"I just broke and I cried on the way back," Jackson says of his boat ride out of the game.
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

When Jeff Probst shows up on your beach, it is never with good news. And when it happened on the premiere of Survivor 42, it was not good news for Jackson Fox. The 48-year-old had been experiencing lightheadedness out on the island. That, coupled with the news he gave producers just before filming began that he was taking lithium, caused the host to pull Jackson from the game rather than risk his body breaking down under the intense physical toll of the experience.

It was a tough way to go out for a player who revealed to his tribemates how he had first applied for the show before transitioning and then applied again. Yet even through it all, Jackson still described his brief stay on the island as "the best 48 hours I've had ever."

How does Jackson feel now about how everything went down both on the show and behind the scenes? We caught up with the health-care worker from Houston the morning after the premiere, and he told us what happened out there before, during, and after the game — and about his dad's reaction to the episode.

Jackson Fox on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We saw the conversation you and Jeff Probst had on the beach when he pulled you from the game. I want to be respectful of your medical privacy, so how much do you want to say about your situation as you were entering the game?

JACKSON FOX: I'd gotten on medication for my mom so I could start sleeping. It was lithium, and everybody gets that fear. I had a fear of it, because I'd never been on medication in my life. And I I'd been on it for about three years. When I got contacted by Survivor, I was starting to wean off of it and I thought, "Well, I'll be off of that before I get on the game." Unfortunately, I was on the tail end of it when I got on Survivor.

And, of course, they do the medical background. They're sitting there with you and the doctor, and she goes, "You're on lithium?" And I was like "Yeah, but I've got, like, two doses left," and she's like, "Oh boy. So we kinda have to be a little careful with it because of dehydration, and we can't send blood out to get tested because of COVID. We'll just see what we can do."

And it's weird: I noticed it the second day. Lindsay, in part of the show, was on me about drinking water, but I'd gotten dizzy the night before because it's so hot and you're not drinking nearly like you should. And I saw Jeff coming. I thought, "This can't be good. This is never good. He never comes on beach." And he was very respectful, but I wasn't going to shy away from it. I really wanted to put it out there that it's nothing to be ashamed of. I was happy they cared more about my well-being than me playing the game and getting hurt. They could have left me in there and said, "This could make a really good show." It came down to my health and safety, and before we even started, he treated it very well. He was like, "You tell me what you want to do and we'll do it." And I was like, "Let's just talk about it. Let's take the stigma away from being on medication."

So it sounds like the plan was when the doctor learned about the lithium in the day or two before you started the game, it was like, "All right, we can't send the blood out. Let's give it a shot, but we're gonna monitor you really closely."

It was, and I noticed at night they were watching me — if I'd get up, what would happen. And a couple times, I admit it, I got up and got dizzy, so I would hang on to the shelter and be like, "Whoa!" And I remember Marya was sitting next to me and she's like, "Are you good?" I'm like, "I'm good. I think I'm just tired." You know, we haven't slept any, we haven't stopped, we haven't eaten anything. And I really wasn't putting it together until the next morning. I felt like, "Hmmm, doesn't feel very good." I wish I could have gotten through a challenge, but I understand it was just part of the game.

Well, you did have that challenge to start the game, and that was pretty intense. It's interesting to hear that you said you felt okay on day 1.

I felt fine after the challenge. I was tired, but I thought, "Well, that's just my age." I felt it more that night, I think. And [Lindsay] was correct about it. She said, "You've gotta make sure you're drinking water." And I'll be honest with you: I think I drank half a container of water the first two days.

Oh, Jackson!

I know. You don't think about it. You're not thinking, "Oh, drink water!" And now it's funny. I drink water all the time. Now I'm very paranoid and drink it all the time.

How'd you feel once you got to Ponderosa and were out of the game and able to rehydrate?

I felt great! It's weird. It's like the minute you start eating, and I think I drank about three bottles of water, I started to feel human again. I started to get my bearings again. And then I realized how off I was. You don't really think about it because you're so hyped — even when you're getting on the boat and you're coming back, you're still just amped. And then when you finally sit down and relax, you realize how disorienting everything is.

And then it took about a day, and I felt completely fine. But I knew it was the best call. My biggest fear was I could have fallen into the fire, and those are things you've seen before, and I don't need to do that. That's not how I wanna go out on Survivor.

As someone who worked so hard to get on this show, take me through your feelings as Jeff is telling you that you have to be pulled from the game.

