done on Winners at War. One of those knuckleheads should have immediately quit or got voted out and quit Edge. Anyway, bashing Blood vs. Water isn't a productive way to be awarded a shot on Second Chance 2. But I had to get that off my chest.
So are you kidding me?! It could be raining all day with zero food, freezing, a cyclone, whatever, and I'd still be there. I'm about 100% sure I would play Survivor all year-round and win or lose, keep running it back. I might start digging ditches by myself at some point, but once I'm socially recharged, I'm good.