Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Julie Rosenberg had fire coral extracted from her leg
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.
"Anyone who knows me knows that I can be an emotional person," says Julie Rosenberg. And anyone who watched Julie on Survivor: Edge of Extinction can attest to that fact as well. While Julie had several emotional moments and outbursts during the season, what else would you expect from a game designed to test you at your most emotionally fragile when you are hungry, cold, tired, and 8,000 miles from your family. "I have lived with anxiety most of my life," says Julie, "and it only makes sense that I would be my most heightened self out there on the island."
But even at her heightened, anxious self, Julie made it all the way to day 39 of the game, (where she and Gavin Whitson lost to Chris Underwood at final Tribal Council). And not only did Julie make it to day 39, but she won two individual immunities all the way. So it was a roller-coaster ride for the New Yorker who first applied to the show way back in season 3 only to finally make the cast 35 seasons later, and Julie decided to document that ride one more time in the form of a Quarantine Questionnaire, revealing the gruesome injury we never saw and addressing the regret she still feels for playing "not to lose."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JULIE ROSENBERG: After Survivor, life pretty much returned to normal. I still live in NYC and my extremely supportive husband, two kids, and two huge Bernese Mountain Dogs are still the most important things in my life. I also have continued to run my Etsy shop, which got a nice boost of sales after my season aired, so I'll just take credit here for Etsy's 200% increase in stock price over the past few years. I'm sure the little wooden toys and learning materials I make have really tipped the scales for them! Seriously though, I have actually been considering a career change, still in the field of education, but I am not ready to share yet. So all in all, not much has changed, besides the fact that I'm getting older. Much older. Turning 50 next fall, yikes!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Hands down, it would have to be winning the first individual immunity challenge after the merge. I was the smallest one out there, at under 5 feet and less than 100 pounds. We had to hold a very heavy horizontal pole across our heads and balance a small statue on the end of it, all while standing on a thin, wood beam. I first saw that challenge while watching season 36, Ghost Island and my friend even said to me at the time, "If you ever get on Survivor, I just can't see you doing this!"
Well, I ended up holding that pole and statue up for over 40 minutes while everyone else fell one by one. The fact that I was the last one standing, competing till the end against Lauren O'Connell, a twenty-something unbelievable college athlete, and Joe Anglim who literally can do no wrong in whatever challenge he competes in, was the highlight of my Survivor experience. Actually, it may have been the highlight of my life!
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret will always be the fact that I didn't play the game to win, but I played it not to lose, if that makes any sense. I was so worried during the pre-game that I was the oldest one out there and would be voted off first because let's face it, I was half the size of everyone else and knew I wouldn't be seen as having the physical strength to help my tribe win at challenges or the outdoor skills to really catch fish or make fire.
So with that as my mindset, I was fairly paranoid and therefore scared to make any potential strategic moves that would backfire and send me packing if the person I was targeting found out. That is clearly no way to play the game of Survivor, and certainly no way to win. By doing this, I didn't gain the respect of my fellow players and I was never seen as a threat. Hence, being a zero vote finalist at the end, which sucks any way you look at it.
I remember before the game started, Jeff said to us, "Play the game like it's your second time." I now really understand what that means. Everyone always talks about needing to make big moves in Survivor, and it doesn't always work out when you do, but if I ever played the game again, I wouldn't let the fear of being voted out hold me back from taking risks that you really need to take in order to win the game.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
After the tribe swap when I was on what I like to call Kama 2.0 with 4 other people, there was a day when we were walking out in the ocean on the reef about a couple of hundred yards from the beach. The water was only about a foot deep until you got to the drop-off, but you had to wear sneakers out there because there were tons of sharp rocks and coral. Well, I was just about to get to where the ocean floor dropped off and you could swim when I fell backward and my thigh landed in a bed of poisonous fire coral.
When I stood up there, looked to be about 25 tiny holes in my leg with blood pouring out of them. I remember Ron shouting and carrying on, "Julie, OMG, you gotta go back!" But I kept splashing water on my leg and figured the saltwater was the best antiseptic for it so I might as well stay and watch Joe spearfish, which I did as I tread water in the ocean. It didn't dawn on me until later that Ron was worried that I was swimming with blood pouring out of my leg where we had seen sharks before.
That experience would have been bad enough, but it didn't end there. Once back at camp, I was able to put some hand sanitizer from the medical box on my leg which held me over until I could see Dr. Joe at the next challenge and get a bandage. Well, every time we had a challenge after that, I would see Dr. Joe and tell him that the area under my skin felt really hard as if something was in there. He would look and would say, "Nah, it's just inflamed."
About 12 days later, I finally said to him, "It's feeling really hot and getting worse!" He examined my leg and realized it was infected. I insisted there was something inside my skin, and I told him I didn't care what he did to get it out. So right before I was about to compete in a challenge, with no pain killers or numbing cream, he took a long needle and stuck it into one of the holes, and dug around until a one-inch long piece of fire coral popped out! Now that I think about it, I should have kept it as a souvenir! Maybe Dr. Joe has it.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
While I have heard that many people aren't always happy with their edit, I really don't have a problem with mine. I think that it was a pretty accurate depiction of how I was on the island. Anyone who knows me knows that I can be an emotional person, who can get stressed out easily. I have lived with anxiety most of my life and it only makes sense that I would be my most heightened self out there on the island.
So yes, I cried more times than I would have liked to. Yes, I felt like I was losing my mind sometimes from the starvation and sleep deprivation I experienced. Yes, I often felt alone with no one to lean on. That's probably the part of me that came across the most, especially during that Tribal Council that we shall not speak of. But there were so many fun times as well, and it's those times that often get left on the cutting room floor so to speak.
