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.

Mike White has quite the résumé. He wrote and starred in classic films like Chuck & Buck and School of Rock. He created (and starred in) the criminally underappreciated HBO series Enlightened. He worked on beloved shows like Dawson's Creek and Freaks and Geeks. Too bad all those movies and TV programs are COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS!!! At least when measured up against the glory of carrying a bag of coconuts strapped to a tribemate in the hopes of winning a few kebabs. Survivor! We're talking about Survivor!

Mike put Hollywood on hold to go compete on Survivor: David vs. Goliath in 2018, but what might have been a goofy side adventure for some was a lifelong dream for the reality television aficionado who also appeared twice with his dad Mel on The Amazing Race. Not only did Mike compete, but the writer/actor made it all the way to day 39 on one of the most popular seasons ever of the show. (There, he lost to eventual winner Nick Wilson, but let's keep focusing on the positive, mkay?)

A producer himself, Mike has always had strong feelings about his favorite TV show. After all, he's the guy who convinced host Jeff Probst to ditch the Redemption Island twist before the San Juan del Sur season. (Too bad they never spoke about the Edge of Extinction.) Since Mike hit a home run with his first suggestion, why not let him produce an entire season of the franchise? That's a question being asked by none other than… Mike White!

"I honestly wish they would let me produce the show one season!" says Mike. "If Cosmo will let Lena Dunham guest edit an issue, why can't I guest curate a season of Survivor?!"

And what would a Mike White produced season of Survivor look like? One that would surely please old school purists, yet with a few new twists: "I would have home visits with all the players before they leave so we can really get to know them, less advantages, challenges that highlight survival skills and willpower (less puzzles and agility), a 50-day season, a seven-person jury, a final two, and I'd make them all as deranged with hunger and fatigue as possible. (They'll be just fine… there are cameras there, remember?)"

If that sounds all kinds of awesome, that is just the tip of the proverbial Mike White Quarantine Questionnaire iceberg. Read on as Ned Schneebly himself reflects on his Survivor journey, reveals how he thanked the jury members who voted for him, explains when and why he finally got jealous of Nick's win, and provides the most bizarre (and disturbing) Survivor fan fiction you will ever encounter on God's green earth. And that is not an exaggeration.

Survivor Mike White
Mike White on 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
| Credit: David M. Russell/CBS via Getty Images

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

MIKE WHITE: Thank you for asking! Work-wise, I just wrote and directed a limited series, which will premiere July 11 on HBO. It's called The White Lotus and it's consumed my life the last year. It stars Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon, Alexandra Daddario, and Alec Merlino.  Alec's part isn't huge, but it was still a stretch — he plays a hunky bartender at a resort hotel!

When people see him mixing cocktails and winking at the guests, they'll never believe he hasn't taken a single acting class.  We shot in Maui and we took over the Four Seasons Wailea — we'd shoot during the week then snorkel and eFoil on the weekends — so it was a tough quarantine.  Don't hate me. 

As far as my personal life, I've been living on Kauai. I still party with my boyfriend, Josh. Although he's sober — so partying means I toss back Mai Tais and he just stares at me, shaking his head with disgust. We have Peanut, who is our baby boy bulldog.  And Peanut just got a new lover we adopted from China. Coconut was rescued from a meat market so she could become Peanut's full-time erotic plaything. She is so grateful for her new life that she attacks us from behind and bites our heels. Before the pandemic, we'd also adopted a dog from Thailand. But Hazelnut is still stuck in Bangkok and she sleeps on a trampoline. One day soon we will get her — and our gay dog nut family will be complete.

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

I guess my proudest moment is generously letting Nick win the game. I'm kidding! Oh my God, that's a joke. Nick played an A+ game. But I do like muddying his winning waters cause I'm a petty narcissist. (All Survivor contestants are petty narcissists, by the way, so judge us all… or none.)  

No, my proudest moment, I guess, is winning the fire challenge. (Not that it was a great achievement since Kara was whacking the wrong side of the flint with her machete. Kara saved her one dumb blonde moment for the finale. She played brilliantly the entire game, but then, like a heroine in Greek tragedy, her true dumb blonde nature caught up with her and caused her downfall.)  

I was so worried I was going to end up going out in the fire challenge. I tried to make FINAL TWO alliances with everyone on the island. My hope was that if they won the last challenge, they would bring me to FTC. The fact that I didn't embarrass myself in that moment and made it to day 39 was very gratifying. I don't think anyone thought I was going to win that one. I remember, right afterward, hearing Carl tell the other jury members, "He probably paid someone to teach him how to do that." Maybe I did, Carl — and maybe I didn't!

