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.

Chad Crittenden made reality TV history when he showed up to play on Survivor: Vanuatu. As the show's first amputee contestant, Chad knew he would be an inspiration for others with physical disabilities back home, but he also wanted to prove to his tribemates that his prosthetic leg and foot would not hold him back in the game. Which is why he started the season in long pants and did not originally show the prosthesis to his tribe.

But when he did, he won their respect, if not the game. "I did impress some of the guys on my tribe," says Chad. "And I know I impressed millions of viewers as well." That he did. Of course, Chad's big reveal also made him a big threat to win the million dollars, which is why the others could not let him get there, voting him out in eighth place on day 27. Now, Chad looks back on his season 9 journey, updates us as to what he's been doing since, and reveals an unseen calamity that almost derailed him in the game.

Chad Crittenden On 'Survivor Vanuatu: Islands Of Fire'
Chad Crittenden on 'Survivor: Vanuatu'
| Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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

CHAD CRITTENDEN: Survivor: Vanuatu was shot in the summer, so I took a leave of absence from teaching that following school year. Soon after our season aired, I started doing some speeches locally. That soon turned into joining a speakers bureau and doing motivational speeches all over the country. For about 10 years, I gave presentations about once per month and was a stay-at-home dad with my two little ones. When I got home from Survivor, my son Trevor and daughter Clara were 5 months old and 3 years old, respectively. I was super-lucky to have that opportunity!

I was fortunate to have time to train for triathlons, and did dozens of triathlons sponsored by the CAF, as well as competition mountain biking and snowboarding. I won two medals at the snowboarding nationals in Copper Mountain, Colo., in my class of challenged athletes. I got a gold medal in slopestyle and a silver medal in halfpipe. Off-road triathlons (Xterra series) were my favorite. I still do tons of mountain biking; it's my passion.

I eventually gave over 150 presentations nationwide, and two overseas (my favorite being a speech for the royal court and royal family in Abu Dhabi; the video is on my website). As I continued motivational speaking, I also got a consulting job in San Francisco for 3-D-printed prosthetic fairings. After some time juggling these freelance gigs with a wonky schedule, I decided to finally return to teaching.

So, it's been six years now since returning to teaching primary grades. I always settled on third grade (although I have taught first, second, and fourth as well), but this last summer I earned my PE credential, and during this bizarre COVID/distance-learning year, I taught PE! 

I'm looking forward to teaching PE at school in person here starting in late August, but I hope it will remain in person, as real PE should be. That remains to be seen, with the latest surge with the Delta variant. Vax up, everyone! 

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

Definitely the episode when, after a couple days, I zipped off my pant legs to reveal I have a prosthesis. With the lower leg/prosthetic foot, I still was able to hang with the tribe stride for stride and perform physically as their equal. Some of them had figured it out but had kept it to themselves. However, I did impress some of the guys on my tribe, and I know I impressed millions of viewers as well.

Obviously, reactions varied according to Survivor dynamics, and things changed for me as far as how I was perceived by my other tribemates. It did become a thing in later episodes with John K. I'm proud of my entire appearance on Survivor, as relates to representing those with disabilities, but also about how I conducted myself in general. I'm not a jerk in real life, and I didn't stoop to being a jerk on the show.

I was able to achieve quite a bit, physically and athletically, before being on Survivor, and my appearance did showcase my abilities. But more broadly, it demonstrated the capabilities of all those with disabilities. After Survivor, of course I continued to represent, but I would never have had that kind of opportunity without Survivor

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience? 

My biggest regret is not stepping outside my comfort zone as someone who is never manipulative. I could have channeled some inner manipulative person, I suppose, and it would've helped me. However, I just stayed the course and tried to do my best with the alliances I had. Look at Chris, who won the game. He got that million dollars because he was more crafty and used the "outwit" tenet the best. Staying true to who you are and sticking to your morals is great… but it doesn't get you much in this game.

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

There was one thing that happened to me personally with my leg. I have a small valve on the bottom of my prosthetic socket that expels air in order to maintain the suction for my leg, so it stays snug inside the prosthetic socket. It's called a one-way expulsion valve. I stepped through some mangrove roots and it snapped off that tiny valve.

The piece that was missing was the size of a pea, and it fell amongst hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of white shells. Impossible to find. So I told the producers that it would be the equivalent of having a broken ankle or a torn meniscus. I wouldn't be able to run, and I would be limping around everywhere. Miraculously, the little component (of which I had brought many extra and were in possession of the production crew) appeared in the medical kit the next day. I fixed it, and I was good to go!

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

This is something I've talked about often during interviews, and also with friends, family, and co-workers. The first curious editing I found was not showing me actively involved with alliances, decision making, or game-changing plans. I think a lot of it has to do with how much time or how many minutes they've already shown of that character, and apparently I had reached my max.

