Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Nick Iadanza reveals what we didn't see on Australian Survivor
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. Up first, the world-renowned Snake of Australian Survivor: Nick Iadanza. A fervent fan of the U.S. version, Nick showed up for season 1 of the Australian Survivor reboot in 2016 shocking players and viewers alike with his decision to receive a clue to the hidden immunity idol instead of a bag of beans for the tribe. While Nick was able to impress with his challenge performances, he was never able to shake the Snake label, and was eventually voted out as the first member of the jury.
Nick later returned for the All Stars season, forming the Little Rascals alliance with Shonee Fairfax and Harry Hills, but the Rascals always seemed to be down in the numbers. When later separated from Shonee and Harry due to a tribe swap, Nick cultivated a relationship with Phoebe Timmins — who also made the fatal mistake of trusting Golden God David Genat. Nick was eventually picked off right before the merge, where he would have had a chance to reset his game.
Ah, but now we are at least giving Nick a chance to look back at both of his Australian Survivor seasons, talk about things we didn’t see on the show, share his proudest moments and regrets — and compare and contrast the Australian and American editions. Slither on!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
NICK IADANZA: Well after season 1, I finally got married. We had postponed the wedding so I could go play (yes, my wife is the best). I was also offered my own podcast with Rob Has a Podcast covering international Survivor, so that was a surreal moment working with Rob, a former player who I had idolized growing up. I had the best time connecting with fans, covering a few seasons, and somehow I made it to No. 2 on iTunes (*shakes fist angrily at that Game of Thrones podcast *).
After a few years of that, I was happy to pass the baton on and get back to normal life focussing on just being a high school teacher and becoming a dad to my little Paloma. When I got the call for All Stars, it was a gut-wrenching experience leaving an 8-month-old, let me tell you! We filmed the All Stars reunion in the week the pandemic really went bonkers, so since then it’s been lockdown and slowly getting back to normal with teaching and dad life.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Finding the key to Pandora’s Box in that mad treasure hunt and then opening it under everyone’s noses was a real highlight from All Stars. I felt so sneaky and fun to be behind a real Cluedo style ‘Whodunnit?’.
My proudest moment of all time would probably be in season 1. Just before the merge, our tribe was dominating the other tribe, so we could essentially have an A squad and a B squad going into every challenge. On this particular day, it came down to one contestant who had to run out and heave back a boat the other tribe was rowing, collect pieces, and do a huge turtle puzzle. It was essentially one of those ‘Hero’ challenges.
I was so ill that day so went in thinking I could be on the bench, but I was put in that clutch position by my tribe. I was PACKING MY DACKS (Apologies, an Aussie term for s---ing your pants). Just before the challenge started, we were huddled under a teeny tree and I was asking for my late mum’s help from above. The heaven’s opened, rain gushed down and (no kidding) about 200 butterflies flew out of the tree above us in a cloud of orange. It was the most unreal thing I have ever seen, and I knew I had her with me. I crushed the challenge and have never been prouder as a skinny nerd who grew up hating the expectations of team sports and physical challenges.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experiences?
Most people would think it’s the way I handled the “Neutral Box” twist at the beginning of season 1 where I made up a poem as a fake idol clue and told the group. But I believe that (extremely questionable performance…) not only launched 1,000 memes and tanked my game many weeks later (lol), but solidified me as a character the show invested in and then brought back. So, no regrets there — it was a fun storyline and something my students still bring up whenever we study poetry [laughs].
I guess my biggest regret comes from All Stars in not forcing Phoebe to tell me the exact idol clue she found in the cake shop. She told me she had a clue, but that she wanted to find it herself, and, as her real-life friend, I didn’t push it because I wanted her to have that awesome moment. She and I really needed that idol, and we would have flipped the entire structure of that tribe (and yes, the season L). But Dave pressured her into spilling the beans and she got shanked. So I regret not pressuring her like he did… especially because (and this is the really sad part) I knew that exact termite mound and checked it every day in the first two weeks of the game. Oh well, I guess that’s why Dave is so good at the game and I’m a two-time loser.
