Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Rita Verreos on being cast as the 'cougar' for Survivor: Fiji
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.
Rita Verreos was cast to play the cougar in Survivor: Fiji. She says she was told the men in the cast found her attractive and was asked which one she might be attracted to in return. But while Rita was inclined to play along before the game began, two things happened at the start of the season that stopped the pageant coach from unleashing the full flirtation assault.
Rita used her Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to go in-depth into her experience — including the reasons why she did not reciprocate Edgardo’s advances, the two times medical injuries almost forced her from the game, and the strategy she should have employed to explain her vote again Earl Cole (the only vote Earl got against him all game). And her one suggestion for something that she would like to change about Survivor will certainly make fans desperate to get their shot on the show smile: “Bring players back one time at most,” suggests Rita. “Why? Because this is such an EXTRAORDINARY, wonderfully life-altering experience that I want as many people out there to have the opportunity to experience it.”
Take a deep breath, settle in, and sip the Survivor tea that Rita is spilling.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
RITA VERREOS: Where do I begin! I’ve been NON-STOP since appearing on the OG Survivor Fiji: It’s been the gift from God that keeps on giving to me on ALL levels! On a professional level, I went on to continue my career on television. Thanks to my appearance, I was introduced to the CBS morning news director and that began my career in news. First as the “fill in” morning news traffic anchor. I went on to become the “fill in” news desk anchor/co-producer for Telemundo in San Antonio. I also was hired as a guest host on HSN and a beauty/fashion tips expert host/producer for MSN Latino and for Mundo Fox, filming in Argentina and Miami Beach.
I was also featured on several magazine covers, the latter highlighting my becoming one of only 2 news anchors presenting newscasts in both English and Spanish simultaneously (Telemundo & Fox News). I was then offered a position as an entertainment news correspondent for a Latin network in Miami (America TV), so, I moved and have been calling Ft. Lauderdale home for the last five years. I’m currently a host/producer for Coral Gables government television network where I recently created a couple of new segments, which I write, host, produce and edit — one called "CG Cares," to highlight extraordinary things people in the community are doing during COVID-19, and another segment called "Storytime with Ms. Rita" to help parents do something fun and entertaining during this challenging time. Speaking of community involvement, I created a similar segment for Telemundo in Texas called “Rita en Tu Comunidad.”
On a spiritual level, I have also been very happily busy, by that I mean that many don’t know that my participation on Survivor was an answer to a prayer for strength. I was in the beginning of my divorce, feeling the total opposite of being a survivor, and, in fact, questioning how and what I was going to do to provide for my children on our own. (My children’s father, unfortunately, became fatally ill shortly after our divorce and very sadly succumbed to illnesses brought on by drug addiction a few years ago.) I was brought up in faith of God. In fact, I was named after Saint Rita, but that’s another long story of faith without which I might not have been born!
That being said, when I found myself deathly scared for my and my children’s future, I prayed to God for strength. The 1st answer came through my brother Nick (as you know, because you mentioned him in my after-Survivor interview w/Stephanie on Survivor Live) fellow reality show alum from Project Runway, season 2. Anyhoo, my brother suggested that I reach out to the Miss Texas organization and let them know that I was former Miss Venezuela finalist living in San Antonio. Within minutes, I got an email inviting me to be a judge. I met a fellow judge who was the Miss California USA director and he immediately hired me to become the Miss California USA pageant coach.
It was while coaching the then Miss Teen California USA that I was spotted by one of the Survivor casting agents, Erika Shay, and recruited to be on Survivor: Fiji. I remember telling her “how about America’s Next Top Model?” — you know, something more related to the work I was doing, and the example of having healthy self-esteem that wanted to be for the girls I was coaching. Or, “how about Amazing Race with my brother: The fashion designer brother with the beauty queen sister.” Erika actually said they had originally thought and wanted that, but because my brother was still under contract with Project Runway and the network that then aired PR was a competitor of CBS, they couldn’t cast us on Amazing Race. BUT, she said I was perfect for the “cougar” they wanted on that season of Survivor.
