Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Julia Sokolowski says beaches infested with massive rats
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 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.
Survivor looks like a truly miserable living situation. Contestants have to deal with little sleep, little food, and often little sanity due to spending 24-7 out in the elements. But as bad as it looks for the players on TV, the reality is that its actually… even worse! Because while viewers only have to watch a little snippet each week of the misery, the contestants have to live in it. And we don't even see most of the misery they have to endure.
Julia Sokolowski knows all too well. The lifelong Survivor fan's dream came true when she was selected to play on Survivor: Kaoh Rong, and she learned all too quickly that there would be no help from production when things went wrong. In her Quarantine Questionnaire, Julia reveals that not only did her Beauty tribe's shelter completely collapse into the mud on her very first night, but that the Cambodian beaches were rat-infested and that "massive rats crawled across our bodies every night." FUN!
Somehow, Julia endured those nightmares to make it all the way to seventh place, her torch being snuffed on day 29 of the game. Not bad for someone who was only 18 when filming began. Now, Julia talks about her proudest moment, and reveals the two wrong moves that may have kept her out of the winner's circle. Dig into her Quarantine Questionnaire like a Cambodian rat feasting on reward food leftovers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JULIA SOKOLOWSKI: After playing Survivor, I went back to school at Boston University to finish up my undergraduate education. During this time, I had some amazing internships with HubSpot and the Boston Celtics. I also became president of my sorority and spent many nights working as a bartender. I ended up graduating early in January 2018, with a B.S. in Media & Communication. Immediately following, I moved to New York City to start my career. I'm still in NYC today.
I've been working at Vimeo for almost three years. I have to say, given everything going on in the world and the newly increased demand for video solutions — I feel really #blessed to work for a company that provides so many businesses and creators with tools to thrive during these uncertain times. I think video is truly in its infancy and I can't wait to watch the industry continue to explode.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Aside from making the merge (which was probably one of the best days of my life), winning individual immunity was a very proud moment for me. Not only because it was something I had always dreamed about as a kid, but also because I had a sense my head was on the chopping block the day I won. The energy at camp had shifted and I was starting to feel ostracized — so I knew I needed to win to progress in the game. It was relieving and exciting.
I probably felt prouder of this moment watching the episode later (than experiencing it in person), because it proved my intuition to be true. I'm a big believer in always trusting your gut.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I have two. The first was not looking for idols proactively when I was isolated to Brawn beach during the swap. I actually feel like an idiot for not searching obsessively when I was by myself for those few days. At that time, I was not in good shape physically or mentally — but I wish I just pushed through and did myself the favor.
The second regret I have is voting out Debbie. The night Debbie went home, I had immunity and had the option of voting for Cydney with Scot, Jason, and Tai (sending her home) or voting for Debbie with Michele, Aubry, and Cydney (which is what ended up happening). I thought this vote would be a good opportunity to prove my allegiance to Michele, Aubry, and Cydney (because they knew I was playing both sides), without being unfaithful to Scot, Jason, or Tai and writing any of their names down.
Looking back, I should have voted out Cydney with Scot, Jason, and Tai. She was a more strategic player, and I think Michele would have shifted to working with Scot, Jason, Tai, and me, giving us the numbers. To be honest, I think I was close enough that if I did both of these things (found an idol/had an opportunity to use it correctly, and voted for Cydney instead of Debbie), I really could have won the game.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
There are so many special, wild, disgusting moments that happened throughout my season, but never made it to TV. Some specifics:
- Night one, it was pouring rain and the Beauty tribe shelter completely collapsed into the mud. As soon as the sun started to rise, we ran into the ocean because it was warmer than the air and there were beautiful rainbows in the sky. It was magical.
- Within hours of the game starting, one of the three chickens we had escaped. At night, we could hear it clucking around so we knew it was alive. Nick randomly found it and caught it days later.
- Both Beauty and Brawn beaches were rat-infested. Massive rats crawled across our bodies every night.
- After the merge feast, and every time he won food, Jason threw up.
- I was on Brawn beach multiple nights (not just one).
- We had a ton of fun. We invented games, laughed a bunch, and spent most of our days enjoying each other's company and stories.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I'm happy with my edit. In my real life, I've always considered myself to be a really outgoing, loud, and energetic person (and I think my friends and family think of me this way as well). In the first few episodes of the show, I didn't have a lot of screen time or confessionals. I was shown kind of quiet and reserved… and I later realized being thrown into this crazy environment did make me conceal my personality a bit at first. I think Survivor really showcased this in my edit, and as I became more comfortable and confident, I became a bigger part of the storyline.
