SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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.

She went by the nickname of Mama C, but Carolyn Rivera was more like Mommy Dearest with one ploy she played on her tribe in Survivor: Worlds Apart, and in her Quarantine Questionnaire, Carolyn revealed how she pulled off the ruse… and, in the process, completely screwed her tribe over when it came to catching food.

It’s a great story from a great Survivor player who was foolishly passed over by fans for a return spot on Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance. What does Carolyn make of not making the cut for the viewer-voted season 31? What does she have to say now about her 39-day run on Worlds Apart? And what has she been up to since appearing on the show? Mama C answers all that and more!

Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

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

CAROLYN RIVERA: I can’t believe it has been six years since I was on the show. So much has happened in that timeframe. I quit my job right after the show because I wanted to be able to play on season 31. Well, we all know how that played out. Not that great! Come on people, you need to vote me back on Survivor! Ha-ha.

But, I moved back to Florida, which was great because we were close to family. I started my own company — a consulting firm focused on working with companies to help them create and enhance their people practices. I loved working with all different types of companies. I wrote a book called Plant Your Flag, The Seven Secrets to Winning.  It was published right as COVID shut down everything…. Never a dull moment. I also did a TEDx called Turning Challenges into Opportunities.  It’s on YouTube so check it out!

I had some family challenges. My husband was sick and recently passed away which was very difficult considering we were together for 43 years. But I know that he is constantly looking over me, so I feel very blessed. I decided that I wanted to get back to the corporate world and I recently got a job as a Director of Global Learning & Development. So, things are great. I still do speeches, so if you are looking for someone who can motivate people to succeed, I am your girl! Yeah, baby!

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

This is a very tough question, because I had so many things that made my experience fabulous. When you are a fan, you know that there are certain goals that you have. I personally had six milestones that I wanted to achieve.

  1. DO NOT GET VOTED OFF FIRST. After we lost our first challenge, I really couldn’t believe that I was going to be targeted. I did not feel I was the weakest link. And I don’t think we lost the challenge because of me, so when my name came up, I was pissed. But I also knew I wasn’t going home….
  2. Was to find a hidden immunity idol. When I found that idol, all I could think about was telling my kids and husband. I knew they would be so excited.
  3. Make the merge.
  4. Win individual immunity. And not to brag, but I was the oldest competitor on my season and the only woman to win individual immunity. That’s what I’m talking about!!
  5. Make it to the final Tribal Council.
  6. Win the Game. So, I made all my milestones except one. So, I do have some unfinished business….

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

Well, when I think of this question, I am not sure I have any regrets. I had a great Survivor experience. I mean, it was really hard and it tested every ounce of mental toughness that I had, but there is nothing that I really regret.

That doesn’t mean that I played the best game that I could have. I would definitely change some of the things that I did. But no regrets. I was given this experience, and, quite frankly, it was life changing. I think the best thing about it was that you get to reflect and see yourself and how you are portrayed, and you can choose to change those perceptions going forward.

I remember talking to people, and some people said I was a villain and others said I was a hero. It was fascinating listening to other perceptions and why they felt that way. So, I took it as a learning experience. Listen, I know I am a loud New Yorker who is highly competitive. I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon, but you can soften your approach to things once you understand how others view you. So, no regrets, just learning that I took away from my Survivor experience.

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

One of the funniest things that I was shocked did not get to the big screen was this: So, when the White Collar tribe won the crab trap and the fishing gear, we were carrying it back to camp. Now everyone was anxiously awaiting a potential clue to the hidden immunity idol, but I already had the idol, so I knew there wouldn’t be a clue. But on top of the crab trap was a piece of paper, so I grabbed it and Shirin saw me. I put it in my bra. As soon as we got to camp, she cornered me to show her the clue. But I knew it wasn’t a clue. But I played it off.

I said in front of everyone at camp that this tribe is fighting everyday over finding that stupid hidden immunity idol and it is tearing us apart. So I am just going to throw the clue into the fire and burn it so that none of us must worry about it again. Well, Max and Shirin were shocked. And Shirin started to grab the clue from the fire, but my NY came out and I said “Just leave it there,” and took the stick and burned the paper.

The funniest part to the story is that what I burned was the directions on how to use the crab trap. And none of us knew anything about a crab trap and we never caught one crab…. Note to self, read the damn directions first before throwing them into the fire!!

