Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Hannah Shapiro on the defective challenge do-over
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.
Hannah Shapiro studied the game of Survivor before she actually played — literally. Hannah took a Survivor class at Northwestern University taught by another future Survivor contestant — Survivor: Worlds Apart's Max Dawson. Apparently, the class worked because Hannah made it all the way to day 39 and final Tribal Council on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, where she and Ken McNickle watched Adam Klein walk away with a unanimous victory.
While some Survivor finalists that don't take home the million dollars have complicated feelings about their outing due to the positives of making it all the way to the end without being voted out jumbled alongside the negatives of not being deemed worthy of the win by a jury, Hannah actually has a different perspective — taking pride not in the fact she lost, but in the way she lost.
"It is not easy to show up at the finale and be able to lose with a smile," says Hannah. "It's easy to be a great person when you're winning and everyone is cheering for you, but I'm proud to have smiled while people cheered for my friend."
In her Quarantine Questionnaire, Hannah DIGS DEEP to explore her Survivor soul before, during, and after playing the game. She also reveals intel about an immunity challenge that had to be re-run due to a mechanical issue, which led to some aces impromptu entertainment from none other than Jeff Probst.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
HANNAH SHAPIRO: When my 15 seconds of fame started to fade, I mostly felt relief. I loved meeting everyone involved with and related to the show (fans from across the world), but the weekly episodes depicting a made-for-TV version of myself was rather anxiety producing. And while now that I'm not on the show, I enjoy engaging with the post-show podcasts, media and chatter, it can feel a lot like a middle school social scene on crack. The first thing I did after the airing of weeks on national television was to recover. I focused on my friends outside the show, returned to improv, sketch writing, and creative projects, and sought to restore my emotional health.
Since Survivor I've had a variety of interesting opportunities, some thanks to the show and others related to stuff I was working on before the show. I podcasted a bunch with RHAP covering Survivor, 90-day Fiancé and went on to hosting my own Parks and Recreation Rewatch podcast called "Pawnee Public Radio." I'm also exploring other podcasting adventures! Before Survivor, I thought a podcast was the length of a song; Podcasting has been a great way to connect with Survivor fans and an expanded audience. Different from Survivor, in the podcast world, I control the telling of my story.
Outside of the Survivor world, I served for three years as a writer on a sketch team at Upright Citizens Brigade. I also worked as an entertainment journalist for a variety of online publications. In addition, I have taught in grammar school programs (goofy classes like Spy Kids and Pokemon drawing) and tutored primary grade students. I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a TV writer, though that goal has certainly expanded in form.
This Covid year, like it has for many, threw everything out of sync. With the teaching and journalism work on hiatus, I've become more politically involved, devoting time to voter protection and organizing for the November election and learning about the messed-up world of California propositions. I might be interested in working on a political campaign once the world opens up — I'm probably too weird to be the candidate myself, but I'd love to support progressive candidates for office.
Also I rescued a puppy, Lil Cacao, and she is the goofiest.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
In an overall sense, I just can't believe I went out and did something I told my dad I was going to do when I was 14. I was an awkward early teen (thankfully, I grew out of that and I'm now socially perfect) who watched Survivor. The human chess-match element of it all fascinated me. High school me predicted I would be on the show but high school me also believed that I would marry John Krasinski and we would write an Office spinoff together, so high school me was hit or miss with the dreams.
Watching back then, I never understood where I'd fit in among the beauty pageant queens that appeared as the show's female contestants when I watched in high school. I wrote my college common app essay, explaining that I would be on the show. Then, in a life is strange domino effect I applied with the support of my college professor (Survivor contestant Max Dawson) and when Survivor said yes, I couldn't say no. I was terrified, and more so, because I had been working in reality-TV production, so I knew the dangers of doing it but took the leap anyway.
Proudest moment, right: I am proud of the way I lost — both at the final Tribal and the finale. At that stressful final Tribal, in defending my game play, I think I gave final Tribal my all. I was exhausted, still dirty (though I could have washed my face), and had a jury of mostly men saying a lot of choice words to me, but I stuck to my machetes.
At the finale, I held Adam's hand on that stage and supported my friend as he beat me, knowing the topic on which he was going to have to speak to on live TV. It may seem like a small and obvious thing, but it is not easy to show up at the finale and be able to lose with a smile; It's easy to be a great person when you're winning and everyone is cheering for you, but I'm proud to have smiled while people cheered for my friend. In that respect, while finding agency and the power to make moves in the game was rewarding, it was actually losing well that I'm most proud of.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I think any final three-losing contestant will say that they wish they had gone to the end with X person or Y person instead of Z person. That's in code because I'm not naming names. After the show, as much as Jeff Probst loves his contestants' regret stories, I realized that regret is truly the most useless of emotions. There's no time travel (as far as I know) and if you go back in time and slice the coconut in a different way, then everything is changed. And I wouldn't necessarily want everything to be different.
Of course, it was easy to focus on regret for a time, and trust me, if I had only done that one thing that one time you'd all see me as a champion (kidding mostly). However, with no time machine, this is where we are, so I may as well recontextualize things and find joy. When you're a final Tribal loser and everyone is throwing opinions at you online, it's easy to regret things. Survivor losers get a bootcamp in regret. But if you can make it through that training, the life lessons are sound ones.
