Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Ron Clark says Jeff Probst found lost wedding ring
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.
Jeff Probst can do it all. He's proven to be the best reality competition host on the planet (even if the Emmys seem to have forgotten this fact after bestowing the first four reality hosting awards to the dimpled wonder). And not only does Probst run the show as host of Survivor, the dude actually runs the show in acting as de fatco showrunner of the program.
And, apparently, when not hosting and producing, Jeff Probst gets down on his hands and knees to save the marriages of his contestants. Okay, that may be a bit of an embellishment, but Probst did save the day for one such player back on season 38, Survivor: Edge of Extinction. Ron Clark experienced simultaneous joy and fear when he won that season's Loved Ones reward challenge with his husband Lloyd… only to realize that Lloyd's wedding ring flew off in the midst of their celebration.
As Ron explains in his Quarantine Questionnaire, while both the couple and the crew were unable to find the ring lost amongst the sand, the Hostmaster General once again delivered the goods. It's just one in a slew of amazing stories from Ron about his time in the game, which culminated in the educator being blindsided on day 31. Ron talks openly and honestly about why he had nightmares for months after playing the game, and the huge pangs of regret he had after being voted out — regret for how he treated those he voted out before him. Take your seats, Survivor students, because class is now in session.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
RON CLARK: Since Survivor, I have been busy teaching and running our school, RCA, and trying to manage teaching my students and training educators in a virtual world (due to Covid!). Additionally, we opened a brand new facility that is adjacent to RCA called the Ryan Marshall Performing Arts Center, which is named after one of our outstanding students who lost his life trying to defend his mother.
The new facility is an interactive masterpiece of cutting-edge technology and creativity, and it's simply out of this world! We even have a massive rotunda where the ceiling is completely electronic; when you look up, you see nothing but the sky with dragons flying around. Occasionally they will come to check out our visitors and if they don't like you, watch out! They tend to attack! Inside the facility, there is a Survivor museum with all of my memorabilia from the show!
Prior to Covid, I was working with Rob Cesternino to host a massive Survivor reunion and party. We had 90 iconic players signed up and ready to attend before we had to cancel it. I look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
When I would watch Survivor on TV, I had this misconception that the challenges looked easy and that I would do well at them. It wasn't until I was there and competing that I realized just how wrong I was. I am not an athlete, but I have heart and determination. Well, that will only carry you so far. It's the exhaustion that gets you.
By day 10, I started feeling really weak, and by day 20, I would get dizzy just by standing. Then they tell you to stand there with a block on your head and just merely standing would have been challenging enough. And then you have Jeff Probst trying to talk to you, and actually, in that challenge, I had to ask, "Jeff, will you please stop talking to me," and his response was, "Fair enough," and he stopped. I really appreciated that, because I was trying to count to 500 in my head, and I promised myself that I wouldn't let that block dropped until I got to 500. I got to 463 and it fell. Horribly disappointing.
Then when I found myself dealing with individual puzzle challenges, I knew I would kill it. I teach math. I love puzzles. I LIVE for games. And there I was, standing beside Rick Devens as he was quickly solving his puzzle as I looked down at blurry pieces that seemed to make no sense. So, to anyone who is watching at home, please know that we aren't 100% of ourselves. We're like Voldemort after a few of his Horcruxes had been destroyed, and we're just doing the best we can.
With that all being said, my proudest moment from playing Survivor was when my husband, Lloyd, and I won the Loved Ones Reward. I had to run up and down that beach, and it was day 30. I was dizzy and weak, but I just kept pushing. It felt like a mile or more, but I just kept pushing. One time I got to Lloyd and I was supposed to throw my bucket of water and try to get it into his bucket. He saw I was flustered and frantic, and he said, "Ron, just stop. Catch your breath. It's okay. Just throw it when you're ready."
I can't explain it fully, but those words meant so much to me. It let me know that if we lost, it would be okay, and it showed that Lloyd was obviously more concerned about me than getting water in a bucket. I took a big breath and threw the water, and it looked like every drop of it miraculously made it into his bucket. Jeff Probst yelled out, "MASSIVE TOSS BY RON," and it gave me the strength to run again down to the water.
Because of editing, it looks like the challenge is quick, but I must have made 20 or more trips to the water. One time I dug the bucket in the water, and when I turned to run back I saw Lloyd with his arms in the air and that our blue flag was raising. I saw Julie (my buddy) just a few feet to my left, and she was almost crawling to make her way back. I had already promised her on day 3 that if we made it to the Loved Ones visit that I would choose her if I won, and I kept my word. Instead of running to Lloyd, I headed to the left first, picked up Julie, and shouted, "JULIE, WE WON!" because she must have known I would keep my word and pick her.
