Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Erik Reichenbach embraced by fans despite 'massive blunder'
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.
Erik Reichenbach is part of the greatest moment in Survivor history. So great that we even did a complete oral history of the event. But it wasn't so great for him… at first. After Natalie Bolton and the Black Widow Brigade convinced Erik to give away his immunity necklace on Survivor: Micronesia, they voted him out on the spot. It was a brutal way to go. While Erik's misstep may have initially earned him ridicule, the way the former ice cream scooper handled that very public embarrassment has earned him a legion of fans who saw a player lose with grace and class, and dignity in the face of what could have been for many others a humiliating blow.
And that warm reception from fans almost 13 years later after the event is what cheers Erik on today. "My proudest Survivor moment is every day when I talk to fans and with other Survivor contestants online and in person. I am proud of myself, in how I played Survivor, and am very humbled by how much the community has embraced me despite my massive blunder on Survivor: Micronesia in 2008," says Erik.
That's typical of the affable Erik, who even after multiple Survivor disappointments is still seemingly able to find the silver lining to any cloud: "The feeling of completion and success from having lost twice, once somewhat disgracefully, and still having people come up and explain how inspired they were by my time on the show, or enjoyed watching my fateful last episode, or even screaming NOOOOOO at the TV when they first saw what happened… it is a real joy to know I have some kind of legacy on a game show I grew up idolizing as a kid."
In his Quarantine Questionnaire, Erik delves even deeper into that legacy, including the true explanation for another disappointing exit — his mysterious day 36 medivac right after Tribal Council on Survivor: Caramoan. Not only that, but the artist and graphic designer reveals what he's been up to since his days on the island, which includes a growing tribe of his own back home.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
ERIK REICHENBACH: Since being on Survivor: Caramoan in 2013, I got married on the beach to my wonderful wife Dana, moved a few times for work between California, Michigan, and we are now settled in Austin, Texas (working as a graphic designer for Cision, a public relations and earned media software company). I continue to watch Survivor, am a regular player on Peih-Gee Plays Twitch Channel (Survivor: China), and continue to create comic art, gaming projects, and custom illustrations through my small freelance business, Dabu Doodles (www.dabudoodles.com). The biggest exciting news recently I can share is Dana and I are expecting our first child, due summer of 2021!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest Survivor moment is every day when I talk to fans and with other Survivor contestants online and in person. I am proud of myself, in how I played Survivor, and am very humbled by how much the community has embraced me despite my massive blunder on Survivor: Micronesia in 2008. I was proud in the moment every time I won an immunity challenge, and every time I survived a vote, but the feeling of completion and success from having lost twice, once somewhat disgracefully, and still having people come up and explain how inspired they were by my time on the show, or enjoyed watching my fateful last episode, or even screaming NOOOOOO at the TV when they first saw what happened… it is a real joy to know I have some kind of legacy on a game show I grew up idolizing as a kid.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experiences?
I have no major regrets, just small "what ifs"? I have many regrets about how Caramoan shook out, and wonder to this day if things went differently, I could have won that season or at least made it to the final Tribal. Being evacuated on day 36 is awful, and I do not wish it on anyone. I wonder if I had been more lucid, or had I not said anything and spoke to medical quietly, or had I brought a full canteen of water to drink if things would have gone differently on S26.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in one of your seasons but never made it to TV?
I think my exit in Caramoan was barely shown or explained, and I think a lot of casual fans would be interested to hear more about what happened. I did a video of my last Tribal before being medevaced on YouTube here.
