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.

DISCLAIMER: Edna Ma once gave me drugs on an airplane. That may sound more exciting than it actually was, especially coming on the heels of the news about a kilo of cocaine washing ashore on Survivor: Panama. But while flying from LAX to New Zealand en route to Samoa in 2011 to cover the newest season of the reality competition series Survivor, I happened to strike up a conversation with my seat mate… who just happened to be competing on the newest season of the reality competition series Survivor.

 The conversation was great. What was even better was when she shared her Lunesta with me so we could both get some shut-eye on the seemingly endless international flight. A bond was formed. The type of bond that can only be forged by drugs on airplanes.

Once Edna arrived (well rested!) in Samoa for Survivor: South Pacific, she found herself in immediate danger of being voted out. However, an early alliance with the initially ostracized Coach proved to be a savvy social and strategic move that carried Edna all the way to seventh place on the show. How does she feel now about her time on the island? I sent my old Air New Zealand seat mate a Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to find out.

Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

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

EDNA MA: It’s now the fall of 2020 (pun intended), and since I appearing on Survivor, I appeared as a contestant on Shark Tank (October 2013) season 5, birthed two children, and published two bilingual children’s books. I’m still working as an anesthesiologist and now the headmistress at the Edna Ma Prep Academy. Fortunately, I have the support of the husband to keep all the balls up in the air.

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

Tough question! The fact I was selected, played the game, didn’t seriously injury myself, endured the humiliation of being on the bottom of my tribe, persevered even though I wanted to quit on day 2, and I completed the entire game, would be the proudest moments. Honestly, I get a little PTSD when I watch some of the footage of my time out there.

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

For me, living with regrets means you’re living in the past. But for the immediate 4-6 months after the filming, I was literally replaying, in my mind, the events of my season on a daily basis. A lot of the game is due to chance and luck. I wasn’t on the beach the night the “party of 5” made their alliance. It was impossible to have a strategic conversation with cowboy Rick, even though he’s lovely person  and a huge fan of Survivor (he applied 17 times).

If I had a change to “rewind and redo,” I wished I could have been part of the final core alliance and been more of an influence on Coach. (I might have been able to play more of the challenges, and not sit out! Boo!) Let’s be honest, there’s no way I could have won. These permutations are only possible ways that might have advanced my final placement, because I don’t feel I have the temperament to play an aggressive game.

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

Something that happened but never made it to TV was a moment that occurred as soon as I left the game. In my case, it was immediately after I left  Redemption Island. As soon as you leave the game, all contestants are checked by the medical team. I was sitting on a bench being interviewed by the staff physician when Jeff popped into the medical tent and said, "You did a good job. You should be proud." The doctor who was assessing me said that never in all the years she worked on the show, has she ever seen Jeff pop in (during a contestant exit examination!) and offer this kind of compliment. That memory has really stuck with me. Jeff definitely didn't have to offer this kind gesture, but he did. It took him only a few minutes, and for that I am grateful. It's too bad that this gentler side of Jeff seldom appears on TV because he could really grow his female fan base!

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

I was conscientious of my word choice and how I might be portrayed in the final edit. I’ve learned of contestants’ having their own words used against them, making it hard to find employment when they return to society. Overall, I’m content with my edit. The editors and producers were generous with time and their portrayal of me.  So, no complaints from me! (Besides, no one wants to hear others bitching!)

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

It was rough. Definitely “culture shock” is a good description. Shortly after returning, we (the husband and I) had dinner at a fancy steak house with a surgical colleague. At the end of the meal, our colleague finished his entire steak except the gristle. As the server was attempting to clear our plates, I literally grabbed the plate and asked if I could finish his food. The shocked expression on his face indicated to me that this was probably a faux pas… but not enough to prevent me from eating the chew bits of steak! This definitely made an impression on him, because he recently reminded me of that evening!

Looking back, it is so embarrassing! My re-assimilation into modern society also included hoarding food and water. But gradually, I’ve let go of these habits.

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

No, absolutely not. Going on Survivor isn’t consistent with what people know of me.  But I’m glad I played the game. I am not afraid of getting dirty and definitely not afraid of the challenge!

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

Immediately after our season, I was and a multi-day talk/chat with Cochran. He even stayed in our home for a while when he was in town (Apparently my mailman is a huge Survivor fan and recognized him immediately!) I think Cochran and I bonded over the fact that we were at the bottom of our respective tribes. However, Cochran, as you know, returned to play again and won!

I also keep in touch with Coach on a regular basis. As controversial as he is, I recognize and appreciate that he’s the main reason I wasn’t eliminated before the merge. I think he probably would have played his cards differently knowing what he knows now. (I did sense that the production team wanted a returning player to win.  This is only my personal observation based on the questions the production team asked as they prepared us for final Tribal Council). Coach invited me to his wedding in 2013, but unfortunately I could not attend because that was the week I was filming for Shark Tank.

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

I don’t. I get PTSD from watching or even hearing the theme song. Occasionally, I will watch an old clip from my season and I cringe. I think watching myself be so vulnerable (all voluntarily!!) and the target of nearly every Tribal Council — that is hard to watch and relive.

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

Yul Kwon. I’ve had the chance to meet and speak with him a reunion (long ago pre-pandemic). He and his wife seem like such lovely people. I also watched his season on Cook Islands and liked how he connected with his teammates. I still have to watch Winners at War! So I hope I don’t have to change that response after I do!

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

One suggestion would be more challenges! Sometimes 2 or 3 days would elapse before a challenge day. Those were so much fun! Being at camp was very boring and there were lots of chores that weren’t equally distributed.

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Yes! You have my number, Mr. Burnett!

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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