Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Keith Famie on when the show was even bigger than Friends
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 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.
A total of 6.68 million people watched the premiere of Survivor: Winners at War a year ago, a strong number for a show that was celebrating 20 years and its 40th season on CBS. However, that premiere number for the all-champions edition was not even in the same galaxy as the audience for the first installment of Survivor: The Australian Outback, which drew 45.37 million viewers back in 2001. And while that number was no doubt boosted by the Super Bowl game that preceded it, it was also a recognition of Survivor as a bona fide national phenomenon.
After the stunning success of Survivor's initial summer season, CBS not only moved its Australian-set sequel into the regular TV season, but the network put it right up against the biggest comedy on television: Friends. The move worked. Survivor: The Australian Outback not only beat Friends, but averaged 29.80 million viewers — making it the highest rated show on all of television.
All that attention also meant the regular Joes and Janes in the cast were all of sudden full-blown celebrities. It was an adjustment that took Keith Famie a little getting used to. "Because of the success of Survivor 1, Survivor 2 had taken off in a way I am sure no one could predict," says Keith. "We had beaten Friends in the ratings several weeks straight, so all of us when in public as the show was airing I am sure got the same public reaction. It was like you were a big time Hollywood star with no security, and for sure not the same bank account. So we all have positive and negative stories of those unusual times."
Keith formed a powerful alliance with Tina Wesson and Colby Donaldson in the game that took the trio all the way to final three. But when Colby won the final challenge, he took Tina to the end… and Keith cast the deciding vote for her.
That was 20 years ago. A lot has happened for Keith since then, including a writing career and film production company. In his Quarantine Questionnaire, Keith looks back at his time on The Australian Outback while also explaining what life was like after returning home and updating us as to his current career… this time on the other side of the camera.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
KEITH FAMIE: My time of Survivor: The Australian Outback was over 20 years ago now.
For several years after Survivor, I had my own series on the Food Network. Now, for the last 15 years I have been producing human interest documentaries for PBS.
I truly enjoy helping others tell their stories knowing it will help our PBS audiences better understand the journey they are on. Right now we are working on three films that started during COVID almost a year ago:
Chromosomally Enhanced, What's Your Super Power? is a film is about those who live and thrive with Down syndrome; Shoah Ambassadors is a film about the Holocaust told through the lens of two young non-Jewish youths; and then there is Hospice Care in America Today.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Hmm… I would have to say my time alone during the end of the 41 days where I could go off and really take a deep look at my life — the successes and the failures. I feel I walked out of the outback with a new life focus.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Well, I guess that I didn't play the game harder towards the end. I really kind of checked out and went into this spiritual realm. Lack of food and sleep can do funny things to a guy. But no regret it is what it is.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Myself and Tina dragging a 10-foot python out of our camp and throwing it across the river.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
I always tell people, you go onto Survivor as a person, you come out as a cast. Remember, everyone needs to keep in mind this is a big business for CBS — the story structure must engage the audience at just about any cost. This drives eyeballs to watch and sponsors to pay for the high rating exposure. So to answer the question, the editing was part of the story they needed to tell. Did I agree with it all the time? Nope, but that is what I signed up for.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Because of the success of Survivor 1, Survivor 2 had taken off in a way I am sure no one could predict. We had beaten Friends in the ratings several weeks straight, so all of us when in public as the show was airing I am sure got the same public reaction. It was like you were a big time Hollywood star with no security, and for sure not the same bank account. So we all have positive and negative stories of those unusual times. I did almost lose my mind around food, just had the hardest time to putting the fork down.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
No, you learn to take it all in stride. At the end of the day, it was a nice exciting chapter in my own book of life.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
On occasion, Mitchell. Roger and I saw each other a few years back, Tina on occasion. That's about it. I have become very close friends with the lead producer from our series, John Feist. We talk and get together often.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I am so busy with the three films we are working on now, I rarely watch long format shows.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Well, how about Boston Rob, or Lex? He and I have become good friends.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I think the success of the early Survivor was the rawness and unpredictability of the story. I think they added too many angles over the years.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Are you kidding…NO way! I danced with the Survivor Witch once, and once was enough.