Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Reynold Toepfer reveals his biggest regret from Caramoan
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.
He found two hidden immunity idols in the first 11 days of the game, but being a big threat on the wrong side of the numbers ultimately doomed Reynold Toepfer in Survivor: Caramoan. The Cool Kid turned Amigo — who was also on the receiving end of the most famous “Hold up, bro” in Survivor history — was constantly on the wrong side of the numbers, yet was still able to make it all the way to day 31 thanks to his challenge performance and idol protection.
Where is Reynold now? And what does he make of his turbulent time in the game? After our search at Eddie’s dog bar came up dry, we were finally able to track down the Gota tribe member and have him fill out our Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
REYNOLD TOEPFER: I have been surviving the suburbs! New spin-off show idea?! All jokes aside, anything and everything changed in my life almost immediately after returning from Caramoan. By the time our season aired on CBS, I had already gotten married, moved to Texas, become a parent to my stepson, and embarked on a career in commercial real estate. It is one of those wild true love stories, and the adventure since the show has been every bit as rewarding and exciting as Survivor. My wife is the coolest, and these days you’ll find us with our two kids and two dogs hiking and swimming in the Austin greenbelt. And, oh yeah, on Wednesday nights in the spring and fall you will find me holding court and lecturing my captive family audience on all the strategic moves that I would have made to win every season since 26.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My parents actually got flown out for the “Loved Ones Visit,” and they had a freaking blast with all the other parents and siblings. Viewers may not know this, but the time and logistics to get out to these remote locations requires bringing one more loved one than will actually be on the show. By winning the keel hauling personal immunity, I earned my parents that spot on the adventure around the world to Caramoan. That is my proudest moment, and I did not even get to see them! They are both fantastic people that have done so much for me, so it made me proud to gift them this experience.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I regret the Fans (Gota) Tribe never really coming together. A lot of that is my fault, and I could have done things differently. We needed to band together even more than other seasons because we were up against greater odds playing all returning players. From the outset, I believed the only way a Fan had a chance to win was if we established the majority early and maintained it through the merge. That meant we had to band together and beat them in challenges, which requires a cohesive team. Instead, we were a divided mess and were the “authors of our own fate” (to steal a phrase from Brandon Hantz, haha).
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
My mind was blown by the conditions out there sometimes. As far as things that did air on TV, we had two medical evacuations (Erik and Shamar) and Julia and Cochran still hold the record for two of the best sunburns to date. There were some brutal rains that really broke people’s spirits, and I guess something that never made it to TV was a gash I got on my leg climbing for hidden idols shortly after the merge. I knew the danger of infection and immediately had the stomach sinking feeling that it would end my game. During the next weeks, I was very careful to wash it regularly and keep it wrapped with my buff. What viewers did not get to see was how big and infected my left leg became below the knee at Ponderosa. Shortly after I got voted out, it was like an elephant foot for quite some time.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
There are so many narratives out there and stories to tell that I think they did an impressive job of distilling it down and accurately capturing what happened in our season. I think everybody wants to appear awesome all the time, but that is just not the reality. I cringe at some of the things I did and said out there, and I am quite proud of others. That is life, and if anything, it was fascinating to experience something from my perspective and then later view it from an objective third-party lens and other points of view. It became quite a life lesson in awareness for me.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
I am so glad you asked this, and I often wonder if my return experience is similar or different to other previous contestants. My return home was a complete shift in perspective that was overwhelmingly positive and is hard to explain. On the surface level, yes there was this game you played and tactical thoughts about moves you made or did not make. But, even bigger and more important than that, the greater Survivor experience is one of stepping completely out of society and self.
You totally disconnect in the presence of a new population of unique people in an environment that is totally raw and natural. Every day, you are rising in circadian rhythm with sun and swimming in the sea, having hours of quiet contemplation during intermittent breaks between game play. For me, I found something out there in the quiet. I realized that there is nothing to fear, and the comfort and structure of our normal society can dampen or mute this exhilarating zest for life that is in all of us. It inspired me to say yes to adventure and living fearlessly from the heart.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
No regrets at all! If anything, it was such a special experience that I intentionally try to put myself back out there in my mind from time to time, just so that I don’t ever forget.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
Eddie, Cochran, and Malcolm. Eddie and Malcolm flew to Austin for a viewing party that my wife hosted for the episode when the Three Amigos ousted Phillip. We had an amazing time together and were able to raise a little bit of money for charity. I keep in sporadic touch with those guys, usually just a funny text now and again. I also had a great friendship with Cochran that did not really make the edit. We share the same taste in music and would joke around on the island singing verses to each other from obscure Paul Simon and Paul McCartney songs. When I’m on the road for work sometimes, I will film myself singing to the Flaming Pie album (only Cochran will know that reference, haha) and send it over to John. I cannot think of a better guy to have won the Caramoan season, and I’m very grateful to keep in touch with these guys.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I am the most intrigued with the returning player seasons, so Second Chance, Game Changers, and Winners at War are my favorite seasons, with Winners at War being the icing on the cake! The juxtaposition of old school and new school in Winners at War with all the backstory and history we know about each of these players was just too good. It had all the elements to make an epic season, and it delivered on all fronts. Well done, players. Well done, production. It left that lasting impact that can get us through this quarantine.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Oh, man, that is tough. There are a lot of legends out there that would be fun to play with and against. If I had to choose only one, probably Rob Cesternino. Anyone that listens to his podcast knows that nobody has studied or analyzed this game the past fifteen years more than Cesternino. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him a few times as well, he is just a super solid guy that would be really fun to strategize with and a great and worthy opponent to play against.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
There are a lot of Survivor purists out there that have issue with some of the new twists and how many advantages are available. Personally, I have been, for the most part, a big fan of the new variables that have been thrown into the mix. They keep everybody in the game, and there is always a chance. However, there has to be some known limit. Like, there is always one hidden immunity idol per beach, that is known. You can calculate those odds. I think the number of additional advantages should also be capped and known so that players can be a bit more mathematical about estimating probability when they plot and plan.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I wonder sometimes if people think I am one of those “one-and-done” players that has aversion to ever playing again. Seven years have flown by growing my family and business, and we have sincerely enjoyed watching every season since. I have a better understanding of the Survivor game and its evolution since my season, and I have very much evolved as a person since my season as well. If I were to get the call to ever go back and play again, I would be thrilled to see if the person that I am today is a person that could win this game.