Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Ramona Gray on how she made peace with her experience on the show
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.
You’ve heard it a million times before: Playing Survivor is a lot harder than it looks. The first person to properly attest to this was Ramona Gray. The research chemist was part of the first ever Survivor cast back in 2000, but Ramona never got a chance to truly play and bond with her Pagong tribemates due to the fact that she was sick the very outset of the adventure. By the time Ramona recovered, it was too late, and she was voted out on day 12 of the game.
That was tough. Even tougher was the way some Survivor: Borneo viewers reacted to her performance, even though she was ailing and dehydrated. “The most difficult part was being judged by people who only saw what the network wanted them to see,” says Ramona. “I hated my edit because it fed into a typical stereotype. While I realize TV shows want/need to tell a ‘story,’ I don’t think it should be at the expense of the people (usually Black and POC) that make the network millions of dollars.”
But while Ramona’s stay on the island may have been all too brief — and her edit all too one-dimensional — she did indeed get another chance to compete. And even if her return performance did not air on TV for tens of millions of people, it “proved to myself and others that I’m more than capable of playing this game.” Sit back and enjoy, as one of the true Survivor OGs fills out her Quarantine Questionnaire.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
RAMONA GRAY: I went back to work after the show, married, had a now-9-year-old son (2011), divorced and stayed with the same company throughout (celebrating 23 years next month). I left the laboratory when I found out I was pregnant and transferred my role to Global Chemistry Project Manager.
I started running after I had my son and checked marathon off my bucket list in 2013. I competed in a few triathlons over the years, left N.J. in 2016 and never looked back.
My greatest joy is being a mom right now. Seeing the world through my son’s eyes and co-parenting in an effort to give him the best experiences possible so that he becomes a happy, well-adjusted global citizen.
I love to travel, and a girlfriend from college (Howard University) and I decided to start 50 x 50 — visit all 50 states by the time we turn 50. As you can imagine, COVID threw a wrench in that plan as well! We went to Alaska in February with plans to visit Arkansas in April, but you guessed it. I have 15 states to go... I think she has 4. We’re not gonna make so we’ve changed 50 x 50 to mean all 50 states WHILE we’re 50! LOL! That gives us an extra 364 days to get them all in.
Currently, I’m working with other Survivor alums who are Black/POC to raise awareness to the importance of representation on the show. We’ve done a podcast, petition, letter and other media, and are hoping to bring CBS to the table for a conversation.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
One that comes to mind was finding our water with BB on the very first day we landed in Pagong. It took us hours of navigating and compromising, but we did it! I still have the map!
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret was not drinking enough water to stay hydrated and in the game.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I’m not sure it’s mind-blowing, but Pagong hiked a lot of the island to pass the time and found a naturally occurring mud bath and treated ourselves to it one day. Also, we often ‘played’ Cirque du Soleil...doing stunts and building pyramids and stuff!
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I hated my edit because it fed into a typical stereotype. While I realize TV shows want/need to tell a “story,” I don’t think it should be at the expense of the people (usually Black and POC) that make the network millions of dollars.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
It was a shock for sure, and I’m not sure I ever got used to it. The most difficult part was being judged by people who only saw what the network wanted them to see.... who thought you were a character and that gave them the right to say anything they wanted about you. The fan letters were the best part, along with being able to use my platform to sign with The American Program Bureau and serve as an ambassador for girls/women in STEM.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
Everyone from Pagong [except Greg and Colleen...and obviously BB (RIP)], Rich and Sean. Me, Gretchen, Gervase, Joel, and Rich met up in Nashville last year with plans to do it again this year... with the addition of Jenna and Sean. Of course, COVID ruined it.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?I stopped watching for a few seasons because of all the gimmicks, but started again when my tribemate Gervase played again in Blood vs. Water. I was so proud of him, especially because CBS didn’t think he’d be able to play the way the “new” game was being played.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would love to play with Cirie.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I’d love to see more diversity and better representation, stop bringing the same people back over and over, and the elimination of Exile Island/Edge of Extinction.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I would. It’s funny — all these years I sought redemption because I never really got to “play” before I was voted out. Then I had an opportunity to take part in Battle of the Bush, which pitted American Survivor alums/fans against South African alums/fans. We all raised funds for a school in SA (Naledi Christian Academy), and in September 2019 set out on this incredible journey to play the game we love in Potchefstroom, South Africa. The location, game, challenges, Tribal Council, game play, idols and rewards were all top notch. Not only did I make it to the merge, I won individual immunity and made it to the final 6! I proved to myself and others that I’m more than capable of playing this game. While it didn’t play out on the big screen for millions of people to see, I’m okay and at peace with it.