Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Marcus Lehman regrets 'playing by the rules'
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 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.
Marcus Lehman is a natural leader. Which, naturally, made him a target and ultimately led to his downfall on Survivor: Gabon. It probably didn't help that he won individual immunity on the very first day of the game, and then again on day 21 — showcasing himself as a massive threat. Or that two tribe switches kept shifting the numbers. Throw it all together and the leader of the Onion alliance was peeled off a few layers too soon.
But maybe things could have been different. In his Quarantine Questionnaire, the 10th-place finisher explains how had he not played by the rules of production and had spoken up at a critical juncture, perhaps he may have lived to play another day. What could Marcus have done and what would he have said? Dr. Lehman reveals all! Not only that, but the anesthesiologist also offers up one of the most satisfyingly introspective and philosophical Quarantine Questionnaires yet.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
MARCUS LEHMAN: It's been a long time since I played the game, and a lot has happened! I completed my residency in anesthesiology in 2012. Since then, I have been practicing and teaching anesthesiology at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Cincinnati may seem like an interesting move, since many Survivors seem to gravitate to L.A. or some such, but as much as I enjoy the big cities, there is a lot more opportunity to do interesting things in medicine and a nice balance of life in slightly smaller places.
In addition to the medical practice, I also do some altruistic real estate work. We take homes in places that aren't that great and make them a lot nicer for tenants. We also treat those tenants the best we can, making sure everything works in their homes, and trying to be responsive to their needs. Our hope is that they feel cared for and respected in a way that most lower income landlords would never consider. So far, this has been another really gratifying way to spend some time.
I've added an MBA to my education, and found time to take part in some dating shows, which seemed like a fun way to continue to do a little TV work, and see if there's any chance at finding "love" in those. I found that Survivor is truly the adventure I had always hoped it would be, so I figured why not see about the rest? The most recent was Labor of Love, which we filmed in 2019, but did not air until last spring. While I can't say it was everything it promised to be, it was a lot of incredible growth and learning, and that has a ton of value for me!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest moment was winning the log roll challenge. Growing up, I was a tennis player, and I would get really nervous during tournaments. I never had a ton of confidence, and my parents never came to watch any matches because they'd get "too nervous." Obviously, that makes your kid feel like everything is a big deal, and I think I've always manifested that since. So when I had to get through Matty, a great athlete (and surfer so he must have amazing balance) in the first round, and then keep going, I just felt so crazy nervous — like my worst nightmare was repeating, but on national TV.
Instead, I was able to keep powering through, and winning felt like I'd overcome an incredible stumbling block. These days, I still get really nervous when I want something to work out in my favor, but now I think of that feeling as the one that you get before succeeding in something important! It's still not easy, but I'm in a totally different place because of that experience!
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret is "playing by the rules" too much when things were looking dire. After they faked the merge, I knew deep down that things were being put into motion to make our team stumble.
When we walked into the challenge after that merge, and Charlie and Corinne were looking at me to see if things were okay, I gave them a thumbs up... Jeff was giving us heavy pressure to keep our mouths shut in spite of how things were playing out (and how ridiculous things were in terms of me being the obvious next person to go in my new camp). In spite of how unbalanced the set-up was, and knowing what was on the line, it was one of those moments where I should have stuck to my guns spoken up about things, but I "followed the rules" instead.
Sometimes I try to get through things even when I have both hands tied behind my back, and I realize now that it you can't always do that. I always try to "assume the best," and that's a great strategy in general. But sometimes, it's actually an excuse to avoid a conflict that needs to be faced. There are times where the deck is really stacked against you, and you have to stand up for yourself and your loved ones in those cases. It may not change the situation, but at least no one walks away without a clear vision of what is really going on. If I was maybe going home for speaking up, but definitely going home for not, then it made sense to say something.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I don't know if it is mind-blowing, but I do wish the fans could have seen the deep, friendly, and positive relationship that we all had out there: including and especially Randy and Corinne. I think there is another level to Survivor, where people who are sometimes misunderstood in real life find some "true friends." I've always been a pretty big dork, and different for the things I am willing to consider, try, and explore. I'm open to lots of people. I think that Randy, Charlie, Corinne, and I found out we all had a little outcast in ourselves, and it brought us together.
