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Survivor 45 is here! Every week, Parade.com's Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.
Sean Edwards came out of his first Tribal Council on Survivor 45 with a lot of emotion. He had just watched Hannah Rose derail the vote by asking to leave the game, reducing him to tears. But, returning to camp, he said he respected the decision, not knowing how much she was struggling internally. Little did the fans, Jeff Probst, and even Sean himself know how much those emotions would carry through less than a week later. Now in his first Tribal Council on a new tribe, Sean felt a sudden fulfillment from his Survivor experience. And so, once again a vote was derailed, as a last-minute change of heart caused the principal to drop out of Survivor school.
Sean came into the game wanting to "reclaim lost time," having lived most of his life repressing his sexuality in a conservative Mormon lifestyle. And his time on the island was full of plenty of losses, considering he was a part of the disastrous Lulu tribe. Amidst a sextet of personality conflict, challenge weaknesses, and general mess, Sean was the light that shone through, a beacon of positivity that he uses to welcome in elementary schoolers every weekday. His stability got him into the majority with Sabiyah Broderick and Kaleb Gebrewold. But even that status quo got shaken up when Sabiyah decided to target Kaleb for being too much of a threat. One minute, Sean was helping Sabiyah pour water over her newly-melted idol at Tribal Council. The next, he was watching her go with idol in pocket, and him seemingly on the outs.
The situation was looking dire for Sean, so he was ecstatic to find a tribe swap the very next day. Unfortunately, it was out of the frying pan and into the fiery red of Reba, as he was now on a tribe with four people from the same starting tribe. Sean immediately got to work, using his friendliness and positive energy to endear himself to the others. And his efforts actually paid off, as J. Maya decided to use Sean to lead a charge against Sifu Alsup, feeling he was too untrustworthy. Going into Tribal Council, it seemed the plan was to shred Sifu's game like a nasty guitar lick played on a machete. But it all changed when Jeff asks Sean to look back on his experience. Seemingly on a dime, Sean's demeanor changed. He told his tribe that the true "adventure of a lifetime" for him wasn't in Fiji, but back at home with his husband. He asked his new tribemates to vote him out, stunning them and Jeff. After some time to process, they chose to grant Sean's request, making for the second "engineered quit" of the season.
Now out of the game, Sean talks with Parade.com about how sudden his decision to quit truly was, various perceptions of his departure, life on Lulu, and how he looks back on his choice now.
Related: Read our Survivor 45 pre-game interview with Sean Edwards
First off, Sean, how are you doing? Obviously the decision you made in last night's episode wasn't easy. What has it been like watching it back, and then seeing the social media response in particular over the past 12 hours?
Thank you so much for asking, Mike. I'm doing good. I have a very incredible support system here in Utah at home with my husband, with my family and friends. So I'm doing good. And people are saying things and I'm seeing a few things, and it's okay. I don't expect anyone to really understand my decision and why I made it, because my decision was extremely personal. No one has lived a day in the life of Sean, and so I can understand people's frustration.
Well let's get into one heck of a day in the life of Sean. At Tribal Council, it seemed like one minute you were joking around, comparing yourself to a burger and pizza. And then, all of a sudden, you say, "I'm full on my Survivor experience. I can leave the buffet." Was there any question or reaction that prompted you to suddenly come to this realization? How sudden was this in the moment?
Thank you for asking, Mike. Throughout the game, there were little moments that surfaced for me about like, "Am I here for the right reason? What's my goal here? Am I experiencing what I thought I would?" And it was always in those times of failure after Immunity Challenge losses where you just reflect and you start thinking, "What's my purpose? Where am I going in this game?" And I kept pushing those thoughts down. I'm like, "No, I'm here to play. I came here for a reason." And it literally as we were walking into TribalCcouncil that I had this epiphany.
My whole intention of going was to kind of reclaim this lost time in my life. And I had this epiphany going into that last Tribal Council of, "Sean, you don't need to use Survivor as a way to erase your past. You are the person you are today because of those experiences that you've had." And I am proud of who I am today. And so as I was in Tribal Council, I was still pushing down. "I am here. I want to play. I'm a pizza, I'm a burger. I want to be here at Reba with all of you. I'm a number for you; bring me along."
