SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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.

She got voted out for being sick. That's what we know about Tanya Vance, who had her torch snuffed on day 6 of Survivor: Thailand after "puking neon green bile" and being unable to compete to the best of her ability due to illness. But why was she sick? Well, as Vance reveals in her Quarantine Questionnaire, it was not mere dehydration that did her in, but something far more frustrating.

"Taking my malaria medicine became my downfall," she says. "I was allergic to it, and at the time didn't realize it was making me so sick. I thought I was just dehydrated and often wonder what would have happened had I stopped taking it or had gone there on a different malaria medicine."

Even though Vance lasted only six days in the game due to her adverse reaction, she still saw plenty, including a shoe-stealing monkey, one of the contestants go bottomless, and a challenge that added an extra element — poison! She also had one of the most unique (and unfortunate) ends to her Survivor adventure. All is revealed in her Quarantine Questionnaire!

Tanya Vance on 'Survivor: Thailand'
| Credit: CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what have you been up to since appearing on Survivor?

TANYA VANCE: Well, it's been almost 20 years since I played, so I have had a lot going on over the years. Since filming Survivor, I have changed my career from social work to pharmaceutical sales. I have lived in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida, and am finally settled back in my home state of Tennessee with my handsome husband, Todd, and our two dogs, June and Cash. Yearly, I participate in Hearts of Reality, a Florida-based charity that raises money for Give Kids the World (they grant vacations and wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families at their incredible Candy Land–like village) along with a hundred or more contestants from Survivor, Big Brother, Amazing Race, and NXT wrestling. It's a life-hanging event that allows me to help children while seeing some of my favorite people and getting caught up with them.

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

My proudest moment from playing Survivor was… playing Survivor! It was a dream come true, and despite puking neon green bile on a regular basis and losing 15 pounds in six days, I never quit or gave up. I did not want to be portrayed as lazy or as someone who didn't want to be there. I loved forming alliances, the challenges, and, sadly, even going to Tribal Council. As an avid fan of the show, just being chosen was amazing! It was a surreal experience I'm lucky to have had.  

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

Not winning! I had a really great shot of doing well, but being sick led to my demise. I was playing a great social game and was more athletic than my female tribemates. However, taking my malaria medicine became my downfall. I was allergic to it, and at the time didn't realize it was making me so sick. I thought I was just dehydrated and often wonder what would have happened had I stopped taking it or had gone there on a different malaria medicine. 

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

I'm not sure if it's mind-blowing, but something funny that never aired was footage of the naughty monkey, Magilla, on our island, creating havoc at our camp site. Magilla would steal our belongings while we were at challenges. If you look closely at some of the challenges, Helen is wearing two different shoes. That's because he stole one of her shoes while we were doing a challenge, and then at a later date stole her other shoe. She had to wear mismatched shoes (luckily, they were for the correct foot) for most of the show. He also stole Brian's sunglasses and multiple people's socks and underwear.

We had no idea what was happening with our stuff and wondered if someone on our tribe was taking it, or perhaps the film crew for drama. When we found out it was the monkey, we had to laugh. On a sidenote, I think the monkey ultimately could have won if allowed to play the game. He frequently observed us, would sit and listen when Brian played his (luxury item) guitar, and created the first original Spy Shack long before Tony. 

I also think fans would be surprised to know that parts of challenges are frequently cut out and not aired, and that we filmed challenges for hours upon hours (most of the day). The first challenge we did had a couple of puzzles that didn't air. Ken's pants fell off in one of them, and America didn't even get to see! I also remember one ocean challenge where Jeff Probst announced that the film crew had just seen a box jellyfish and that it could kill us if it stung us. Then he started the challenge like it was no big deal. [Laughs] I was freaking out thinking about my impending death.

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

I have mixed feelings about my edit.  I think they definitely showed that I was a down-to-earth Southern girl, but they mainly highlighted the fact that I was sick. I never laid around or was being lazy around camp, so they couldn't reflect that, but they loved showing me projectile vomiting. I wish they had focused on how I helped around camp and more of my social game.

I had a lot of strategic moments that were never shown, and was vital in finding our water source by being able to read the map, which was edited out as well. I would love to play again and be able to show America my personality and strengths. I feel like now that I'm older, my much more feisty self could do really well if given another chance. 

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

Coming home after the game was a huge adjustment for me. I had a unique experience in that my father died unexpectedly while I was filming the show. It was the first time production had dealt with this. After hunting me down with the non-jury members (we were traveling around Thailand), I had to fly home to a funeral (it was a 27-hour flight) with the knowledge that I would never see my dad again. 

