Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Jason Linden thought he 'broke my brain' after playing
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.
Survivor can consume you. Being out there on the island is a weird combination of boredom (with nothing to do for hours on end) and mental head-spinning, as players obsess over who is lying to whom and whether their alliances are true and if their strategies will pan out. And often that obsession over every minute detail only increases after the game.
Jason Linden is merely the latest example of a contestant who was unable to flip the off switch after he returned home from playing on Survivor: Island of the Idols. "First, I was overwhelmed because I felt the need to interview each cast member and make sense of every vote that I had missed," says Linden, who was voted out sixth, on day 16." This level of decompression usually happens at Ponderosa and Tribal Council, which I was not privy to in real time. This was super-overwhelming, and for whatever reason I felt like Carrie in Homeland. I had charts and webs and ran through every what-if scenario. It took over and was the only thing I was able to think about or make sense of."
When you are obsessing over Survivor while playing Survivor, that is called doing your job. But once you obsess over it after returning home, it can get in the way of doing your actual job, which has happened to many contestants, including Jason. "Being unable to let go of the game was not so great for my own mental health," he says. "I was still obsessed with the game, but at the same time immediately thrown back into fast-pace big-city living, while running a law practice. I had a lot of problems with getting my professional 'engine' started. It was worrisome at times, as it felt like my brain had been rewired that I was only able to make sense of Survivor. As time passed, things got better, but it took a solid two months to be able to read a legal brief in one sitting, and a solid three months till things got back to normal."
Naturally, now that Jason is back to normal, we asked him to dig deep into his Survivor past once again to reflect on his proudest moment, his biggest regrets, and more. And the lawyer also reveals he actually played a fake idol at Tribal Council that we never saw on TV. Brace yourself for full scoopage below!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JASON LINDEN: Since appearing on Survivor, life has really returned to (COVID) normal, but things are about to change in a big way; I am going to be a dad! Me and my wife are expecting a baby girl in March. Because of that, we have been taking this whole socially distancing thing seriously. Professionally, I am continuing to fight the good fight: getting injured people monetary justice from billion-dollar insurance companies.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest Survivor moment was winning the blindfold challenge as the caller. The day before the challenge, the tribe really came together behind me and basically forced me to be the caller without much of a choice. From a challenge perspective, it was awesome to win and show my skills as the best caller in Survivor history. From a game perspective, it really solidified my position in the tribe as a stable tribemate that the team can rely on.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I can tell you I do not live life with regret or that I do not regret anything about my game, but that would be a lie. Here we go… Are you ready to go a little deep into game talk with me? Here is what keeps me up at night…
One of my best traits, both in and out of the game, is giving advice. When you give advice, you are not only helping other people see a different perspective, but you can also gain credibility. You can only gain that credibility if that advice is reasonable, and honest. Reasonable and honest advice also involves admitting any benefit that you, the advice giver, receive from the advice that you are offering.
In my season, I regret not giving advice to Elaine. When Elaine received the vote block, which ultimately took me out of the game, I knew that she had something. I wrongfully assumed it was an idol (after all, the season was called Island of the Idols). Still, on the off chance it was something else, like a vote block or a vote steal, I should had been prepared for that.
Elaine's perspective of the game at the 4-vs.-4 swap was: "Jason is a threat, and he is dangerous." What Elaine failed to realize at that point was that she was the biggest threat of all. If she makes it to the final 3, she wins. PERIOD. I wish I spoke to and asked her if she wanted some advice that clearly benefits me by keeping me in the game but also benefits her as well. I wish I told her that rather than voting me out a perceived threat, it is in her best interest to keep as many threats around as she could, as she is the biggest threat of all.
I wish I told her she was right to think of me as a threat, or to think of me as untrustworthy, as did my original tribe at the start of the game, and for that reason, she can use those arguments to easily take me out later in the game. Still, at the same time I would have asked her to keep an open mind, and if I show her to be trustworthy, she can sit next to me in the end where I, nor anybody else, would receive one winning vote against her.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I played a fake idol at the 4-vs.-4 vote. When Noura came back from Island of the Idols, she came back with what we thought was a fake idol. This was quickly found when Dan went rummaging through her things after she returned. After finding it, Dan convinced her that trying to use the idol to trick someone was only going to get Noura in even more trouble than she was already in. Noura gave up the idol and it was buried. Dan told me where it was buried.
Prior to leaving for Tribal Council on the night I was voted out, I dug up that idol and brought it to Tribal. I thought there may have been a chance that the idol gained the power of a real idol if Noura was able to convince us to be caller. On the off chance that the idol gained power for whoever became the caller (me), I thought I can try to play it and see what happens. After all, what did I have to lose?