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

I think I got a great edit. I was incredibly pleased with what they showed. I think people knew that I was playing a very strategic game, and that I was trying to work with people that could help my game. One of the things that I did learn, however, was that when I am in an intense conversation, I have a bad case of Resting Bitch Face. This was evident because one of the fans put together like 20 different photos and crowned me a Queen of RBF. So, that is something that I also learned from my time on Survivor. I am not sure how to fix that though. Any thoughts would really be helpful. HAHA!

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

OMG, so when I left for the show, I was working for a company in Kansas City, but I was commuting back and forth because we had our house up for sale. When I got back, and my husband and kids picked me up from the airport he said, “Honey, I have good news and bad news. Okay, so the good news is we sold our house; the bad news is we are moving Monday.”

I got home on Friday. So, when I got back from Survivor, I had two days and then the movers were coming. We moved to Kansas City that week. I had to jump right into real life. No time to digest what I went through and then right back to work. People knew what a Survivor fan I was, and speculated that I was on the show. It was so hard to keep quiet. But the only saving grace was that a season of Survivor came on right after I got back, and I wasn’t on it, so people then started to believe me that I wasn’t on the show.

When the cast was announced, I realized that people actually do recognize you, so I had to make sure that my hair was done when I went out so at least I would look halfway decent in the pictures they wanted to take. As far as any health issues, I had none. Some people from my cast had parasites or stomach issues, but I was lucky. I felt great.

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

I never had a regret for playing Survivor. I do, however, remember the first week of the game. I was definitely struggling with the stupid shoes that I had. I lost 3 toe nails the first week, because my feet were always wet. The White Collar beach was so bad. If you went to the water, you had to wear shoes because of the rocks so you never had dry feet. That was hard to get used to.  But I put my big girl pants on and said to myself “Mama C, suck it up, you’re on Survivor.” And I got through it pretty quickly.

The only thing I can say I did regret is not knowing how to make a fire!! HAHAHA. Yeah, probably should have at least tried to start one before the show. I watched every season, I figured someone on my tribe would know how. And this is how my mind worked. I saw Jane Bright make a fire with her reading glasses. I figured how hard can it be? She made a fire in, like, 2 minutes! So, I had my readers and tried for 5 hours and got smoke for 1 second and then it was over. So, people, you need to know how to make a fire.

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

Well, I talk to most people from my season. We were a very tight season. In fact, we had a reunion zoom call to support Give Kids the World a charity out of Orlando, and I got almost all of the cast to join the call. #dirty30. But if I name names, will that out my future alliances? Come on, Dalton, I cannot reveal that.

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

I have never missed a season of Survivor. I do call myself a superfan, but not the superfan that remembers every little detail. I remember when I went through casting and I was talking to the director. She named a person that I didn’t know off the top of my head and she was like, “Are you sure you watch every season?” Yes, maybe I just don’t have a great memory. Maybe I didn’t like that person on the show. Who knows, but I watch every season and think that every season is great because of the people on the show.

My favorite season that is a tough one.  I think that Winners at War was a great season. I didn’t love the twist with Edge of Extinction, but the season was great. I loved seeing people that we haven’t seen in a while play and how the game play was different between the players. To me, its always about the people and how they interact with others. Pretty much like life!

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

I would love to play with Cirie Fields. I think that she is a loyal person and someone who I feel I would be able to work with. I think she has a great strategic mind for the game and great social skills. Two powerful women working together can rule the world. Yeah, baby!

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

I like the fact that Survivor keeps changing it up and you never know what to expect. I am not a fan of the Edge of Extinction, because it gives the people on the Edge the ability to sway the jury votes, and I feel like it takes away from the true game of Survivor. When you are voted out, you are done. So, to me, I like the Fire Token twist, and any of the other twists, but not the Edge.

Finally, would you play again if asked?

Would I play again, let me think about that for a minute. Yes, of course I would play again! Jeff said when I wasn’t on Game Changers that we need to bring back Mama C. Okay, people, let’s make it happen. Mama C has unfinished business to attend to and I am ready to get back to some far away island and go through it all over again. I may even attempt to learn how to make fire! Who knows? It could happen! HAHA!

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

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Episode Recaps

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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