Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Daniel Lue on contracting malaria during The Amazon
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.
Daniel Lue made headlines for going to play on Survivor: The Amazon. Unfortunately, the headlines did not come from Daniel holding up an oversized novelty check with a bunch of zeros on it as the latest winner of the reality competition franchise. Rather, they came due to another unexpected gift Daniel received — malaria!
Even though Daniel took anti-malaria medication, he still contracted the disease on his Amazonian adventure — an adventure that proved to be all-too-brief when Daniel was eliminated third in the game after feuding with Roger Sexton and having difficulty in the challenges. But that was nothing compared to the difficulty he had after returning back home. Read on as Daniel sheds light on what we happened both in the game and out of it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
DANIEL LUE: It’s been 18 years, so I’ll give you the abbreviated version haha… I moved to Los Angeles and became a personal trainer in Beverly Hills, and later started my own personal training business. Being on Survivor helped me so much when I moved out here, and, in many ways, it still does. I’ve been doing acting as well. Most recently I had co-starring roles on Lucifer, Bosch, and Pee Wee’s Big Holiday on Netflix. I also wrote and directed a short film, Kung Fu Theater, that was on Amazon Prime for a few years.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest moment was just getting onto the show. Survivor was my favorite show. It was a show that I would watch with my family. After the first season, there was a casting call for season 2. I thought about applying, but I figured the odds of making it on the show was slim to none, so I didn’t.
But what changed everything was a dream I had. Right before they announced the cast of season 2, I had a very vivid dream where I excitedly opened up the entertainment section of my local newspaper (remember, this was 18 years ago!) and I wanted to see if I was on season 2. There was a full-page section with each contestant’s headshot along with a short bio. I saw my headshot on the lower-left corner. I told my dad in the dream, “Look! I made it on the show and I didn’t even apply for it!”
That dream really stuck with me and a year later I decided to give it a shot and apply. At the time, I was working as a corporate tax accountant and I really wasn’t satisfied doing it. I couldn’t envision myself being in that job for 30-40 years. I figured, why not pursue what I really want to do? I didn’t want to look back and regret not trying. I knew it was a long shot especially since during that time it was only one minority man and woman each season, and Jeff Probst said over 60,000 people were applying.
I sent off the audition tape, and a week later someone from casting called. I flew to Dallas to for the regional interview, and then another week later I got the call to say I made it to the Los Angeles interviews. About 3 weeks after that, I finally got the call that I made it.
When my local newspaper announced the cast for Survivor: The Amazon, there was a full-page section with each contestant’s headshot along with a short bio. And guess where my headshot and bio was? The lower-left corner.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
There were several and I’ll go in order. Before the game, we had four days of survival training. We stayed in a three-level treehouse and slept on hammocks. From my hammock, I could see the entrance to our basecamp where we ate and had training. I’m not a big breakfast eater, so each morning instead of going down for breakfast I would observe the other castaways enter and exit basecamp, hoping to get some insight. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other, but that didn’t mean people didn’t walk next to each other.
One pattern I noticed (that ultimately didn’t play out during the game) was Ryan and Jenna walking next to each other. Butch and Roger went down around the same time, so it was no surprise they were immediately friends once the game started. But because of this, people thought I slept in the entire time. Not a good thing when perceived laziness will get anyone voted off!
Next regret is letting the men vs. women theme throw me off. During the pre-game, I already had picked which women I wanted to approach and align with. This was based on non-verbal cues everyone was giving each other.
Let me back up a bit. The game officially starts during casting. People are sizing each other up, making eye contact, and figuring out who will be a good ally. During the Los Angeles interviews, Ryan wore a Stone Cold Steve Austin T-shirt and I looked at his shirt and gave him a nod. Once the game officially started and we were allowed to talk, the first thing I said to Ryan was "I’m a wrestling fan too, I remember you wore that Stone Cold T-shirt."
So once Jeff announced that it was men vs women, I didn’t feel good about it. The dynamics certainly would be very different, and since this was the first time it was done, I had nothing to reference in terms of how it played out in past seasons. As it turns out, things are a bit upside down. Typically, someone who’s very bossy would be the first one to go. Roger was the bossy one. As you saw, once the merge happened, he was the first one to go.
Of course, I regret not having better balance on that damn beam!
The next regret is right before the first vote, I was aligned with Matthew and Ryan. Butch, Roger, Alex, and Dave were aligned. Rob Cesternino was basically the swing vote. Ryan and Dave are from the same town in Baltimore and went to rival high schools. They had a pact to not vote for each other. Ryan said he would talk to Rob about the vote, and I said I would talk to Matthew to make sure we were on the same page. Ryan told me everything was good with Rob. There wasn’t much time to talk to Rob, but I regret not going out of my way to talk to him more because he did not know that Ryan and Dave had that pact. Had he known he may have voted for Roger instead, which would have sent Roger home instead of Ryan.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Well, it’s not mind-blowing, but watching on TV really doesn’t do the Amazon justice. Most of us were expecting to go to a beach location. Up until then, other than Survivor: Africa, every season was on a location with access to the beach. We arrived in the Amazon at night, crammed in a tiny wooden boat with the windows covered up so we wouldn’t be able to see outside. The boat pulled up about 10 feet away from the shore and we had to walk in the water while carrying our bags. We went up a wooden walkway that was lit up by torches. It was quite surreal. The jungle was full of noise from animals and insects. We made it to basecamp where Mark Burnett was waiting for us. He tells us that this was the most dangerous location they’ve ever been to and said, “If you act like a f---ing idiot and f--- up, you will f---ing die out here!”