One of the reasons this did not make air is because I was so sneaky in digging up the idol that the cameras didn't even see me do it. That should have been a tell that it was fake. It was worth a try.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Listen, I was pre-merge and the Island of the Idols twist took up a ton of screen time, so overall I am okay with my edit. It showed some of my personality and did not make me look like a jerk. Still, there was a beautiful story arc in there that can only be deciphered through a circumstantial viewing. I was the easiest and quickest target maybe in 40 seasons.
The target was already on me when we did our opening introductions, and my tribemates were already calling me a liar because I very poorly lied about my occupation to cover up being a lawyer. The edit did not show just how quick the consensus built, nor did it show how much I struggled. I held back tears for 24 hours because it was so obvious that I was 100 percent done and first out. I clawed back into the game not by an advantage, or idols, or challenge performance, but based on building real relationships with people. The edit does not reflect how good of a position I was in with original Volkai at the time I was voted out.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Let me first say this, I really appreciate this question because it is a unique experience to everyone, and people react differently to the situation. In one word: overwhelmed.
First, I was overwhelmed because I felt the need to interview each cast member and make sense of every vote that I had missed. This level of decompression usually happens at Ponderosa and Tribal Council, which I was not privy to in real time. This was super-overwhelming, and for whatever reason I felt like Carrie in Homeland. I had charts and webs and ran through every what-if scenario. (Shockingly in all of them, If I survive my vote out, I win! Just kidding… kind of.) It took over and was the only thing I was able to think about or make sense of.
Meanwhile, being unable to let go of the game was not so great for my own mental health. I was still obsessed with the game, but at the same time immediately thrown back into fast-pace big-city living, while running a law practice. I had a lot of problems with getting my professional "engine" started. It was worrisome at times, as it felt like my brain had been rewired that I was only able to make sense of Survivor. As time passed, things got better, but it took a solid two months to be able to read a legal brief in one sitting, and a solid three months till things got back to normal.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Honestly, yes. In the first few weeks I was back, I was seriously concerned that I broke my brain. And for what? To come in sixth-to-last place on what Dalton Ross ranks as the worst season of Survivor?
Additionally, and again in the essence of transparency, there was a lot of drama associated with our season of Survivor. Without going into specifics, I did not expect to be in any way even remotely connected to the #MeToo movement. My dad always says I dodged a bullet by getting voted out when I did.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
This kid Tommy from my season will not leave me alone. He texts me like every day. Molly and I are very close. My wife and I took her to her first Phish concert in the summer of 2019. Ronnie — my brother. Lauren — my sister from another mister. Dean — please return my calls/text. I just want to be your friend.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
There was only one season after mine, so of course I watched season 40. My favorite season I was not on is Survivor: China. I really think that was a major turning point of the strategy of the show. I think there was a good balance of advantages/twists vs. gameplay. Todd was able to strike the right balance of manipulating people without being a "bad guy."
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
If you asked me this before I played, I would had given you a different answer. My answer is Coach. You always know where you stand with Coach. I appreciate that. Despite his goofiness, he always was a very good alliance member. It also gets boring out there. Having a good storyteller really helps pass the time (even if the stories are made up).
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
On many seasons like mine, at the start of the game the losing tribe sends a member to "Exile" or "Ghost Island" or "Island of the Idols." That gives the losing tribe (or a member of it) an advantage in having the information of knowing what the twist is and how it impacts the game. I am of the camp that you should reward winning, not losing. That information regarding the twist becomes very valuable in the game. It can be used socially to develop relationships, or even strategically at points when deciding who to sit out of a challenge (if there is a potential that the person sitting out ends up going to the "island"). I do not know how it can be corrected logistically, but keeping the twist or the procedural aspects of the twist an unknown for a winning team seems counterintuitive.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I do not know, but I would like to be asked. Hear me out. Before I played, I was once randomly reading an article about Shambo (Survivor: Samoa). Shambo had refused invitations to return because she did not want Survivor to "define her life." When I read that, I thought that was the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Now having played the game, given such a large amount of mental capacity to the process (two years from casting to finale), being a new parent, having a career, having a fulfilling and interesting life; all of the sudden I kind of get it. Shambo was on to something.
With that being said, what drives me back to wanting to play is the what-could-have-beens. Could I have been America's sweetheart? Could I have been the next great strategic mind? Could I have been the greatest villain since Russell Hantz? Could I have won my season? Maybe… but instead of all of that, I just got my vote blocked.
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