Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Whitney Duncan regrets not voting Cochran out first
With season 41 of Survivor delayed 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.
Oh, how Survivor history could be so different. After Savaii lost the first immunity challenge on Survivor: South Pacific, two names floated around the camp to be voted out: Semhar Tadesse and… John Cochran. Ultimately, the tribe opted for Semhar, but had Ozzy Lusth been able to convince the rest of the tribe to vote otherwise, not only would Cochran not have been able to flip sides later (dooming Savaii to getting Pagonged after the merge), but the law student likely wouldn't have been brought back three seasons later for Survivor: Caramoan, where he won in a unanimous vote.
That first Tribal vote still haunts the Savaii folks later who made the merge. Just ask Whitney Duncan. When asked about her biggest regret from the game, the answer is clear. "Not voting off Cochran at the first Tribal!" she says. "Sorry, it's true! I fought for him to stay in the game because he was such a fan, and that bit me in the butt later!"
While Whitney's move relegated her to being voted out on day 28 (just three days before Cochran, it turns out, as Upolu never broke ranks), her time on Survivor gave her a much bigger prize than the million dollars, as she was introduced to her future husband Keith Tollefson. Now, the country music singer who also appeared on Nashville Star, The Amazing Race, and Say Yes to the Dress looks back at the ups and downs of her Survivor journey, and reveals her showmance-turned-real-life-romance was even stronger on the island than we saw on TV.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
WHITNEY DUNCAN: Well, a lot has happened, but I'll hit the highlights. A month after filming, Keith moved to Nashville... then a year later we moved to Hawaii... got engaged... moved back to TN... bought a house... did The Amazing Race... got married... got our dog, Duke... I've continued to write songs and just signed a new publishing deal with Sony and released a new solo EP called Heartbreaker. I am also a head coach at Orange Theory Fitness and love it!
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Gotta be when I won immunity!! Having Probst slip that necklace on was pretty freaking cool.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Not voting off Cochran at the first Tribal, ha! Sorry, it's true! I fought for him to stay in the game because he was such a fan, and that bit me in the butt later!
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
How in love Keith and I were while the game was going on. We never would talk about it on camera, which is why they didn't show it. Part of me wishes we would've just showmanced the heck out of it, ha! My first alliance is my alliance for life now... 10 years and going strong!
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I wasn't really shown, lol, but that's fine. I didn't do it for any other reason than to get out of my comfort zone, escape life, and have an adventure!
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
It was an adjustment for sure. I slept on the floor for a bit, because I couldn't stand how soft the bed was. My hips were completely numb for a few months from sleeping on the bamboo. Being away from my phone was so nice even though I hated not being able to talk to my family. Also being in Samoa made me realize how much we take for granted here in the U.S. The Samoans were the happiest people I've ever seen, lived as a community, shared everything, it was beautiful to see. I'll for sure go back one day to visit. Beautiful place and great people.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I'm very glad now, but at first, I felt guilty. I regretted leaving my family during a difficult time. The day I found out I had made it on the show, my cousin, Holly Bobo, was kidnapped (April 13), and I left for Survivor on May 23. So I was truly a mess mentally. They agreed to pull me from the game if there was any news on her, so I would freak out inside every time a producer pulled me aside for an interview, thinking it could be news from home. But I never got any, and when I got back home, nothing new had come up. It took many years for her case to be solved, and is still difficult for our family.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
We are still friends with Jim. Keith talks to him almost every day — for like an hour. It's kinda ridiculous, haha. We all vacation together several times a year. He also married us, which is pretty cool! I also keep in touch with Dawn, I just love her. I hung out with Sophie once in NYC when I was on Say Yes to the Dress back in 2013. Mostly, I keep up with the others on social media, so I kinda feel like I still know what's up in their lives. It was a really great group of people.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
Of course I still watch, but I have missed a season here and there. Hands down Winners at War is my favorite!! It was cool to see the best play against each other.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Hmmm that's a hard one — maybe Stephenie LaGrossa. She just always came across like a cool girl and was a beast in challenges. She was one of the players that inspired me to do the show.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
No more Redemption Island, please. When someone's voted out, let them be gone. Immunity idols have also gotten a little outta hand. Let's make them rare again. Sorry, I guess that's a couple changes.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
I'd like to play the game again, because I feel like we got robbed. I was in such a good spot with my tribe, but when you all get Pagonged, it doesn't even feel like we got to play the game. But the problem is, I don't think I could leave Keith and Duke for that long cause life is pretty sweet right now.
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