Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Billy Garcia was lit on fire during a Cook Islands challenge
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.
When you tell someone you haven’t even really met that you love them, and you do it on national television, it can tend to cause a bit of a stir. And that’s exactly what happened when Billy Garcia misinterpreted Candice Woodcock’s friendly gesture and professed his love for her on Survivor: Cook Islands. It immediately made Billy the butt of jokes when the episode aired back in 2006.
“When I first saw it, I felt I got the cruelest, harshest edit ever,” says Billy. But the former heavy-metal loving wrestler eventually realized that the entire ordeal was actually a blessing in disguise. “Now I look back and understand that it was maybe one of the most memorable edits ever. You have to have very thick skin to get that edit and still show your face at Survivor events. I think most people could not have handled it the way I have. My elimination took on a life of its own. Instead of caving under the weight of it, I've turned it into a vehicle for some amazing things, with charity work being at the top of the list. Some past players have found their harsh edits to be more than they can handle. I've shined my brightest since the edit I got aired. I've earned a lot of street cred with other Survivor players because of how I've handled it.”
Much like in the way Erik Reichenbach has never run from his infamous immunity idol giveaway on Micronesia, Billy has had the strength and good sense of humor to embrace a moment that may have permanently scarred other players. And he shows that strength and sense of humor throughout his Quarantine Questionnaire. Read on to learn how Billy was actually SET ON FIRE during the first Cook Islands challenge, and prepare yourself for the best ending to a Quarantine Questionnaire we have ever seen.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
BILLY GARCIA: I've stayed busy with my band, Forsakken. We've released two albums and are working on our third. We have a new lead singer, which is exciting. The exposure of my time on Survivor has helped my music career, as most would imagine. I think the main boost has been with album sales. I've also participated in 146 different charities thanks to being on Survivor. It's been a blessing to be able to touch so many lives.
The charity is easily the top thing I didn't expect to come from my time on the show. But I'm glad. I wouldn't trade any of the charity work I've done for anything. So, between the band and the charity, eventually that left no time for my pro wrestling career. I had matches after Survivor, but eventually I had to let it go to make room for all of the charity work I do. I believe that it's probably for the best. Pro wrestling is painful. And pain hurts. Ha.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I guess my proudest "in game" moment is that I was given many chances to quit and I didn't consider a single one. I even told a couple of tribemates that I'd rather die out there than quit. There has been a slew of quitters since I've played. It's not easy out there. I try my best not to be too judgmental of those that tapped out. But I'm proud that I held my ground and didn't throw in the towel.
My proudest "out of game" moment is how well I've represented Survivor by being super fan friendly. Fans are the life blood of Survivor. Without them, Survivor doesn't exist. By being so fan friendly I feel like I've made a contribution to Survivor after my time. Maybe that's all in my head, but that's how I feel about every past player that interacts with fans.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I like to live life with no regrets. Of course, there are things I could have done better. But everything happens for a reason. If things would have played out differently, maybe I would have gotten farther, but maybe I would have been long forgotten by now. Ha. I'm sure that there would be some sort of trade-off. You know, that butterfly effect thingy. I'll admit that I worried more about the TV show Survivor than I did the game Survivor. But that was the era I was in. I was expected to be a big character by the powers that be. I guess I could've ignored them and focused more on game play and got farther. But that's not a regret. That's experience gained.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Wow, where to begin. I guess the biggest thing not shown that involved me directly was getting set on fire during the first challenge. I don't blame anyone for it. I've never sent lawyers after anyone or thrown a tantrum over it. I view it as bad luck. During the first immunity challenge, Cristina went to step on a platform in the water that had a barrel of kerosene on it to light a torch for later in the challenge. The platform dipped and some of the kerosene spilled on my backside. Later in the challenge after the torch was lit, we had to assemble a ladder and climb up it to light a caldron signifying we won.
Well, a part of the ladder disassembled and that halted my assent. Cristina didn't notice and kept climbing. She ended up lighting my kerosene-drenched shorts on fire. I remember Jeff Probst yelling "Billy's on fire! He's engulfed in flames!" I didn't even scream. My reaction was "that figures." Maybe that reaction didn't make good television. Maybe they were worried about legal issues. Or maybe that didn't fit the narrative of the story they were telling. I don't know why it wasn't shown.
