Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: J'Tia Taylor on smashing the Survivor stereotype
With Survivor filming for season 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.
J’Tia Taylor knows the first image that probably comes to mind when you think about her time on Survivor: Cagayan is her dumping the tribe’s rice into the fire. She acknowledges she gave the producers “big moments to work with” and that she “made peace with the fact that I was going to be shown as vindictive, impulsive, and vengeful.”
But J’Tia also knows that there are a lot more facets to her personality and her game that we never got to see in her brief stint on season 28 of the franchise, and the nuclear engineer knows that is a trend that has impacted many African-American contestants over 20 years. The woman who busted out one of the best T-shirts in reality television history (I❤️Nerds) took some time to fill out our Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire, and used that time to tell us what we didn’t see on TV when it came to her time on the island. She also explains why “representation matters,” which has led to a petition from Survivor contestants to make sure it happens in the future.
Read on, as J’Tia spills a lot more than just rice in her Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
J’TIA TAYLOR: Since appearing on Survivor, I got engaged, married, moved to D.C., had two children, and moved back to Chicago. Needless to say, I’ve been busy.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
The fact that I was able to effectively present my point of view and hold my own against threats at Tribal Councils. Both David and Garrett underestimated me and the other ladies, and they went home. And the third Tribal Council was going my way as well until Jeff himself started advocating for Spencer. I’m pretty sure Jeff was livid that I even had a chance to stay over Spencer.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Following the advice not to drink water until it was boiled. In the first three days of the game, I drank maybe a canteen of water and juice from coconuts. I was very worried about getting injured and/or sick during Survivor. So, when the medical team said don’t drink the water, I did not.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
That I actually did play the game. I was great at making arguments at Tribal Council and understanding where people were coming from. I set up the alliance of four between Tasha, Garrett, Spencer, and I a few minutes after we made it to the island. I knew that David and Garrett would be against each other after David as the leader picked Garrett — and that they would see each other as rivals. I also understood that Kass felt like she was on the outs once David was voted out. And that I had an ally in Tasha until a few minutes before we voted at that last Tribal Council.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I understand that they make characters out of people on the show. And I gave them big moments to work with including dumping the rice on the fire. I’d made peace with the fact that I was going to be shown as vindictive, impulsive, and vengeful.
I was not at all happy that Survivor tried to specifically question my professional competency. Jeff Probst said in an Entertainment Weekly interview before the season aired, “I’m not sure anyone’s gonna feel too comfortable about our future knowing that J’Tia is a nuclear engineer.”
Jeff doesn’t understand what I do in my profession. I help keep our nation safe in a very unique way using my engineering background. And his comments diminish who I am and what I do. If you’d like to know more about how I am harnessing nuclear energy to solve intelligence challenges, you can find out here.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
I’d spent a couple of weeks in Thailand on the pre-jury trip, which was a beautiful place with friendly people and amazing food. Kop-khun-kha! Southeast Asia, is my favorite region to visit.
Coming home was definitely an adjustment. Survivor exposes and isolates you at the same time. A specific and intimate part of your life is thrust into the public arena. And it’s shaped into a very specific character by Survivor to attract viewers. Unscripted television is just as manipulated as scripted shows, but you do not get any say on the character you play. And there isn’t really any organized support after the show like an official Survivor alumni group or anything. The show’s psychologist is available and did reach out on a couple of occasions. So, you are largely left to navigate on your own.
Coming back to Chicago, I really leaned on my family and friends to ground and reconnect me. But I didn’t even tell them most of them that I was on Survivor. I travelled abroad regularly [… moment of silence for my Delta Platinum status … ] for work at the time. So, I just told them that I had back-to-back international work trips. And then when the cast was released, I invited them to a watch party. My friends do awesome things all the time and we all support each other. So, this was just another checkmark of #BlackExcellence for our group of Black, young, urban professionals.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Yes, at one point I thought it would’ve been better if I didn’t go on the show because I was shown in such a negative light. And I think the pinnacle of that was an article written in a student newspaper. I don’t want to diminish the people that I care about.
But then I had to realize that Survivor does not define me and never will. I am funny, beautiful, intelligent, full of ideas, inquisitive and loyal. I can also be annoying, talkative, too loud, and move too fast for others to follow. And I can’t control how Survivor chooses to portray me for their financial gain.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I speak with Tasha, Brice, and Kass regularly, and keep in touch with David and Spencer, who were all invited to my wedding. I see positive and endearing things about all of my castmates and why we are one of the best seasons of Survivor. I wish them all the best and I’m always Team Cagayan.
Tasha is #blackgirlmagic personified. She is unbothered, living her best life and slaying the Chick-fil-A game. I’ll admit that I’ve at times, I’ve been jealous of her. How can you not be? But I’ve had to check myself and remind myself that her shine illuminates us all. She is my friend who makes me want to level up. I appreciate and enjoy that.
Brice is my younger, much-cooler brother. I remember trying to cuddle with him at Ponderosa and I telling him that we were going to be friends. [Aside: That is how I make friends. I tell people we are going to be friends. I also told my husband what day we're going to get married on our third date. It’s how I roll, don’t judge.] We talked about our hopes, dreams, and goals. It has been exciting to watch him grow over the years and become a pillar of the Survivor community with the Purple Pants Podcast. Yes, baby boy!
He is such a loving, caring and social person. You really didn’t get to see that on the show. He is friends with me, my mother, and my daughter. And each of us have our own relationship with him. Recently, my daughter was telling him a scary story on FaceTime. And when it got to a part with lightning, he started to flicker the lights. To a little 4-year-old in quarantine, that was better than a Disney movie. And that is how far he will go to make a friend smile.
Kass and I are close. She’s a salty old Seabee and I love it. I think she’s taken a lot of criticism for being her unapologetic self. I admire how she played the game and how she lives her life. We’ve even spoken about some of the incidents concerning race and Survivor. She is someone who I feel like I can have deep conversations with about life and I value that. And she is funny and can turn a phrase.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
Since I had children, I have not watched a full season of Survivor. However, I am getting more involved with the Survivor community. And I met some wonderful people from season 37, David vs. Goliath. And during quarantine, I am slowly devouring David vs. Goliath. It’s whatever the opposite of binge-watching is — savor-watching. Thanks to Twitter handle @poloniumman for the terminology. Way to be, dude!
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I shan’t be limited to one. I have a few girl crushes who I’d love to play with — Abi-Maria, Kelley Wentworth, Val Collins, and Ramona [a biochemist and fellow #stemqueen]. All who I’ve not-so-secretly stalked and tried to befriend with varying levels of success. I’d love to see an all-female Survivor season!
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Lazy, crazy, workhorse, and sidekick are the typical ways that Survivor portrays African Americans, which is disproportionally negative. We are heroes, nerds, beauties, and so much more in real life. And I’d like to see that on Survivor. And us Black castaways have started a petition to call for just that and more.
Representation matters. Media is the only way a lot of Americans are exposed to people of African descent and shapes how we are treated in society. George Floyd was murdered by police who felt like they had to use excessive force on a big Black man.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I said yes to Survivor for the challenge, the chance to win a million dollars [which statistically was a slim chance even with a level play field], and to show African Americans and women that we exist and excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics despite our lack of representation. And I’m still game for the game.