SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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.

Getting voted out on Survivor sucks. And you know what sucks even more? Getting voted out one day before the merge and one slot before the jury. That cruel fate fell upon Alexis Maxwell on Survivor: Cagayan.

While Alexis formed an early alliance on the Solana tribe, she and her fellow "Beauty" members began turning on each other after a tribe swap to Aparri on day 12. Ultimately, Alexis was deemed too much of a risk to flip back at the merge and cut loose. But why was she seen as so likely to flip? As Alexis reveals now, it was actually due to a moment that never made it to air… but it will make it into her Quarantine Questionnaire!

Not only that, but Alexis — as someone who was voted out at the worst possible time — takes us inside the full 10 stages of Survivor grief. They are stages of drama and trauma that other former players know all too well, and, after reading, so will you!

Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.

ALEXIS MAXWELL: It's crazy to think it's been almost eight years since I filmed my season of Survivor! I was a 21-year-old senior at Northwestern at the time. Since then, I graduated and developed my career in the tech world and am currently working at Uber. I also married my favorite human in the world, who I have been with for a little over six years now, and we have two dog babies (@payton.and.camila)! We recently sold our condo in Chicago and are starting to house-hunt in the suburbs, so we are gradually evolving into real adults (but barely, because I still can't even cook spaghetti). 

In the Survivor world, I've kept up with the show and still live-tweet every season (so I'm especially dying waiting for the new seasons to air after this quarantine decides to wrap up). Our season 28 is also now on Netflix, so it has been super-exciting watching it again and reminiscing on the experience. I'll be a fan for life and will continue to try and convert everyone I know into fans as well! Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@alexis_maxwell) or Instagram (@alexis_taylor_maxwell) if you wanna talk Survivor!

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

Naturally, I was so nervous about what would happen right out of the gate when we began filming our season, and I knew it was common for the young females to be early boots, so I was proud that Jefra and I immediately formed an alliance and were able to keep that alliance strong throughout our time on the Beauty tribe.

When you first see the other cast members, you aren't able to talk or strategize until you get on your tribe beach, so all of the initial alliance formations happened with purely eye contact. I would shoot looks to every person I could to see if we could connect without words, and that is when I made 90 percent of my assumptions about who would be willing to work with me. It sounds nuts, but it is so real! And working with my alliance on the first tribe was the part of my game where I knew I was safe and secure.

Also, honorable mention: I was pretty proud when we won the chickens when I was the caller for the blindfolded challenge. I obviously never got to partake in individual immunity challenges, so the tribe challenges that I got to be a bigger role in really ignited my competitive excitement. 

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

Oh, I have a list of regrets from my time on Survivor, haha. I definitely played like a rookie even though I was such a fan. One huge regret was that I didn't listen to what I would call my "Survivor fan brain" and instead convinced myself of optimistic outcomes that I should've known were unlikely.

For example, as a fan and viewer, you always know that no Tribal Council is going to be straightforward, so when my Aparri tribe all seemed to be on the same page with voting out Jeremiah, I should've known that it would not be so simple. I think my brain was just so excited to be playing the game that I convinced myself I was safe and masked any risk with false optimism.

Also, overall I was more timid than I should have been with having private conversations outside of my alliance. I was so nervous that people would think I was playing multiple sides — but in reality, everyone was going off and talking to everyone, so I wish I was less risk-averse. There are about 100 other things I wish I would've done differently, so I can totally understand why returning players are often so much better than they played the first time (not always, but often, haha).

What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?

This might not be that surprising, but this blew my mind when our season aired: It is pretty easy for narratives to be slightly different than what actually happened. For example, during my first Tribal Council, it was cut to look like I was being targeted because I didn't "pull weight around camp"; but in reality, all of those questions and statements were directed at Morgan, and the real conversation about the reason Brice and Morgan were targeting me was actually because I was so tight with LJ. I definitely understand why less significant parts of the story are changed (to simplify the narratives, not distract from the overarching plot, etc.) but it definitely surprised me as a viewer that it can be so seamlessly altered. 

