Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: JoAnna Ward still refuses to touch the immunity idol
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.
Traits that are assets in normal society can often turn into liabilities in the topsy-turvy world of Survivor. Take JoAnna Ward, for example. The then 31-year-old guidance counselor from South Carolina showed up for Survivor: The Amazon as a physically strong competitor with a rock-solid work ethic. Which is exactly what got her voted out.
Even though another player (the physically and emotionally spent Shawna Mitchell) asked her tribemates to vote her off, a plan was hatched to take JoAnna out at day 12 instead due to her being such a threat. Some of the all-female Jaburu tribe members also chafed at JoAnna’s uncompromising conviction and beliefs, including a refusal to touch the Survivor immunity idol.
Speaking now, 18 years after her Amazonian adventure, JoAnna says in her Quarantine Questionnaire that she still would not touch the immunity idol. She also reveals some of what we did not see on season 6, including a tender moment with winner Jenna Morasca, and the revelation that one of the season’s biggest fights was not all that it seemed. Read on as JoAnna Ward takes us to church for our 100th Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JOANNA WARD: Let's talk about what the world looked like when I took my free vacation to the Amazon compliments of my favorite guy, Mark Burnett. It has been 18 years and most of my pictures had to be developed, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram were not even in the futuristic movies. I think they leave out the things that we may pick up on and invest in. I had to go there just to bring what I am doing now into perspective. My son, who was 9 at the time, is now a father himself and is very active in the ministry and businesses that I was blessed with immediately after leaving the game.
If peace, tranquility, and good health were measured in dollar bills I would be a BILLIONAIRE. I am a very wealthy woman when I look at how God has continued to be faithful to me and my family. Because of the way the ladies physically dominated the men during my stay, I have been a highly sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker, and life coach. The market is really saturated in these areas now, but social media profiles and crafty marketing skills are no match for character, integrity, and lifelong relationships backed by a solid reputation.
I have had a television show with WATC 57 in Atlanta for the last four years after being a guest host on several of their shows. This relationship was established when I was a guest talking about my Survivor experience and my book Surviving the Fitness Game. I recently, due to Covid, had the opportunity to interview Davie Rickenbacker from David vs. Goliath. He is from Orangeburg, [S.C.], which is where I lived when recruited for my season. He was a tiny bopper, but indicated that he was totally tuned in when I played as we attended the same church at that time.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I mean, I had several, but I would say the very first challenge when our all-female tribe came from behind and slaughtered the guys’ huge lead and sent them to Tribal Council. It was a major win because when they realized it would be men against women, they boasted about never going to Tribal Council? Every time we handed the guys their behind, which was all but once while I played. I was also very proud that they did not edit out my HALLELUJAH! They actually edited it in really cool ways.
I was very proud of beating those guys and hearing them say it was because "the Lord is on their side." I know that the Lord was on our side because we had no idea what we were doing, but when it came to the challenges, we looked like we had it together. Yeah, that is the way it is with faith in God through Jesus Christ.
Another proud moment worth mentioning is that I kept saying that I really wanted some pineapple, because what we had tasted in the tree house in Manaus was sweet, succulent, and absolutely delicious. However, my tribemates had no faith that I would get any pineapple and recommended that I just stop talking about it. Of course, I kept saying that I still want some of that pineapple. God heard my request and I found not one, but three pineapple. They even included my find in the edited footage. There is no footage of the guys finding any fruit. I also found another sort of fruit that was tasty, but I can't name.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I really intended to play the game in a way that I would be able to live with for the rest of my life. I never believed that I should compromise who I am or what I believe for a game. I still feel that way right now at 49. I caught a lot of flack for not touching the immunity idol, but I would not touch it again if I played. I would still make it known that God was and still is the source of my strength, confidence, and execution. If I could do things differently, I would have went with my intuition with the two of the three challenges we lost. I may have created allies earlier, but I had already calculated that my time would be limited based on boundaries that I had no interest in crossing, not then, not now.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Jenna asked me to pray for her mother as we sat beside the river, as her mother was very ill and my mother had passed within the past two months, August 28, 2002. Shauna also was struggling with her confidence, and we prayed about that too. I am not sure if that is mind blowing but it is worth noting.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Actually, overall I think that the editing is pretty accurate from my show with the exception of the confrontation between Christy and I. The way that they edited, it seems like I overhear a conversation and then approach Christy, but if you look at the footage, you can see today, that the clothes that I have on when they cut from me allegedly overhearing her say that I am stupid for not touching the idol, to me inviting her out of my face with my hand, are totally different. Of course, back then, the eye was not as trained to see the obvious erroneous editing back then as it is now. It is clear to many viewers at this point.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Survivor was a life-changing, defining moment for me at that time in my life. I have never been the same since the fall of 2002. I lost my mother that August before going to the final interviews and selection. This left a huge void in my life, but then the entire experience shifted my perspective in an amazing way. I have never looked at life, church, faith, or anything the same since that experience.
