SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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.

While Survivor: Fiji did not divide the tribes up by ethnicity as the previous season of Survivor: Cook Islands did, one player form season 14 says there was an unspoken agreement among all the African-American players in the game. “There was an all-Black alliance starting on day 2!” reveals Anthony Robinson. “No one said anything outright for a day, but we all looked at each other and kinda nodded. It was so subtle and quiet that I don't think we even realized the gravity of it until later. We were trying to protect each other without being too obvious about it, and yet still play our own individual games. I like to think that it worked.”

Seeing as how the final three of Earl, Dreamz, and Cassandra were all African-American, Anthony may be right, but the alliance couldn’t save him as the then expert witness locator was targeted (and picked on) by Rocky Reid and Mookie Lee and voted out of the game on day 16. We sent Anthony a Quarantine Questionnaire so the true renaissance man of Survivor: Fiji could look back and reflect on his somewhat rocky ride — no pun intended.

Anthony Robinson
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

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

ANTHONY ROBINSON: Life has been a busy blur of different adventures since I got off the island. I changed careers and went into film and television. I worked in production on a handful of shows like The Big Bang Theory, Ground Floor, Undateable, Dog With A Blog, Uncle Buck, and Drunk History, as well as a few movies that you've probably never heard of.  I worked briefly for Rupert Boneham on his music project, "I Saw You ON TV."

Over the last few years, I've gotten deep into the world of Immersive Theatre and its related industries and found myself a contributor and on the editorial staff for an internet publication called No Proscenium, where we talk about everything from immersive plays, to VR, to escape rooms, to theme parks, and reality TV.

In the middle of all that, I got married to an incredible woman who keeps me on my toes; we have two boys who are now 6 and 11 and they keep us both constantly in motion.

Oh yeah, and I also coach middle school track and cross country and volunteer as a Cub Scout leader.

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

I think that my proudest moment in playing Survivor came the day after one of my lowest points in the game —the night after a really heated and ugly tribal (when we voted off Sylvia), and then coming back to camp and having Rocky lay into me. I'd hit the bottom and really, it stopped being an adventure at that point, and was just... something else.

I did a lot of reflecting that night, and looking up at the stars, I realized that I could do this, was doing this, and I should just keep climbing. Finding that reservoir of internal power, even if it didn't get me deeper in the game?  Yeah, I'm proud of that.

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

My biggest regret from my experience on Survivor was not finding the hidden immunity idol! I had been back from filming for a couple of weeks and was in the shower when I realized that I knew exactly where the idol was on Ravu's beach. It was like the end to The Usual Suspects when the detective realizes who Kaiser Soze is. I kept seeing flashes to things people had said to me, clues that I'd snuck looks at, and where I should have dug, and when I could have done it. I think I screamed out a string of expletives, horribly scaring the bejeezus out of my girlfriend at the time who was in the other room. It was a horrible realization that I could have saved myself and made it much deeper into the game.

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

There was an all-Black alliance starting on day 2! No one said anything outright for a day, but we all looked at each other and kinda nodded. It was so subtle and quiet that I don't think we even realized the gravity of it until later. We were trying to protect each other without being too obvious about it, and yet still play our own individual games. I like to think that it worked.

We also had some crazy times with our rafts! One of them drug anchor and started drifting out to sea. Earl and I were exploring the island and stumbled upon Erika, who spied it drifting away. She ran to get help, and Earl and I were going to try and swim out to it, when I slipped and fell on some sharp rocks. I cut my hand and started dripping blood. I'd been watching Shark Week before we left for the island (a mistake) and was paranoid about Bull Sharks, which are really active in Fiji. I looked up at Earl and was like "nope."

Moments later, Mookie, Edgardo, Rocky and (I think) Boo came running down the beach like on Baywatch and they just dived in and swam for it. It was way, way out and they had to dive down and untie it to bring it back in. It was really impressive, almost like a challenge. While it wasn't a shining moment for me, we got some great information on our fellow castaways' abilities.

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

It's a mixed bag for me. While it is definitely a version of my time out there, it's not the whole of my time out there. I had a lot of highs out there too, even living in the sand and mud, even being as dehydrated and hungry as we were. While for the most part, I feel I got a fair edit, it's definitely the story of a sad, low self-esteemed kid, and not of a growing, reflective man.  On re-watches (yes, I've re-watched my season... several times), I've noticed more and more that "Hey!  That was mid-sentence! There was a redeeming uptick to that statement!" or "That's not what I was referring to at that moment!" or "Where's that time when I opened that coconut in one chop?!" So, yeah, it's me, but it's just one part of me out there. It's a more complex edit than some get, but not as strong as others, either. It wasn't a typical edit, to be sure.

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

Coming off the island was... surreal. It's like when you put on a new pair of eyeglasses for the first time and the world is crystal sharp and a little distorted around the edges. You realize that is a lot more light at night in civilization, a lot more noise. During our season, the Ponderosa wasn't recorded (that I know of!) and we eased back into the world from there. I was only there for about a day and a half, but I spent that time going through something akin to the stages of grief. I was still coming off the adrenaline high of that last Tribal Council, being on the island, and the sheer exhaustion of not having had good rest for 16 days.

Then we got sequestered in Sydney, Australia for the rest of the time. There we were, six of us folks fresh off the island, and could only really talk to each other about the experience. And man, we were all varying degrees of where we were. I remember Erika being mad at me for voting her out, and me struggling to convince her that I was the only one that didn't; Rita and I kept going back and forth about alliances and turncoats. It was like we were still playing the game, and it took a couple of days for us to really let our guards down.