There's a goofy side to me that all of my friends see, but I'm not sure whether that just wasn't shown as much in the edit or I just didn't let that part come out as much in the game because I often found it to be stressful. Probably the latter, if I had to make a guess. I guess the only thing that I wish was shown more was the time I took to build relationships from day one. But alas, Kama won every challenge and I get that the winning tribe doesn't get a huge edit since they are never at risk of going home that night.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
By day 39, I was definitely ready to come home. I was missing my family so much that it felt like I had been gone a lifetime. This sounds so cliché, but seeing them for the first time, waiting for me at the airport, was the most incredible feeling and something I will always remember. Then, from the minute I stepped into our apartment I had a new appreciation for everything, particularly my bed, the toilet, and the refrigerator!
Once home, my body was still in starvation mode, and I literally couldn't stop eating around the clock. Before I left Fiji, I was told that this might happen, where my brain will still think I am starving even though I'm not. So I gave in to it and just let myself eat as much as I wanted. I remember having a huge dinner of chicken parmesan and spaghetti (a meal Wardog talked about nonstop during the game), and then about 10 minutes later I would get a bowl of cereal, and then about 10 minutes after that, I would eat a pint of ice cream, and then 10 minutes later, a box of Oreos. It took about a month for me to get my eating under control because I ate every meal like it was my last one. I truly didn't trust that I would get food again, and that was the hardest adjustment to deal with.
But then once I did stop gorging myself at every meal, I felt guilty when I would leave food on the plate. I looked at it and thought, "This would be a feast on Survivor," even if there were just a few bites left. I also remember I dropped a single coffee bean on the floor when I was making coffee one day and I picked it up and laughed. I remembered when after we won the coffee and pastries challenge we would allow ourselves one coffee bean a day to chew on as dessert after our rice. We made that jar of beans last most of the rest of the game and it felt like the biggest gift at the time, to suck on that one little bean to make the taste last in my mouth! Back at home, I popped that sole bean into my mouth and thought, "What the hell was I thinking?!"
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Never. From the minute I watched season 1, I knew I wanted to play the game. I applied for season 3 and got close, but then took a bunch of years off until I started applying again consistently for maybe the last five years before I was cast. I had worked too hard to get there to ever think that it was something that I didn't want to be doing. Survivor isn't always fun, and it can take a serious physical and emotional toll on you, but I never once thought I wanted to leave the game or regretted doing it once it was over.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
About two months after we got home from Fiji, I had Rick, Gavin, and Chris along with their significant others come stay with me in NYC for a weekend. It was so cool to hang out with them and be in the real world where we could act like normal people and not have to be constantly strategizing or wondering the true intentions of each other while we were hanging out in Central Park. Because our season of Survivor wasn't airing for another five months, it was fun to be able to be out and about with them and not have anyone know we just went through this crazy experience together, let alone that we were the final four.
Since then, Rick, Gavin, and I along with our spouses have had an ongoing text chain over the years named by Rick's amazing wife Becca "Coolest Couples Ever." Most of the time we are joking around on it, as well as sharing little and big things going on in our lives. Honestly, I can't stop laughing at pretty much anything that comes out of Gavin's and Rick's mouths. It's not a shocker that I keep in touch with those two the most since I spent the most time with them out of anybody on the island.
Not to dis Chris, I love him, but I literally met him on day 35! It's also crazy to think that there are others from our season that I didn't meet until I was out of the game or even not until we were at the reunion for the finale. Besides those guys, I still text here and there with others like Ron, Victoria, Eric, and Julia, since the four of them along with me and Gavin were the original Kama 6 alliance. I also consulted with David when I was planning my son's Survivor-themed birthday party last year! I can't tell you how helpful he was because he made a book of every Survivor puzzle ever created.
Oh, and it may surprise people to hear that Aurora and I have also kept in touch even though it might have slightly looked like I had a mild obsession with wanting to get her out of the game since day one! Honestly, while our personalities clashed big time in the game, we get along great off the island.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Yes, I still watch Survivor and I miss seeing it on Wednesday night! I can't wait until it's back on again! This probably is true for anyone who has played the game, but I watch it now from a completely different perspective. Let me tell you, my kids got really annoyed with me when I kept pausing seasons 39 and 40 to point out things like a tree on the island I peed behind or the huge rock on the beach David and I lifted when he taught me how to spear crabs one day — my first time killing a living creature.
I don't know if I have an absolute top favorite season, but I'm guessing the ones I love the most are similar to what other fans say: Cagayan, Heroes vs. Villains, China, and Second Chance. It's usually the people on the seasons that make me love certain ones over others.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I have to say Cirie! I think she would be so much fun to play with just because she's so funny and her personality seems so genuine. She was part of my inspiration for never giving up when I was trying to get on the show. She was such a fish out of water out there, especially the first few times she played, and that's how I saw myself too. The whole "no outdoor experience" thing about me was all true and I literally went from never having gone camping to sleeping in the dirt around the campfire for 39 days and not thinking twice about it.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Um, no more Edge of Extinction. Need I say more?
Finally, would you play again if asked?
If you asked me this question on day 39, I would have said, "I am a one and done. This has been an incredible experience, I am so grateful to have made it to the end, but at times this has been so difficult and I feel so depleted that I can't say it was so fun!"
BUT... once I was home, about a month later, I looked at my husband and said, "I have to go back! There is so much I would do differently, and I need a second chance!" He rolled his eyes. But I know he would support it if I ever was asked. My kids say they would need to give me a few lessons in strategy though. Fair enough.
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