SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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.

Gabriel Cade was not much for the lying, backstabbing, and politicking it takes to play Survivor (as evidenced by his ouster on day 15 of Survivor: Marquesas for not committing strongly enough to an alliance), but man did he love the adventure side of the game. In fact, Gabriel loved it so much he tried to get back on the show even after his season ended.

To be clear, we don't mean Gabriel pleaded with producers to be brought back as a returning player for an all-stars type season, as so many others have done. Instead, he applied as a newbie just like anyone else… or at least anyone else who had not already appeared on the show. And when Gabriel didn't get a call back, he applied again. And again! Amazingly enough, Gabriel did eventually get a call back from a member of the casting department that did not recognize the name and face… which led to an extremely awkward conversation once he revealed his true identity.

It's an amazing story, and it's not the only amazing story Gabriel shares in his Quarantine Questionnaire. Read on to find out why his proudest moment and biggest regret in the game are one and the same, and learn how Gabriel almost led a cameraman to his death. Put your Old School Survivor cap on as we head all the way back to season 4!

Survivor: Marquesas - Gabriel Cade
Gabriel Cade on 'Survivor: Marquesas'
| Credit: CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:  First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.

GABRIEL CADE: Haha. Where does this answer even begin? It's been 20 years since I was in the Marquesas Islands, which is pretty much half of my life. The shortest answer is that now I'm an emergency medicine and wilderness medicine specialist, currently living and traveling in New Zealand with my wife and two tough-ass boys.

The long answer is that I used the money and attention from Survivor to start traveling, and I didn't stop for a long time. I spent several years working off and on in clinics in sub-Saharan Africa, spent a year living in my car (the Saturn VUE from Rosie) rock-climbing, tested gear for outdoor companies, climbed some of the higher mountains in the world in the Americas and Africa.

My amazing wife traveled with me on many of those adventures, including when we had to go into hiding in Thailand after our friends were assassinated by the Laotian government. We settled in the mountains of North Carolina for the last couple of years before taking the opportunity to move to New Zealand. 

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

Choosing kindness. A lot of time has gone by, and different moments become more and less important as I get older. We all left for the island just a month or so after the Twin Towers were hit and destroyed. I think this had a huge impact on my approach to the experience, which was to focus on the possibility of support and camaraderie, even though the subtext was always a game show. I thought it was a time when it would be important to represent loving kindness, rather than ruthless cunning, and I felt like this energy did carry our tribe farther than it usually does. Also, honestly, I killed the challenges; I love showing my boys old videos of me pulling rocks out of underwater boats.

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

Choosing kindness. I was crushing it out there. Once Hunter was gone from the other tribe, I felt unstoppable. The survival aspect was easy for me, having grown up playing in the beautiful North Carolina wilderness and adventure racing. The challenges were easy for me. I've never shaken the feeling that I could've kept playing the game and won. Rob Mariano came to me before my last Tribal Council and gave me a chance to join up with him, Sean, and Vecepia, which would've likely bought me more time there. I was having a blast, a truly unmatchable adventure, and I hated to give it up.

What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?

Although the camera crew dissolve into the background after a couple of days, you still always think you're probably pretty safe. If something terrible happened, they'd step in.

After we won a snorkel mask, I started swimming further and further out of camp's bay. The ocean was rough, and there was a lot of sediment in the bay, so you had to go pretty far out to have any clarity. I remember swimming out one day with a camera guy following me. Once we got to the mouth of the bay the ocean starts to scoop you up pretty quickly, and as the current picked up and the water cleared, I started seeing more and more reef sharks in the water.

Seeing there was nothing to spear out there (back then we made our own spears, and they were pretty rubbish), I looked frantically at the camera guy, who I was surprised to see also was looking frantically at me. In one of the only direct interactions I ever had with one of the crew, I asked "So what do we do?" He answered, "Man, my job is to follow you; I wanted you to stop a long time ago!" No life vest, no radio, no one even knew where we had gone. It was a long, slow, and pretty scary swim back to the edge of the cove and to the camp. It was an alarming reminder that they control as much of it as they can, but it still takes place in nature.

How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?

I think I feel pretty good about the edit. It's still so funny to think about the story they tell. With multiple camera crews within each camp 24 hours a day they have hundreds of hours of footage to edit into a 45 minute show. It makes you realize they can tell any story they want. Anyone can be the good guy, or the bad guy. After 2-3 days, the camera crew sort of drift over that third wall and your filters start to dissolve along with them. There are some moments we all caught ourselves saying or doing something we hoped wouldn't make it into the final reel. I like to think that I represented my family and home community well, doing my part to support others and mostly be kind in an intense scenario, and I crushed the challenges.

Survivor: Marquesas - Gabriel Cade
Americans Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien, Gabriel Cade and Zoe Zanidakis on 'Survivor: Marquesas'
| Credit: David M. Russell/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?

This is a really interesting question. It was really hard, and certainly harder than I expected. When you leave for the island, hardly anyone even knows you're going — and those that do sign a non-disclosure waiver. That means that after you have this intense unique experience, you come back, and you can't talk to anyone about it.

You're not allowed to keep a journal, you're not allowed to take photos, you're not allowed to even talk to the other contestants who were there with you. The isolation on the island was significant, but so was the isolation when you come back. You're just supposed to go back to your job, your life, but running in the background is the surreal memory of this adventure and the surreal expectations of what's about to happen (the television part of the experience). 

Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?

Not once. I'm so grateful to Mark Burnett and CBS and Jeff Probst for creating this amazing experience.

Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?

Like all intense experiences (fabricated by a television network), there is a bonding intimacy amongst the participants, even though the overarching theme is one of competition and individual success. I think, when we returned, we all felt pretty close to one another, no matter what happened out there or later on the show.

For a long time, we all talked to each other and, in fact, recently, our entire season gathered for a quarantine Zoom meeting (well, except for me — I was working in the emergency department). Social media makes it easier to follow along with almost all of my friends, but, actively, I still communicate with Neleh with some regularity, Paps (Paschal) through his wife, and Peter (Harkey), with whom I had some amazing adventures after we were voted out of our tribes. 

Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?

Sometimes. It's hard. I'm a person that lives a life with little regret — my commitment to staying flexible moving forward has led to some of the many great adventures I had before and after Survivor — but I always have had a hard time letting go of Survivor, and my belief that I could've done even better, and it makes it frustrating to watch. I'll check it out every other year or so. 

Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?

I'm lucky I got to be out there with Rob Mariano at the beginning of his legendary Survivor career. I would love to go through this experience with him again, maybe more than anyone else. His street smarts, actual smarts, physical prowess make him an ideal foil. 

If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?

There's waaaaaay too many immunity trinkets. 

Finally, would you play again if asked?

In a heartbeat. I had the humbling experience of continuing to apply to Survivor even years after my own participation. At one point, as casting memory faded, I even got called back for a second interview to join, during which I had to reveal that I had actually competed on the show, leading to a rather hasty and embarrassed closure to the conversation. I was 21 years old when I went to Marquesas, a lifetime ago. At the time, I felt like everything I had been doing had been training to be on Survivor, and, honestly, I still feel that way. 

To keep track of our daily Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires and get all the latest updates, check out EW's Survivor hub, and follow Dalton on Twitter.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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