What’s something that will blow fans minds that happened out there in one of your seasons but never made it to TV?
The constant and torrential rain in Samoa was soul-destroying. I remember El and I were taking five-minute intervals using the other as a human blanket during one particular downpour. We would lie flat on top of the other facing upwards so they could try get some sleep and then switch. Completely ineffectual, but you get desperate 11 hours into a tropical typhoon.
Also in season 1, after we won the Hungry Jacks reward, a few people saved some of their burgers to eat the next day. Next morning, we woke and they were gone! Brooke, Flick and Tegan were FURIOUS and no one owned up. Of course, as the new tribe member who everyone knows is a “snake,” I got the blame. It couldn’t have been a wild pig because they were taken from inside the pot and the lid was back on. Also, I could tell from eavesdropping on production that they hadn’t seen who did it. They grilled me for weeks in interviews to admit it but it wasn’t me!
It was the only thing discussed at camp for days and threatened to derail the tribe. When I was eventually voted out, the exec producer said, “Come on, admit it. You stole the burgers, yeah?” and in that moment I knew it wouldn’t make the air because they didn’t know how to conclude the story. We still have no idea, and you best believe that mystery followed us season 1 folk all the way to Fiji for All Stars. One day the truth of who was the Hamburglar will come out… maybe a deathbed confessional or a season 40 reunion?
A funny All Stars moment which didn’t make the air was the Little Rascals Alliance (Harry, Shonee and myself) trying to throw Zac and Henry off the scent of where the idol would be hidden. I got the idea from the white rock arrow in Survivor: New Zealand season 2, and placed coconuts on the path in the formation of a giant arrow facing a muddy rock wall. We coaxed them to that spot to see the arrow and then scampered off. When we came back, they were frantically digging in the wall for an hour and we were just giggling. I felt bad, but it was just too funny. It’s those devious little moments which really bond an alliance together.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I am really lucky, because both times I have been fortunate to have my story shown. Someone on Reddit told me that for both my seasons I was something like the 3rd highest confessional count, which is crazy because I haven’t made it to the end either time.
I will always be grateful to Channel 10 for investing in my story — they didn’t have to and I know some people don’t get that. In season 1, they included a moment of me honouring what would have been my mother’s 60th birthday with a sunrise vigil, and then I was able to see a video of my wife and daughter on All Stars. These are the moments in the edit that I can share with my family in a way that bonded them to the experience too, so that it wasn’t just this singular adventure for me that was remote from my life back in Australia.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
In season 1, two days after landing in Australia, I was back in the classroom teaching. Thirty-seven days in the game and then the hectic Jury Villa experience was a lot to digest. My brain was a little fried, but it was actually really good to get back to work. I think the worst thing you can do is to take a really long break afterwards and not go back to work. You need normality and routine. Survivor is a strange experience, and if you let it consume your life in that post-filming/pre-airing period, you can do some real damage to your mental health.
Thankfully, I was right as rain both times… except using cutlery. That always takes me about a month or so to get used to again.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Never. Not once. I think my family, friends, and students were concerned as the first season was airing, because I was getting some pretty intense backlash online. I, surprisingly, was fine though. Australia perhaps wasn’t ready for the strategic and manipulative side of reality TV as it was their first taste of Survivor (to that level of promotion in a while, at least). The public reaction to “Nick the Snake” was quite intense as the average Aussie Joe Blow had no idea what the game expects from a strategic player. They didn’t know I was trying to stand on the shoulders of (then) 31 seasons of Survivor players with the Gospel According to Probst tucked in my boardshorts.
I did get trolled. I got a few death threats from the people who were swallowing the “mateship” idea some other players were peddling, but nothing that made me lose a wink of sleep. Although there was a point when I felt like writing back, “I only made up a POEM, do you want me to tell you about this guy back in the day who invented a DEAD GRANDMA?! That will really make you pop a gasket!”
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?