If you compare my shorts in the first episode and the second episode, you can see I'm wearing different black shorts. I could have quit and everyone would have understood. I'm proud I played on and made no excuses. Cristina has apologized profusely since then. She's such a good person, I feel more for her than I do for myself.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
When I first saw it, I felt I got the cruelest, harshest edit ever. Now I look back and understand that it was maybe one of the most memorable edits ever. You have to have very thick skin to get that edit and still show your face at Survivor events. I think most people could not have handled it the way I have. My elimination took on a life of its own. Instead of caving under the weight of it, I've turned it into a vehicle for some amazing things, with charity work being at the top of the list. Some past players have found their harsh edits to be more than they can handle. I've shined my brightest since the edit I got aired. I've earned a lot of street cred with other Survivor players because of how I've handled it.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
When I first arrived home, my family noticed how quiet I was. They speculated a lot about what I might have witnessed or what might had happened to me. I honestly don't know if it was PTSD or if I was tired from having my personality cranked to eleven. Maybe it was a little of both. I don't know. But I bounced back after a few days. You can't keep me contained for too long. Ha.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I am so glad that I was on Survivor. It's a gift that keeps on giving. I've met so many wonderful people and have done so much good with the charity work. I have absolutely not regretted being on Survivor. It's been nonstop fun doing all of the podcasts, autograph sessions, viewing parties, and activities. Thanks to being on Survivor, I've done things I would have never had done otherwise like playing Ice Soccer. It's as crazy as it sounds. I'm part of this over the top fraternity/family. I have friends of literally every walk of life. And I've made some money along the way. Regret being on Survivor? Never! Puey on that thought.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
Cristina and I are great friends. She's such a cool person who shares my fondness for charity work. She's so generous with her time and is so fan friendly. Cristina is a hero for more than just her time as a police officer. Cao Boi and I have stayed friends as well. He's cut from a different cloth too, so we relate to one another a lot. Stephannie and I also have stayed in touch and see each other at events as well. That's my top three.
But on social media, I interact with Flicka, Adam, JP, Cecelia, Nate, Jonathan, and Sekou from time to time amongst other. Recently I did a group zoom call with many on this list plus Jenny and Ozzy as part of a mini Cook Islands reunion. It was great catching up and reliving the experience. We did not argue. There was no animosity. I'm not surprised. Our season had some very wonderful people in it. I lucked out being a cast member of Cook Islands.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I never miss an episode. I've watched every season. My favorite season is Heroes vs. Villains. It has so many of my favorite players on that season. It was a high-level game with great character arcs. Season 20 would be a season I would show non-fans to convert them. It's a theme that should be repeated someday. Maybe for season 50? Hmmm?
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I wish I would have played with Phillip Sheppard, The Specialist. He was such a fun character to watch. His antics were over the top and super memorable. And he somehow managed to balance that with game play. That is something I wished I would have mastered when I played. Phillip made the most of his time on the show. I would have loved to have been a part of Stealth R US. I wonder what code name I would have gotten. Maybe Six String or something like that. Can you imagine me and Phillip on the same tribe? That would be pure comedy gold. Tell me I'm wrong. I could have fallen in love with the bushido code. Or did he call it the booshoodoo code?
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I know I'm a big character. That's what got me cast on the show in the first place. So I naturally want to root for the big characters. But we don’t get the time devoted to developing their story arcs like before. I would balance the edit of characters arcs and game play a little better. What made Survivor such a big mainstream hit in its early days was that it showcased its characters. I understand that the hardcore fans love seeing the strategic game. But sometimes I wish that we would see more people stuff so that I could be more emotionally invested. Maybe it’s time for Survivor to go to 90-minute episodes so that there’s enough time for both. I’m probably just coming up with an excuse for more Survivor. Ha.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Hell yes I would play again. When do we leave? I've got 20 more of these tribal skull t-shirts ready to go. My prize isn't the million dollars. My prize is that I fell in love. Her name is Survivor! Ha.