So in order to demonstrate how dangerous the Amazon is, he said we will now walk in the pitch black through the jungle. The only light we saw was from the cameraman’s light. We arrive at a lake and were instructed to get into canoes and to start paddling. There was a jungle guide and his translator to tell us where to paddle to. As we were paddling, he suddenly told us to stop and listen to the environment. We hear loud croaking around us. Big frogs, perhaps? No. The jungle guide shines his light around the water and we are surrounded by eyeballs. Eyeballs of baby crocodiles. And where the babies are, the mothers are nearby as well, so we need to get back on land immediately. The guide also instructed us not to tip over our canoes, because we would quickly be attacked. After that, we got Mark’s message loud and clear.
Mark Burnett told us that same night to appreciate our time in the Amazon even when it gets tough and miserable, because the experience will be over quickly. We’d be back home before we knew it and look back and wish we had enjoyed it more. “Drink it up!” is what he said. It’s a life lesson that I remember and apply to this day.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I do wish they would have shown more of me talking strategy and trying to keep myself in the game. My edit almost makes it seem like I was very passive and had no gameplay.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
The biggest adjustment was coming back to the U.S. after being out for a month and a half. After getting voted out, I still remained in the Amazon until the seventh person was voted out. From there we went on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Patagonia. It was an amazing trip. There was definitely a lot of drama that happened. I wish they had filmed that because that would have been a great reality show. CBS does that now with the “Ponderosa” videos on YouTube.
But coming back to regular society made me appreciate what I have at home, and I definitely appreciated my family more. Not being able to communicate with them was much more difficult than I expected.
When Survivor: The Amazon was about to air, there were spoilers that I was the first person to be voted out. A guy named Bill Marson, aka ChillOne, was in the same hotel that we stayed at after we left. He was able to gather information from the people that worked at the hotel and even wrote a book about it. The media picked up on it and people were asking me if it was true. I couldn’t say anything, but I realized it was actually a good thing that people were expecting me to go first. I totally outperformed expectations. Never underestimate the power of low expectations.
About a week before the season premiere, I was waking up each morning feeling very tired, even after sleeping eight hours. The fatigue remained throughout the day and I couldn’t really shake it. Then one night I felt a strange chill come over me so I went to bed and covered myself with an extra blanket. I woke up in the middle of the night burning hot and I figured it was just the extra blanket. I had the strangest dreams that lasted seemingly all night but woke up feeling much better.
The fatigue seemed to be gone. Three days later, I felt a much stronger chill that turned into a high fever that turned into night sweats. This cycle lasted for about a week, and each time with the symptoms getting worse. I went to two different doctors that said it was most likely the flu. I took a flu test and the doctor said to me, “Good news. It’s not the flu”. But he didn’t know what it was and just sent me home. I told them I was in the Amazon recently and they didn’t think it was malaria or anything else since I was vaccinated before leaving and took anti-malaria pills.
It got so bad that one time when I felt the chills, I turned on the water in my shower to the hottest setting and I was still shaking cold despite my skin turning red from the heat. At one point my fever hit 105 and I had to take a Tylenol and Advil together just to bring down the fever. I went to the ER and took a blood test and confirmed it was malaria. I was relieved because I finally had the proper diagnosis.
I was lying in my bed watching the news one day while recovering and I see my picture show up on the screen reporting that I have malaria. This was while I was still “on the island” and CBS wasn’t too happy that this leaked out. I received an email from them saying that they were looking to see if I broke the confidentiality agreement and that I could be sued for $5 million. Thankfully, they didn’t. I recovered just in time to be able to fly to the post-boot interviews. Had I been voted off any earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.
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 with the whole malaria experience.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I have a group text going with Matthew and Butch. Butch is a really funny guy and he’s always sending us pictures and videos from his fishing and hunting expeditions. Matthew is an executive with Marriott, and recently I had him send me a voucher for a friends and family discount.
I see Rob at finale events. I talk to Janet and Joanna every now and then by text, and I talk to Ryan every now and then. I’ve lost touch with Jeanne, but when I was in Boston one time I met up with her and her family and had a barbecue with Matthew.
Even though we didn’t get along on the show, I actually went to Roger’s house for Thanksgiving one year. We actually get along, and he even told me he had the wrong perception of me. Everyone else that I didn’t mention, I was able to see and reconnect with when CBS had a Survivor 10 year anniversary party.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
Yes, I still watch every episode. Survivor: Borneo is definitely and always will be my favorite. The seasons have blended in together over the years, but Survivor 40 was one of my favorites because of the old school players. It was very nostalgic to watch. Took me back to the early 2000s.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Initially, I was going to say that I would like to play with one of my Survivor friends since that would mean an immediate alliance and someone that I can trust, but then I realize that what happens in the game can carry over into real life.
That being said, I would like to play against Boston Rob so I can try to get him out first, even if I’m unsuccessful. He's too good and too favored by producers, so I never understood why in the seasons he’s played that people didn’t try to get him out ASAP.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I would like to watch a season of new players that play under old school rules, which means no idols, no Extinction island, less food given out so quickly. I miss watching the survival elements of the game. I would also like to see a final 2 instead of 3.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
My answer changes from time to time. The health risks are certainly something to consider. Pretty much everyone that has played had to deal with some type of health-related issue after the game. But it really is the adventure of a lifetime, as Mark Burnett says. Every aspect of Survivor, from the auditions, the pre-game process, jungle training, the game itself, the pre-merge vacation, to the post-game interviews and everything else that comes along with it was such an amazing experience that it would be fun to do again.
One thing I would come back for is if there was a season vs season theme, with ten people on each tribe. Amazon vs. Marquesas? That would be fun.