Initially, I was religious, but after going out there and experiencing God in that way, how he gave me strategy, strength, and kept me while I was out there and my son and family while I was away — everything that I knew went bye, bye. Everything that I was familiar with was left and ultimately lost, but it was a great thing. It was not a culture shock but a spiritual awakening and enlightenment. I am very thankful for the experience of the game, but I am more appreciative of the tour that we took of South America once we were voted out. It was literally the trip of a lifetime. Our tour guide was the guy who created the Eco-Challenge routes.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
No, sir! I applaud my 31-year-old self, being the only person of color on my show, having just lost my mother, having to leave my son for the first time ever, and never compromising or taking off my clothes or slapping anyone or cursing anyone out. I am who I am, and I am proud to say that those who knew me before Survivor and those who know me now before knowing that I was on Survivor or taking time to watch the 18-year-old season say that I represented exactly who I am. I strongly believe, unto mine own self, I have to be true and honest and authentic. No regrets here. I am super proud and would not change a thing. Especially when it comes to touching the immunity idol.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I still keep in touch with Dan, who hooked us up, Ryan, and Jan. I used to keep in touch with Jeanne and Shawna. I never played the game with the guys, only against them. The people that I remain in contact with, we are usually on social media. Some of the others, social media would have been a great tool to keep in touch had we had it. But a lot has happened since my show and I am surprised that I am still in touch with who I am in touch with.
I will say that Davie added me to a group called, Survivor: The Black Edition. From here, I have met many players that played before me, including the only black female winner, Vecepia. I was also invited by Sean Rector to join a podcast hosted by Rob from my show called Rob Has a Podcast and it was "The Black Edition." I asked Rob to call me and even gave him my personal cell number, but I have yet to hear from him. Perhaps it could have been the fact that I asked him, “How did it feel to take all of those losses led by the only black female in the women's tribe?” He seemed a little shaken, but I really was interested in being his "friend."
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I don't still watch Survivor, or much television at all, due to schedule constraints. I do enjoy talking to and hearing the perspectives and experiences of the players, old and new.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would have loved to have played against Richard Hatch and with Vecepia Towery. Richard because he was the first and most authentic, true to the actual meaning of a Survivor player, and Vecepia because she exudes black girl magic until this very day. I applaud all of the participants and players. Survivor is just as hard to apply and get picked for as it is to play and win without it costing your soul. The day I got voted off, The Times and Democrat newspaper put me on the front page, "What profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul." If that is what I represented, then I will be recorded in heaven if not on earth, as one of the greatest players to give God the glory in the game of Survivor.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
If I could change one aspect of the game, it would be that more weight and emphasis would be placed on the actual survival aspect of the game and not so much the backstabbing your way to the win. I am aware that our society promotes that in order to win or be successful that you have to stab your allies in the back and cut the throats of your enemies, but my life begs different. You can indeed have integrity, character, and a good work ethic and be successful without stabbing others in the back while leaving a trail of blood and tears. I would make the game more about physical survival, stamina, and mental resilience. Not so much focus on manipulation and deception.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I would play again, but I still won't touch the idol.