I was SCARED to death to accept because, as I mentioned, I was feeling at my LOWEST point. I remember telling God in my prayer, “My will feels so broken with this divorce, but my faith is strong as always.” So God answered with Survivor, which turned out to be, as always, the perfect plan, the reminder I needed and, MORE IMPORTANTLY, that my children needed to reassure them that they had a strong mommy and that everything was going to be ok…AND, God is so wise. He even gave me a way to reassure them in THEIR language because just telling a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old “pitufinos” (as I call them endearingly), that “everything’s gonna be okay, Mommy’s got this!” doesn’t mean anything to them when their eyes are seeing their wonderful world as they knew it and the two people they love most on this planet fall apart. However, their little eyes seeing Mommy running in challenges, falling and getting back up, NOT giving up, and in the finale, they got to see me sitting up there on that iconic Ed Sullivan Theatre stage telling them and EVERYONE that “If you have a dream, NEVER give up, it’s never impossible or too late to make it come true!” THAT is what my children needed to see to be reassured that they had a strong mommy that “had this” and everything was going to be okay.
The minute I came back to the U.S., I started getting emails from charity organizations asking me to either attend or help them any way I could. Many said that because I played the game always showing kindness and respect for my fellow players, is what made them reach out to me to ask me to be a voice and image for their organizations. Without hesitation, I volunteered to emcee at this point probably close to 100 charity events…the following are a few:
Live to Give Online Mini Survivor Game fundraiser, 2020
TJ Martell Cancer Foundation, 2020
Miami Rescue Mission Fundraiser Gala, 2019
Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida 35th Annual Gala, 2017
Charlie’s Friends No Kill Animal Rescue Shelter Doggy Fashion Show, Pompano Beach, 2017
Reality for Diabetes Marathon, Cincinnati, 2016
Hearts of Reality, Orlando, 2016
March of Dimes Celebrity Chef Gala, 2015
Reality Animal Rescue Festival, 2015
Daisy Cares 5K Animal Friends Organization, 2013
US Army, Community Salutes Gala, 2013
Dress For Success Abused Women’s Organization 5K, 2012
Healing Hearts Breast Cancer Fundraiser Gala, 2012
La Presa Foundation Awards, San Antonio, 2011
Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser, 2007
Stuart Weitzman Fashion Show ,Boston, Mass.
Reality Rally 09, ’11, ’12 Temecula
The City of Hope in Los Angeles, CA, 2008
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 2008
Animal Rescue Shelter, 2010
Blood Drives for US Army
House of Hope Ice Soccer Fundraiser, Michigan, 2007
I realized that yes, God had given me Survivor as an answer to my prayer, but also to help Him help others. For that, and without expecting it, in 2011 I was awarded the “Call to Service Award” by President Obama for Lifetime Achievement in Volunteerism.
In my acting career, in 2015, I was cast in a lead role on the ABC show What Would You Do? playing a racist restaurant customer, and from 2017-2020 have been cast on several NBC Universal/Telemundo novelas. That’s a perfect segue for what I’ve been up to in my personal life… (See why I’m a TV host…creating seamless segue…hahahaa ). Speaking of my acting career, while on an audition, I fell in love at 1st sight and fortunately he did too, with my hubby. We were married on June 8, 2014 at his best friend’s home, a fellow actress, Wendie Malick. Several of my Survivor familia attended: Sylvia, Earl, Cassandra and Alex. Another thing I have continued doing is my beauty pageant coaching. I went on to coach several Miss California USA winners, including Michael Phelps’ wife, Nicole Johnson. Also, two of the girls I coached went on to win the Miss USA title: Crystle Stewart and Nana Meriwether.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest moment was that moment I was when I lost my bikini top TWICE (LOL, just kidding…well, I mean they did want me to be the cougar, right?) NO, my PROUDEST moment was when I made the basket on that very same Slip N Slide challenge. Back to the visual that I explained that I needed to reassure my children that their mommy had our situation.I’ve always been athletic. I was a ballerina until an Achilles tendon injury thwarted my original dream of being a ballerina. Thus, I wanted to instill athleticism in my children, for ALL the amazing qualities being involved in sports can give. Since they were little, I would stop them at the door before coming in from school, and organize some sort of game: baseball (our team was called ‘The Millbrae Cheaters,’ and basketball being the two main games we could play. My dear Daddy, had also given my first born, my son Alain Dimitrios, a Little Tykes mini basketball basket!!
