Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Vecepia Towery on why her gameplay was 'worthy of the win'
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 indefinitely postponed 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.
Vecepia Towery overcame the odds. Constantly. Not only did she win Survivor: Marquesas, but she did while starting off on a tribe (Maraamu) that lost each of the first three challenges, then being swapped onto a new tribe on which she was on the wrong side of the numbers. But Vecepia played Marquesas as a tactical genius — knowing when to engage stealth mode, when to flip alliances, and when to combine forces to overthrow the majority. In the end, those skills led Vecepia to the title of Sole Survivor and the million dollars that went with it, as she defeated Neleh Dennis.
While Vecepia (who has also gone by Vecepia Robinson since her time on the show) did play a winning game, it was not a flashy one, which may explain why she has not been seen on the show since, even though fellow champions have appeared multiple times on seasons like All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, Game Changers, and Winners at War. It's a curious omission, though, especially considering Vecepia is the winner of not only one of the show's first-ever seasons, but one of its better ones as well.
However, Vecepia has a message for those who may try to denigrate her season 4 run. "Even if people think I played so 'under the radar' that I didn't deserve it, there were many others who felt my gameplay was worthy of the win," she says. "I've learned in life, you cannot please everyone, and those who were out there playing the game alongside me know what I did to win and, yeah, it may have been sneaky, stealth, reticent, unprecedented, and anti-climactic, but I won, and no one can ever take that away from me."
It has been waaaaay too long since Vecepia had her moment in the Survivor sun, so we thought we would shed a little light on this Survivor legend by sending over a Quarantine Questionnaire. And we learned in it that Vecepia indeed does have a scenario where she would consider heading back to the island. Read on to find out what it is, and what the Marquesas champ has been up to back in the real world.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
VECEPIA TOWERY: Well, I will start from now and go backward in time. I love the work that I do as a patient experience administrator at one of our local healthcare organizations. My side hustle, I am a certified life coach. I found that to be my passion helping people find their purpose in life while being able to live their best life. I try to model my own life by encouraging others to find their dream and live it to its fullest. I tell people all the time that moving to California was the first step with me living out my dreams and I've never looked back. Yes, I have had my share of disappointments, but the good moments surely outweigh the bad ones.
I also enjoyed raising my 17-year-old son, who will be heading off to college in August 2021. So far, he's received 3 acceptance letters and I couldn't be prouder. It's a Christian parents' dream to raise a child in the ways of the Lord, with a good head on their shoulders, who loves Jesus Christ, hasn't been in any trouble, and has a passion to not only pursue his dreams but fulfill them.
My son and I are in the process of writing a series of children's stories ('shorties') loosely inspired by our own personal experiences. They are called Momz & Me. It's been so fun writing those with him. So far, we have 2 manuscripts completed and looking for publishers now (anyone interested in talking to us). Would like to have at least another one finished before getting them published.
I still work hard with my sorority Delta Sigma Theta and breast cancer work (as a two-time breast cancer survivor). Lastly, I recently became a board member for VSP (Veteran's Suicide Prevention Channel). It's a platform designed to get the word out that daily between 2005-2018, 17-18 US military veterans commit suicide per day (at one point it was close to 22 per day). It's an alarming and concerning rate of these men and women, who have served our country. The stories are mind-blowing and the intervention is needed. My brother started the program a few years back and as a veteran myself (U.S. Air Force), I want to do my part to help. Anyone interested in supporting this non-profit, please go to vspchannel.vet and donate today.
Just recently I started doing some voice-over work for an online TV show called Kindly Kenney. I play Darius Mother in the series and Gervase Peterson plays the father. It's different and fun. They send me the script periodically and I send them my recordings. I just finished a Thanksgiving show a few days ago. You can check it out here.
In the last few years, I've been asked to run for local community offices, but I prefer to help others get there. I've been on a few local campaign teams to help former employers, my son's former choir director, and others win their campaigns. So, as you can see, I've been busy and living my dream.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Well, of course winning the million dollars. Even if people think I played so "under the radar" that I didn't deserve it, there were many others who felt my gameplay was worthy of the win. I've learned in life, you cannot please everyone, and those who were out there playing the game alongside me know what I did to win and, yeah, it may have been sneaky, stealth, reticent, unprecedented, and anti-climactic, but I won, and no one can ever take that away from me.
Another proud moment for me from playing Survivor is my relationship with Sean. From day one, it's been like a brother-sister type of love that's hard to explain, but easy to see. We are from different worlds (He's a New Yorker and I'm an Oregonian), but fate, luck, and God's grace brought us together. He is my son's godfather and having yet another strong Black man planting seeds of prosperity, survival as a Black man, success, trials, aspiration, and encouragement to both my son and I have been a true gift from God. As I told him before, Sean is "the perfect verse over a tight beat."