Except I do regret not washing my face. Seriously, it was always so dirty.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
There was one challenge, the first one of the merge, where we had to hold our hands over our heads tied to a can full of paint and not let the paint fall on us. They told us to start and suddenly everyone's paint fell within five seconds but mine and a few others. I was like, "Sweet, I won!" Turns out the challenge was defective. Not only did we have to start over, but everyone had to be wiped clean of their paint. While we were in the tent waiting to restart, Jeff Probst came back to chat with us and told us about Koh Rong, which was airing while we were filming. Let me tell you, having a Jeff Probst in-person retelling of a season is better than anything you'll see on TV.
Not sure if that blows your mind, but I can't tell you about the steamy love affair I had under the giant statues of Rob and Sandra. Or the 10 immunity necklaces I won in a row that were cut out of the show.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
The edit of each Survivor season tells the story it needs to tell. My story was how I landed on the beach, grew a bunch, but ultimately lost in the end. I sometimes wish the audience could understand the storytelling elements at play while watching the show and view things with that lens. I'm thankful I got to add my voice to a wonderful season. Production is filled with brilliant storytellers that weave together an incredible narrative (I do wish a few more of those storytellers were women and BIPOC) and hope viewers realize that production's job is to tell an interesting tale.
When the season wraps, every player believes that they are the protagonist. You'll hear cast members say, "Just wait till you see me burp on day five!" But the truth is, only the winner is the protagonist most seasons. Even the winner's story in the "winner's edit' is not fully captured in the highlight reel that is aired as the Survivor season. I learned more about storytelling from my edit and the produced show overall. You live out a month-and-a-half long experience and then you observe how TV professionals tell that story back. It's fascinating; and a great reminder that while you have a lead role in your own life, you're not the main character all the time.
We all want to be the protagonist but there mostly can only be one. Plus, only Jeff Probst ends up on the Emmy billboards anyhow.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
When playing Survivor, the mantra that kept me going was: This is the only world that exists; these are the only people that exist; winning is everything (and the only thing).
After being absorbed in that mindset on the island, coming back and adjusting to a world that existed for a month and a half without me was extremely jarring. I was at Hertz rental with my dad and I suddenly exclaimed, "Wait, Prince died?" The lady looked at me like where have you been? Friends went through breakups, roommates went through job changes, the world existed even when I was not there. And all the things that happened in the real world felt unimportant for a time. I had to convince myself that life outside torches and immunity challenges had value.
And yes, I did spend some nights sleeping on the floor and dreaming only of "the game."
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I definitely had a lot of regrets, but going on the show was never one of them.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I still keep in touch with a handful of folks from my season. While sometimes the friendships across seasons is easier (less shared anger or trauma, and also I've met so many awesome folks), there is an unshakable connection between people from the same season, even when the group texts fade and maybe you don't see each other as often. I remember sitting in Ponderosa before the game when Probst helicoptered in (a pretty badass move). I turned to David Wright (didn't know his name yet), mouth ajar and we both shared in the excitement. We'll always have Fiji!
Mari is wildly talented and incredibly humble for being so damn cool. I brought her a bag of bagels when I got back and caught her up on everything and haven't stopped talking to her. Sunday is such a kind-hearted, empathetic human and she's loved by everyone in our cast. She's currently battling cancer and we're all behind her. Adam feels like family at this point (sometimes we quarrel like siblings), Bret and I see each other in BAWSTON annually, I send Dave a text every time I'm on an airplane that shakes, Michelle is a beautiful dragon princess I hope to visit soon, Ken is open to the world, Will is an adult now and watching him grow up into a thoughtful and smart law student has been a real treat, Chris I can't wait to go to an OU game when the world opens up, I'll whistle at Jay any day, and Zeke will let me swim in his pool if I include him here and say he's handsome.
Any other member of my cast who I didn't include in that long list, I also have love for.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I still watch Survivor! It will never be the perfect escapism it once was for me, but I'll always love the island adventure I dreamt about as a teenager. And while some elements have lost their shine, others were just as magical as I wanted them to be. I started with Cook Islands, so many of that cast will always hold a place in my heart. I love Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites and the domination by the ladies.
In recent seasons, there was just something magical about season 40. I interviewed Ethan, Parvati, Rob, Sandra, Amber, Sophie and Wendell before it began, and the nostalgia and celebration was real. And that song! They're coming for you! In modern seasons, despite all the twists, it's some of the new players that have been the most fun to me. For example, Christian Hubicki was absolutely joyful television and meeting him in real life, he's just as effortlessly engaging as he appears to be on the show. If the show keeps casting wonderful, dynamic people, then the show will continue to feel new, even hundreds of years from now.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Courtney Yates. She's been my favorite since The Dragonz took over the music industry.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
First of all, we should all be thanking the Black Survivor alumni who have shared their stories in a push for diversity. The show benefits and we all benefit from a more diverse cast and crew. Many former players ripped their hearts open in the hopes that it would be better for future contestants. I hope the diversity promises are met, not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well. Storytelling will only improve if production becomes more diverse. More female editors, please! I've been pleased that changes are coming to address these issues. I respect all those who pushed for these changes, and spoke to CBS executives and Probst.
My other proposal for change would address post-show support and care. I am incredibly thankful for my cast members who helped me as I struggled to maintain my sanity post-show. But it shouldn't have ever been their responsibility. CBS should cover the cost of post-show mental health therapy and all contestants should be encouraged to engage with a therapist outside of CBS. Mental health support following the show would benefit all those in the Survivor community.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I want to play again when I'm 80 and really ruffle feathers as the grandma archetype.
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