Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Erik Cardona shares the show's grossest story ever
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.
The Loved Ones visit. It is a Survivor tradition… where dads and spouses and siblings run awkwardly over sand into the waiting arms of their starving and sobbing family members. However, there was no Loved Ones visit for Survivor: Samoa, and contestant Erik Cardona thinks he knows who is to blame — himself!
In his Quarantine Questionnaire, Erik not only explains why he believes he killed the Survivor: Samoa Loved Ones visit, but the 12th place finisher (and provider of the best air quotes in final Tribal Council history) also reveals why he may actually deserve a spot in the Survivor history books, and shares what has to be the grossest in-game story we have ever heard about any player in any season. If that’s not enough to get you reading, I don’t know what is. But remember… you’ve been warned.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
ERIK CARDONA: Since the show, I've written a feature film (family film Lost & Found starring Jason Patric and Cary Elwes), two books set for publishing in early 2021, and have written and directed several online commercial ads and sales documentaries.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
One: I was the first person in Survivor history to find an idol without a clue. Although most would give that credit to Russell Hantz, it's hard to say who actually did it first as we both found idols without clues on two different beaches on two different teams. Of course, with Russell, a villain was born in Samoa — so a lot of people remember him for his “idol acumen” and have no clue I also had one in my pocket sans clue. To Hantz' credit, he played his idol the night I got voted out. And had I followed his “idol instincts” and played mine as well that night, I would have survived, exposed the rats on the team that stabbed me in the back, flipped to Foa Foa with Shambo... and burned Galu to the ground.
Two: My Tribal Council speech. Many thought it was a mistake, most still do. But it felt right in the moment, and it's not like you have lines or a teleprompter out there when you're delivering it. I remember just sort of vulnerably opening up my heart and words were just coming out. I didn't let my head get in the way of the words, and turns out, the speech several years later is brought up a lot in Survivor history, voted as (humbly) the second-best Tribal speech since the iconic Sue Hawk raised the bar in Borneo.
Three: An odd proud moment. When I was blindsided post-merge, my team (Galu) had an 8-4 advantage. Galu thought they could bounce me from the island and still control the game. However, after sacrificing me — one by one — every Galu member fell. Their blindside on me failed, blowing up in their face in historic fashion as not a single member of Galu made it to the final.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
No, my biggest regret is NOT not playing my idol the night I was blindsided. Everyone loves to troll me about that, but in the moment, the right calculation was to preserve the idol there. Little did I know there was 100 percent chance of me going home if I didn't play it. I really don't have a regret. I stood up for good people. I caught a chicken. And I played my heart out.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I don't even know if I can say this... but I wasn't supposed to be on the show. I got a call a week before contestants flew out of America, and was told, "Unfortunately, you did not make the cast for season 19. But we would like to fly you down to Samoa as an alternate if anything happens to a cast member between now and the start of the show. But you should know, no one in 18 seasons as an alternate has ever made it on the show." I told the casting assistant "I'm getting on that plane. And I'm getting on that show."
So the entire time the cast is being flown to and shuttled around Samoa, everyone has to keep quiet. You can't talk so as to not give anything away (accents, personalities, etc) before the game starts. Most of the time we're in blindfolds — people are getting sick and puking in the vans on the bumpy, third-world roads en route to location. Everyone knows there's an alternate, but no one knows who it is. And I'm doing my best to blend in, like the cat who swallowed the mouse, having to play the game before the game so that just in case I did make it on the show, I didn't start day 1 with an 'alternate bullseye' on my back.
I worked my ass off in every element of the pre-game to prove I belonged on the show. Eventually, [Mark] Burnett and [Jeff] Probst bring me into a tent hours before location — and mentally gassed, expecting him to hand me a plane ticket home, Probst tells me "So you may have heard we'll also be shooting Survivor 20 here on location in Samoa, and that maybe if you didn't make this season, you might be thinking you'd get to play in season 20. Well, that's not gonna happen." (Insert heart drop. Cold blooded, Probst!) But then he continues, "That's not gonna happen... because Mark and I would like to see you play in this season. Welcome to Survivor: Samoa."