I guess the only other tea I have was the reason for my vote off. After the season wrapped, many of the castmates called each other to connect and talk about the season, and when I talked to the members of the Aparri tribe that voted me off, I was informed that the primary reason they decided on me was because of one stupid thing I did at the end of the immunity challenge.

This never aired, but after we lost the challenge, I mouthed something to Jefra, who was my previous alliance member that was now on the other tribe that we just lost to. I don't even remember what I mouthed to her, and it felt so insignificant to me at the time, but I guess Tasha saw that interaction and was convinced I was still communicating/working with my previous tribemates. And with the merge coming after that Tribal Council, they didn't want to bring anyone they thought would flip, which makes sense. The problem was, I was NOT going to flip! (And they got flipped on anyway, haha!) My dumb moment of thoughtlessness definitely buried me there. 

 How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?

I wasn't on the island for very long and there wasn't a ton to show, so I feel fine about my edit. I was serving facial expressions for days, so that was fun to learn about myself. I typically feel that edits are fair because we give them the content they have of us — even if they only show one side of a person, it is still a real side they have, so from my perspective, personalities that are portrayed are real. 

Also, this is insignificant, but one thing I will say that I don't love was that the edit didn't capture the formulation of our first alliance on the Beauty tribe, which was really started when me and Jefra connected, and then Jefra brought in Jeremiah and I brought in LJ. Because that was never shown, some other cast members sometimes like to characterize the alliance as "LJ's alliance" to either unfairly diminish mine and Jefra's gameplay or because they fall into typical societal biases that assume the alpha male was leading the pack. Either way, it is an unfortunate approach that I would challenge future cast members to avoid. 

But all in all, I think the show does a great job with edits and it's especially amazing considering how much raw footage they gather! I feel like the editing on the show just continues to get better every year and they are doing a great job of adding some hilarious moments in. 

What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?

You know how there are 10 stages of grief? Well, in my post-Survivor experience there were at least 10 stages of reacclimating back into the real world. 

  • Stage (1) The first moment of shock after walking out of Tribal: After I was voted off, it was all a blur and I didn't even process the torch snuffing. I then walked down the path to where I eventually saw a member of production waiting for me. When I got to that point, I went from crying to SOBBING because it really sunk in that I was done. I felt so bad for the production crew because I just couldn't stop crying throughout the entire exit interview.
  • Stage (2) The second moment of shock after not having cameras on me for the first time: We were filmed 24/7 when on the island — literally while we slept and everything. So after my exit interview and that final camera went down, it was like reality sunk in a second time and my sadness about being voted off amplified x100. I even begged to be on the jury because I felt like I could at least remain part of the game.
  • Stage (3) Not recognizing myself in the mirror: It is a wild experience to lose 15 pounds without being able to see the gradual change. I looked so gaunt and lanky and was momentarily panicked that my butt would never grow back. I just did not recognize my own body.
  • Stage (4) Tasting food for the first time: I am a picky eater, but after only tasting rice for 16 days I did not realize how insane my taste buds would react after having real food. I literally could not stop eating — the first day at Ponderosa I had a full dinner, then like eight bowls of Frosted Flakes, and then I made a huge concoction of ice cream, peanut butter, candy, alcohol, and anything I could find and blended it into a beast smoothie. I got so sick, but it was so worth it. It probably took me three days to gain all my weight back plus ~10 extra pounds.
  • Stage (5) Dealing with parasites: On my season, we had a literal typhoon roll through that kept everything wet for three or four days. Without any dry firewood, we couldn't make a fire to boil the drinking water, so we had to just drink the water as is. This gave a lot of people parasites, which was quite an adventure for me to manage throughout my time on the pre-merge trip to Thailand.
  • Stage (6) Getting my phone back after not seeing it for a month and a half: As many know, after you are voted off, you don't go straight home — you stay until production is fully wrapped and are not able to access your phone again until you return. When they gave my phone back, it felt like a foreign object to me and I even almost forgot it was touch screen. Then the notifications started to roll in of everything I missed while I was gone, so it is like an explosion of reality in your face.
  • Stage (7) Great Depression part 1: After I returned home and the experience was completely over, I had such a hard time shaking the feeling of regret. I would lose sleep just playing through the experience over and over in my head and harping on things I could've done differently. I am typically very resilient, so I was shocked at how challenging it was for me to move on.
  • Stage (8) Season airing excitement: The hype leading up to airing and the eventual airing of the season was such a thrill — especially since I was still in college at the time. There were so many interviews and fun viewing parties; it was such a blast.
  • Stage (9) Finale high: After my elimination episode aired, the next super-exciting step was the live reunion show. Reuniting with the cast and celebrating the season was such a fun and amazing experience.
  • Stage (10) The Great Depression part 2: After the finale and reunion wrapped, I went through a repeat wave of feeling reality set in and had to come to terms with the fact that nothing that exciting was going to happen to me again for a long time, haha. It was a pretty unpleasant and unsettling feeling, but I eventually got past it!

Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?

Getting the opportunity to play a game that I am such a fan of was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. I never once regretted going on the show, but I definitely had a moment of fear about what would happen after the show. Going into the experience, I had just finished my junior year at Northwestern, and I fortunately had landed a job for after I graduated, but the company was very reserved and cared a lot about your image and integrity.

Immediately when I stepped on that beach and realized I would be in my undies and playing a game of deception on national TV I thought, "Wow, I am going to lose my job," and that definitely (unfortunately) factored into how I played. I feel like I would have been a little bolder and cared a lot less about how I would be perceived if I didn't feel I was at risk of losing a great career opportunity. Fortunately, the show did not affect my job opportunity and it never got brought up by that company, so that was a major relief.

Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?

I'm the effing worst and am so bad at keeping in touch with people — so sorry to everyone, it is nothing personal! Everyone who knows me knows I am just notoriously bad at that. But from my cast, I have been in touch with Brice the most, and then I'll chat here and there with some others like Tony, Woo, Sarah, Jefra, David, etc. I really love our cast — I think it is a group of awesome and diverse personalities and it really made the season so entertaining. I feel very lucky to have been part of Cagayan. 

Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?

I still watch every season of Survivor and will continue to live-tweet every episode possible indefinitely. I love live-tweeting because I feel like I am watching the show with thousands of other people who geek out over it as much as I do. Obviously, Cagayan is my favorite, but I definitely have some close seconds. I will always have a place in my heart for some of the earlier standout seasons, like Micronesia and Heroes vs. Villains, but there have also been some newer seasons that blew me away, such as David vs. Goliath and Winners at War. Seasons like those become some of my favorites because there was such strong and exciting gameplay both pre- and post-merge. They really were entertaining seasons end-to-end.  

Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?

I mean, I'd ideally like to play with a bunch of rookies I'd have a leg up on… 😂 A lot of my favorite players I would not want to ever play against because they would be hard to beat 😂. So I really don't know who I would pick! Hmm… if I had to pick someone, I think a good choice would be Cao Boi Bui because (1) He could cure my dehydration headaches on the island and (2) He was the originator of the split vote, so it would be pretty cool to be around if he had any new strategic revelations that changed the game forever. 

 If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?

Bring back more pre-mergers! (Totally unbiased 💁🏻‍♀️) Pre-mergers, like myself, are primed and ready to deliver an amazing season because we know what it is like to have the dream end too quickly, we got enough gameplay exposure to not make rookie mistakes, and many fans probably wouldn't remember us so we're basically the same as casting a season of fresh faces, haha! So my Survivor wish is that they dip back into the pool of pre-merge boots for a future season.

Finally, would you play again if asked?

I would play again in a heartbeat. I still love the game and I learned so much the first time I played. I'd absolutely love the chance to be able to try again and fight for the prize and fulfill my Survivor fan fantasy!

To keep track of our daily Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires and get all the latest updates, check out EW's Survivor hub, and follow Dalton on Twitter.

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