The power of the group chat means that I still regularly chat to my season 1 peeps Matt, Kat, Jennah-Louise (my island nemesis!) & Sue. They are all the real deal and I couldn’t live without them.
It was amazing to play with Brooke again as we still chat all the time — that girl is my sister and its strange to think we’ve done this twice together. All Stars helped heal the hurt between Lee and I from that brutal Final Tribal in season 1, so it’s nice to reset and just be normal friends again. Love that man.
Then of course there is my Little Rascals, Shonee and Harry. The greatest gift I was given from All Stars, I reckon!
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?
Hands down, AK. I was so excited to play with him in All Stars, yet the island gods never let us get on the same beach. While it was fun to go up against him in challenges, I wish we got to actually spend time together scheming and strategizing back at camp. AK and I live in the same city, and it’s so nice being able to just hang out. He is one of the nicest most down to earth, well-adjusted dudes you will ever meet, and let me tell you, that is rare in this Survivor community!
The day I was voted off on All Stars, I went into that immunity challenge knowing the merge was probably tomorrow and that if my tribe lost, I was toast, and if his tribe lost, he had a real chance of going home too. It was so frustrating knowing that either way, one of us wouldn’t have been there to play together the next day. But I am glad he got to make the merge because he was royally screwed last time.
Do you watch the original American version of Survivor, and, if so, what’s your favorite season of that and why?
I’ve become the Aussie avatar for Survivor super fandom. It is a badge I wear with pride because before I played I knew more about this show than I did my own life (sad I know). So this is a big question but will try give a succinct answer.
- Season 15 China. I love everything about this season from the insane characters, the unique location (I don’t get people who don’t see the amazingness of that muddy, swampy mess) and of course COURTNEY FRICKEN YATES!
- Season 20 Heroes vs. Villains. Any fan worth their salt will have this near the top. That Villains tribe will never, ever be topped. When I got the call to play again, my first question was ‘Is it Heroes vs Villains?’ because I so badly wanted to be a part of that Villains tribe legacy even though I wouldn’t feel worthy.
- Season 18 Tocantins. Sandy figuring out what a pace was, Erin picking fights with the Dragonslayer, and of course the emergence of dearest Fishbach. Epic.
It’s no coincidence my fav seasons all come from the same era — what a time to be alive.
Special mentions to Outback for that native connection, Amazon for Rob’s genius and Cambodia for the Fishbach/Wentworth bump.
If you have watched the American version of Survivor, what would you say the biggest difference between the original incarnation and yours is.
Definitely the length of time. It is demoralising to be on the island and reach day 30 and just have cracked the merge! Our 50 (55 in my first season) days is no joke. Lee looked like he was on the brink of death by Final Tribal.
If you could make one change to any aspect of your country’s version of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Our challenges tend to be modelled on some sort of ancient principal of medieval warfare. Legit, it has become full contact wrestling, He-Man grappling and any other alpha activity that could be dreamed up by a department that seems to be trying its hardest to fulfil all its homo-erotic desires. There are a lot of butts on display and just savage, savage conditions. It makes for epic TV, but as most of us are mere mortals, it is definitely not so fun to know that every second day you are going to have to get pummelled by the professional Rugby players, sportspeople and Jujitsu masters who are cast.
Season 1 had a lot of puzzles which was great for me —JLP dubbed me the Puzzle King, a title I was glad to retain on All Stars (7 for 7 undefeated — what of it? J) However, I had to wait two weeks into All Stars before there even was a puzzle, and even then it was the Cube Crisis challenge where each piece weighed 7million kilos. So I guess I would mix it up at bit more in the early days.
Who is one player from the U.S. version of Survivor you would love to play with or against and why?
Play with? Stephen Fishbach.
Play against? Andrew Savage (to vote that wanker out would give me more satisfaction than winning a season).
Special mention to old school fav — Helen Glover, who was just slayed me with her dry wit.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I said I would never play again after season 1. Then you get the call… and it’s hard to say no. But I’ve played 65 days in total now. I think I have had enough torture.