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

My biggest regret is not saying at the FTC, "John, Alec, Gabby — if you don't vote for me, you will regret it the rest of your days." I lost all the swing votes that night! But at the time, I was afraid to fight for it. I liked Nick and he was my friend and the David–Goliath theme made me feel like everyone wanted a David to win, and this whole season would be a giant letdown — for production, for CBS, for America — if the Hollywood Goliath secures the bag.  An angry mob will come and torch my house! (Although, everyone knows in real life, the Goliath always wins — and by letting a David win, we're just perpetuating the hollow American myth that the "little guy", through wile and determination, can overcome all the obstacles of a rigged system.  Look around, people - the rich get richer!  So let's not peddle fantasies that keep us from dismantling structures of economic oppression. I should have said that at FTC!) 

The truth is that losing was not a regret for me until Winners at War was announced. I believe I would have won that season handily and I would have relished beating the best of the best. In my mind, I DID win that season. So cool!

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

I don't know if I have anything that would blow fans' minds.  Something did blow MY mind.  I'm not someone who believes in sixth sense stuff, but I did have a seemingly metaphysical moment. The morning of the tribe swap, when we were asked to pick new buffs, Jeff came towards me and I was overcome with a wave of confidence that came out of nowhere. I just knew that something extremely fortuitous was in store. 

I opened my buff and realized I was now on a very vulnerable misfit tribe, but still had this sudden surge of belief that my fate was to go deep in the game. The first person I locked eyes with was Nick — who I had never spoken to before — and he looked very nervous. I put my hand on his back and said, "It's gonna be okay." Then I locked eyes with Angelina and gave her an assuring nod.  And it trips me out a little to this day that we ended up the final three of the season.  Jabeni means champion in Fijian!

I Am Goliath Strong
Mike White on 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

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

I knew the Davids were going to get the hero edit from the moment Jeff told us the theme.  I also knew from the way Jeff fawned on Christian that he was going to be heavily featured — the David of the Davids.  And so being a jealous megalomaniac, of course, I immediately had to target Christian. Taking him out seemed worth the risk of being perceived as a treacherous spoiler. And yup, that's what happened.

Even my friends and family loved Christian and would rebuke me at viewing parties, "Why are you going for Christian!?!" Of course, I want to be the hero. But, ultimately, I'm just happy to have my picture in the yearbook. Playing the game was so fun — so what if I come off occasionally like a smug albino, out there killing other people's dreams just for sport? All in all, I think the edit was more than fair to me and accurately depicted what happened out there.  

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

I just missed the cameras. I realized quickly out there that I can handle all kinds of privations — as long as there's a camera around. Cameras give you life! Suffering is what happens when you are alone and hungry, alone and sad, alone and no one cares. But if there's a camera crew, nothing that bad can happen.

And you are suffering in front of the masses — and that's sustaining. I will suffer for America every Wednesday night at 8 pm. Bring it on! So, yeah, it was hard to come back to my normal life and have someone insult me and realize I wasn't going to be able to bitch about it in a videotaped confessional.  If a stomach growls in the woods — and there is no boom mic to capture it — does it really growl?  Take me back to the land where all my petty beefs are documented on digital!

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

God, no. I had the best time, the entire time, and I met so many interesting, fun people. I will be walking in Hanalei, where I'm living, and the way the wind will hit me will suddenly take me back to sleeping on the hammock in Fiji and that feeling of being immersed in a strange, magical adventure. I will always be grateful for the anticipatory glee I felt before I left, for every moment I had out on the island, and for the giddy pleasures of watching the season play out with my friends after I came home. The absolute best!  I've been lucky to have a lot of cool adventures in my life, but Survivor was something uniquely special.

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

Well, I used my runner-up money to take the jury members who voted for me (Christian, Kara, and Alison) back to Fiji. Alec came, too — as Kara's plus one. [SEE PHOTO BELOW.] I did it to show my gratitude and to create pangs of regret in the other jury members' hearts.  We had the time of our lives – scuba diving with sharks, water-skiing, playing Secret Hitler in our lux compound. We laughed and drank and did backflips into our private plunge pool. Are you reading this, Dan?

There's some random website that said Alec and Kara and I have the fourth best unexpected friendship that came out of Survivor. Reading that on the Internet made me realize I should text them. But it is true! I spent three months in Maui with Alec. He loves me despite all my physical flaws. And Kara is an unflappable queen. 

I see John when he's in town — he's the gentlest of giants.  Angelina is kind and mischievous and is always drunkenly breaking her foot, which I admire. I talked to Nick on the phone recently —it was great catching up. He says he invited me to his wedding last year, but the invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.  Alison is a Superwoman. She's getting married in Charleston this November and I'm going, whether I receive a formal invitation or not! I used to talk to Jeremy, but he hurled one hilarious insult too many at me.  Christian has come to LA for work and I love hearing his analytical hot takes on Survivor and our season.  