I then ran to Lloyd and he picked me up and swung me around, and when he did, his wedding ring flew off. I didn't know it in the moment, and I just said to him, "I haven't eaten real food in ten days," and he replied, "Well, you're eating today!" The meal was fried chicken, my favorite, and it couldn't have been more perfect.
As soon as they asked the castaways to head back, I said goodbye to Lloyd, telling him I'd see him shortly back at camp. As I walked away, I saw a lot of commotion behind me. All of the camera crew and staff, there must have been 50 of them, started to descend on the spot where Lloyd had raised me in the air. I wasn't sure what was going on, but then a crew member told me that they were helping to look for Lloyd's ring. We were waiting in the tent, and they came and said no one could find it but they weren't going to give up.
About 15 minutes later Jeff Probst popped in our tent, which was unusual. He said that they had finally found it, and in a surprise, he was the one who actually discovered it! I have nothing but the highest respect for Jeff Probst; he's a genius, he never uses cue cards, he is a complete perfectionist, and he seems to truly care for everyone on the crew and all of the castaways. And then to hear that instead of leaving the crew to search for the ring that he got on his hands and knees to help….well, that did it for me. The man can do no wrong in my eyes. He's an icon, a legend, and a truly wonderful human being.
Several hours after Lloyd left and the Loved Ones visit was over, I was suddenly hungry again, and I wondered if production had possibly dropped any food when they were clearing the area. I made my way through the forest and back to the spot, only to find nothing there except one lone pistachio. I picked it up, looked at it, and thought, "I'll save this for my lowest moment. In that moment I will allow myself to eat it.
The next day, unfortunately, I found myself on the Edge of Extinction. I was sitting with Reem and telling her about the Loved Ones Visit. I then shared my story of the pistachio, and I took it out of my pocket and held it in my hand to show her the special treat I was saving for the time I needed it the most. Suddenly, Reem took it out of my hand, cracked the shell between her fingers, and put the pistachio into her mouth. My eyes were wide in shock as she said, "Dude, you got anything else?"
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
You want me to list just one? I am sure I am not alone when I say that I had nightmares about Survivor every night for 6 months after returning home. Since then, I have spent countless hours in bed thinking of different scenarios and wishing I had done certain things differently. Since I have spent so much time on this, I can tell you the exact moment I would go to.
When Lloyd and I won the Loved Ones visit and I got to pick two castaways to go with us, and should have chosen Aurora instead of Gavin. Aurora and I would bicker, and that was shown on camera, but I think there was a genuine sister-brother love there. When I didn't pick her, I think it caused her to question my loyalty to her, and I think I hurt her. Now, Julie and Aurora did not like each other at all, so having them both on the visit would have been a challenge, but if I could go back, I would have used that opportunity to try to convince Aurora to use her extra vote so that she, Julie and I could blindside Victoria or Lauren. If that had happened, I wouldn't have gone home that night and I would have lived to see another day.
Now, my second place regret was taking my eye off the prize. Whether or not it appeared like it on TV, I was all up in the sauce on every vote. Or, at least I thought I was; in my head, I envisioned I was killing it like Boston Rob, and then you watch yourself on TV and you are like, "Child, what is this mess?" Anyway, I was vocal and making sure my hand was in control as much as possible, but after the Loved Ones visit, I thought I was going to be a target and so I should lay low and let the others decide who was going home so that I could look like I was doing whatever they wanted.
Aurora hatched a plan to vote out Devens, but to tell Victoria to vote for Lauren and Lauren to vote for Victoria. That way, if Devens played an idol, they would both have one vote and we could decide from there which one to send home. It sounded ridiculous, but I wanted Aurora to feel in charge… little did I know she was really in charge, calling for my name to be written down.
My third greatest regret happening during the massive Tribal where Julie said she was jumping ship and Julia ended up going home in one of the most shocking Tribals I have ever seen. I love Julia, like I truly love her, and we shared conversations and moments that neither of us shared with others on the island. We were very close, and we shared tears together. I did not want to see her go home at all.
During all of the craziness, the Wardog said to Julie and me, "Just say a name and we will all vote to send that person home." Victoria walked over and was in my face saying, "Ron, don't do this!" I never trusted Victoria, and rightly so, because she is a great player and very convincing. So I looked her in the face and said, "Ya'll want to vote out Victoria?" She was definitely shocked as she shouted, "ME?" And looking back, I should have saved Julia and stuck with sending Victoria home. I think Julia would have had my back down the road, and Victoria has no one's back but her own. She sits back and watches her prey and carefully and patiently decides when she will devour it. If I were casting, I would put her on the Heroes vs. Villains 2.0 as a villain.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
So… one day Julie and I decided we are going to go fishing. You know how easy it looks on TV? Well, hell no. It is not. The waves are crashing and wind is blowing and as soon as you get in the water the undercurrent is trying to throw you against the rock coral. We trudged out there anyway and got to the part of the water where it drops off like 50 feet. We were standing on the hard coral, in our shoes, and the water was up to our waist.
