Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Leslie Nease reflects on walking out of Buddhist temple
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.
Leslie Nease may have only lasted nine days on Survivor: China, but she certainly made her mark, starting from day 1 before the game even began. The players' journey commenced when the contestants were brought to a temple to take part in what was billed as a non-religious Buddhist ceremony. However, Leslie (who was a Christian radio host at the time) felt the ceremony veered too close to worshipping something outside of her beliefs, and walked out of the temple, even though she had been led to believe that she might be replaced in the cast for doing so.
The fact that she still walked anyway, even with her spot on the show at stake, is why 13 years later Leslie considers the controversial move her signature Survivor moment. "The temple 'episode' was probably my proudest moment," says Leslie. "It was truly a defining moment in my life. I really thought my time was up (they said if we disrespected the Chinese culture in any way they would put our alternate in and take us out of the game), and in spite of the worry that would happen to me, I found the courage to walk out anyway."
Continues Leslie: "I realized in that moment that my faith meant more to me than the game, and that was truly empowering because I wanted to compete on Survivor so bad! I even prayed that God would help me keep it in perspective, and he did in that moment. I'm so thankful that they allowed me to continue the game in spite of walking out of the temple. Apparently, though I walked out respectfully, many viewers were offended. But the Chinese culture and the other contestants respected what I did and completely understood."
While Leslie was not pulled from the game by producers — and ended up being well liked by her castmates — she faced another struggle right around the corner when she contracted a parasite just days into the season. And after Leslie was kidnapped by the Zhan Hu tribe and made bonds with the enemy, Fei Long cut her loose. But now it's Leslie's turn to let loose, and she's ready to do it in her Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
LESLIE NEASE: It's been 13 years, so a lot has happened! After leaving the show, I ended up leaving Christian radio for a while because of my speaking career — Survivor opened doors to do more of that and I really enjoyed it. I eventually got back into radio for a few years once my 15 minutes were up, but am currently helping manage a fitness studio in Heber, Utah, where I also teach spin, dance, and barre classes.
I wrote a book called Wholehearted: Living the Life You Were Created to Live in 2014, which includes some of my Survivor experiences and tells my life story and explains my faith. All of my kids are now adults, and I'm a happily married empty nester learning to ski and hiking the gorgeous mountains near our new home in Utah!
I also keep in touch with a lot of the Moms from Survivor — we call ourselves the #Momsquad and get together at least once per year to have adventures. A few of us (me, Jill Behm, Carolyn Rivera, Chrissy Hofbeck, and Lisa Keiffer) just spent some time with our girl Sunday Burquest (who is fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis) up in Minnesota, and I'm actually answering this interview at the airport on my way home from a blissful few days together. I love them so much. I've got tears in my eyes right now because I already miss them!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
The temple "episode" was probably my proudest moment. It was truly a defining moment in my life. I really thought my time was up (they said if we disrespected the Chinese culture in any way they would put our alternate in and take us out of the game), and in spite of the worry that would happen to me, I found the courage to walk out anyway.
I realized in that moment that my faith meant more to me than the game, and that was truly empowering because I wanted to compete on Survivor so bad! I even prayed that God would help me keep it in perspective, and he did in that moment. I'm so thankful that they allowed me to continue the game in spite of walking out of the temple. Apparently, though I walked out respectfully, many viewers were offended. But the Chinese culture and the other contestants respected what I did and completely understood.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I think it's a regret, but honestly there is nothing I could have done about it, so I'm not sure if this counts. I regret getting a parasite early on in the game. It completely destroyed my game. I was so sick (I'm glad they didn't show a lot of it — it was pretty awful) and it really hindered my ability to play the game the way I know I could have played if I was healthier and stronger. I would have loved to play without the worry and agony of severe sickness from literally day 2 or 3. I cannot imagine how awesome it would be to be healthy and be able to play with 100 percent of my wits and strength!
