Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Ronnie Bardah on how crippling pelvic pain ruined his 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.
Getting voted out of Survivor first sucks. But you know what sucks even more? When it is insult being added onto injury. That's what happened to Ronnie Bardah on Survivor: Island of the Idols when intense pelvic pain left the professional poker player a shell of his regular self. Unable to properly socialize or strategize, Ronnie was picked off on day 3 by his Lairo tribemates — meaning he never got to meet up with his fellow poker buddy Boston Rob.
While Ronnie will forever have to wonder how he would have done in the game had he been at full strength, his entertaining and enlightening Quarantine Questionnaire makes it clear that viewers truly missed out on a longer run from a dynamic and thoughtful player as well as a rabid fan of the game. Read on!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
RONNIE BARDAH: A week and a half after the finale aired, I took a break and traveled with my friend and fellow Survivor-alumni Kellyn Bechtold from Ghost Island. Kellyn and I went to Thailand for a meditation/yoga retreat. We hadn't even heard of COVID. Soon after we arrived in Asia, word of COVID began to spread. Our parents, worried about our safety, urged us to return home. Nonetheless, after spending time in Thailand and Bali with Kellyn, I ventured off on my own to Cambodia to see the beauty of Angkor Wat. My trip was cut short due to COVID, and I returned home to Vegas in early March. Soon after, the lockdown started, and like most others, I stayed home in quarantine for several months. I helped take care of my father, who is of high risk, with his day-to-day living, buying him groceries, and anything else he needed.
During this pandemic, the sports card market has experienced a major boom. I got back into sports card collecting, which is a passion of mine for nearly 30 years. I could only bear to stay home long enough, however, so in August, I decided to take a camping road trip alone for three weeks, traveling all over the Northwest. I visited five new states I had never been to, and I hit up the California Redwoods and National Parks including Yellowstone, Arches, and Olympia State's Hoh Rainforest. I would love to see a Survivor season filmed in Hoh Rain Forest in Washington State. We live in such a beautiful country.
As for my poker career, the casinos reopened in August. I worried about returning to work initially, so I held off before deeming the casinos safe enough in October. Obviously, I didn't do so well on Survivor, so I needed to pay the bills somehow! Anyway, poker is going well.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Unfortunately, my time was cut short on the island. First and foremost, I am proud that I was selected to be cast. I was cast as a player who has a way with words, as someone who can paint a picture through confessionals, telling viewers what is happening in the game. During the casting process, Jeff Probst told me he would designate me as the go-to person for sound bites. In the game, I was the first person Jeff pointed to at our first immunity challenge and Tribal Council. Also, I am really proud of the way I crushed it in the immunity challenge, even though our tribe eventually lost.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Hands-down, my greatest regret is being the first boot. I was unable to show my personality, strategize, and have a real opportunity to play the game. I had really high hopes going in. Never did I imagine being voted out first; nevertheless, it was a humbling experience. A very brief encounter with Chelsea may have led to my downfall.
There was a moment on Day 2 where Chelsea approached me to discuss strategy. Unbeknownst to her, I was dealing with pain and health issues (which I'll get to later), and I unintentionally brushed her off. Chelsea interpreted that as I was unwilling to work with her, and I sadly missed my opportunity to form a crucial bond with her.
I'm someone who typically succeeds in every aspect of life, so being knocked out first was extremely devastating and humbling. However, as a poker player, I know how to endure losing and bounce back from those lows.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
In my short time on the show, I didn't experience too much craziness, but here are two moments that could have been shown, had I made a deep run in the game:
When we were building our shelter and splitting bamboo, the bamboo sliced me all over my body. Although it wasn't so painful, it looked terribly gruesome. Elaine kept calling me "Bloody Mary," which I thought was corny.
I'm a pretty decent beat-boxer. It never appeared on the show itself, but fans did get a glimpse of it in the season 39 web previews. On Day 1, I started beat-boxing in the shelter, and as my Lairo tribe gathered around, Chelsea joined in with me. It was a small, fun moment of tribal bonding.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I wish I had gotten a bigger edit, as I only received one confessional, but it was totally fair. I was extremely low on energy and feeling sicker than a dog, that I just simply wasn't my usual big personality. I have no doubt that had I been 100% healthy out there, I would have received way more screen time. I'm disappointed that the Survivor audience didn't get to see the Ronnie that the poker world knows: always smiling, funny, and outgoing.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
As for culture shock: Not really. I'm used to disconnecting and traveling worldwide. I've been to Thailand, Israel, and Australia for long stretches. Spending time away from my phone and family is something I've done on many occasions in my life, whether learning Muay Thai, doing yoga, going on a poker trip. Survivor was not the first time I shut off my phone and had no idea what was happening in the outside world.
That said, when I returned to the States from Survivor in early May 2019, with the World Series of Poker on the horizon, I was looking forward to getting back to what I do best. Well, guess what? Word leaked on the internet that I was a player on the upcoming season of Survivor. During the World Series, many fans approached me and asked if the rumors were true. I had to keep a straight poker face and deny them.
Having tons of friends in the poker world telling me: "I know you're going to crush it," to which I acted coy but secretly knew that I was out on Day 3, was extremely difficult and heart-crushing. When the cast was finally officially announced, I had very famous and successful poker players tell me that they had made huge bets on my making it to the Final 3. I felt terrible knowing that people lost money betting on my success!
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I don't like to live life with regret. Sure, I've made some mistakes and bad choices over the years, but I have also learned from those experiences. Survivor became a dream of mine to play around 2016-17. I have always kept in shape, whether it be via HITT Classes, Muay Thai, yoga, kettlebell classes, swimming, playing basketball, I have always remained healthy. A couple of months after casting finals occurred, I started feeling lower-left pelvic pain. I went to a few different doctors, and none of them could figure out the problem. They treated the symptoms as Prostatitis and other urinary issues.