Feeling misunderstood at times, but also embracing what makes us different brought us all together. I love those people, and I love the moments we had together. But, just as in life, the stuff we find special and meaningful isn't always made for the mainstream. It's always funny to see the shock on people's face when people ask me who my favorite castaways are, and I list them amongst my really deep connections out there.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I thought my edit was just fine, though I also think I played right into it. As I mentioned before, as I was trying to be the hero all the time, and working through what it means to be a person that people tend to look to for advice, ideas, etc… I also fell into the hubris of thinking it's always my job to have a solution. It's actually something I always have to struggle with, being that my work keeps me in that position constantly. Just like in the show, the challenge is to be those things for others, but be vulnerable enough to keep one's self energized, healthy, and safe. It was a major lesson for me to experience Survivor as I did, and to realize that you can be the person others need, but you also need to be yourself and care for yourself.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
It was actually a huge struggle to get back to real life. I struggled with everything. This included the reality of having food all the time, the excesses of the "real world," the predictable life of a job (in my case residency, which was brutal, taxing, and stressful), and the lack of movement and variation in the real world. I look back a few years out, and a couple of additional TV shows since then, and I actually see the pattern in a lot of my fellow castmates, too.
It's hard to have a moment where you feel like the world is paying special attention to your story. That is a very nice feeling, and very validating. And then, that moment goes away, and you have to remind yourself of why you were doing what you were doing before. These days, there's lots of ways to get swept up in that pursuit thanks to social media, and I wonder if it isn't even harder to escape back out of the world of attention and interest from others. I still miss it, but I know that I needed to reset myself and decide if that was going to be an essential part of what is important for me to do, or not, and after a few years I think that it has played a very positive, but very telling role in my life.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Similar to the thoughts above, I do think that there are moments when you don't see yourself getting "back" to the place of knowing exactly where you are supposed to be (for us, it was in Gabon filming something awesome), that you regret ever having known/experienced that kind of laser focus.
Personally, I've been lucky to have lots of cool opportunities, but the result is a pretty scatter-brained set of experiences...and I feel restless a lot, like Ulysses in Tennyson's poem: "How dull it is to pause, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use... as if to breathe were life!" Sometimes I wonder if maybe some of these big adventures weren't a little too much fuel for my restless fire. And every once in a while, I have to remind myself that the experience is a major reason I know myself as well as I do these days.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I still keep up with Charlie, Corinne, and as many of my cast as possible, plus some later recruits that I met during events, like Kim Spradlin-Wolf, plus some local additions I've become close friends with like Matt Bischoff. Social media makes that easier, though I think because we all were unique people to begin with, our paths have diverged in the ways they were always meant to!
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I don't get to watch a lot of TV, and I sort of have a love/hate relationship with Survivor watching. This is because I want to be there so badly, and also because while I know how much is being left out of the story, I get annoyed with myself when I get sucked into my feelings towards players and situations in spite of that!
My favorite thing is to watch the season after hanging out with cast members from the season, because then I can place their stories and their personalities into the mix. I obviously loved the seasons that featured Corinne and Randy again, plus it added Matt Bischoff into the friend circle. One World is probably a favorite as well, as Kim, Chelsea, and Christina of One World are awesome humans, as is Troyzan and much of the other cast. Worlds Apart was another great cast, and Tyler Fredrickson is a great guy from that season I enjoy chatting with when we cross paths!
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I've given a few shout-outs to my fellow castaways in the above questions, but I will say I'd really enjoy playing with Matt Bischoff. That's because I think we aren't a typical pairing and that would be a lot of fun to play with as an alliance... certainly not the combo you'd expect and that might get us a long way down the road! Outside of friendship/strategy, playing with Yul Kwon because he's the original castaway nerd and my definite Survivor castaway hero. That was the season that made me dream of being on the show, though I think his role/opportunity to win came together really well (as they were under-dogs far longer).
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I think we'd all like to make the game give our own special talents the advantage. In my day, I wanted it to be more of a meritocracy — if you got the momentum and the alliance together, then let things play out. I feel like that is more of what happened the following season, when JT and Stephen went to the finals (Charlie and I, had we had the chance!).
That being said, I also understand that the real purpose is to make a compelling television show, and I think that the story can sometimes take a bigger role in the decision making as things play out. Nowadays, Survivor has gone even farther away from that: It has tons of built-in elements of chaos and chance that limits the value of alliances and group strategy. It probably reflects our social structure changes, as well, where today you don't necessarily invest as deep in people because there's always another option out there.
Honestly, I think that's a great way to start: We should all keep options open and practice commitments at a more basic level before going deeper into them. But I do also wish that there came a point where the value of following through got the powerful place it deserves. There are things in life that only come from deep trust, partnership, and relationships, and I'd love to see reality TV give more credence to that than it does. And frankly, adventures are always better with friends! Even though I didn't win, I can't imagine Survivor without going deep with my castmates in a way that I'm not sure is quite so easy to do in the newer seasons! But I wouldn't turn down finding out!
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Realistically, I'm probably out of the TV game for good. But Survivor is definitely the one thing that would make me reconsider since it speaks to the adventure streak I'll probably always have!
Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"