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
The fans would have probably enjoyed seeing that I did actually play the game with strategy and alliances. The producers decided to show me one-dimensionally — as someone who was there to just love on people and be everyone's friend. Sure, that's a part of me, but I also made a cross-tribal alliance that was never shown. I had strategy and actually had a lot of game in me.
Me, Jaime, Erik, and Todd had a pact that we would convince our tribes to only kidnap one of the four of us and we were going to share clues to the hidden immunity idol with each other only. We were going to get together at the merge. It was all so perfect! Then….my tribe decided to get rid of me first and Todd, though he tried hard to talk them out of it, ended up going along with it to keep peace. The alliance was dissolved. I always wonder what would have happened if I had been able to stay. But I also know that as sick as I was, I probably wouldn't have been able to stay in the game anyway, and it worked out great for Todd so...
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Like I said, I feel like I was shown as very one-dimensional. It didn't show my strategy, my game play. But it was definitely a good edit and I'm so thankful for that. They showed the side of me that most people already know, so that's good. It was funny though — I didn't talk about God a lot out there unless I was asked, but they caught every single thing I said and put it on the camera like I was out there talking about him all the time. I never did unless I was asked, though (by production or others in the cast). But I did pray a lot, and sometimes would chat about it in confessionals, so those moments were picked up and shown.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
It wasn't too bad for me. I was only out there for nine days. But I lost 17 pounds in nine days, so everyone who knew I was on the show thought I won because I was covered in bug bites and super skinny and sick, haha. I did go through a weird thing (that is actually still kind of a thing, honestly) where I can't leave and go anywhere without water with me. I drink a LOT of water. I have a panic attack if I don't have it sometimes! It was very hard being so dehydrated (and sick at the same time) out there. I think I may have a little PTSD from it.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Never. I never regretted it, not once. I did regret not making it further, but hey, someone's gotta go early. I suppose being sick made me an easy target.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I'm closest to Todd at this point. We live like 30 minutes away from each other now because my husband and I moved to Utah a couple years ago. I also have always been in close touch with Courtney (gosh, I love her) and Sherea (she was my roomie when we traveled all over China after being voted out and we really connected), and, of course, Peih-Gee, Denise, Jaime, and Erik. I was in Jaime and Erik's wedding and read the journal entry I wrote about them before the game started where I said, "Barbie doll sorority girl and musician boy seem to have a connection already — I'm keeping my eye out for that!" haha! I sometimes chat with Aaron and Frosti on social media, but haven't talked much to James, JR, Amanda, Chicken, or Dave. Of course, we are all broken hearted over the news of Ashley [Massaro, who died in 2019 at age 39]. That was a real shock for us all.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Yes, of course! I love it. To be honest, I'm more of an old school season girl as most of the newer seasons just run together and the people are so similar in looks and personality. I would say I really enjoyed the last season with all winners — I know most of them personally so it was so fun watching my friends strategize and play again!
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Just one? Oh, that's hard. How about if I say one man and one woman who I'd want to play with? I'd like to play with Mike Holloway — mostly because I trust him, he's smart, he's fun, and his faith is similar to mine so we would have that in common.
And the woman I'd want to play with would probably be Sandra. I know her personally and have come to adore her. Her game play is so different than mine — and playing with her may teach me a few things about holding my cards a little closer. I am such an emotional person, I would need to be in cahoots with someone who doesn't play like that — someone who is pure strategy and doesn't give a flip what people think about her. That would be Sandra!
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I wish they would spend more on the stories behind their cast members like they used to. Remember when Survivor: The Australian Outback actually had a special that showed each person at home, in their element, talking to the camera? It was so personal and fun. It's so powerful to get to know people and see what you have in common with them. Game play is fun and respectable, but honestly, I think that is why I've had a hard time connecting with the newer seasons — because the older ones showed the backstory and heart of the players more than the strategy behind their game play.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Gosh, in a heartbeat. Absolutely.