It's a surreal enough experience to be isolated and living on an island with no contact with your friend's or family for 45 days and coming back to regular life, much less losing your father and having to deal with his funeral arrangements. I struggled with guilt for being gone, but knew my father was so excited about me being selected for the show. There had been a leak of me on it, and I had so many people calling me and asking me about it while I was trying to grieve for my father. It made for a chaotic experience. 

I had already adjusted somewhat to normal life a few weeks after being voted out (although starving does a number on your stomach and sleeping habits), but it took me years to adjust after losing my dad.  

Tanya Vance on 'Survivor: Thailand'

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

I never regretted being on the show. In fact, being on Survivor made me who I am today. I encourage fans all the time to apply. Survivor truly pushes you to get out of your comfort zone, try new things, meet new people, and learn about yourself. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I am better because of it. Despite being sick on the show, I had an amazing time. 

Being from a small town, I had not traveled much, and the show motivated me to try new things and ultimately led to me changing my career. I am an avid traveler now, and Survivor truly taught me that in life, you are the only person holding yourself back from trying new things and achieving your goals. Plus, the friendships I've made over the last 19 years have been life-changing.  

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

Perhaps the best part of the whole experience are the friendships I've made over the last 19 years. The Thailand cast recently did some Zoom calls to raise money for charity (John, Jed, Robb, Penny, Erin, Helen, Jan, Ghandia, Brian, Clay, and myself). Afterwards, we chatted a while to get caught up. I love hearing about all their families and seeing what they have been up to since filming. I probably speak with Brian, Clay, Penny, and Helen the most from my season, but am happy to hear from any of them and use social media to keep in touch with most of them. 

And since we are talking about the Thailand cast, I would love to use this platform to say that I absolutely hate the shade the Thailand cast gets. If people knew how amazing they are, they would love them. Blame editing if you didn't like how things were shown, but the people were amazing and Brian was truly a great winner! I honestly can't reiterate this enough!

I also regularly stay in touch with Survivors from various seasons. Big Tom, Lex, Fairplay, Donathan, Bubba, and myself (as well as T-Bird and Matt Bischoff sometimes) get together every July 4 weekend at my house or Big Tom's to hang out. We use this time to reconnect and share some of our favorite memories.

Some of the ones I text with or call pretty regularly (besides those I just listed) are Neleh, Troyzan, Jessie Camacho, Sandra, and Christina Coria. I recently reached out to Troyzan to let him know I was hanging out with Monica Culpepper's sister (randomly) and messaged with Neleh about makeup. I would say I probably see Jonny Fairplay the most, as he is a regular guest at our home.

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

Absolutely, I still watch Survivor and love it! I am an old school fan and hands down love season 2, The Australian Outback the best. The cast from that season and the challenges make it my favorite season of all time. I love how Colby took Tina to the end, despite her playing a stronger game than Keith. I love Kentucky Joe (Roger Bingham) and Elisabeth's alliance and wanted to play a similar game to theirs while on the show. I connected to the players in that season, and it is what motivated me to apply for Survivor.

I will say that Survivor: Africa was a strong second choice, as I loved the cast, alliances and scary wildlife from that season as well. I think they definitely played in the hardest elements and hearing stories of how close the lions were to them at night freaks me out. Producers would often say that it was the hardest location ever filmed. 

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

One player I would have loved to have played with is Sandra Diaz-Twine.  She is definitely the Queen of Survivor. "To be the best, you have to beat the best". I love her outside of the game, and would love to have the opportunity to see what she's like in game mode.  She knows the game so well. People often question whether or not she's the best, but if you know her and see her social game and how she strategizes, I don't think there is any doubt that she's the GOAT.   

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

I said earlier that I am old school, so If I could make one change to the game it would be to end the Hidden Immunity Idols! I despise them. The game is outwit, outplay and outlast. When people keep getting "saved," it takes away from the game. I also hate that people voted out have the ability to get back in the game. I respect new concepts and twists, but what happened to Gavin in season 38 was wrong. Someone voted out early in the game who spent a month building relationships with the jury doesn't make for a fair outcome (no offense). 

I say bring back the old school days where it's 16 strangers (preferably fans of the show), 39 days, full intros of the players, Rites of Passage, filmed in gorgeous locations with beautiful Tribal Councils, Tree Mail, more camp life, and challenges that focus on getting to know the players with NO idols! (And no recruits.) That is the Survivor that I love!

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Yes, Yes YES!  As long as I'm physically able, I would love to have another shot. I love everything about the game of Survivor, and would love a shot to show a different side of me (other than being sick). I would love for them to have a Second Chance season for those that were voted off too soon because of things out of their control. I have so much to offer and have changed so much since 2002 and would love to play WITHOUT malaria medicine holding me back! Come on, Jeff Probst, let's do this! I seriously love this game!

To keep track of our daily Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires and get all the latest updates, check out EW's Survivor hub and follow Dalton Ross 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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