Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Eliza Orlins reveals Micronesia almost ended in a tie
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.
Eliza Orlins certainly made her mark on Survivor. Her first time out, on Survivor: Vanuatu, she flipped on her own alliance to form a new final four pact. Then, in her return on Survivor: Micronesia, Eliza had to take on both a majority alliance and the most famous stick in reality TV history, which landed her on the jury, where she delighted viewers with some of the most epic juror reaction faces of all time (especially when the greatest moment in Survivor history happened).
But Eliza almost made her mark in an even more epic way, by coming this close to giving the franchise its first ever final Tribal Council tie vote. While Parvati Shallow triumphed over Amanda Kimmel in Micronesia by a 5-3 vote, Eliza — who in typical demonstrative fashion appeared pained on the show deliberating whom to vote for — reveals she almost really did cast her vote for Amanda, just to force a tie.
"At the time, I was completely indifferent between the two of them," says Eliza. "So I had absolutely no investment in the winner. I realized I could force a tie by voting for Amanda, and I thought that might be an exciting situation for the show and the fans. I actually even asked a producer if they wanted a tie, but obviously they cannot interfere in any way with the outcome, so of course they didn't answer. Ultimately, though, after Parvati and Amanda gave their answers to our jury questions, I had to give it to Parvati. Micronesia did almost have the first final vote tie in Survivor history!"
Take that, Ghost Island! Eliza has been a busy bee since her time on the island, and while she has cast two important votes herself during her Survivor stint, she is now campaigning for her own votes as she runs for the office of Manhattan district attorney. But the candidate was kind enough to take a few minutes off from the campaign trail to fill out a Quarantine Questionnaire!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
ELIZA ORLINS: Well, first and foremost, I'm currently running to be the next Manhattan district attorney!
After Survivor, I completed my law degree at Fordham University in New York City. I graduated with one goal in mind: to serve the indigent and vulnerable communities in New York City as a public defender. Over the next decade, I represented more than 3,000 people charged with crimes, fighting to ensure justice for marginalized communities. I went up against the Manhattan district attorney's office time and time again, for cases where my client was accused of as little as taking up two seats on public transportation. I realized that in order to change the system, we have to change the DA.
That's why this past March, I launched my campaign to become the next Manhattan district attorney. (Check out elizaorlins.com for information!) I've spent the entire quarantine in pursuit of that goal, and I've gotten such great help from a lot of my friends in the Survivor community. Back in April, I held a "Zoom-raiser," and over 50 Survivors attended, along with more than 300 supporters. We had an absolute blast — the Survivor community is tremendously supportive and close-knit, and I'm so grateful to be a part of it! I did a second Survivor event, a Big Brother event, and this past week I held another event with Amazing Racers, as Corinne Kaplan from Survivor: Gabon and I competed together as a team on season 31, which aired in 2019. Reality TV will always be one of my favorite hobbies, but criminal justice reform is and always will be the mission that gives me purpose.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
The most memorable experience for me was the family visit in Vanuatu, when my mom got to come and spend time with me on the island. One of the (many) wild things about this experience is that you'll never really be able to fully describe it to anyone who hasn't experienced it themselves — it's so surreal and thrilling and exhausting and depressing and inspiring and twisting, and to try to put it into words just sounds like a fairy tale. So to be able to have my mom, who is one of the most important people in my life, there on the ground with me, feeling the sand and the water and the heat (not to mention the tension and suspicions — remember, that was the episode when Julie, Leann, and Ami turned on me, but Chris, Twila, Scout, and I ended up blindsiding Leann), was truly priceless. I'm so proud that I won that challenge and got to bring my mom into the game for a day.
Of course, my second-proudest moment would have to be calling out Jason for his "immunity idol" in Micronesia. Barely a week goes by where someone online doesn't reference "It's just a f---ing stick!" to me. It was a stick! With a FACE on it! I am so glad the camera crew caught me saying that because I cringe at the thought of America thinking my judgment isn't good enough to know a fake when I see one. I played it only to expose Ozzy, but I 100 percent knew it wasn't real.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experiences?
While we're on the subject of the "stick," I do regret not making Jason show it to me sooner so I could have leveraged it into getting Cirie to convince everyone else it was the perfect opportunity to blindside Ozzy. Jason had told me at night that he had found an idol he would give me, so I was elated. It wasn't until right before Tribal the next day that he actually put it in my bag, so I just didn't have enough time to do anything with it. Had I been able to show Cirie that Ozzy had clearly created a fake idol — and therefore almost certainly had the real idol himself — I think she would have had the ability to swing the vote against him by pulling in Parvati, Natalie, and Alexis, which she did at the very next Tribal Council. But then I guess you would have been robbed of my "SHOCKED FACE!" reaction GIF from the jury when Ozzy was blindsided, so I suppose it worked out well for you in the end.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in one of your seasons but never made it to TV?
Of course, the tie at the final Tribal Council in Survivor: Ghost Island was an unprecedented event, but it actually almost happened in Micronesia first. All of us were shocked that there was a final 2 instead of a final 3, no one more so than poor Cirie (I love her!), who would have basically swept the jury had she made it to the end. That meant we ended up with an eight-person jury and a final 2, creating the potential for a deadlocked jury, something that had never been possible before and has never been since (considering Laurel became a de facto jury member in Ghost Island).