Coming home was even weirder. It was like having removed a layer of gauze off my eyes. I'd just had this life-changing, over the top experience, followed up by a mind-blowing, sometimes anxiety-filled word-class, intimate vacation with a bunch of semi-strangers and then BOOM! You're with family and friends, and you can't talk to anyone about it.  It was really isolating for a while. I was lucky, because I didn't develop some of the trust issues that I know other castaways did off-island, but even still, there'd be moments where I'd hear or notice something that was very island-like and I kinda had to hold commentary or action to myself.

Coming off of Survivor is like its own special flavor of PTSD mixed with Stockholm Syndrome. You embrace it, you love it, but sometimes you'll wake up in the middle of the night sweating, startled, and not sure of where you are. 13 years since it aired, and yeah, I still get that from time to time.

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

I had a brief moment of regretting having done the show one night while at a Kings hockey game at Staples Center. The show was airing, and was on episode 2 or 3. I had changed my look completely, was completely clean-shaven, contact lenses, shaved head, no hat, and I still got recognized.  I thought I was incognito! Someone called out my full name from across the upper concourse and it caught me completely off guard. I thought it was some friend from college or high school, but it was just a fan of the show. It was the first time I'd was recognized (and honestly one of the better times), and I thought to myself as she asked questions about the show, "Oh, man, what have I done? I've lost any anonymity!" Now, I'm back to obscurity, and I think I'm OK with that.

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

I still talk to a lot of my season's cast from time to time.  Somehow, I've become friends with almost everyone, to some degree (yes, even Rocky!), and I try to stay in some sort of contact with them all, but I'm closer to some. Gary and I got to be good friends while roommates in Sydney, and we chat from time to time. Lisi and I speak to each other across social media, and I've seen Mookie and Alex in the real world from time to time.  Jessica deBen and I routinely check in on each other and our families, but the person I keep the closest contact with from my season is Earl Cole.

We became good friends while on the island bonding over nerdy stuff, music, and other interests; we've kept close over the intervening years.  We threw a few of the LA after-parties together, and at one point traveled through Egypt and Dubai together.  He was a groomsman at my wedding, and our families get together when we can. Yeah, Earl and I keep in touch, for sure.

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

Oh yeah, I still watch Survivor. I'm still a fan of the show, even though it's sometimes been a challenge to watch since having kids. TV time isn't so sacrosanct in our household as it once was, so I do a lot of time-shifted TV.

My favorite season before I went on the show was probably a tie between Thailand (Yes, Thailand... Shii Ann was a SUPERPOWER), and Pearl Islands... because...well, PEARL ISLANDS. Of the more recent seasons, I'd have to say Millennials vs. Gen X (season 33) has been my favorite so far. Between the really likable cast (I somehow have become friends and acquaintances with quite a few folks from that group), there was some really strong social and strategic gameplay there — I kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen and would be pleasantly surprised.  It was a strong season, and it renewed my interest in Survivor — having almost walked away from it after Blood vs. Water left a sour taste in my mouth.

Seriously, Blood vs. Water was super hard to watch since I'd become friends with a lot of those contestants AND their families that they were playing alongside. It got difficult to watch and I kept thinking, “Ugh, I love these folks and I can't watch them get beat up like this both on camera and online." Thank goodness for 33 or I might have walked away from the show completely (even with the uplift of Cambodia).

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

The list of Survivors that I wish I could play with is long!  So many folks that I think I would have made a good team with: Peih-Gee Law, Billy Garcia, David Wright, Michaela Bradshaw, The Queen Sandra Diaz-Twine, and Jonny Fairplay — who was the first person to really give me kudos on my gameplay by the way. I think that I'd love to have gotten to play alongside my friend Bobby "Bob Dawg" Mason. He's one of the smartest people to play Survivor, but get buried due to what I consider an unfair edit. He's a super physical guy, but also a really deep soul. I think if I'd met him on the island rather than through CBS' online Survivor Castaway forum (remember that?) we would have hit it off just as strong as we did in person, and maybe have torn some stuff up out there.

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

Only, one? I'll soft pitch this one and say that I'd love to say let the show slowdown from its packed full break necked speed. Show more camp life. Show more of folks that aren't making big moves. Show more than one big story arc — there's so much that happens over the course of just three days that it can and should spill over the 43-minute limit of most episodes. Kind of how it used to be, and not unlike how Australian Survivor does it now.  Let us get to know all of the castaways, good and bad, and not just the power players and game-breakers. I want to get a better sense of the so-called "boring" people, too.

Honestly, by showing more camp life the audience would get a much better idea of how hard Survivor really is, not just physically, but emotionally.  You really do spend time out there building relationships, and friendships, and constantly thinking in the back of your brain "is this genuine, or is this gameplay?" and then having to make a decision and then run with it based on that.

You get the smallest glimpses of those conversations, but often things that would make weird votes and moves make sense get totally left on the editors' hard drive. Big Brother has feeds you can watch, and get a larger sense of who people are and how people are playing.  Survivor doesn't have that, but it has the same non-stop 24-hour gameplay. You're always in-game, even when you're sleeping, and that really matters to how things are played, and I think the audience deserves to see those stories again.

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Would I play again if asked?  Oh dear lord, YES! I'm not the same person I was when I went on the last time. I'm a lot more patient, more hungry, and the adventure is different. I've got a different fire for it. This time, I've got a family to earn the money for, and I've got something to prove — that I was a bigger player on my season than anyone gives me credit for, including myself. In my head, I should have made it to the final five. I still have the strong desire to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could have won the million.

To keep track of our daily Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires and get 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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