Thus, began my years of playing basketball w/my son, as he grew, showing me how to play. Well, you can imagine my HAPPINESS when I saw we had a basketball challenge of sorts AND when I made the basket, I swear I felt like I had won Survivor!! Because, in my children’s eyes, to see their mommy make that basket was like their mommy had won. To see their faces of anguish from the minute the challenge started; my son kept saying “Mommy, I hope you don’t embarrass me!” (in fact, those were his last words when I left to Fiji) and then see their eyes light up and their ear to ear smiles when I made my basket was what made that my PROUDEST moment ever!! (P.S. — I happen to come from ballet royalty. One of my mom’s cousins was married to the iconic ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.)
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Wow, way to make me feel EXACTLY how it feels when you’re out there. You go from elation to “wap, wap... debby downer” LOL… My biggest regret is that I wasn’t really myself: the vivacious, silly funny, sassy Latina. Granted, the extreme circumstances on Ravu did a number on my normal super high energy level! :( That brings me to another regret. When I voted for Earl, on our way back to camp from that Tribal Council, when he asked me if I had voted for him, I wish I would have thought of telling him that Sylvia voted for him. After all, she was gone so he would have no way of verifying that! I honestly didn’t think of this because, as you know, we were soooo starving and dehydrated my mind didn't have the capacity to think, uggh!!
After watching the show, it was my most intelligent mother, Raquel, who told me “Rita, hello!! you should have told Earl that it was Sylvia!” I regret it, because mainly, at that moment, I had a very strong alliance with Mookie, and I lost his trust because he had asked me to vote for Anthony, which I didn’t neither agree to nor disagree to doing, but I knew that I didn’t want to vote for Anthony because Anthony was also on my side, and of course I didn’t want to lose numbers !
Even though they didn’t show me strategizing…I was, albeit it, in the beginning, as I was trying to observe more to get to know others by letting them talk, I was strategizing quietly, in my head, but as I mentioned, I regret not being more vocal, as I usually am, about my strategizing. I know you asked for the biggest regret, but I’m sure you know we don’t just have one, so ,here you go, you’re welcome! LOL
As I mentioned above, I was spotted while being the stage presence/runway modeling Coach for the Miss California USA pageant. One of the things that drew the casting director’s attention about me was she was shocked when I told her how old I was. She thought I looked A LOT younger than I really was. That, coupled with the fact that I was single, gave them the “cougar” they were looking for that cast. (If you remember, the whole cougar/MILF thing had started becoming popular right at that time.) During my audition, they specifically asked me if I would flirt or hook up w/any of the young guys that I was seeing in our group of finalists during the two weeks we were “kidnapped” for the interview process.
I was sitting face to face with Mark Burnett and he told me that they had been asking some of the guys that they had just interviewed before me who of the girls they were seeing in this group would they want to hook up with on the island. He said they all said “the girl with the Venezuela flag baseball cap.”…which I was wearing. That’s when Mark asked me if I would hook up w/any of them? I answered him: “I’m BEYOND flattered that they were all saying that and choosing me and we’d have to wait and see… tune in to find out!”
Well, two things happened, my reality on Ravu as you saw, left us all on Ravu dangerously lethargic! I had no energy to be flirting. I know you didn’t ask for the why I didn’t use my cougar card, but I warned you you done opened up a can of worms, hahaha… And you did say I could be very elaborate on my answers:) So, let me take you back!