In a nutshell: I had an infection, took penicillin as prescribed by Survivor doctors, and had a reaction to the medication at Tribal (they believe because of a lack of water/hydration). I don't blame anyone for what happened, but it is still just one of those things I have had to explain to fans over the years because it wasn't fully shown.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
The way I was edited on Survivor: Micronesia was very positive, and I was edited out in Survivor: Caramoan. The way post-production chooses to edit in or out things is really a huge indicator of how you will be perceived by fans, because editing is a superpower most average people are unaware of. Editing is incredibly powerful because when you watch a television show, the editors decide what information the viewer actually sees and that can greatly sway people's opinions of that person. I have felt fortunate in my edits (despite being edited out of Caramoan) because there is always a way to edit someone into a villain. At the time of S26, I was confused and irritated about how little was shown of the majority of the cast (Eddie, Sherri, Brenda, and others) in favor of focusing a lot of airtime on Cochran, Phillip, and Brandon.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
After Micronesia, my life was changed in a lot of ways. I had never really traveled out of the country by myself up to that point, and now also on a major television show. I was in my last year of college and lots of people around me and on my track team knew me as "the Survivor kid." My hometown had a parade for me, and I felt famous for a time. Fame is weird though, in that it fades if you aren't continually "doing things" and it also blurs the line between who you are, and the image of who you are was defined by a TV show. Notoriety is not success, and for myself and other contestants, I have noticed a lot of us have struggled with disassociating how we value ourselves because of how we placed, did, or were perceived on a reality show. I am much more adjusted now, but yes, it was a culture shock returning to the US after filming my first season. My second season, the culture shock was simply eating processed saturated foods again.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I never regretted being on the show, as it introduced me to so many new people and places and experiences. I do regret some actions or missteps I took after the show as I struggled to understand myself in the context of being a notable contestant. Some of those mistakes included a failed Kickstarter project, Islands of Chaos, where I didn't do enough to manage the project and assumed the idea and my art was enough to make it a success. It was essentially a Survivor mobile game, since so many fans currently play self-run ORGs (Online Reality Games) that mimic Survivor, Big Brother, and other reality shows, and CBS had failed to create a digital Survivor game that satisfied this market (there are many terrible reviews online for their various titles).
I worked with multiple programmers, providing the artwork and attempting to manage the team, but ultimately it proved to be too large of a project to complete with the budget we had outlined and the experience of our team. I regret this immensely, more than any mistakes I made on Survivor, and it hurts to know I let down a lot of people with that project. It is a great idea, but also a tough set of game mechanics and planning to get right.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your seasons?
I don't text regularly with anyone from Survivor: Micronesia except Eliza, but am in contact with a handful of other Survivors via the podcasts and Twitch streams I join from time to time. My Twitter feed is where I do a lot of banter, and I am a regular on Peih-Gee's Twitch stream, where we play social deduction games like Ultimate Werewolf, Secret Hantz (Hitler) and Among Us. Some notable online friends I talk with include Mama C, John Carroll, Figgy, Lyrsa, Wendy Diaz, Peih-Gee, J'Tia, Rick Devens, Jonny Fairplay, Matt from S26, and Adam.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I do not have a favorite player, season, or location — I do have a preference for different and unique characters, stories, places, and strategies. I never really root for players on seasons, but I will absolutely root for the villain or bully to go down in flames.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I have no preference of who I play with, again, I just appreciate new and interesting points of view and take on strategy. I do have a great and overpowering fear of playing with young new-new-school players, as they have watched the game, studied it, and are amazingly strong competitors. I fear being cast on a future season with Adam-protege's, or other highly cerebral millennial (and younger) players.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I would shut down whispering at Tribal Council because, one, I see it as sloppy gameplay, and two, as a viewer, it is frustrating to watch. To expand on this, in Micronesia, the Black Widow Brigade initiated some incredible blindsides and plays that didn't require any "live Tribal" shenanigans, and that kind of buttoned-up gameplay is in such a higher level than anyone I see scrambling at Tribal to make something happen.
Regarding the viewing experience, when I see Jeff make that coy smile and cross his arms while the entire camp gets into a whispering/shouting match, as a viewer at home, I am pissed I have to wait until this nonsense is over and I can see what the votes are and what actually was said. If I get a chance to return and find myself at another "Live Tribal" I will have a canteen of water filled up and ready to pour on people's heads (and I will gladly warn everyone I will do this prior to Tribal). It's just bad form all around, IMO.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Yes, I would absolutely play again if asked. There are so many positive things that come from the experience, win or lose. You learn a lot about yourself from being tested, get to temporarily live in close proximity with nature, and also make great new connections with interesting people from around the United States. The money from competing is just an additional perk.
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