Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: AK on getting both good and bad Australian Survivor edits
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.
After 40 seasons on the air, Survivor has established itself as a mainstay in American pop culture. But the show is a huge cultural institution in other countries as well. Not only does the original incarnation air all over the world (I once watched Survivor: Samoa while in Samoa for filming on the Survivor: South Pacific season), but several international productions have popped up as well.
We started the Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires as a way to catch up with former players from the franchise, and now, with over 100 SQQs under our belt, we thought it would be fun to check in with a few players from international editions of the show. What were their experiences like? And how is the show different there as opposed to the one we know here?
EW has assembled our own international all-star squad to partake in our first International Week of Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires, and for our final edition, we went to one of the most entertaining Aussies ever on reality TV.
As a professional wedding DJ, Aaron "AK" Knight knows the importance of keeping an audience entertained, and he certainly did that when he showed up to play season 2 of Australian Survivor. AK played like he was shot out of a canon, scheming and strategizing with his tribemates right off the bat while providing great confessional interview clips along the way. It's no wonder the cameras seemed to follow AK's every move at times on his way to being voted out on day 28, even as other players ended up on the short end of the camera time stick.
But a different season can mean a different story, so when AK returned for Australian Survivor All-Stars with a stacked cast of big personalities and big gamers, he says he "knew getting a strong edit would be very difficult." Says AK now: "I was okay with it out there, but after the game, I felt I played, I was disappointed not to be shown more, and then to have people that weren't even making decisions getting the credit for moves was frustrating." However, since he has experience both sides of the reality TV storytelling spectrum, AK notes that "I am very quick to remind myself that that's how multiple people from my first season may have felt about me and my initial edit. So I'm very content now taking the good with the bad."
We sent a Quarantine Questionnaire off to AK to get his thoughts about both seasons (which includes his sixth-place finish on All-Stars) and he has some excellent insights into stuff we never saw on TV, the biggest change he'd make to the show, how the Aussie version differs from the U.S. original, and much more. So fire up Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" and say I do to a Quarantine Questionnaire from everybody's favorite wedding DJ turned reality TV star!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
AARON "AK" KNIGHT: Two days after returning home from Survivor All-Stars, I was back working (DJing). When you're out there, you miss some really odd things that you can't ever predict: weird foods, relationships with people that aren't necessarily your besties, and, for me, I even missed going to work. I was so happy to get back to living my normal life as quickly as possible.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
In my first season (2017), I was destined to be the first boot! I came out of the gates like Usain Bolt. I was focused on comments production had been making to me about how I'd be on a tribe with all of the players and schemers. I read the room completely wrong and found myself on the complete outs. In the very first immunity challenge, I put myself on the puzzle because I didn't want anyone else's abilities to determine my fate in the game. I'll never forget the euphoric feeling seeing JLP's hands go up and hearing him yell "Samatau wins immunity!" I needed that win and the extra time it bought to start clawing my way back into the game and making human connections with my tribe.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experiences?
I choose not to have regrets. Maybe that's arrogant or delusional, but every decision I made in the game felt right at the time. There's no point dwelling on what could have been. Although, in hindsight, I wish I had gone to rocks at the final eight of All-Stars. At the time, I didn't know that people actually wanted to sit next to David at the end (*insert gun emoji *insert mind blown emoji), which was my reasoning for not choosing rocks, because who wants to sit next to the biggest game player at the end?! I guess that's one lesson to any future players — you can't plan for other people's stupidity!
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in one of your seasons but never made it to TV?
On day 15, my Samatau tribe had just won a reward challenge — a BBQ and beers lunch. Before we started eating, the tribe sang me happy birthday 10 days early (my fake birthday). As they were singing, I looked past them at a line of producers. My favorite producer — who I had told all my pre-game plans to — was cracking up laughing. I raised my beer to him and behind my tribemates backs, he raised his hand up to me like he had a beer too. Amazing!
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
In 2017, I was shoved down people's throats. For the first 13 episodes, there were articles and social media comments saying "Oh, it's the AK show and it's too much." That didn't sit well with me, because obviously I wanted to see everyone get their story shown and I had no control over how much screen time I was getting, so I made an effort to reach out to those who weren't shown as heavily and be an ear for them.
When it came to All-Stars, I remember going into the game thinking I'm not here for the airtime, I'm here to win! On the first day of the game, I remember looking at the big names/personalities on my starting tribe and I knew getting a strong edit would be very difficult. I was okay with it out there, but after the game, I felt I played. I was disappointed not to be shown more, and then to have people that weren't even making decisions getting the credit for moves was frustrating. I am very quick to remind myself that that's how multiple people from my first season may have felt about me and my initial edit. So I'm very content now taking the good with the bad.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Honestly, this is a very boring answer, but the truth is I had no challenges adjusting back to real life. My family is very private and quite reserved. My friends all know me as Knighty, not AK. There was no one pumping me up and inflating my worth just because I had participated in a reality TV show. The only thing for me to do was get on with life and be grateful I got to have that experience, not once but twice.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
After All-Stars, I had to have 2 surgeries on each knee due to an injury I sustained in the pre-game intro filming. I remember feeling very sore and sorry for myself post-surgery and thinking why the feck did I bother. That being said, I would've never said yes to returning for All-Stars if I wasn't in the right headspace, so I don't have any regrets.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?
Nick, Phoebe, Brooke, Harry, Locky, and Shonee all have great group chats.
I wish I could say something about each of these people because they're all such good humans, but I won't bore you all.
Who is one player from a season of your own country's version of Survivor that you never got to play with that you would love to share a season with and why?
Male — Nick. I was so excited to play with him in All-Stars but the Survivor gods didn't let it happen. Maybe it was meant to be that way, Nick lives 15 minutes from me and our friendship is one of the things I cherish most from my Survivor experience.
Female – Jackie (season 3). Jackie is my most favorite Australian Survivor contestant, and I was devastated not to see her out there for All-Stars. I truly feel like she was road blocked from day one with the tribe of champions (celebrities) she was placed with. A lot of her tribemates wanted to protect their personal brands and their "good guy" image, which made it near impossible for someone like Jackie who wanted to lie, cheat, and steal her way to the end and sink her teeth into the game. If you haven't watched her poker highlights on YouTube, I highly recommend it. The girl's got balls and is not afraid to play high risk.
Do you watch the original American version of Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season of that and why?
Can I please have two?
Millennials vs. Gen X — this season is just so so so so great. I remember David going fishing with his painted coconut and Jay taking the bait hook line sinker, and then how that Tribal Council played out was nothing short of amazing. I was punching the air with excitement during the first 20 minutes of that finale!
Heroes vs. Villains — obviously! Unpopular opinion, but I thought both Parv and Russell played better games than Sandra. That Villains tribe is all-time!
If you have watched the American version of Survivor, what would you say the biggest difference between the original incarnation and yours is.
Other than the length (Aus being 11 days longer), I would definitely say the challenges and breakdown of tribes. Australians love a sporting star, so it's guaranteed that there are at least three to four alpha males on each starting tribe, and the challenges are all crash, bash, and smash, which doesn't cater to a variety of skills and strengths the way the U.S. version does in challenges.
If you could make one change to any aspect of your country's version of Survivor, what would it be and why?
The casting! I would love to see more average Joe Blows giving their all rather than watching D-list celebrities being paid to participate.
Who is one player from the U.S. version of Survivor you would love to play with or against and why?
David Wright. Hands down. The way he speaks to people and words things is incredible. I tried so hard to copy his way with words, but I just don't have that skill.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Only if it meant I was receiving a Villains buff.
Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"