Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Matt Elrod on playing as a Christian and shaking off his critics
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.
Matt Elrod absolutely dominated at one aspect of Survivor. Unfortunately for him, that aspect happened to be Redemption Island. Voted out of Survivor: Redemption Island on day 5, Matt took part in the franchise's very first duel. Not only did he win it, he then went on to win nine more after that. In all, Matt spent 29 of his 36 days in the game on Redemption Island. It was the seven days on the tribe that were the problem.
Matt was originally voted out of Ometepe after Boston Rob worried about a brewing showmance between the then pre-med student and Andrea Boehlke. After Matt ran the table in Redemption Island duels, he got back in the game at the merge, only to be immediately voted out by Rob again after admitting that he considered flipping on the Robfather. Once again, Matt began dominating duels on Redemption, but ultimately fell short — losing in the very last competition to Andrea.
Matt has been just as successful in his post-Survivor life as he was in Redemption Island duels, scoring roles (under his stage name of Wyatt Nash) on popular TV shows like Riverdale, Dear White People, and Pretty Little Liars. But his first big TV dream was fulfilled when the super fan got cast on Survivor. In his Quarantine Questionnaire, Matt talks all about the difficulties of playing the game as a Christian, shaking off critics who attacked his gameplay, and the folks he's remained closest to over the past decade. Great stuff below from the King of Redemption Island! (And if you are bold enough to click on the video above, you can hear Matt's rapping skills as part of the Redemption Island supergroup Chucho.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
MATT ELROD: After Survivor, I finished up my degree and immediately moved to California to pursue acting. Since landing in L.A., I've gotten married, learned to surf, had numerous camping adventures, adopted a cat, and worked on various TV shows.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I don't think I can pinpoint a single moment but probably lasting on Redemption Island as long as I did. It was very difficult for me to have my life in the game on the line every couple of days. The pressure I felt was immense. I'm very proud I was able to stay the course and keeping moving forward.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I wish I could say being blindsided… twice… by the same person… haha. However, I don't feel I was truly myself. I felt all this pressure to make everyone proud. Also, my desire to be an upstanding Super Christian example really crippled my gameplay. I was so afraid and spent so much time worrying I would make a wrong move by lying and be lambasted as just another hypocritical Christian. I believe that clouded my judgement and kept me from playing the game as I think it is meant to be played. In hindsight, there were many avenues I could have taken that would have been wise, as well as in line with my faith.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Mind blowing... that's a big ask. Since the majority of my time on the show was spent alone, there were a lot of plans I had made that were never seen. In truth, my vote "with" Rob et al. after the merge was to earn their trust and vote with the "opposing" forces next Tribal Council. I may have leaned a little too far into open book policy with Rob.
I was the one that initially told him he didn't need my vote for the majority in an attempt to make myself seem powerless. I wanted to seem like a total compliant non-threat.... I also "confessed" my plan to go against him in an attempt to appear as if I was giving up all strategy and going to follow along with his plans. I think we all know Rob saw through it and decided it would be easier with me out of the picture.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
For all that went down, I think it was pretty true to the events of what transpired. I can't complain. I certainly had my share of fans and critics out there. The critical voices were really tough for me to shake off. Honestly, it has only been in the last few years that I have come to peace with some of the things that were said about me by my friends and online critics alike.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
I had a very difficult time coming back. Often all I wanted to do was return to a simpler life living outside. Society moved so quickly, and every day was filled with thousands of choices. On the island it was often between gathering firewood now... or later, and where was the perfect spot to watch the sunset? I had been through this wild experience and couldn't talk with anyone about it. I connected with people from our season to make sense of it all, but being unable to sort through it with close trusted friends afterward made me feel terribly alone.
I also had to take a semester off from college to compete on the show. The lack of structure at that point in time also made it challenging as I was alone with my thoughts (again) with only a part-time job. It often felt like a dream more than anything else. Then it turned into a whole other animal when it started airing, and I had to listen to all my peers' thoughts about my gameplay.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I had already decided that I wanted to act rather than go to medical school before Survivor. I worried a lot early on how it would affect my burgeoning acting career. I wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, not as someone trying to extend their 15 minutes of fame. That is the reason I wanted to distance myself from the show after it was over to begin pursuing something I hope to do for the rest of my life.
However, I learned so much from the show and met so many beautiful, wonderful people I could never regret doing it. It really expanded my world view in a massive way.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
It's hard to believe we filmed the show over a decade ago! I've lost touch with most of the people over the years, but still think fondly of everyone (yes, even Rob). However, the person I am most thankful for is Francesca. We have become great friends since the show's end. We really connected on a heart level and that hasn't gone away. She has taught me so much, and I am forever grateful for our relationship. We probably spend a couple of hours on the phone every month or so.
Mike Chisel and I are still friends. My wife and I will go see him and his family every now and again. He was a great role model for me for many years and offered generous support during some of my darker days. Both Mike and Francesca came to our intimate wedding, and I was so honored by their presence.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I remember watching the very first season of Survivor with my parents. It was so different and groundbreaking. It really stuck with me. I distinctly remember sitting on their bed and telling them I would never do reality TV with one exception, Survivor. Other than that, I've got to say Heroes vs. Villains. It was simply excellent.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Taj George. I wish I could have played with her. I believe we would have had a powerful, trusting alliance. She was such a solid player and was kind enough to meet up with me before my time on the show to offer advice and answer any questions I had.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
There have been over 20 years of Survivor. It is always challenging to keep things new and fresh. I would prefer to see super-fans of the show go at it rather than fill the show with twists and new formats (even though I benefitted greatly from a new facet being added).
Finally, would you play again if asked?
No, haha. Survivor is an incredible show and I am forever grateful for my time on it. It was also easily the most difficult thing I've ever done. They actually asked me a few times after the fact, but my eyes have been set on other goals.
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!"