Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Katie Gallagher reveals what we didn't see on Palau
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.
She is part of one of the most famous moments in Survivor history — when Ian Rosenbeger voluntarily stepped down from his buoy in the final immunity challenge of Survivor: Palau and asked Tom Westman to take Katie Gallagher to the end instead. While the step-down after 12 hours ended one of the most epic duels ever, lost in the moment (especially after the shocking quit by Ian) was the fact that Katie lasted five hours herself on the buoy.
That accomplishment is all the more impressive when you learn that Katie had burned the skin off her hands in an earlier challenge. That is one of the revelations Katie drops in her Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire. And that's not all. Which other player may or may not have faked a seizure? What does Katie wish she had done differently out there? And which of her tribemates is she still in touch with today? The Palau runner-up shares all, and talks about the difficulty of carrying on after her friend and tribemate Jenn Lyon passed away. It's another must-read from a Survivor OG.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
KATIE GALLAGHER: That's a lot of years to catch up on! This is the part where I feel like I'm supposed to say I found the love of my life and we built a beautiful family… Well, that didn't happen, but I DID adopt a dog named Mabel and she's the love of my life, so far. Highly recommend! Five stars!
Professionally, I've been working as a producer in reality television for over a decade now. It's given me the opportunity to tell stories for living, connect with people, and adventure all over the world. I love what I do! I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy around the time my friend Jenn was fighting for her life against cancer, and that was very difficult time for me. When Jenn passed, I struggled to navigate through the grief and overwhelming guilt that I had because I survived and she didn't. I always felt like she was a better person than me.
Then, my father passed away suddenly and that was utterly paralyzing. I threw myself into work and travel to baby-step through those feelings. Now it's important to me to live a life with an open heart and make decisions that would make my dad, my girl Jenn, and myself proud. I've made some mistakes along the way, but I've found that humor has helped me to cope with personal trauma. I feel fortunate that my career allows me bring laughter (and sometimes tears) into the homes and hearts of millions of people. I might not be saving the world, but if something I helped to make brings joy and laughter to others, I think I'm doing alright. Geez, that was heavy. I could have just said, "Doin' great, thanks!" but that's not me.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I'd have to say lasting five hours in the final immunity challenge, Bob Bob Buoy. The challenge ended up lasting 12 hours in total, which is a record that still stands today. So, people often forget how long I actually lasted, which is a hell of a long time and might be some sort of record in its own right.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Oof. I try to live a life without regrets, but since you asked… I suppose I wish I would have played more of a "political" game around camp. What I mean is, I wish I would have faked it a little better when people bugged me. Like, with Caryn for example. I'm not a fake person, but I could have been a better actress when it came to her. She drove me crazy and I had no filter. Tom says I couldn't fake my way out of a cocktail party, and he's right. Like, maybe it wasn't a good idea to say Janu looked like the creepy jack-in-the-box guy from the old Twilight Zone episodes when she was zoning out and smiling with a creepy grin?
I don't know. I don't regret being myself, I just could have been a faker me. I remember one day I saw Tom taking a moment to chat with Janu as she wept in the hammock for (what felt like) the 100th day. I knew that Tom was equally as irritated that Janu was laying around boo-hooing, but he knew it was important for our tribe to try and keep Janu's morale up because she performed so well in challenges. Tom was a great leader in that way. I went in with a mindset that it was safer for me to build only a handful of solid, genuine relationships, because that would make it easier to vote people out when the time came. I think that came off like I was closed off and I didn't care, but I absolutely genuinely care for everyone I was out there with. I hope they know that.
What’s something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
There are a couple of things, actually. (1) Willard had a seizure when we arrived at our new Koror camp after the first challenge as a tribe. No one actually knows if it was a real seizure or if he faked it to get water from one of the producers. All I know is, I was rubbing his rat-like feet to get the circulation going, and we were all pretty terrified. We had just lost our reward of flint and steel after our boat capsized, our new island was infested by rats, Willard almost died, and then it started to rain and we had no shelter. I will say, the word on the beach was the seizure was fake, and if you didn't know already, Willard was NOT a mailman, so a lie isn't too far-fetched.
