Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Tommy Sheehan says he's retiring from reality TV
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.
He's baaaaaack! Survivor: Island of the Idols champion Tommy Sheehan may not have pulled the back-to-back by appearing on Survivor: Winners at War a few weeks after wrapping on his winning season, but he will be returning to our reality TV screens when he joins fellow Survivor alums Michele Fitzgerald and Michaela Bradshaw on Aug. 11 for MTV's latest season of The Challenge, subtitled Spies, Lies and Allies.
And you better soak up every last second of Tommy's Challenge screen time, because as he announces in his Quarantine Questionnaire, it will be his last foray into the world of reality competition TV. Why is Tommy stepping away? He explains all, while also looking back at his time in the Fijian sun — revealing his one mistake in the game, the rewards we never saw, and his dance-tastic readjustment to society. Make way for the teacher, because Survivor school is back in session!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
TOMMY SHEEHAN: The day I returned home from Survivor in April 2019, I proposed to my now fiancé, Nicole. I actually had a plan to propose to her at the Loved Ones visit, but decided a more intimate proposal at home would be more up her alley. Survivor production helped me by telling Nicole that I was arriving a day later than I really was. Nicole was totally surprised to see me at the spot that we first met down on one knee.
Then I returned to the classroom to continue doing what I love, teaching. Getting to hang out with my fourth-graders everyday was a blast. I feel like I'm one of the few people that get to say they love what they do. I also finished my administration degree, so I can one day become a principal.
Shortly after my Survivor win in December 2019, the world shut down due to COVID. I spent a lot of time with my family and close friends. I am blessed to have the best people in my life that made quarantining and small gathering so much fun.
Lastly, I got another once in a lifetime opportunity to go on MTV's The Challenge. I got to compete in some of the coolest challenges and felt like I was in an action movie. The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies premieres Aug. 11 on MTV. Everyone should tune in to watch me and two other Survivor alums!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I have two really proud moments from Survivor. First was winning, which is kind of obvious, but I've been dreaming of going on Survivor since I was a little kid, so going on the show and winning was a dream come true for me. It was also amazing to have my family in the audience at the finale to run up on the stage once Jeff [Probst] read the votes. You might remember my dad in the pink suit and mullet, or my sister Caitlin waving her orange wig around in the crowd.
My second-proudest moment was the day I returned to school after my win. My co-workers and the Floral Park community put together one the greatest surprises overnight. They had huge banners, a red carpet, and tons of homemade signs. The students, teachers, and community all gathered to celebrate my win. It brought me to tears. You can see pictures and watch a video on my Instagram. P.S. I'm dressed up as the Grinch because it was right before winter break!
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
To be honest, I don't have any huge regrets since I got the outcome I wanted, but if I had to pick something, it would be spilling the beans about the idol clues to DKvillian. Dean played one hell of game, he was extremely likable, and we would constantly run numbers with each other. If Dean gets invited back, I'll be the first to say he will end up victorious (sorry, Dean, if that puts a target on your back).
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
There was a bunch of reward challenges that never aired, and me or my tribe went on almost every reward. There was one reward challenge when there was about six people left that I won and got to bring two people with me. The night before was the night Noura hid Dean's shoes and they got into a blowout fight. So I obviously had to pick Dean and Noura to join me for the spa reward.
When you're on the island you look for any entertainment you can get, so I thought dinner, spa, and a show would be great, LOL. On this reward, there was plenty of beverages being passed around, Dean drinking most of them. He eventually told me about his fake legacy advantage and his plan to use it, so I already knew about it before he brought it up at the final tribal.
My advice to any future Survivor players: Make sure you get the massage before you eat. Let's just say I did not enjoy my massage as much as I could have after stuffing my face with food.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
We all know what we signed up for going on a reality TV show. The producers are going to air and edit the footage to tell the best story for the viewers. That being said, I loved my edit. I was able to hold my head high at school after each episode and teach my students that nice guys do finish first.
Thursdays at school, the best part of the day was going over my gameplay with my class. I loved hearing their take on each episode and advice for what I had to win. It was a blast to relive my experience through their eyes.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Immediately after the final Tribal when we returned to Ponderosa, I was still locked in game mode. I found myself observing people and calculating who I talked to and who I didn't, but I would say after a couple hours (and beverages), I was carving up the dance floor and things felt somewhat normal.
Once I returned home, I was constantly thinking about how many votes I had versus how many votes Dean had, which drove me crazy for a while. I also felt a little PTSD every time it rained. People at home may not realize that the rain is one of the hardest aspects of Survivor. Aside from those things, returning home was a fairly easy process for me. However, if you ask my fiancé, she'll you I stole her food every time we went out to eat for months.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I live by the motto "build your life résumé," so absolutely not. When I'm old, I want a laundry list of epic things that I've done in my life. So far, I've swam with sharks, gone hang gliding, bungee-jumped in the Swiss Alps, ran with bulls in Pamplona, competed on The Challenge, and winning Survivor was the icing on the cake.
I feel that as humans we're programmed to go to school, go to college, get married, and have kids. I want all those things in my life eventually, but I also think there is no cookie-cutter way to live life. I want to encourage people to do as many cool things they can along the way.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I absolutely love my entire cast, I still talk to most of them whether it's a phone call, a text, or a DM on Instagram. I probably talk to Dean, Jason, Lauren, Janet, Jack, Chelsea, and Elaine the most. Janet will always be my second mom, and Lauren will always be my annoying sister #WhatAFam. But I can easily say I walked away from Survivor with two of my best friends, Dean and Jason.
Dean is one of the most genuine and caring people I know. We had a lot of watch parties together while the show was airing that brought our family's close together. Let's just say, between Mr. Kowalski and my dad, things got a bit rowdy. During the season, my mom started wearing a Team Dean shirt and Mr. Kowalski wore a Team Tommy shirt.
Jason is someone I talk to daily, and rarely ever about Survivor. It's mostly about stupid things or the Mets or the Jets. I love getting together with him and his wife. They just had a gorgeous little baby girl that I can't wait to spoil. Be sure to follow @jasonsnacks on TikTok for the best snack reviews. Sorry, guys, you're stuck with me for life.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Yes, I've always watched Survivor and will always continue to. My favorite seasons of all time are Survivor: China and Survivor: Cagayan. I think Todd is one of the best winners of all time, and then there's Tony. What a legend.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
This is easy. I would love to play with Michele Fitzgerald. She is someone I know I can trust 1000 percent. Her social game is similar to mine, and I know we would have a blast playing together. I would have love to play against Tony, maybe Survivor: Winners at War would have had a different outcome if I was out there.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I love the survival aspect of Survivor. I feel like in the earlier seasons there were less food reward challenges which allowed the survival piece to play a bigger role. For example, we got to see the contestants catching fish and finding food. I think the best players shine when the going gets tough. CBS should do a "back to the basics" season without any idols or advantages. I mean, I think I would do pretty well.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Ahh, I love this question, The Challenge and Survivor were two of the coolest experiences I've ever done, especially Survivor since I've been a fan of the show forever. However, right now I'm taking my talents to the classroom. I love my life and career too much to leave again. This is where I officially announce my retirement from your television screens.
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