Next thing you know, crew members are rushing to location to rebuild sets to accommodate the extra alternates, (adding me and a player on the opposite team to equal it out). Turns out they used money in the budget to add the alternates, for the first time in Survivor history, that was originally allocated to the “Family Reunion” episode. So, as I was told, because of me, everyone on the island that was pining over their family members from home, hoping and longing to play long enough to make it to the “loved ones” episode were never going to get that satisfaction. And if you watch that season, sure enough, no loved ones in the budget that season.
This is another story that didn't happen to me, but one of the players on my season was diagnosed by the medical staff with having an impacted colon. This was going to cause severe issues to their internal organs if it didn't get corrected. Unfortunately, medical staff has to be “hands off” and so they could not help. This person, knowing the situation had a choice: Do nothing and maybe die. Get airlifted and evacuated from the game. Or C... put a stick up their ass and try to remove the blockage/impacted colon themselves.
And believe it or not, this person walked off from camp, broke off a piece of bamboo about 6 inches long, sanded it down as best they could with a rock, and then bravely stuck it right up their ass, being ever-so-gentle so as to not puncture their colon and reeeeeallllyyy mess things up. And... this person.... heroically succeeded and stayed in the game. So for anyone I meet and asks me "Is it really 'real' out there?" I say to them, go stick a stick of bamboo up your ass and tell me how “real” you're feeling.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
The edit was fine. There's some good stuff. Some not-so-good stuff. It's, from a production standpoint, difficult to cram all those hours of footage into a 42-minute episode. They also have to take something totally unscripted and weave a storyline for the audience to follow. So, it's not a perfect science. You're out there, warts and all, and some people get more of their warts than others shown on national television.
You also kind of lose your mind out there. 1.) You're starving. 2.) You're dehydrated. 3.) Everyone's lying to you. 4.) You're lying to everyone. 5.) You're completely sleep-deprived. No one is going to be picture perfect and on their best behavior and manners with that recipe. If you want to know what it's like, hang out in your backyard with strangers under the same circumstances for a couple weeks and then put a camera in all of your faces — it might not be pretty.
Some say “when you strip all of your modern conveniences, the show exposes who you truly are.” That's bulls---. We don't live like that. We live in a world where we try our best not to be in those five circumstances, and so who you are outside of those five is actually more telling. Thus, what they capture on the show isn't really “you”…. it's just a version of “you” on the island in extreme circumstances.
It's an important question because not only do a lot of people at home not realize these things, and bury players for a snippet of their lives — a moment in crazy freakin time — but a lot of players get home and have an identity crisis because of how they see themselves on the edit when the show airs. And it's not. It's what you sign up for, for sure. But who you are on the island is just that: who you are on the island. Shout out to the king of gnarly edits — Russell Hantz. He’s probably a stand-up dude off the island (lol).
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
The minute you land, everything is.... off. There are more people in the customs area of the airport than you've seen in the last two months. You get on the freeway and there are more cars in a quarter-mile stretch than you've seen in the last 60 days.
The biggest transition was having to use toilets again. I remember being out in L.A. a couple days after I returned with some friends. I had to pee. And I was walking up and down the concrete sidewalk of La Cienaga Blvd. looking for an open “establishment” who had a men's “facility” that I was allowed to use, not being a customer and all. In Samoa, when you had to pee, you just found the closest tree, which, on an island, is available basically anywhere and everywhere at any time. So, re-domesticating yourself — a.k.a. potty training — was a funny culture shock to adjust back to.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I really don't regret anything. I met a lot of great people. Had great conversations with those people. Learned a lot about others and myself. Experiences that will live with me forever, that I'm lucky to have been a part because not everyone gets the kind of opportunity I was gifted. Also, I have a few nieces that were born after my time on the island, who are now old enough to watch their uncle on their iPads — and to see them get excited when the music hits and have that special bond with them (years after the show aired) is an extra benefit that is so cool to share with them, that by itself has proven to be worth every second of the experience.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
From Galu, Laura Morett, which is pretty cool considering she organized my exile. Looking back at the show, I love the look in her eyes that she gets when she's sitting in that musty, rotting shelter and the lightbulb goes off in her head to oust me. Good times! Morett's a really good person. She's supportive, nurturing, has a lot of emotional and intellectual intelligence, and just runs on positivity. And she's this way with everyone for the most part. We would've been a strong pair of allies had we chatted just a little bit more on the island. I also palled around with Mick from Foa Foa after the show a lot. He even invited me to his wedding. Class act and a good man.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
Survivor's visceral man. You see a promo and even all these years later, I'm telling you, the mind and body go right back. The hairs raise up on my arms and I start checking the clouds above for rain. So I take it in with doses. Thanks to streaming, I will go on long Survivor droughts — and then totally binge through episodes.