I made up with Natalie, which is a source of pride! I also text with Davie and Gabby and Carl, and know we will all be reunited one day — with cameras there, hopefully. I have made friends with a few contestants from other seasons.  Cochran and I play doubles in tennis —Cochran is a killer at the baseline, while I charge the net with mixed results. We smoked Sophie and her sweet husband a few times. Sophie, as you might imagine, is gracious in defeat, not bothered by losing at all! Finally, I tried to keep up with Ozzy via OnlyFans, but my credit card got declined for some reason.

Christian Hubicki, Alec Merlino, Kara Kay, Alison Raybould, and Mike White from Survivor: David vs. Goliath
Christian Hubicki, Alec Merlino, Kara Kay, Alison Raybould, and Mike White from 'Survivor: David vs. Goliath'
| Credit: Mike White

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

My favorite season is Heroes vs. Villains, as that run of episodes between Tyson's and Danielle's eliminations is probably the most entertaining few hours of TV I've ever ingested. The perverse power duo, Russell and Parvati are like Mr. and Mrs. Smith — if Mr. and Mrs. Smith were an evil bayou hobbit and a yoga-teaching succubus. The other contestants are all totally insane, and that's satisfying.  The show's success is all about casting! Hello!  

And yes, I still watch Survivor. I actually liked Island of the Idols — not because of the big totem woodenheads of Sandra and Rob, although they were absurd and sublime — but because it was raw and bizarre and controversial and I'm here for it. I could rant about that season all day if you asked me to, but nobody asks me to… and that's probably for the best.   

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

Just one? That's a toss-up between Kathy from Marquesas, Natalie White, and the Wardog.  I feel like if I were a woman, I would be Kathy — grasping, abrasive, weirdly flirty, and willing to pee on someone at a moment's notice. I feel like we would have fun together: getting stung by jellyfish, then shrieking in pain and urinating on each other. Natalie White, because I'm convinced we are distant relatives. My family (on the White side) is originally from that same part of Arkansas. I think we would be a good "kissing cousins" act. We're both so wholesome and gorgeous; if we teamed up we'd be unstoppable. BEWARE THE WHITES! It's like right out of Get Out or something.

And then the Wardog — I love his whole half-man, half-lizard shtick. I enjoy how he was such a legend in his own mind on the show and how post-show, he's appointed himself the resident Survivor Twitter troll. I used to peep his gym selfies on Instagram before I had the good sense to get off all social media. I can imagine Wardog and I on the island together — he hypnotizes me with his monotone self-mythologizing. Then, one night, he lifts me from my hammock and carries me to his underground lair where he sleeps among the geckos and gila monsters. A primordial vampire, he whispers sweet nothings into my ear as he sucks out all my secrets and strategies. I wake up in a stupor at Tribal Council and he is about to vote me out — but I come to my senses, just in the nick of time and write, on my parchment, in my own blood, WARDOG!  And it's Wardog — not me —that gets his torch snuffed!  As he glares at me with his reptile eyes and sticks out his prehensile tongue, I rip off my mask of flesh. A swarm of hideous flies circles my head like a satanic halo, and I reveal that… I AM THE LIZARD! Oh, the frisson of it all! 

But if I had to choose just one contestant, I guess I'd choose… Eddie Fox, for obvious reasons.

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

I love Jeff and the producers and everyone there and respect them all, but I would say… you don't always have to be such try-hards. We don't need so many exciting, ingenious twists. I like watching the season whittle down to a few emaciated, dirty people, bored out of their minds, spending hours staring into the fire as they absently sharpen their machetes. The game is mind-blowing because it's a blood ritual of scapegoating — it's about the timeless pleasures and horrors of human sacrifice! (This is why I don't like Edge of Extinction: You can't come back from the dead! Is Rick Devens Jesus? You can try to make that case with his edit, but I'm just not buying it.) 

I honestly wish they would let me produce the show one season! If Cosmo will let Lena Dunham guest edit an issue, why can't I guest curate a season of Survivor?! I would have home visits with all the players before they leave so we can really get to know them, less advantages, challenges that highlight survival skills and willpower (less puzzles and agility), a 50-day season, a seven-person jury, a final two, and I'd make them all as deranged with hunger and fatigue as possible. (They'll be just fine… there are cameras there, remember?) But you can't argue with the track record of producers who have kept a show going 40 seasons and beyond. I would have run the show into the ground long ago. So hats off!

Finally, would you play again if asked?

I had the perfect Survivor experience, IMHO. So if you'd asked me a year ago, I would have probably said no. But then Probst recently, out of nowhere, said to me — very emphatically — there was NO WAY I was ever going back on the show. I don't know why in the hell he said that, but it was a fatal mistake. He should know you don't deliberately provoke a Survivor contestant by telling them what you're thinking and that you're voting them off the island for all time. That just makes me want to scramble! Now, I have to use subterfuge to come up with a conniving scheme to stay alive and prove him wrong… and outlast HIM! So because Jeff said that, I will most definitely be back. Some way, somehow, I WILL BE BACK! If not as a contestant, then as the show's new host! You know what you did, Jeff. Kisses.

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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