In the 1st few days, Edgardo had been flirting heavily with me…I thought he was cute too, plus I happen to have a very soft spot in my heart for Puerto Rico, where Edgardo’s from, because my 1st big love is from there. (He happens to be an international Latin song heartthrob, btw..but that story’s for the book I’ll write someday…hahaha). Back to what happened on the 1st 3 days which CURTAILED my being the cougar. At the same time, Edgardo and I started talking, I had not only observed, but LISTENED to everyone complaining profusely about how Rocky and Liliana were flirting, AND the message was that anyone who looked like they were trying to become a couple, would be the 1st ones that we would vote off.
I shared that with Edgardo, and so that was one reason I quickly killed the idea of being the cougar. Another more personal and more important reason for my deciding not to go that route was when I prayed about what to do (I’m very spiritual and am in constant prayers throughout my day…especially when I was out there!) the answer God kept sending me was to think of the repercussions that my actions might have emotionally on my two young children who were only 6 and 10 at the time. My very strong maternal instincts kicked in. After all, they were the MAIN reason I was doing this, in the hopes of winning that million $ and securing our future.
I couldn’t bear the thought of them getting made fun of, possibly bullied at their elementary school with kids making fun of their mommy’s flirtatious behavior on Survivor… to put in nicely, because we know kids honesty can be very mean:( I gotta tell you, I was right, the kids were watching. Before going on Survivor, I was a volunteer at my kids’ school lunchroom, so I went back to that, I was FLOORED with how many kids recognized me from the show. Now that they’re 24 and 20…is another story. In fact, my daughter wants to be on Love Island!
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
A couple of things that happened to me. First of all, after the “Jump the Lily Pads and let your teammate out of the Cage” challenge, when jumping back into the canoe after letting Mookie out, I sliced a good chunk of the upper part of my shin. It was literally hanging down over my shin alongside my profusely bleeding hips that got scraped to the bone while pulling myself over the lily pads. At the end of the challenge, Jeff called time out and asked me if I was ok? He called the doctor in who told me I needed stitches. I then asked if I had to leave the game or if they could do the stiches while I stayed in the game. The doctor told me I would have to leave to which I answered: I am NOT quitting! So I went back to camp and found noni fruit, which I knew to be very medicinal and reattached the piece of my shin that had gotten 90% sliced off and kept it clean with the salt water and rubbing the noni fruit:)
The other similar thing that happened is during the “Sumo Mud Wrestling” challenge. As you saw, we were very unevenly matched (well, actually from the get-go. “haves vs. have nots…LOL). Anyhoo, within the 1st seconds, I felt like my face was suddenly on FIRE!! I couldn’t figure out why, but that’s one of the reasons you saw me literally fly off the edge and into the mud. Since, we were the last team of the 1st round, Jeff, again calls time out and asks me if I’m ok? I still felt like someone had stuck 2 matches up my nose and lit them, but I didn’t want to call more attention to myself since I had just lost that round so I answered, “Yes, I’m ok!”
“Really, Rita?” he said. “Because your nose is PROFUSELY bleeding!!” So he called the doctor in who told me I had broken the cartilage in my nose!!! The doctor said I could leave the game if the pain was too unbearable, but that it could continue to heal just the same whether I stayed or left. Jeff asks me “What do you want to do? Stay or leave the game?” I answer, “I’m not giving up, I’m not quitting” to which Jeff says “Wow, I’m impressed, the beauty queen is stronger than you look.”
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
As an editor for television myself, I do want to preface with actually APPLAUDING the editors because I know how painstaking a job it is to edit. As a Type A personality, however, I wish that they had shown the moments I described above where I showed my strength, determination, and my competitive spirit like the moments of pretty severe injury and how I chose to continue and not give up. I also really wish they had shown the moments of me strategizing, like when from the very beginning I rallied the women on my tribe to create a woman’s alliance. I told them, “Hey, it’s a man’s world out there and it will be a man’s world here if we don’t stick together.” Only Michelle stuck w/me from day one on Ravu.