Nothing you watch on TV can live up to the actual experience, but what does keep you on the edge of your seat is the psychology and sociology that is ever-evolving in the game. Because of this, my favorite person to have watched an episode with since the show, is a former social science professor of mine from college — Dr. Robin Perrin of Pepperdine University — to properly break down all the psychos on the island! Which leads me to my favorite season, obviously, Winners at War.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I used to think Parvati, because when I studied her on tape, I never realized why people found their way under her spell so easy. I thought it would be a good test, and I, of course, would pass. Then one day, as random as life is, completely outside of the show and after my time in Samoa and her time in Heroes vs. Villains, I bumped into the great Parvati running stairs at a popular outdoor venue somewhere.
I was running upstairs, she was running down, and as we crossed she recognized me and turned with her soul-sucking eyes and just said, "Oh, hi. Nice to meet you," with a smile. And…I melted. I didn't know where I was, couldn't feel my legs, and hadn't heard a word she said — but felt like I had this innate responsibility to trust her, follow her lead, and do what she says.
We parted as quickly as we crossed paths, but I remember finally catching my breath (for a couple reasons) at the top of the stairs after thinking... "Phewww. So glad I didn't play on her team. She would have absolutely railroaded me." I agree with Probst who (I believe) ranks her as his number one player in the game — and definitely John, my buddy from Samoa — was turned out to prove his rocket scientist smarts in getting Parv to say yes to marrying him. John's an awesome dude and you gotta just love love love their family.
Hantz and I would've been great to go one-on-on. He told me when I met him after the show at a screening in Hollywood, "You and me, we're the same... jes' different." And he's right. Too bad we only had a day on the same beach. If we had a month together, there'd have been some fireworks.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
Make Probst play. People have been suggesting some kind of crew and production season so that those in charge of the game can get to see and feel it from the inside. But I imagine the pushback is “Why would viewers care about the crew getting in the game?” Well, I guarantee they'd watch if Probst was in the game.
How has this not been done yet? How has he not been featured in a celebrity season? Obviously, he'd have a target early — but no one in the world is more qualified to play this game. He's truly a genius. Most people think he has a microphone or receiver in his ear telling him what questions to pry into during Tribal Council. Even when you're in Tribal Council, you think that's what's happening because of the accuracy and social depth and natural detective instincts he shows. I’m here to tell you all, that is false.
Every question he poses comes straight from the man himself. He is a soulful sponge and I can't think of anyone in the world with more insight to this game, and has personally, grown the depth of his own character, throughout the years Survivor has been on the air. He's taken it all in, and he's not that “Seacrest-gameshow guy.” He's salt of the earth, man.
Burnett once said about the show that when your strand yourself on an island with strangers, heroes will rise and villains will reveal themselves. Imagine having a superhero and a supervillain all bottled up in one, who truly does “get it” when it comes to the Rubik's Cube of societal sudoku and human condition that Survivor is. That person is Probst. He's done everything but get in the game. So if you're listening, get in the game. What a twist.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
The day I came home from Samoa, I packed a “return” backpack and threw it in the corner of my apartment. It's still in the same spot, ready to go if I get the call.