I was talking to Julie and trying hard to keep my balance, and I started laughing. As I turned to her, I watched as she dropped instantly and disappeared below the water. I shouted, "JULIE!" and tried to make my way to her. She instantly stuck her head out of the water, and she was screaming. She had fallen into fire coral and it was stuck in her all the way down from her hip to her knee. She was screaming and blood was surrounding her in the water. Keep in mind, there are sharks out there, and 4-foot ones were always swimming in that area.
I tried to get to her and I too fell in the coral, going under the water and scraping up my butt. Luckily, I was just scrapped and bleeding, but I didn't have any coral lodged in me. Julie, however, had hundreds of pieces of coral stuck in her. I remember thinking, "Lord where is Jeff and the helicopter. I know she going home today!" I expected the camera crew to help Julie, but they were looking at us from a distance like, "Check out these fools. We ain't going in there." They were honestly trying not to fall themselves, and so I put my arm around Julie and helped her back to camp.
Blood was running down her leg and she was frantic. I watched her as she sat there, pulling the coral out of her leg. She dried her eyes and said, "I am not going home over this!" She did see the doctor, but there wasn't a lot they could do. The coral infected her leg and she had all kinds of issues, but she never complained about it. She sucked it up and pushed through. Every day new coral would rise to the surface of her skin and she would have to pluck it out.
It was horrific, but Julie is very, very tough, and I don't the edit showed that enough. The edit completely left out that whole incident, and I honestly thought we were going to be the headline, primetime story. Nothing. Not even a mention. I learned that if an incident doesn't propel the storyline that there is no reason to show it. I do wish they had though; I think Julie's family would have been very proud of her and that her bravery would have led to her getting many fans.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Like I said, during my time on the island, I thought I was killing it like Boston Rob. I found the clue on the boat on the first day, and you couldn't tell me anything after that. Then when I was watching myself on TV I was like, "Who is this, honey?" It didn't quite play out like I expected. I think part of that is because the edit, but part of it was because I wasn't even "giving what I was supposed to give."
Like everyone who has ever been on the show, there are hundreds of moments I wish they had shown, and I think if I had won they would have had material to draw from in earlier episodes to make me look more deserving. It just didn't play out that way. I didn't mind getting the "villain's edit," because honestly, I was lying and manipulating and doing all I could out there. I told myself, "You are only playing this once. They won't ever ask your butt again. You better do everything in your power to win this!" So, I was going for it and trying to make big moves from day 1.
There is one moment I wish they had shown, because I was proud of it, but it was left out. After we beat Manu in a challenge, Jeff told Kama to swim back to the boat. We all jumped in and everyone took off. I stayed back a bit, swimming slowly. I got on my back and looked back up to the pier so that I could see everyone in Manu. I was swimming and holding the immunity idol at the same time, so it was a bit difficult. I kept willing one of the players to look at me, and finally, David turned, as if he sensed something was behind him. When he looked at me I mouthed the words, "I need help," and he nodded his head up and down before turning back around. I had planted a seed.
The day of the merge, he came up to me and said he wanted to talk and that he would love to work with me. I thought the whole thing would make a cool part of the story, because you rarely see something like that happen, but it didn't propel the story, so it was left out.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
The weirdest thing that happened to me was that I craved eggs. I don't eat eggs. I simply haven't my entire life, but for about 2 months all I wanted was egg sandwiches and anything with egg in it. After the 2 months ended, I no longer wanted them and I haven't eaten them since. For a while, when we would go to restaurants I would order two entrées and eat them both. I think my body was saying, "You may starve again soon so fatten up." I gained all of the weight back that I lost quickly.
Other than the food issues, I had nightmares every night for 6 months about Survivor. I would wake up and think it was raining on me, but it wasn't. No one can understand how cold and wet you are until you are out there with no way to get dry or warm. It is horrific, and the shelters we build do little to keep you from getting drenched. It took me a while to shake the memories of that.
In fact, one night on Kama beach it was raining so hard that I knew it was a cyclone. I kept thinking to myself, "I know some of these people are going to quit at any moment." I mean, it was so cold and we were all drenched. We were all cuddled together, and Aubry was spooning me. She suddenly took her freezing hand and stuck it up my shirt and rested it on my stomach to get it warm. Now, I love and respect Aubry dearly, but in that moment I was like, "She getting voted out next."
