Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Jed Hildebrand explains how the game changes you as a person
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.
Jed Hildebrand is not lazy. He just had a different set of priorities when he showed up for Survivor: Thailand. While he tribemates on Sook Jai thought it important to work hard getting a shelter built, Jed thought his physical exertion should be saved up for the all-important challenges. And when not saving up his strength for those, he prioritized the search for food and water instead, which did not jibe with his teammates.
“It was the perception that the fort was the only qualified job since the majority of people were focused on that,” says Jed. “And if anyone else did anything else that was not considered to be helpful, those people were deemed lazy or not helping.”
As an extra insult, Sook Jai threw a challenge — exactly the effort Jed was conserving his energy for in the first place — to get rid of him on day 9. But, 18 years later, while Jed may regret what went down back in season 5, he harbors no ill will or bitterness. In fact, the then dental student who now runs his own orthodontic office thanks Survivor for making him who he is today, and speaks about how “I dearly love everyone I have met through the years as we all share this wonderful common thread.”
Get ready to go old school as Jed takes us inside Survivor: Thailand with his Quarantine Questionnaire!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JED HILDEBRAND: Life after Survivor was an amazing experience because it led me in a great direction sharing the experience to others and let the time on the show live on for a few years as a group of us would gather at different charity events and give our time and support to causes and peoples raising money for others. This was an unexpected part of being on the show, but one of the most rewarding parts of this whole adventure. I also would give talks about being a better person and letting kids know anyone can be on the show, but more important is being nice to one another as you never know who might be the casting agent for a show you want to get on 20 years after elementary school. (Long story and will have to tell the lead-in to that some other time.)
Now I enjoy watching the show as a father of two amazing kids and have a beautiful wife and we settled back down in Dallas. Staying busy raising the kids and working at my own private orthodontic office is what keeps me busy these days.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
I think my proudest moment was at the first challenge helping our team come from a 20 minutes behind position and figuring out the puzzle so quickly. Ironically, every good thing or bad thing you do comes with consequences and changes the course of the game. I look back and think “what if…” What if I wasn’t able to do so well and we lost that challenge and a different member of our team would have been voted out because the Fort alliance had not been formed and how that would of totally altered the game…
So for that exact moment of winning that puzzle, I was proud, but it set my experience on possibly the path of me getting voted off as the first person of our tribe a few days later unfortunately.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
I think I was caught up in the fact that I wasn’t wanting to play with the majority of the contestants on my tribe and go to the end with them because I wasn’t clicking with them and I think I was trying to play an ideal game where you can go to the end with five players you respect and love being on the island with. Unfortunately, I didn’t get put on a tribe the was going to give that type of game to me, so I should've recognized that and altered my game to fit who was with me on that beach and changed strategies mid game to keep my game going.
I feel Robb and Steph both had the same plan, and we just were out numbers once the Fort alliance was formed and it set us on a path of a numbers game. Once I was voted off, the tribe lost 11 of the next 12 immunity challenges and the other tribe just picked them off one by one.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I think most fans couldn’t be shocked too much as they have heard everything with so many seasons, but I think it was interesting that in the first challenge we were rowing around a large island that took two hours and there were other stations that we stopped at during this challenge that didn’t make the show. Obviously a two-hour challenge can’t make the show, but funny that a whole station where one contestant totally messed up the challenge wasn’t even shown and so never got the airtime showing how incompetent that player was, and so the narrative of what I saw in the challenges and real perception of what type of person the tribemates were alters from what the person on the couch views them as due to us seeing different truths, or half-truths, of who people really are. So perception is reality as a viewer and as a contestant.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I think the edit was boxing me in as lazy, which is far from what I was on the show. I knew I was on the outside of the alliance, and they were throwing the challenge to start thinning our tribe — which came back to make them enter the merge down and ultimately sabotage their own games by selfishly losing a challenge on purpose and not giving themselves a shot at the $1 million.
I was of the mindset that the days were laid out in sets of three with the challenges, and if we won we could get maybe food and shelter items and stay in the game, so conserving my energy until we got through some of those and our tribe with the numbers was the plan. That pegged me as being lazy for not wanting to help with the fort, but all the while I was on the beach gathering wood and fire and water. It was the perception that the fort was the only qualified job since the majority of people were focused on that, and if anyone else did anything else that was not considered to be helpful, those people were deemed lazy or not helping.
I am fine with it, as if you look you can see I carried our tribe in the challenges, and once gone they began to lose consistently time after time because what they thought is they could do as good of a job without lazy Jed. But it seems I wasn’t really that lazy, and just exerted my energy during challenges to keep our tribe up with the numbers to not be picked off one by one at the merge, which is what ended up happening.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Yes, the culture shock is definitely there where you don’t really trust people at first that much, or you have this big secret you can’t tell your friends and family about what happened on the show and the friends and experiences you had so you kinda are still playing the game not being your true self still for months while the show is being aired. Now that it has been months of an altered sense of yourself, you now have a new self-identity with new friends and tons of new experiences with doors opening because of that experience so you take one step at a time and find your new true self. I see so many Survivors blossom into new people and take on the world with new goals and wonderful new career paths, and so I think it exposes you to a new you as it peels away the layers of an onion, so to speak, about who you are and where you are going in life.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Yes, I feel I had a moment to join the Fort alliance and just passed on it because that wasn’t how I wanted to play the game. In hindsight, they controlled the voting bloc on our tribe and I should have gone with the majority to figure a way around my getting the target on my back because it was up to me to find my way through the game given the players that were on my tribe and I just didn’t adapt like I should have to the game style and players I was facing.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
These days we are so many years removed from the game I don’t have contact with really anyone regularly from the season except Robb, who I love to chat with here and there as he is true to his character and always uplifting to talk to and has that spark of life in him that you just want to be around and feel. He’s a great guy and I am blessed to get to know him through the show and experience afterwards. I also was able to do lots of charity work with Tanya, who has a great heart for helping others, and Burton Roberts who was on a show a little bit after ours, and that wraps up the Survivors I really still have any contact with, but I dearly love everyone I have met through the years as we all share this wonderful common thread.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I loved to watch the show as a big fan before the show, and still do. As I continue to watch it, I am amazed how it is evolving and every season is different because you could play this game 10 times with 10 different tribes and end up in 10 different placements on where you finish first through 16th. That’s what is great about the game is that no Survivor could just win every time they are out there because it’s about the people and relationships and other game players “games” that you are faced with each time you play.
I don’t really have a favorite. I just try to watch them as they are and enjoy each season for what it is, not comparing it to anything which gives the me joy of just pure entertainment rather than a competition of not having great gameplay or hard challenges and picking it apart like that or anything.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would have loved to play against Colby from season 2 and Ozzy. I felt they were the kind of players that I would have loved the challenge to go head to head all the way to the end. Obviously, there are other great players I could say that about and maybe one day they will get us all back out there to go head to head with some of the great challenge players.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I am not sure I am a big fan of all the huge twists that are feathered into the game with being able to go to another island and continually come back in the game and win the game without being in the camp, and playing the game without being in the game and being called ultimate Survivor. Maybe if you are out of the game for like 3 nights and get to come back in, but sitting out for the whole time (or most the time) and come back in is not really playing the same game day in and day out as the others in the camp are playing, and doesn’t get my respect for actually playing the game for 39 days and should not be able to win the game playing outside the game for that long.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Simple answer, YES. I am still a huge fan, and like I was before I got on, I dream of being on each season and how I would play and do things differently than the current contestants. I think my ship has sailed on that dream though, and I wouldn’t trade the way it as all played out because I love the doors it opened and where I am in life would not be the same without this wonderful show.