Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Nina Acosta 'felt like a failure' after early exit on 'One World'
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.
When asked on her pre-game bio questionnaire why she wanted to be on Survivor, Nica Acosta had a pretty simple and direct reply: "I want to prove that a 50+ year-old woman can compete. I love challenges, both physical and mental."
Unfortunately, she didn't get much of a chance to prove it. Nina was the first person voted out of Survivor: One World (and the second eliminated after Kourtney Moon was medically evacuated after a wrist injury in the first challenge). Even though the former athlete who went to college on a full basketball scholarship outperformed tribemates in challenges, and was only cut loose on day five due to not being in the majority female alliance on Salani, Nina says her ultra-competitive nature made her early exit tough to swallow.
"There was a point in time when I returned that I regretted doing the show," says Nina. "I was very disappointed with my early exit and felt like a failure. I kept re-living the few days I was out there, and how I could have done things differently to keep me in the game."
However, that feeling faded, and Nina recognized that there is only so much you can manage in the game of Survivor, and that sometimes the numbers — and people you are playing with — are simply not in your favor.
"I eventually realized that there is so much of the experience that is out of your control," Nina said, "so I tried to focus on how lucky I was to just get the chance to compete on Survivor."
For those of you who felt shortchanged by Nina's all-too-brief Survivor stay back on season 24, fear not! Because the recently-turned grandmother delivers all the goods on her time on the island as well as what she's been up to since in her Quarantine Questionnaire!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
NINA ACOSTA: I officially retired in 2015, but continue to work two days a week in a civilian position at the Fresno County Sheriff's Office. Retirement allowed me to finally pursue my dream of becoming a Master Gardener, so I completed the program in 2019. Since Survivor, three of our four children got married and we have our first grandchild!
Our youngest is graduating from San Diego State this May, so my husband Joel and I are empty nesters, and loving it! Maintaining a high level of fitness has always been important to me, and the older I get, the more important it is to maintain. I give the credit to the staff at Athletic Performance Fresno for helping me reach my fitness goals, while staying injury free.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I think simply agreeing (at a fairly advanced age) to participate on Survivor, and not to be afraid to compete on a show that is definitely geared to showcasing younger people.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret is that I didn't play more aggressively. When Jeff announced that the tribes were to be divided men vs. women, my heart sank. I knew this was the worst possible scenario for me, and I wasn't prepared for it. I was 25-to-30 years older than my tribemates, except for Monica Culpepper. I was married with children, and the majority were single with no children. It was difficult to find common ground with the women. From the beginning, I felt I had a huge target on my back.
In hindsight, I should have created as much chaos as possible prior to Tribal Council, to see what would stick. I had nothing to lose.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Not sure if it is mind-blowing, but Colton Cumbie spent an excessive amount of time in our camp that didn't appear on TV. He really got along well with our tribe (me included). I was surprised and impressed how he managed that, and it not affecting his standing with his tribemates.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I think all Survivor contestants agonize over "The Edit." In reality, how you look and act is accurate, because it is live and 24/7 — no retakes. I think I may have come across a little bitter and angry, but, in reality, what I was feeling was frustration because of how dysfunctional our tribe started out. I really didn't want the audience to look at us and say, "Yeah, women can't get along, and really can't compete head-to-head against men."
Professionally speaking, I have always worked in a male-dominated setting, so this circumstance was something I wasn't ready for, or willing to accept. I felt we should have been so much better than the way we performed and acted early on. If you recall, the guys actually threw a challenge as part of their strategy. I think that was a turning point, allowing the women to dominate the remainder of the season. I don't think that would have happened without the guys' help.
On another note, I was not prepared for how I looked after the cargo net face plant. Wow, I looked rough!
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
It was awesome coming home! I really missed my family. I had no trouble diving back into my routine as wife and mother. The downside was, I was back to work in two days. I went from tropical paradise to an office with a pile of work waiting for me.
The only difficulty I had was keeping the secret for so long. People kept asking where I had been. A lot of our friends thought my husband Joel and I were getting a divorce, because I was absent from kids' soccer games and other events. It was really hard on him to keep covering for me.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
There was a point in time when I returned that I regretted doing the show. I was very disappointed with my early exit and felt like a failure. I kept re-living the few days I was out there, and how I could have done things differently to keep me in the game. I eventually realized that there is so much of the experience that is out of your control, so I tried to focus on how lucky I was to just get the chance to compete on Survivor.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I talk to all of the people I spent time with as a "pre-juror" (Matt Quinlan, Monica Culpepper, Bill Posley, and Kourtney Moon). We got to know each other well, and they are people I would have been friends with had we met under different circumstances. I attended Matt's wedding, and have enjoyed watching his beautiful family grow over the years. Bill and I talk regularly, and he has visited and stayed with me and my family.
Monica and I bonded immediately both on and off the show. We both have children about the same age, and share the joys and struggles of parenthood. We check in with each other all of the time. I really admire her. She is a very kind, thoughtful person, not to mention a "badass." I reconnected with Alicia Rosa at Matt's wedding. We had our differences on the show, but discovered during Matt's wedding weekend that we had a lot in common. We became good friends, and my husband and I attended her wedding in Cancun a few years ago.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Absolutely! My favorite season, by far is Cagayan. There were so many big personalities on that season: Kass, Sarah, Spencer, and of course Tony. It was a very strong interesting cast.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I can't pick one, but my top four I would love to play with are Sarah Lacina, Denise Stapley, Tony Vlachos, and Terry Dietz. I picked those two women because they are both physically strong, smart, and have wicked senses of humor. I'd pick Terry, because I think we would get along well, and he's someone I admire and respect. (He reminds me of my husband) And, well, who wouldn't want to play with Tony! He's one of a kind.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I think there are way too many idols. Players are spending more time looking for them rather than working on strategies with and against other players. The social gamesmanship is the best part of the show, in my opinion.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
The competitor in me would jump at the chance, just to see if playing under different circumstances, with different people, would help me get further in the game. I feel like I am still in great shape, and could be an inspiration to others my age to challenge themselves. Survivor was such an awesome experience, one that I will never forget. In the process, I met some great people, including fellow competitors, and Survivor crew and staff personnel, where lifelong friendships were created.
However, I would reluctantly say no to Survivor again. It is a long time to be away from family and friends, and as I get older, I realize how precious time is. I don't want to miss any moments with them.
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