Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Nina Poersch on being voted out for being deaf
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 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.
Nina Poersch's proudest moment from her Survivor: Worlds Apart run didn't even happen out on the island. Going into the season as Survivor's second deaf contestant ever (after Christy Smith on Survivor: The Amazon), Nina talked about wanting to use the opportunity of being on national television to educate others about options for the deaf community. "I would love for more people to know about the cochlear implant!" she wrote in her bio for the show.
Even though Nina only lasted eight days in the game, that was enough time to achieve her goal. "I received an email from a lovely person who told me that she had never heard of cochlear implants," Nina says now of when the season started airing back in 2015. "She was so impressed with my ability to compete in an environment when a keen sense of hearing is No. 1." While Nina may have come up 31 days short of winning the million dollars, her impact outside the game made her a winner nonetheless.
However, as inspiring as that was, Nina still had to overcome some prejudices in the game once she landed on the beach. In fact, one player was dead set on voting her out once he found out about her cochlear implants. That started the slide that ended with Nina's elimination seven days later. But if you think Nina stopped competing once her Survivor career was over, you would be dead wrong. As she explains her Quarantine Questionnaire, Nina has not stopped running since. Read on to learn more, and to find out what happened on the beach right when the season started that completely sank her game.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
NINA POERSCH: I am still doing volunteer work, advocating for cochlear implants, and helping people who are considering cochlear implants. I've been fortunate enough to have been able to travel. I was a runner before Survivor, and decided to start competing in races. I also just finished my first 100-mile run and started a second one that is Survivor-themed! In 2016, my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He was cancer-free for six months, and then the cancer returned. He fought hard, but passed in 2018. Since that time, I've been my mother's caretaker. It's a full-time job. We really don't know how much our parents need us later in life until we become their caretaker.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest moment wasn't on the show itself, but happened while it was airing. Before I left for the show, I had commented to friends and family that if my being on the show helps one person with hearing loss, I will feel like I accomplished what I set out to do. That happened. I don't remember the exact day, but I received an email from a lovely person who told me that she had never heard of cochlear implants. She was so impressed with my ability to compete in an environment when a keen sense of hearing is No. 1. So, she set out to get qualified and implanted with a cochlear implant. She has since gotten both ears implanted. The really awesome part was meeting her in person, not just once but twice. The second time I got to meet her family also! I love meeting fans, and this one was icing on the cake and has since become a friend.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret is probably the fact that I let my emotions control my thought process. Having a Japanese mom, I was raised with the idea that children respect their elders, no matter what. My mom asked me to not eat anything gross. She wasn't talking about gross food challenges, but just in general. So when everyone wanted to eat the lizard, I just couldn't. I don't think it aired, but I just told my tribe that I have had pet lizards, which was true by proxy — my oldest son had snakes, lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions. In hindsight, I should have just eaten the lizard. My mom even told me that I shouldn't have listened to her. It's crazy how your mind festers out there. No food, no sleep, no one who cares about you. I spent a lot of time thinking about my family.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
Unfortunately, before we hit the beach, my tribe knew something was up with my hearing. It had been raining during the intro filming, and I had to put a waterproof sleeve on my sound processors. So once we arrived on the beach, I felt compelled to explain my cochlear implant to everyone. Joe [Anglim], who I had seen in final interviews and who I had hoped to form an alliance with, came up to me and said, "Nina, can you even do challenges?" "Of course I can," I told him. "Why would you ask?" I honestly had no idea, and didn't think it had anything to do with my hearing. He then answered with "Because you're deaf and can't hear."
I corrected him, telling him "Oh, but I can hear," but he was already sold on the idea of voting me out, which he later confirmed in a phone call after we got home, telling me there was nothing I could have done to change his mind.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
Honestly, I felt like it sucked. Maybe I just sucked. But when it aired, the people who knew me were shocked. I'm a strong, inspiring woman, and my edit made me come off as a weak person. I truly hated that. To be fair, my tribe, except for Will [Sims II], didn't talk to me for the first 24 hours. I woke up the second day and thought, "Well, this is just stupid," so I approached each person and tried building a rapport. That kind of got shut down, as each person told me to go gather wood.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Considering that I was the third person voted out and taken on a nice vacation to Costa Rica, I had a lot of time to readjust and contemplate my time out there. I journaled every day, minus my time playing, and am glad I did. It helped to keep me grounded, and it's great to go back and read my thoughts. I really didn't have any adjustment coming back. I was just so excited to see my family!
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
I never regretted going on the show. But there was a point in the game where I questioned why I was out there, as I was just not enjoying it. I was feeling a sense of doom. It was the day after Vince was voted out. I knew if we didn't win the next immunity challenge that I'd be voted out. I felt alone, but I just pushed forward and thought I needed to think positively and do what needed to be done to win the next challenge.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I still talk to Will. We just hit it off. No matter what anyone thinks of Will, he is truly a caring guy. I love his wife and his daughter!! I wish it had worked out there for the two of us to go to the end. It just wasn't meant to be.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I do still watch! But my favorite season was and will always be the first season. It was new and raw. You had no idea what was going to happen, it just happened. It's the season that got me hooked.
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 Trish Hegarty! We hit it off at Gillian Larson's charity event Reality Rally. She is an absolute blast! I feel like we are like-minded enough to form an alliance. I love the way Trish thinks!
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
No returning players, and less gimmicks! I don't know how they could do this, but I'd love to see old-school Survivor come back.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
If my life was at a point where I could play, then yes, I'd play again.