I cried. I remember I looked at him and said, "I don't know why I'm crying." I mean, I really couldn't figure it out. I've been here three days and I'm crying, but you worked so hard to do this and we went through quarantine and it's every emotion. You're angry at yourself for not taking the right precautions. You're sad about leaving. You're not mad at Jeff. You're just mad at the situation.

And then, it doesn't hit you until you get on the boat and it's silence and you realize it's just you and the game's over. And I just broke and I cried on the way back. And I remember sitting there thinking, "I'm looking at this beautiful water and this beautiful island," and you're broken because your dreams of everything you've been thinking about for 10 years is gone, just like that. I had kind of forgotten about it until I watched it last night, and then I went, "Oh, that really hurt."

You told the tribe on your first night about how you had transitioned. How much time did you spend before the game thinking about if and how you wanted to divulge that information?

I thought about it a lot. 'Cause you have a lot of time to yourself, and I thought I wanted to go into the game, and I didn't want there to be any surprises. I know Zeke came before me and he's an amazing man, but it was his journey to keep it to himself. I've been very out on my social media pages about surgeries and the negative aspects of it and the positive aspects, and also being at my age and my job, losing family and friends — I've always been open about it. And I thought the only way I can play this game is if I'm who I am. I don't wanna hide it. I just thought, "Okay, if they don't like it, then hey, that's on them. This is for me."

I wanted to put it out there because I wanted my message to get out that anybody can do this. You can be in one of the worst places in your life, which I was. For 40 years, I was a miserable person. And then I found who I was supposed to be and started living my life for the first time and I enjoyed everything around me. And if it was one person who said, "I can do this and someone's gonna accept me," or they're not loved by their family just yet because the family's adjusting to the fact that they've lost a child and they're gaining another, that they'll get through it. And it won't be on their time. It's gonna be on your family's time, not yours. You always want it to be now, now, now, and the bottom line is, it's not now. It took my family eight years. And now I couldn't imagine not having the relationship I have with my father. We call each other every day. We see each other all the time, we hang out, he calls me son. We literally have a bond we never had growing up my entire life.

So I tell people I did that because I wanted to give that one person hope that you can do this. You're not alone. There's a ton of support out there. You just have to open yourself up for the support. And that's what I did with my tribe. I wanted them to know I was an honest person. I wasn't trying to skate by. I wanted them to know the real me.

When you reapplied to the show as a man, did you immediately tell the casting department, "Oh, by the way, I applied before as a woman?"

I did. And I had the call from casting — the guy said, "You applied when?" "I was like, "Oh, that'd have been probably about 11 years ago." And he was like, "Really?" And I said, "Yeah, it was a really bad spot." I thought the best way to escape was to go on an island. Why not? You hate everything about yourself, so go on an island. That seems safe! Probably not. Wouldn't have been the best move. And he was like, "Please tell me the story." And I was like, "Well, sure. I'll definitely tell you the story."

And it's weird. There was not a name for it when I was growing up — nothing until I saw a YouTube video and went, "Lightbulb! Oh, I'm transgender. Oh, this is scary." And I come from a very Southern Baptist family who doesn't even believe in being gay, much less changing your entire identity and your sexual personality. That's a huge thing. And [the tribe] took it very well. They were like, "You don't look like you would be transgender." And I was like, "Well, that's kinda the point because you don't look like you used to look." Omar just kept looking at me going, "I just can't see it." I said, "I know — that's kinda the part of it."

Did your dad watch the episode last night? And, if so, have you had a chance to chat with him about it?

He did. And he cried. It's hard to talk about my mom with my dad. They were together when they were 15 and she passed away at 74. So they were together that entire time. And so he had not seen those pictures yet and didn't know. I'd put those pictures out there and he's like, "Your mother's beautiful and you're beautiful, and look what you did. You showed our relationship in such a positive way when it could have come off very negative." And I was like, "Well, I don't see it that way. I see it as growing. And I meant those exact words."

He said, "I feel horrible that you were away for 10 years." And I was like, "I don't, because I came back when I was supposed to, when you were ready to accept me for who I was. That's when we were supposed to come back." And he held my head and he cried. And that to me was worth going on Survivor for any day of the week. That was worth it.

Even though you got that terrible news about having to leave the game, you still said it was the best 48 hours of your life. Why is that?

Because you experience Survivor. You're on a boat. You're with people building a shelter. You're in the middle of nowhere. It's everything that you watch on TV. And it's all compact. Like I said, I've never had more fun in my life than in those 48 hours, other than when I got married. That was it. Those are the two most important moments of my life. And I'd do it all over again. Even if I knew I had only two to three days, I'd still do it all over.

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