Going into the final Tribal, I had a pretty good sense that Ozzy, James, and Erik would be voting for Amanda to win, and that Jason, Alexis, Natalie, and Cirie would be voting for Parvati. At the time, I was completely indifferent between the two of them, so I had absolutely no investment in the winner. I realized I could force a tie by voting for Amanda, and I thought that might be an exciting situation for the show and the fans. I actually even asked a producer if they wanted a tie, but obviously they cannot interfere in any way with the outcome, so of course they didn't answer. Ultimately, though, after Parvati and Amanda gave their answers to our jury questions, I had to give it to Parvati. Micronesia did almost have the first final vote tie in Survivor history!
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I can't complain about my edit. It was fair, both times. It was representative of who I was at the time — a Survivor superfan in her early 20s who could barely contain her enthusiasm. It really is incredible to have a documented picture of my life from that time. I still have so many of those same qualities — the passion, the drive, the competitiveness, the expressiveness — but I've also grown so much since then. It's been 16 years since Vanuatu and almost 13 years since Micronesia aired! That's a long time!
It's an odd thing to be running for office when a lot of people have an impression of you from a time when you were still in college, competing in one of the world's toughest games under some of the most stressful situations imaginable. Since then, I've also been competing, so to speak, in one of the world's toughest jurisdictions under some of the most stressful situations imaginable, but I now have the advantage of years and years of experience and knowledge and training and life in general. I love what I do.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Oh, I definitely became a food hoarder. I like to think I've grown past that by now, but for sure at the time I was stocking up on anything and everything just to not experience that level of hunger and desperation again!
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Never. Not even for a second. Survivor has brought so much good into my life, not the least of which is a group of friends for whom I'm eternally grateful. Julie, Leann, Mikey B., and I visited Ami down in New Zealand, which was one of my favorite trips. I've traveled around southeast Asia with Yau-Man from Micronesia, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Ashley and Franny from Redemption Island, and run The Amazing Race with Corinne. Christina Cha, Franny, and Brian from Guatemala even came to visit me in China while I was living in Beijing.
And then there's my NYC "wine and cheese" crew, all of whom I love dearly — Charlie, Stephen, Courtney, Sophie, Andrea, Josh, Kim, RC, Snowy, Sabrina, Liz Markham, Nicole Delma, Franny, Brian. So for all the hunger, insomnia, bugs, heat, cold, stress, and mind games that Survivor throws at you, the relationships I've gained have been life-changing.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?
I'll always feel a sisterhood with Ami, Julie, and Leann from Vanuatu. Even though they tried to vote me out of the game, we've long since moved past that and have been real friends for over a decade and a half now. I have also stayed close with Brook!
From Fans vs. Favorites, I am closest with Penner, Cirie, Mikey B., Yau-Man, Ozzy! But I keep up with Chet, Tracy, Alexis, Erik, Natalie, Fairplay, Jason, and more! Survivor really is an experience that bonds you for life.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Obviously. I've never missed an episode. I was a superfan during the first season, when I applied in college in 2004, and I'm still a superfan today. I used to live-tweet every episode and still try to provide Twitter commentary (find me @elizaorlins) and love getting into heated debates about every last move the players make. Whenever there's a new contestant from the New York area, I try to reach out and welcome them to the Survivor family. I'm also the go-to host for episode-watching hangouts in NYC, or at least I was before the pandemic started and the show was still on. But we'll get that up and running again as soon as it's safe to do so and the show makes its triumphant return!
As for my favorite season, I'd argue Micronesia is the best, but since the question is about a season I wasn't on, Heroes vs. Villains was such good entertainment. It helps that I'm a huge Sandra fan and that my dear friend Courtney was on it. Oh, and this is pretty funny: Now that HvV is on Netflix, Courtney happened to notice through her window that someone in an adjacent apartment building was watching an episode, completely oblivious to the fact that Courtney was across the way, watching them watch her on TV.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Brian Corridan. Duh. We are loyal allies for life. Literally ride or die! Under no circumstances would I go against him and I know 100 percent he feels the same. Obviously, the same goes for Corinne. And Franny. And Stephen and Charlie and Courtney and Sophie and… okay, I guess we couldn't ALL play together because it would just be a no-vote standstill.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I'm going to add to the chorus of "too many twists!" The absolute worst Tribal ever was Cirie getting voted off with no votes against her in Game Changers. It wasn't even fun or exciting! It was just a huge bummer. Idols should have a three-Tribal shelf life, and if there has to be a Redemption Island or an Edge of Extinction (which I am not in favor of), it should end NO LATER than final 8. It's insane that someone can reenter the game at final 6 with an idol in their pocket.
Casting-wise, I am THRILLED with the recent announcement that 50 percent of future casts of CBS reality shows will be BIPOC. Representation matters. Increasing diversity both on and off-camera is essential in helping tell the stories of people who may not look and sound like you. It makes us a more empathetic society, broadens our horizons, and gives voice to so many more perspectives.
To that same end, I hope Survivor strikes a better balance between narrating gameplay/strategy and humanizing the players with stories of who they are and where they come from. That's good for viewers, too, because it gives us insight into why some players might be making the perplexing decisions they do. Some recent seasons have been really successful with that — I felt like I knew all the players on David vs. Goliath, for example, and even on Island of the Idols, for all its other very obvious flaws — whereas on some others (Ghost Island, Edge of Extinction) I felt like I knew only a handful. I think bringing in a more diverse cast is a good way to help tell more stories and make us more invested in the players themselves.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
My campaign to become the next Manhattan district attorney and fighting for big, transformational change is my number-one priority right now and for the foreseeable future. If everyone reading this donates at elizaorlins.com to help us grow our grassroots movement to fight against our cruel, unjust criminal legal system, I know we can win this!
However, it will always be difficult to turn down an offer to play a game I've loved since I was 16!