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I have no regrets. I played the way I intended to play with slight modifications as the game progressed. My faith played a huge part in how I played. At first, I was trying to be the "good Christian" girl and just have fun, play hard, but don't do anything to displease my Father in heaven. But I had a "come to Jesus" moment three days into the game which changed my gameplay. Now I was ready to play just like everyone else (outwit, outplay, outlast) and don't forget to lie, mislead, backstab, and flip when I needed to. I remember someone called me a "pancake" because I kept flipping my alliances. All that extra work was draining because I was now constantly thinking about my next move trying not to make it obvious. Yes, I kept most of my strategy and plans to myself, which on television made me look very boring, and as Jeff Probst once said, "Not good television or good TV."
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
When we moved over to the Rotu camp, a mouse got very comfortable in my braids at night. A few times a night, I would feel him in my braids until he stopped moving, then I would grab him and toss him out of the shelter, but within minutes, he'd find me and find a place to rest in my braids again. Thank God its family didn't join in. [Laughs]
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I was disappointed that more of my confessionals didn't make the show. I brought a lot of humor to my confessionals (yes, I remember the producers laughing at many of my confessionals, but they did not make the cuts). Also, on day 15 or so, I was told they needed to record a conversation from day three over again (now day three, I was still clean and day 15, I was filthy). So, when the second episode aired, I looked like I had been out there 3 weeks already dirty, about 10 pounds lighter and dark as night where everyone else was still fairly clean. Watching that episode at home with family and friends, they wondered what in the world had happened to me because I look like death had warmed over. It was a little embarrassing.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
When I came back from Marquesas, all I wanted to do was eat. I was married to my son's father at the time, and he met us at LAX because he wanted to be the first to tell me that our home remodeling was not completed and that we were staying with his brother in East Palo Alto. But when he came to Marquesas for the family visit challenge, Kathy's son (who won the challenge and came to the island with us) was able to give him a letter (I had blank sheets of paper in my luxury item which was my book of poetry) and in that letter, I thanked him for coming and for motivating me to go on, but also I asked him that when he picked me up at the airport, could he have the following items waiting for me: a bag of mini-Snickers, glazed donuts from Krispy Kreme, a double-double from In-N-Out Burger with fries, his gumbo, my mom's sweet potato pies, and fried apple pies and some Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough.
He had most of those items with him. I gained all my weight back quickly. I found myself sleeping on the living room floor or next to the bed a few times. We were also given these water shoes from Reebok (remember we had them as a sponsor) and somehow, those shoes did not work well on my right foot. Still to this day and ever since I returned from the island, my heel remains dry and flaky. Sometimes, the skin is so dry and hard, it cracks and at times breaks apart. I use everything from cocoa butter, coconut oil, shea butter, aloe vera… you name it. Sometimes it helps and other times not so much. I never got it checked… which I should have.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Never regretted going on the show… it was part of my California dream. Now, as I stated earlier, on day three I had a moment where I questioned why I was out there playing this game based on lies and deceit. But that quickly subsided. Once I got home, I played each move I made in the game over and over in my head and I was a winner. I can only imagine how others who either got voted out or were blindsided must've been thinking or what was going through their heads when they came home.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
Sean and I talk, in most cases, monthly, but recently it's been weekly. A few months ago, most of the Marquesas group came together for a Skype reunion and it was great. It's always wonderful to connect with them via Facebook, even if it's just to wish someone Happy Birthday, congratulate them on their successes,s or just to say "Hi," or hit one of their posts with a like, love, or thumbs up.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I've never missed watching a season of Survivor. As a psychology major and a life coach, I still love the social dynamics of the game. I watch for the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication, psychological gameplay, mental stamina, cultural innuendos, the subtle and not-so-subtle microaggression, and racial inequality.
For my favorite seasons, I must break them down by the first 20 seasons and the last 20 seasons (I guess Old School and New School). For Old School, I would say, season 7, Pearl Islands. We were introduced to both Sandra and Rupert and we witnessed the emergence of our Puerto Rican-American Queen and the Tie-Dyed Hero. It was also the first time we heard someone vocalize the strategy of "I'll vote with anyone else as long as it's not me" (or something like that).
From the last 20 seasons (New School), I'd have to say season 31: Cambodia. It was great to see both Jeremy and Tasha in the finals, and of course, having Jeremy win as our third African American winner and second Black male to win. I also loved season 29: San Juan del Sur when Natalie won… yes, another Black Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC).
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would've love to have played with Sandra. Hell, she's the best. Why not want to play against the best.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
The changes that I would make would be to even out the playing field and bring more people of color to every season. People of color doesn't just include Black folks, but Asian, Pacific Islanders, Indian, Native American, Latino, and many, many more. The good news is that CBS has announced recently that some of their changes to many of their reality shows will be that at least 50% of reality casts must be BIPOC. That is huge, and I hope and pray that the work and actions from the group that I'm a founding member of, which is the Black Survivor Alliance (BSA), and our other Black Survivor group called Soul Survivors played an integral part in these decisions becoming a reality. We are anxiously waiting for the new seasons.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I would only play again if and only if I was able to go out and compete with my son. I will be 55 in December. I had my ACL torn and breast cancer twice. I have nothing else to prove on Survivor. But to experience that moment with my son would be just another part of my California dream to live out.
Thanks for asking me to participate in this questionnaire. It was fun to reflect and share. God's blessings to you all.