Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Courtney Yates celebrates her 'mission of pure spite'
With season 41 of Survivor delayed 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.
The end has come. Not the end of humankind, although the way global warming is headed that may not be long either. But rather the end of the Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire project.
Season 41 of Survivor is around the corner with a Sept. 22 premiere date on CBS, meaning we can finally wrap up this 13-month expedition into the show's past with one final interview. And we knew that interview had to be special. Which is precisely why we reached out to a woman who began her Survivor journey by rolling her eyes at a Buddhist monk for correcting her prayer technique.
Fueled by sass, spunk, and a heaping helping of moxie, Courtney Yates made it all the way to day 39 and took second place on Survivor: China. She then returned five seasons later for the epic Heroes vs. Villains season, lasting 24 days before being ousted. But it's not her performance in the game (nor in challenges, obviously) that made Courtney such a fan favorite, but rather the New York waitresses' sharp wit and no-holds-barred commentary. (As well as her stint in the greatest reality TV rock band ever.) Which is why Courtney was the perfect personality to close up shop on the Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires. Shockingly, this is one challenge Courtney did not sit out, so sit back and enjoy the last missive from the self-proclaimed "biggest bitch on the planet." (Note: She's not.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
COURTNEY YATES: I am still my same winsome personality here in New York City.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
It's very basic, but the proudest moment I had was when Jeff [Probst] said at the end, "Courtney, Todd, Amanda — you've made it as far as you can go." For me, I never considered that I might win it. I had only determined that I wanted to get to the end with Todd and Amanda because I liked them best. And I didn't want any of those other people to win, so I was on a mission of pure spite. And I achieved it. I did it. So that's the moment where, personally, I had won, because that was my goal: to get to the end, and with these two, because those were the ones I liked the best.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experiences?
I regret not sitting out MORE challenges. I think Sandra (over her five seasons vs. my two) took my crown of "most challenges sat out," and I just know in my heart I could have done less!
Also, I don't know if it's a regret, but something I think about: I knew that Tyson was going to vote himself out in Heroes vs. Villains. The original plan was me, Rob, Sandra, Jerri, Coach, and Tyson split the vote 3-3 between Russell and Parvati (because of an idol). We each had which name we were supposed to write down. Tyson confided to me that he was going to change his assigned Russell vote to Parvati because for whatever reason it wasn't necessary to split the vote. At first I'm like, "Okay cool, forcing ties and revotes seems complicated." But then from how everyone was acting, I just knew it was a mistake to change our plan and told him to keep his Russell vote and stick with the 3-3 plan.
This all happened right before they locked us down to go to Tribal. I do a quick straight-to-camera after trying to talk to him because my vibe was he wasn't listening to me. So I panic and am like, Should I flip my assigned Parvati vote to Russell to keep it 3-3? But now I've told him and what if he does listen to me in the end and keeps his original vote? Then I'm the one who messes it up and it would be my fault he went home, and I would have to explain all this nonsense to everyone.
So after the votes are read and Tyson is voted out, we're sitting having hot dogs and listening to the Heroes Tribal as our reward, and Rob and Sandra are like, "WTF happened?? Who flipped on him?" And to myself I'm like, "Well, actually, no, he technically flipped on himself." But I just sat and ate my food and pretended to be mystified like everyone else.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in one of your seasons but never made it to TV?
In China, the medical team took blood from me in the woods during the game. They told me they were doing it to everyone, which was a lie. I'm pretty sure they did it because they thought that I was anorexic (I'm not) and dying. They were like, "Hey, we need to talk to you." I was like, "Okay?" And so in the middle of the filthy jungle away from everyone, they swabbed my elbow and took vials of blood. And then I was like, "What is this for? Are you doing this to everyone?" And they're like, "Well, it's only some people. And if you tell anyone, they're going to think you're weak. So don't say anything."