I was given an array of different antibiotics to treat my questionable diagnosis. After three courses of antibiotics and other forms of treatment, no doctor could tell me what was wrong. I received a clean bill of health, despite the fact that I was in a massive amount of pain. I also conducted an eight-day water fast, which I figured would help me prepare for Survivor. Unfortunately, that did not ease the pain either. When it came time to depart for Fiji, as someone who never gives up, who never turns down such an amazing opportunity, I went into this game while enduring severe pain.
Domenick Abbate and I have grown close over the last couple of years. He once asked me if I had stage fright that may have caused my pain, and I have assured him that the pain started long before I left for Fiji. It wasn't until nine months later that I figured out the pain had nothing to do with my prostate; rather, it was the result of excessive exercise, whether it be Muay Thai, yoga, workouts, in possible combination with sitting for multiple hours at a time playing cards, that caused a nerve condition. Ironically, it was the multiple courses of antibiotics and misdiagnosis that resulted in my condition worsening prior to departing for Fiji. Getting the correct diagnosis was a grueling process.
Today, I'm feeling great. I don't regret going on the show, but I do have some resentment toward my own body and the horrible timing that dampened what could have been one of the greatest opportunities of my life.
Here's a bit more of my story here (link below). Even since I wrote this story upon my return from Fiji, I have improved greatly.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
The great thing about Survivor is it's like a fraternity. Even being the first off, I've received a ton of love from alumni and players on my season as well. From my season: Missy Byrd, has become a close friend. Aaron Meredith is the only person who had my back out there and continues to be very supportive of me. Jason Linden and I bonded on the pre-jury trip. Jason and his wife Alexa just had a baby girl named Rory Bea. Congrats, Guys!
Chelsea and I became friends on the pre-jury trip. Lauren and I have also become friends. She lives in L.A., and she's an awesome girl. Dean and I occasionally chat on the Instagram DM's. He's become too popular and is hard to get a hold of. Jamal will occasionally call me for poker lessons. We've played in some online poker games together during this pandemic. And then there's Molly! The first boot from her own tribe, Molly and I spent the most time together at Ponderosa. We butted heads a bit on the pre-jury trip, but we've established a great friendship since returning home.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Of course, only one season since mine has aired, Winners at War. I enjoyed that season immensely. My favorite season and one I would have liked to have played on was Cagayan. It was a fun season with a cast of all newbies. The battle between Tony and Spencer was fantastic. Kass played an excellent strategic villain. Each episode was unpredictable. There was a fellow poker player on that season, Garrett Adelstein, who amazingly, lasted one Tribal Council longer than I did!
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Russell Hantz. I grew up in a tough town, Brockton, Massachusetts, and unlike his many competitors in Samoa, I have would have figured out his scheming in a heartbeat. That said, I do regard Russell as one of the greatest players of all time. I'm also a huge fan of Jonathan Penner's. He's a good guy, well-spoken, and to have the opportunity to play alongside Penner would be a dream come true.
Finally, if ever comes the day of an All-First Boots season or even a First Boots tribe, I would want to align with Stephanie Gonzales from Ghost Island and, who knows, maybe we can become the next Rob & Amber (joking, not joking)!
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I love how the show constantly tries to improve itself, but I wish they would dial it back a bit on all the bells and whistles. In making a great season, casting is the Number One ingredient. If we have a cast that provides humor, some conflict, and strategy, we can do away with all the idol nullifiers, extra votes, and "Tyler Perry" idols. The more advantages and twists thrown into the game, the greater the variance, and then we end up with totally random results. I would rather see the show return to its roots and focus on the social elements of the game.
Also, as a purist of the game, once a player is voted out, their game should be over. That's what makes the game so compelling, exciting, devastating (and as someone who was voted out on day 3, it's saying a lot). Redemption Island and Edge of Extinction not only steals screen time away from the main game and camp life, but it also diminishes the impact of every blindside (which Dalton has stressed many times over the years). Sometimes great players and characters get knocked out early, but those are the high stakes.
Additionally, we have lost a lot of the character development of the earliest of seasons, back when every player received a fair amount of camera time. There were no Purple Kellys in the Australian Outback or Africa. Fans knew a ton about each player, even the earliest of boots. Today, there are players who go deep into the game and get very little screen time. For example, we hardly learned much about Angela or Chelsea from Ghost Island.
One aspect of the earlier seasons that has been lost on modern-day Survivor is the time spent on rewards. Remember the good ol' days when we'd watch players get whisked away on an overnight trip somewhere, indulge in food, get drunk, lathered up, and massaged? And then we'd cut to camp and see the resentful other players? Think of Jerri and Colby visiting the Great Barrier Reef, Big Tom and Lex flying in a hot air balloon over Kenya, or Todd, Courtney and Lunch-Lady Denise sitting atop the Great Wall of China. Those scenes were not only fantastic in that these players got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime trip to some of Earth's most incredible landmarks, but they also gave us further insight into people's characters. Nowadays, the show yada-yadas these rewards, and in some cases, the rewards are cut from the show altogether.
So in short, fewer advantages, more character development.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I want to thank Matt Van Wagenen and Jeff Probst for giving me the opportunity to play the great game of Survivor. Dealing with health issues, I did not get to play the game as my true self. The Survivor world has yet to see Ronnie Bardah at 100% play this game. My story is left unfinished. So would I play again? Hell-Freaking-YES! I'm ready to go, baby!
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