Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Mike Zahalsky was given a puzzle ultimatum in the game
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.
Mike Zahalsky is a smart guy - smart enough to know that putting himself on the puzzle at the very first Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers challenge would make him an immediate target to be voted out if the tribe lost, especially after he had already been busted for searching for a hidden immunity idol. "If I do the puzzle and we lose, then I'm going to be sent home," he announced, at which point one of his tribemates gave him the ultimate ultimatum.
What was said ultimatum? You'll have to read Zahalsky's Quarantine Questionnaire to find out. Plus, he goes through his list of regrets in the game - regrets that helped doom him at the final five on day 37. The doctor is in, ladies and gentlemen, as Mike Zahalsky tells all, including the story of saving 20 baby sea turtles while playing the game. Is there anything this Coconut can't do?
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY First off, what have you been up to since appearing on Survivor?
MIKE ZAHALSKY: Since Survivor, I have been busy being a doctor and a dad. As many of you know, I am a urologist in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and I founded Z Urology, the largest urology group in Broward County, so work keeps me busy. I also have three children and a wife, whom I love spending time with. For fun, I either climb at my rock gym, go to the beach, fish, or play tennis.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I am so happy I went out and played. It's difficult to pinpoint one moment that represents my Survivor experience. I think what sums it up for me is the moment immediately before the first challenge, when I turned to my tribe and said, "If I do the puzzle and we lose, then I'm going to be sent home." Desi [Williams] responded, "Do the puzzle, because if we lose, you're going home." Our tribe was in last place going into the puzzle, I did it, and we finished first. For the second challenge, we were in last place, and I did the puzzle again, and we finished first again. I actually now hold the record for the most consecutive first-place finishes in a three-tribe season. This is my proudest Survivor accomplishment.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I have so many! As everyone may remember, I went out in a tie followed by a revote at final five. I had told everyone I was voting for Devon [Pinto] that day. Why didn't I? I'm still not quite sure why I changed my vote. While we're at it, why didn't I throw a fake idol into the fire instead of a real one? Why didn't I throw a challenge at the swap and take out Ben [Driebergen]? Why didn't I save my original idol? I think about these things every single day… still, four years later.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened in your season but never made it to TV?
A lot of fans already know that on day 37, the day I went home, I found a sea turtle nest with hatchlings covered in ants. They were being eaten and dying. With help, we saved over 20 baby sea turtles that day. It was such an amazing moment. Those guys can live for over 100 years.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Well, I think I got the smart, kind, quirky edit. It seems like everyone wants the strategic mastermind edit, and I didn't get that one. That does not mean that I was not strategic, I promise, but I likely overcomplicated things. So yes, I am happy with my edit.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment?
Walking on a floor, shutting a door, talking to people you can trust and that love you - those are all things we take for granted. It was great coming home, and I think my wife, Bari, loved and appreciated me more than before. That being said, after spending a year in quarantine with my family, I think they all want to ship me back to Fiji!
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I have never regretted going on Survivor. It is and was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would encourage anyone who dares to apply to play.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with from your season?
Did someone say "The Coconutz"? Joe Mena and I are still very close. I am also great friends with Ben, Desi, Jessica [Johnston], Lauren [Rimmer], and Cole [Medders]. I would call everyone I played with a friend now. It was a great group of people.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Of course I still watch Survivor. I love Survivor. Since my season, season 40 was my favorite. It was amazing. Going from fan to player to fan has been so fun. Watching friends play Survivor in this returnee season has been a great TV experience.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
This is a trick question. It would be great to play and hang out with some of the legends of the game, like Ethan Zohn. It also would be fun to play with some similar players like Christian Hubicki. However, I think playing with Jay Starrett from season 34 would have been great. He just makes everything more fun.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
It would be nice to know all the twists going into the game. Not knowing about the fire-making challenge caused me to be eliminated. To be voted out on day 37, when there was a twist that gave me no reason to vote the way I voted, may be frustrating to some, but to me, it puts a fire in me to play again and to win.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I think about playing again every day. Every day, I think of new strategies I can use, and new ways I can change and reinvent the game. I have not won yet, so yes, I would play again, and if I ever did, I would give the fans exactly what I think they want.
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