And because it's that whole paranoid mindset of like, Oh, everything's a secret, I didn't say anything. And then at the end of the game, I asked, "How many times did they take your blood, you guys?" And everybody was really shocked like, "What are you talking about?" So, yeah, they took blood from me in the woods, and then they straight up lied to me and said they were doing it to other players too. Also, usually if you give blood, they give you a cookie or some juice to help stabilize you, so I asked, "Do I at least get a cookie?" I absolutely did not get a cookie.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I mean, I think it's fine. The enduring thing is who comes up to me in public or sends me messages on social media to say that I inspired them or that they loved watching me, or they saw themselves in me — almost always, they are people who I would hope that I could inspire. The people who interact with me are a lot of young women, LGBTQ, super-diverse, and a lot of people who watched me as very young kids. I think my experience on the show resonates with anyone who feels marginalized or can relate to being the underdog. Over all these years, it's always people who I find inspiring that have been inspired by me.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Coming home, I really enjoyed having access to food and money and being a free person in charge of myself again. The first day home from China, my skeletal self ran through the supermarket buying as much food as I could physically carry. I was and remain forever grateful for basic things like a roof and walls and blankets. Every night I rejoice for waterproof shelter and warm blankets; it's never left me.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Honestly, every time it rained and I was cold, I was like, "Why are you doing this? This is terrible." I wasn't a fan like everyone else, it wasn't my dream to play Survivor. I just kind of ended up there. But I don't regret it because it made my world so big. I've met so many people, I got to have this really incredible, unique experience.
Also, as a bonus, it's easy small talk for the rest of your life. No matter what, people will always have questions. Even if they aren't fans, Survivor is such a cultural touchstone people have questions, they can't help but be curious. And then I get to announce that I was on the Villains team. I'm literally a TV bad guy, and that is always really fun for me.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?
So I think I'm now legally required to mention the Wine and Cheese group? I think that I'm the last member of Wine and Cheese to do this. Wine and Cheese is me, Stephen, Eliza, Francesca, Sophie, Brian Corridan, and Charlie Herschel. From my own seasons specifically, I'm always in touch with Todd and Leslie from China and Rob and Sandra from HvV. And overall I have so many friends from the Survivor community, it's hard to single people out, but Spencer Duhm and Lex van den Berghe are both incredibly dear to me.
Do you still watch Survivor? And, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I try to watch or at least keep up. I used to read Stephen's blog, but he doesn't do it anymore, so there goes that little hack. I try to always watch at least the first and the last episode of every season so I could know everyone, some seasons I have seen all the way through. As for my favorite season, it's always more fun to watch people that I'm friends with, or that I've played with because then you're more invested in it. Island of the Idols was really fun for me — the giant statue heads had me dying. I think Blood vs. Water with returning players and their loved one is the coolest theme because it's players you already know, and then all the built-in relationships adds emotional complexity to the game.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I'm going to say who I would play with, and I'm going to say Lex, because I feel like we would help each other and have fun. And I'm two-for-two in that whoever I partner with wins. Todd won and Sandra won. So I would play with Lex because I think he should win one.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I would take it back to a game that had social consequences as a part of it, because the original format of Survivor was a game of social consequences: The tribe has spoken. So you have to play nice with everyone or contribute in some way. And then it moved away from that at some point with all the idols, where you can have nine people against you but if you found the idol, then none of it matters. So with the introduction of that, it throws out the original format of the game, which for me was a little more interesting than who's going to run up the coconut tree to find an idol.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
So this ties back to the above question. I don't think the skill set that I bring that made me successful on Survivor is relevant anymore. I was okay on it because I make good relationships with people and make people laugh, but I don't think it would serve me well now. So I probably wouldn't, to be honest, unless it was a really specific theme and they really, really needed me to do it. So if it was super-specific and was, like, Underweight Loudmouths versus something else… I always said they're welcome to make me an offer I can't refuse. But personally, I'm good. I'm happy where I've stopped on that ride.
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