Also, I was portrayed as the hard-working, inspirational disabled guy. My "character" was the nice guy who perseveres and is relatively quiet. All of my camera time was about working, doing things around camp, with the focus on my leg oftentimes. 

However, my outgoing and gregarious personality wasn't shown much. Also, everyone that knows me knows me as being a jokester, always funny and finding the humor in things. They certainly didn't show that part of me… but that's editing. I witnessed and heard the same things about Katie Gallagher during her season. At different events, I've hung out with her in real life — she's hilarious!

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

I think for those of us who barely made the jury or didn't make the jury, there's enough adjustment time. I was not coming directly from my tribe/camp and flying home. The first few days are definitely weird when you're not suffering with sleep deprivation, hot/cold, hunger/thirst, stress, and other discomforts. One does readjust to civilized life very quickly! 

The coolest thing I remember on the first or second night after being voted off was waking up in my rudimentary bunk, in my palapa-type shelter at Ponderosa, and not knowing what time of night it is (you lose sense of actual "time" when you're on the island). The 29 days I was in the game, I knew by the position of the stars at night how long until the sun would come up. And when I'd finally see the morning star rising, I knew it wasn't long before sunrise… which meant warmth, and other comforts. At Ponderosa, I still looked out at the stars for reference, without thinking, but I could've reached in my bag and grabbed my watch! It takes a while to readjust to living by the clock.

I was second on the jury, and had quite a bit of time back at Ponderosa as part of a "normal" civilized existence. However, if you make it all the way to the final two, and have very little time to adjust after the game ends, it would be much more difficult to readjust — but I'd have loved to be in that difficult situation… with either $100K or $1 million!

Survivor - Chad Crittenden
Chad Crittenden on 'Survivor: Vanuatu'
| Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

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

No. No way. 

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

It's a tie between my buddy Chris Daugherty (winner of our season and friend in Vanuatu) and Julie Berry. I'm also still close with Leann Slaby and am in touch with Eliza Orlins, who just ran for NYC district attorney! Chris, Julie, Leann and I have been in touch and hung out quite a bit through the years. When I look back at the connection from our season of Survivor, Chris and I were pretty tight on the show, and so were Julie and Leann. Both Chris and I, and Julie and Leann separately had reward trips together on Vanuatu during season 9! 

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

We were huge fans of Survivor since the original season with Richard Hatch in Borneo. We watched religiously through all the seasons, and I was watching All-Stars 1 (featuring my future friend Ethan Zohn) when I applied and was chosen for season 9 in Vanuatu. 

Since our season of Vanuatu, we watched each season of Survivor just as committed as previous seasons, but over the years our viewing has waned. This is partly due to our kids' various ages/stages as well as our TV viewing habits. 

As for favorite Survivor season, I would have to go back to a season previous to mine: Survivor: Africa. I was really into Survivor by season 3, and seeing a former pro soccer player EZ win it, it was awesome. I'm a lifelong soccer player, and I was an instant Ethan fan. Incidentally, now Ethan and I are pretty good friends. 

By the time it came to Survivor season 8 (the original All-Stars) and EZ was playing again, (with Lex, too, who is also a friend), I had just got back to rigorous physical activity, and the triathlon, and was now fully recovered; approximately one year after my amputation surgery. It was during All-Stars that it was announced that CBS was looking for new contestants. I knew it was the perfect time for me to apply. The rest is history!

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

I think Ozzy was/is one of my all-time favorites. I tend to like players who are good interpersonally, but also amazing athletes. Ozzy was a good game player, and he impressed me with his freaky physical skills both on land and in the water. I've met him a couple times and he's pretty cool. 

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

I am actually very impressed by the way that the Survivor production team has managed to slightly change the game just enough through the seasons, yet it hasn't lost its original appeal. Never changing anything on the show would leave it stagnant, and there's the risk of it getting a bit flat or boring. However, Survivor production tinkered with the show just the perfect amount with incorporating idols, Exile Island, slight rule changes, etc.… Look at the popularity and the longevity of this reality TV series. It's become an institution. I really think it's the perfect formula — I wouldn't change a thing! 

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Yes! I would totally be up for the challenge (so to speak). Up until just two years ago, I was still active in triathlon, and I'm still a competitive-level mountain biker. And, I must say… I'm as charming as ever! Maybe I could rock a short curly-haired waterproof wig and be a dashing 24-year-old version of Chad.

And BTW, why haven't they? I heard all kinds of chatter before the Heroes vs. Villains season (not that I'm a self-proclaimed "Hero"), but apparently my ship had sailed. But wait… it ain't over yet!

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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