(2) At our second challenge, I had quite the struggle on the rope swing. What the audience never saw was that I actually burned the skin off of the palms of my hands, ENTIRELY, trying to swing on that damn rope. I couldn't use my hands at all for 12 days. I was not only humiliated by my performance, but severely injured. The medics could do nothing for me, and the only way to clean the open wounds was to stick my hands in the salty ocean. Which, if you've ever swam in the ocean with a tiny cut, imagine the pain of having SKINLESS palms in the salty sea.
My injury was never mentioned in the edit, even though I cried like a baby in my interview. It just wasn't story-worthy, I guess. The real story was over at Ulong, since they lost. This was the reason I sat out of a lot of challenges, especially water challenges or anything that involved using your hands. In NO way am I saying I would have been a challenge beast if my hands worked, but I am an excellent swimmer and that was a very unfortunate situation. If you rewatch, you can see I have bandages on my hands that are just strips of fabric from my skirt.
I could go on and on about my damn hands… bugs laying eggs in the wounds, etc. In fact, in the infamous scene where Caryn yells at me, I'm sitting on the edge of the outrigger, mentally preparing to go clean my hands in ocean, which would often make me faint. I had been trying to contribute to the building of the shelter, but I couldn't use my hands. It was so frustrating. I used to teach a course in survival skills, so I absolutely knew about building a shelter, I just couldn't physically contribute, so I tried to verbally help out. In the edit, it looks like I'm just being bossy and lazy, and then Caryn told me off, which was awesome. Caryn is the OG Karen.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I think it was fair, besides the hand thing. If you would have asked me 15 years ago, I might have had a different answer. I remember feeling so anxious every week because I wasn't sure how I would be portrayed, I felt like I looked different each week. Would I be mean? Would I be funny? Would I look smart? How many times will Jeff say, "Katie, struggling!" during the challenge? It was rough, but that's what you sign up for. My tribemates have all said how funny they think I am. I wish the world would have seen a little more of that Katie. I looked so damn serious all the time and so very pointy, but that has nothing to do with the edit, that's just how I look. :)
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
I was super-weird. I had sensory overload. After the final Tribal, when we finally had beds to sleep in, Tom, Ian, and I chose to sleep on the floor next to one another instead. Electricity was odd. It was Christmastime when we returned, and I remember all of the lights and electricity really throwing me off. Everything seemed so excessive. I couldn't sleep because all of the lights and noise. I didn't trust anyone, like I was still in the game. If someone asked me how I was, I would roll the answer around in my head, weighing out my answer strategically. It was an odd time.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Absolutely not. Not while I was out there and not even when I got really sick and almost died when I got home. I never regretted it, ever. Life is short, go after what you want. It was a dream of mine to play Survivor. I learned so much about life, myself, and what is really important. Even though the game is about winning money, I won so much more than that. My experience on Survivor led me to so many beautiful humans that I love so dearly and hold in my heart forever.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I've got this funny text chain going with what we call the Koror Ancients Council: Tom, Ian, Gregg, and Stephenie. We've really connected again since the pandemic hit, and I'm so grateful for that. It's like a day hasn't passed, and I hope to see them in person soon! Although she's not here with us physically, I feel very connected to Jenn still, I can hear her laugh right now. I miss her. I still talk to Coby, who I absolutely love dearly, he's been so kind to me, and I regret we weren't closer on the island. Kim and I have become close through social media recently and I think she is a really special human, such a strong and intelligent woman.
Although they weren't on my season, Lex (Africa) is one of my favorite humans on earth. He's got a beautiful heart and is like a brother to me. I've recently become close with T-Bird (Africa)! I love that woman, she is a ray of sunshine with the most infectious energy. Lastly, Nate (Cook Islands) is a close and dear friend of mine. You haven't lived if you haven't had a laugh with Nate.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I do. I'm a forever superfan. I've been a fan since season 1. That's tough. My favorite season is Africa (I'm biased because I was a finalist in casting for that season). I think it's so different than any other season location-wise, and the cast is SO dynamic and likable. Winners at War was epic.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against, and why?
Shane Powers. He is really smart and completely bonkers.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I'm all for twists, but no more hidden immunity idols. I'd like to get back to the survival aspect of the game, the human dynamic, and the social experience.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Yep. I'd like the old-folks version, please.