Another day it was raining and Joe had built a tee-pee around a fire to try to keep it from going out. I was so cold I crawled inside of it to get warm, but then the rain and wind got so bad that the whole thing started to collapse on me. Joe was like, "Get out," but there was a huge fire in the way and the whole thing was on top of me. I ended up crawling out under a side of the tee-pee, and in order to do so I had to plant my head, face first, into a mud puddle and then pull myself through. I was covered in mud and laying there on the ground as the lightning and rain and wind consumed us.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
When I was voted out started to walk down the plank, I realized something about Survivor that I had never given much thought to. Being voted out is devastating on a number of levels. You are upset and hurt, but you start to think about how all of your friends and family are going to be disappointed in you. You feel betrayed by people you thought you were in an alliance with. You are embarrassed. The rug has just been swept out from under you, and you are alone.
As soon as I realized how strongly I was having those feelings, I felt extremely bad for voting out everyone who had gone before me. I was playing the game like, "Ha, ha, I am sending these people home," but then when I realized the pain I was making them experience, I felt ashamed and awful.
When I got to the Edge of Extinction, I was embarrassed to see everyone. I just hung my head in shame, but they all, each and every one of them, came over and hugged me and said it was all okay. They said it was just a game and they understood. It was very impressive for them all to say that, because I knew that wasn't how they felt. Losing at Survivor is life-altering and devastating. And voting out people and blindsiding them isn't as fun as you might think. When you vote out people you love and respect like Kelley Wentworth, you feel a sense of grandeur in the moment, but later you look back and see how you hurt people to the core, and it leaves feelings of regret. It's a hard, hard game to play, and I didn't expect to have to deal with those emotions.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I am so busy with school and life that it's been hard to keep in touch with anyone consistently. The person I have had the most contact with is Reem, and sometimes we have gone weeks where we talked every day. I occasionally text with Aurora, Julie, the Wardog, Eric, and Julia. I think with Covid ending that there will be many meetups in the future.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I still go back and watch old seasons. I just finished Cagayan again, which must be at least the 10th time. Spencer is my favorite player, and he visited my school last year and I gave him a tour. Super guy! I was so impressed with him, and I hope to get to see him again. While H vs. V is such a phenomenal season, I actually think Blood vs. Water may be the one I enjoyed the most. I just love the dynamic of having someone on the island who you know will never break your loyalty, and then seeing how doubt can set in. It adds a different layer to the game.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
When they asked me this question during my Survivor audition, I actually said Joe and Aubry. And Jeff reacted, "REALLY" with big eyes. I have a feeling he already knew at that point that Joe and Aubry would be on Season 38. I eventually ended up on the tribe with them, and I was so excited.
Prior to going on the show, my husband, Lloyd, said, "Now don't be spooning any of those men out there on the island," and I jokingly responded, "But Lloyd, what if Joe shows up?" He gave me a look of disbelief and said, "Oh… Okay, if Joe shows… sure, you can spoon him."
And then there I was, laying in the shelter in the freezing rain. It was pure torture and we were all miserable. Joe was to my left, shivering, and suddenly he leaned over and said, "Ron, come spoon me," I found it so ironic that first of all, Joe was actually on the island, and second of all, that there was actually an opportunity to spoon him! LOL My face said, "Well… I do have permission." Through our drenched clothes I spooned Joe for the night, even though it did little to make us any warmer. In actuality, I think all I was doing was blocking the wind for him. But, still, it happened. As soon as Lloyd showed up for the Loved One visit I said, "Lloyd, I spooned Joe," and he just smirked and said, "Of course you did." He found it hilarious.
But, if I could pick anyone else to join the season, it would probably be Spencer, because I enjoy how he breaks down the game and all of the situations that are playing out. I would enjoy playing with Davie, because he is the coolest dude and has volunteered at my school. I think he and I would make a good team. For comedic relief, how great would it be to have Debbie around? She cracks me up! For conversation and companionship it would be great to get to spend time with Cirie or Lauren.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Survivor has to do away with Edge of Extinction. The show is about people, and in order for it to make it work, the audience has to become invested in those individuals. When you spend a good part of the show focusing on the people who have been voted out, it gives you less time to devote to the stories of those who are on the island. Maybe for a season of returnees, it works, but when you are trying to introduce the audience to new characters it doesn't work.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
First of all, I wouldn't be asked to play again. I'm not sure I made a big enough impact or built a big enough résumé to deserve to come back. When I think about day 31 and how Rick Devens was running — not an exaggeration — running from one side of the other looking for an idol, and I was laying there and literally asking Julie to put coconut pieces in my mouth. I was a wilted flower. When I look back, I'm like, "Ron, you should have gotten your butt up and looked for that idol," but it's easier said than done. When I would stand I would blackout and have to sit back down. The game is rough. You won't understand unless you've been there on day 31…which is why I am suspect of a rumored 26 day season in the fall. They better not give them any reward food for 26 days in order to make it more challenging.
With that being said, if I were asked to return, it would be such an honor that I couldn't say no. I would jump at the opportunity.
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