Being 18 years old at the time, I think my initial shyness stemmed from my youth. Before going out there, I really didn't think age would matter. However, as soon as we started playing, I definitely felt inferior to my castmates. I worked hard not to show my insecurity, and as time went on, eventually realized that I was just as competent as anyone else in the game. In fact, I'd argue that due to my lack of life experience, I walked away from Survivor with more personal growth and lessons learned than anyone else out there.
For anyone who ever participates on a reality TV show, I think it's important to remember that you're doing this voluntarily... you're putting yourself out there and taking a risk. In that regard, I don't think it's fair to be upset with your edit, or feel betrayed. As you watch yourself, you have to remember that the story being told is much bigger than your own personal experience.
Overall, I genuinely feel like Survivor production has immense integrity and portrays players as accurately as possible.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
It was pretty difficult for me to come back into regular society after playing Survivor. You go on this incredible, amazing adventure of a lifetime and then you blink and you're back to reality. Playing Survivor is a high you simply cannot achieve in daily life. That being said, I was definitely in a funk for a while after the game.
Filming ended during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, so I went home to Vermont and had a few months to catch up on school before going back to BU. At this time, I think I became even more obsessed with Survivor than I was prior to playing. I literally thought about the game every single day and night… it kind of took over my mind.
Eventually, in the autumn, I went back to college, which kept me busy and was a great distraction. However, emotionally, that first semester back was difficult — I had trouble trusting the people around me and would get anxious pretty often. I also was struggling to recover physically — my eating habits were completely discombobulated and my bug-bitten, sun-poisoned skin was a hot mess. It was totally worth it though.
As I adjusted, I realized something I took for granted playing Survivor was the fact I was completely disconnected. From time to time, I crave the freedom of living without my phone, computer, etc. As a young professional in the corporate world, I realized that having the opportunity to live a little portion of my life totally unplugged was a huge gift.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
During the game, I never regretted going on the show. Naturally, there were times that I struggled, like when I was isolated on Brawn Beach, but I anticipated having tough moments.
After I got back, I didn't regret going on the show either. It can be a little weird to watch yourself on TV (and receive unsolicited feedback from strangers on the internet), but Survivor is a piece of my life and helped shape who I am today.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I don't think this will be much of a surprise to anyone, but the person I communicate the most with from my season is Michele. To this day, she is one of my very best friends. She is my older sister and biggest supporter. We go through periods of time when we're with each other constantly (we actually even lived together for a little while), but we also go through long gaps of time without seeing each other in person. It's just one of those relationships that continues to grow and deepen no matter where we are or what we're doing in life. I may not have won a million dollars, but I did get a priceless friendship.
Other than Michele, I'm not nearly in touch with others from my season as much as I used to be. I have a great bond with Scot and although we don't chat too often, he's a great friend and mentor to me, and I know I can always count on him.
When we both lived in Boston, Aubry and I got pretty close. We don't connect regularly now by any means, but I've always cherished the time we spent together then. Over the years, it's been great to meet people from other seasons too and feel a part of this special community.
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'm still an avid fan and haven't missed an episode. Over the past several months in quarantine, I've actually rewatched many seasons.
My favorite season is Cagayan. It was actually my favorite season prior to playing — so finding out my season had the same Beauty vs. Brawn vs. Brain theme was almost a little surreal. I think Cagayan was a strategic season, yet emotional, and there were so many dynamic personalities which made it fun.
I also love both Gabon and Micronesia. I just feel like those are such iconic seasons. I was about 10/11-years-old when they were airing, so they really are what made me fall in love with Survivor.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
My fangirl answer to this question is Boston Rob. I don't even think this needs an explanation.
Recently, my "player" answer is Lauren O'Connell from Edge of Extinction. I've never met her or spoken to her, but there's something about her I really like. I think she's savvy. In some ways, her relationship with Kelley Wentworth reminds me of Michele and me.
I also think Elaine from Island of the Idols would be a blast to have around. She just seems like great energy.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
To be totally honest — I wouldn't change a thing about the game. I think the evolution of Survivor is what has made it so successful.
I also applaud Survivor and CBS for aiming to ensure that moving forward 50% of casts will be BIPOC.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Yes. I'd drop everything and leave right now if the opportunity presented itself. I've wanted to play again since the moment Jeff snuffed my torch.
Lately, more than ever before, I've been itching for another shot. I'm turning 25 in April so maybe it's a quarter-life-crisis thing. I have grown up a lot since I played. I have more to prove. I'm so grateful for my Kaoh Rong experience, but genuinely hope my Survivor story isn't over.