Another instance was before the Tribal Council where I ended up getting voted off, I huddled with Anthony and Michelle to propose that we vote Rocky off. My reasoning to Anthony was that Rocky had been disparaging him throughout, making him look like a weak link (to put it nicely…I recall the actual word Rocky used started with a P and ended with a Y). I kept trying to convince Anthony, if you keep Rocky, look how bad he’s already made you look when this airs, and he’ll continue to treat you horribly. Furthermore, I tried to paint the scenario to Anthony that he had a better chance at beating me than Rocky in challenges from that point on because we were about to merge. Lastly, I told him I had Michelle. Michelle reassured Anthony because she was right there when I was trying to lay this strategy. I told him that w/him, Michelle and me, Yau-Man who was w/me from day one in the “older people” alliance, would join us if he knew we’d be a majority.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
More than a culture shock, for me it was more of a shock for my body to start ingesting food from civilization. After 15 days STARVING, when I started eating food from civilization, my intestines went haywire. Even though we were starving, the little I ingested was so completely natural that my system was super clean so, ironically, my body was probably the healthiest it had ever been! Took me about a year to get my intestines balanced again. Unfortunately, the #1 “medicine” to help me balance my intestines was ….wait for it...Coconut Oil!!!! Are you frejeakin’ kidding me???!!!!! At that point, the LAST thing I EVAH wanted to see again was a coconut, but oh, well. Two Tablespoons a day were the BEST medicine to kill the harmful bacteria in our intestines…also drops of oregano oil are very powerful.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I have NEVER for a second regretted going on the most admired, respected and iconic show.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
In the beginning, Sylvia. Early on, she invited me on a business trip to New Orleans w/her and her hubby. Shortly thereafter, one of my dearest childhood friends from the Bay Area which is where I grew up and where Sylvia lives, succumbed to breast cancer. Sylvia was kind to let me stay with her when I went for my friend’s funeral. Then, my beauty pageant coaching for the Miss California USA and some other TV host opportunities started taking me a lot to Los Angeles, which is where Cassandra was living. When she found out I had to be in L.A., she actually forbade me staying anywhere else. Survivor started our becoming family, these constant visits solidified our sisterness. Earl, Anthony, and Alex — I would let them know I was in L.A. and they always made time to hang out w/me. :) Mookie and Edgardo, I stayed in touch through social media. Recently, I reconnected w/Lisi because as small world coincidences would have it, turns out she’s from Coral Gables, which is where I’m a host/producer for Coral Gables Television, and also Alex because he moved to Miami about a year ago.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I do watch Survivor. My favorite season I wasn’t on was Winners at War. Why, because if I had gotten to be on there, that would have meant I already won a million dollars. But it was my favorite season because it showed that, in my opinion, winning Survivor takes much more that Outwit, Outplay and Outlast. It takes all the circumstances to be just right. The circumstances-like not landing on a “have nots” tribe, the players that are just right for you, the challenges that you just happen to be strong at. It also showed how someone that maybe as a fan you were sure would win, ended up not playing as well as the time they did won…which means that reverse could also be true.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would have liked to play with Coby. My hero, next to my recently departed Daddy, is my brother Nick. Within the Survivor family, Coby is the closest in personality to my brother and since we’re already Survivor family, it would feel as if I got to play with my brother. I think that, just like when you put my brother Nick and I together, our personalities would be fabulous and definitely entertaining to watch. I also love that we’d be proudly representin’ minorities. :)
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Bring players back one time at most. Why? Because this is such an EXTRAORDINARY, wonderfully life-altering experience that I want as many people out there to have the opportunity to experience it.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Absofreakinlutely! It would be amazeballs to have the chance to play this iconic game again. Especially now that I feel I’m actually in better shape than I was……. although I know first-hand it takes MUCH more than physical strength to win Survivor!