And it literally was that hinge question that Jeff asked. And I'm not blaming Jeff at all. But it was that question he asked of like, "Sean, what has your Survivor experience meant for you?" And that it was like a light switch. And in that moment, it was almost like the words were just spilling out. I didn't have control over them. At least that's what it felt like. Because I was just speaking so from the heart, and it was just all coming out in that moment. And so yeah, I was not expecting it either. I was like, "I'm just going to keep pushing this down. I'm gonna stay in the game." And then that's just the way it happened.
I'm not sure if you're aware, but Jeff said in the "On Fire" podcast that he believes you had taken that "hinge question" as a sign that you were being voted out, and actually wanted to get ahead of the curve by asking your tribemates to vote you out and "romanticize" the narrative, rather than you get blindsided. So you dispute that?
100%. I mean, I had many conversations with J, Julie, and D. I felt very confident and reassured in my conversations with them that Sifu was going to be the vote that night.
We do see Dee whisper to Julie to still vote Sifu. So did you think there was a chance, even after your plea, that the tribe wouldn't grant your wish and vote out Sifu over you?
I didn't know what was going to happen in that moment, because I knew that they very much wanted to keep me and vote Sifu out. I always feel like Tribal Council is the formal way to go out of the show. And so for me, I didn't have that thought of, "Well, I need to tell them that I'll leave if I'm not voted out here." Because I would have stayed in the game until I was voted out at Tribal Council. It's interesting, because I wasn't desperate to leave in that moment. I think what I was trying to communicate that I wasn't very maybe articulate about is that Survivor, I realized, had fulfilled the measure of its creation for me in that moment.
I was on the show to reclaim last time. Which is an impossible ask, I mean, really, to ask Survivor and Jeff to rewrite my past. When you think about it, it's kind of impossible. You can't do that. But that's my headspace. That's where I was at in the moment. And so when I realized that that wasn't going to be my purpose, my story here, that's when I was like, "Oh, it's been fulfilled for me." And, ultimately, I wanted Tribal Council to be the platform for whenever I went out of the game.
Why did you end up voting for Dee? Was it simply a throwaway vote?
I knew, without a doubt, no votes were going on Dee. And so I put a vote on Dee because I was like, "Well, I am going to give myself every chance to go home in this moment." And so it was a throwaway vote. Because if I had voted Sifu I was like, "Oh, well, that could end up in a tie, or it could end up with Sifu going home."
I know you talked about being more articulate about your feelings in the moment in retrospect. You do mention your husband Matt a number of times, and how you realized you wanted to spend every moment at home with him. But, as soon as you're voted out, you have to go onto a prejury trip, delaying any trip you would make home. So how much of your decision actually was because of missing your husband and wanting to see him?
Great question. There was no sense of homesickness at all. I wasn't like, "Oh, I gotta get back to Matt right now, right away." That wasn't it. And again, I wish I could have been more articulate in that very emotional moment. It really was that like, "Okay, I'm at peace right now in this moment with knowing that Survivor, for me, has been this incredible nine-day experience." I've loved every single moment of it. I've loved the people that I've met and connected with. The challenges were so much fun. And I can still feel that it's not going to fulfill this purpose that I originally came out here for. And it's okay for me to acknowledge that and recognize that and say, "This has been an amazing experience. And now I'm ready. It's fulfilled me in every way that I wanted it to."
I will say, if I'm being honest with myself, and honest with the viewers and the fans, there definitely is a level of regret. I mean, I've been able to process this over the past few months. And I am a super fan of the show. I love the show. And I wish in that moment that was so heightened emotionally for me, that I could have been more flexibly minded and been able to say, "Survivor's not fulfilling the core purpose of why I came out here. That's okay. And I can still stay in this game and play." I wish I could have had that mindset about it. But I was so hyper-focused on this idea of reclaiming last time that I was like, "Oh, it's not serving that purpose. I guess I gotta go." And so I wish I could have seen it differently.
Let's talk about that "what if" scenario if you stay and Sifu goes. If Reba goes back to Tribal Council, what would that dynamic look like?
