Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Cecilia Mansilla on the race division of Cook Islands
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.
For many viewers, the twist of pitting different ethnicities against each other for Survivor: Cook Islands was suuuuuuper problematic. But that’s not necessarily how the people playing the game felt. “For many of us, the race division was a non-issue,” says Cecilia Mansilla. “I think the show was purposeful in casting people that were open-minded, diverse, and inclusive individuals — which made for a cool and generally progressive cast.”
And even though the cast was separated by ethnicity at the outset, there was indeed mingling between the groups that didn’t make it to TV. “The very first episode, at the start of the very first challenge we all ran to each other to say hi, and hug, and wish each other good luck,” says Mansilla, “to the point that the producers got annoyed because that wasn’t a thing. That never made it to TV although it would have been cool to see.” (Having been there myself, I can back up this account.)
Unfortunately for Cecilia, she only lasted eight days in the game — a victim of a day 7 tribe swap in which two crucial swing votes (Cao Boi and Flicka) swung against her at the last minute. But the management consultant has never let her lack of success in the game define her, while also allowing the island adventure to help shape who she is today. To learn more about how Cecilia now views her Survivor journey, check out the former Aitutaki member’s Quarantine Questionnaire.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
CECILIA MANSILLA: I’ve been very busy adulting. Immediately after the show, I went back to Oakland and my career as a management consultant. I am a partner now and I lead a team of over 100 people teaming across our global organization to help Fortune 500 companies transform. I serve on the board of one non-profit litigating for social justice and another helping girls become strong, smart, and bold. I am the solo mom of a 7-year-old boy and I am slowly chipping away at my life goals that include being an exceptional mother, feeling healthy and gorgeous, writing a book, and running for local office.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Just playing it. I went into it knowing that it was gonna be the experience of a lifetime. It wasn’t about winning some money, but about a priceless experience. I think I am proud that I remembered that throughout — and whether it was the simple things like machete’ing my own coconut, or jumping off that boat to shark-infested waters, I am just proud to say I played.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I’d say it would be not talking to Flicka and Cao Boi directly about flipping their vote. I invested the little time we had together as the new Aitutaki after the merge to build a deeper connection with Flicka and Cao Boi, and we had a plan. When I sensed them flipping, I wasn’t yet fully comfortable confronting them 1:1. Instead, we had a bit of a group discussion/confrontation until the producer told us to shut up and go to Tribal (that never made it to TV because it didn’t fit the episode’s edit). By then, I was just annoyed at the whole thing, so I was like f--- it. I should have just spoken to them both directly, even at Tribal.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
For many of us, the race division was a non-issue. I think the show was purposeful in casting people that were open-minded, diverse, and inclusive individuals — which made for a cool and generally progressive cast. The very first episode, at the start of the very first challenge, we all ran to each other so say hi, and hug, and wish each other good luck, to the point that the producers got annoyed because that wasn’t a thing. That never made it to TV although it would have been cool to see.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I feel it was a non-edit, and that is fine. As much as I went into the experience of Survivor looking to appreciate every little thing, I went into the TV component of it knowing that I had a real life and career to get back to. I was myself fully, but also composed and conscious that my life is way more than those 7 weeks on the island. I am glad I get to say I was in a reality TV show and I didn’t embarrass myself or my family, and I am glad that I enjoyed, learned, and grew from every single moment associated with the experience.
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 bit of a trip. One of the things that I realized from the experience is that we don’t need much to “survive.” People in the United Stated generally live a life of excess and overconsumption. Completely unnecessary and pointless. I went for months where I only bought the base essentials. This has had a long-lasting impact in how I approach consumerism and how I am consistently aware of my environmental impact. I also did random things where I only bought whole fish — and insisted on gutting it and cleaning it myself — and also a lot of coconuts.
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?
I am in most contact with JP. Our lives integrated — my friends became his friends and we have traveled and partied and supported each other after the show. I was in very close contact with Flicka for a while — we had a lot of adventures together. We went to Burning Man together with Ozzy as well. And another year I went with Ozzy and my friends. I have a special place in my heart for Stephannie and Sekou. The folks from the non-jury trip all got very close. Five of us even got tattoos by the same artist.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
No. I didn’t watch it before either. I think I caught a little bit of the first season and thought, “It is just a bunch of people standing around all dirty and hungry” and never saw it again. I had to watch season 12 to see what I was getting myself into, and 14, because I think someone asked me to blog about it. It became too much. I’m sure other players will tell you that the game stays with you for years after it. For a long time, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think of it — what I should have done differently, how things might have turned out. It ended up that I avoided all island TV /movie situations until I watched Lost for the first time like 10 years later.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I liked Misty from season 12 — she seemed like a smart, cool, strong woman and we would have become friends. Maybe it would have been fun to play with Shane because he is a complete character and a super interesting human.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Make it last longer in real life.
Finally, would you play again if asked?