That's such a good question. It's hard. It's just so hard to know. That's what I love about Survivor: There's so much nuance and complexity in the game. The game is changing every single day, every single hour. So it's hard to really say what that would have looked like going forward. I felt like I had a very strong bond with J. I felt like I had a very strong bond with Dee. And I felt like I had a very strong bond with Julie! [Laughs.] And so I felt like my options really with the Reba girls were endless. And so for me, it would have been going with whoever I felt like, in that moment, I could get the furthest in the game with.
Maybe one reason why you felt full on the Survivor experience was because you went to Tribal Council every episode. We've got to get into your time on Lulu. From our perspective, it looked like you were the calm steady force in the chaos that was Lulu. Talk to me about your experience there.
Oh, my goodness. Again, my Survivor experience was the complete opposite of what I thought it would be. And I think that was a danger for me. That was a mistake I made. I shouldn't have gone in with these preconceived notions. But I think we all have this idea of how we're gonna play the game and how it's gonna go for us. And that's just not the way it went for me. My wonderful Lulu tribe. I love them. And I was like, "Wow. There's so much chaos happening at this camp. I need to lay low. I need to be calm. I need to be collected. I need to have good energy positive vibes here, because someone has got to reel this chaos in.
Let's get into the Sabiyah vote. Your face said it all in terms of your reaction. Talk me through how you responded to the vote, and trying to paper things over with Emily and Kaleb back at camp.
The Sabiyah vote, wow, what a moment. I mean, I've learned through this experience, I wear every single emotion right on my face. That's something I need to work on. I was so blindsided by that vote and then and just gutted to see Sabiyah, my number one, my best friend in the game, leave, walk out. Knowing she wanted to be there so bad, and was playing such an incredible, amazing, aggressive game. And then going back to the camp, I was thinking to myself,"Okay, how, how am I going to work my way through this? Well, if I'm going to be like, really intense about it when I get back to camp, that's not gonna go well for me knowing, Emily and Kaleb." So I was like, "I just gotta go back where a smile on my face and be this little chameleon and say, 'Hey, good play, you guys. I hope there's a path forward with me.' And then just pray for a swap." [Laughs]
And those prayers were answered! Were you looking for a new Sabiyah once you swapped over onto Reba?
For sure. I was like, "Okay, Sabiyah's out. I need to find my number one." Because you need a partner in this game. You need at least one. I mean, you need an alliance, but you need a core partner in the game to move forward with. So I was thinking, "Who's this? Who's this new person that I'm going to be kind of linking up with?"
What was Sabiyah's reaction when you came into Ponderosa and said you had quit, considering what you mentioned before about how much she wanted to be in the game?
I mean, okay, so you know it's like Lulu 2.0 on Ponderosa. So I come off the boat. I'm going to Ponderosa. It's dark. It's nighttime, so everyone's trying to figure out who is it. And I just yell out in the distance, "Lulu! And they're like, "Sean, no! What happened?" And so it was I felt very warmly received by my Lulu family at Ponderosa. And then we swapped stories, we shared, we laughed all night long, we ate. So it was a good experience.
Let's go from Lulu family back to your family at home. Because I would imagine, once you came back to Matt and your family, you truly got to digest everything behind your decision to leave. Is that when that regret you mentioned before popped up? How did you examine your choice once you got back to reality?
Yeah, it's such a surreal experience. There's so few people that can really understand what being on Survivor is like. And so coming home, being with Matt, seeing my family, my loved ones, I'm able to talk to the, if they've signed the NDA, a little bit about my experiences. But it was really complex for me, because no one could really understand. It was like they were listening to storytime. And they were excited to hear what I had to say. But really, no one could truly empathize with what I've been through, and my experience on the game, and so that was hard for me.
Ultimately, the anticipation of waiting for the show to come, that's hard too. I want to hype up the show. I'm a super fan of this show; I love this show. And I'm going to hype it up as much as I can, knowing that I did this thing that's so incredibly unpopular So there's a lot of complexity and nuance in that, and just kind of trying to navigate that was really hard. And I think in those moments of reflecting back on my experience and my decision to leave the game is when it started to come to me where it's like, "Oh, I could have done this differently." And that's when that regret starts to sink in. And that's something that I need to find a way to live with. Because I made my bed, I gotta lay in it.