Push Me to the Edge: My Survivor Experience

Welcome to my Survivor 38: Edge of Extinction tell-all! My exit press. Julia’s story. Okay, I’m being dramatic, but still… hello! In this read, I will take you down my Survivor trail, highlighting moments that were significant to me. You can watch the season so I will not narrate too much of what you already saw. My goal here is to tell you about the stuff that you did not get to see: the good, bad, and the ugly.

To show my appreciation to the Survivor community and fandom, I have tried to be transparent throughout the journey and answer questions on social media (without spoilers, of course), even if it meant shedding light on things you didn’t see in the episodes. I love and appreciate Survivor supporters since I myself am also a fan, and I did not want to lose that as a player. I felt as though I owed it to the viewers to offer context and give some of the backstory from my perspective, since it was often missing from the episodes. Some did not like this and suggested that I wait until after the show concluded; most appreciated it. Nonetheless, here it is anyway, haters.

I have decided to not do any podcasts because I am content. In my opinion, podcasts are an opportunity to rehash the game, go back and forth playing shoulda-coulda-woulda, stroke your ego, and sometimes it even pours salt in fresh wounds. Historically, some podcasts and hosts have also not been as supportive of minority castaways, and I try to keep positive energy in my space. For me, I do not need to relive the game, and I am not seeking external validation. It is over. However, I do feel it is important that I share with you some of my experience.

Before I jump in, I want to reiterate that I had an AMAZING Survivor experience. Getting to play the game that I love and have watched for so long is truly a dream come true, and I am extremely blessed and appreciative. I gained so much insight and walked away such a better person, using the perspective that I obtained in the game in my everyday life. My intent is not to in any way disregard the astounding experience that I had in Fiji. I simply want to tell my truth.

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Casting

One of the first questions that I am always asked is why I wanted to play Survivor… followed by how did I get on the show? So let’s take it back to where it all began. My father passed away at age 42 after suffering from heart disease. I was seven years old. Hence, my reason for becoming a doctor. The show premiered the following spring, and I was captivated. I grew up watching Survivor, and while I may have strayed slightly in college, I always found my way back to the castaways, the islands, the strategy, and gameplay. Survivor, in a sense, was the embodiment of the struggle, and it helped me escape from the grief and demons that were weighing me down from my own struggles in life. Jeremy, Cirie, Tasha… they looked like me, too! There weren’t many of us, but those I got to watch represented for us. Represented well. That can be me, too, I thought.

Fast forward to 2016. The season was Millennials vs. Gen X. I remember thinking “I can totally do that,” and I later found myself sitting at my kitchen table recording a 3-min clip of why I should be cast. “I know what you’re thinking… young, Black girl, but I assure you that I can swim.” Who knew that line in my audition clip would now have any relevance to the 38th season? I was using humor to address and debunk a stereotype, a stereotype that was then the central focus for one of the two Black castaways this season. Go figure. I submitted my video off into the universe, attended a casting call a few weeks later near my hometown, then left it up to the Survivor Gods.

I received a call in April 2018, a year and a half later, from casting saying that they were “going through old footage.” In my opinion, aka we need more Black people, but hey, I’ll take it. Representation still matters, right? Before I was cast, Jeff questioned whether or not I could handle the physicality of the game. Through tears, I remember saying that I never gave up when everything in my life wanted me to, and I would not start now. What I did not know then (but they sure did) was that all of that heart would be needed on the Edge of Extinction. However, what I hope Jeff now realizes is… not only did I exceed expectations in the way I handled the physicality of the game, I did so with a smile and never complained, and I was a great competitor. That being said, fuck an archetype.

Fiji, here I come.

Survivor 38

Game Time

There are only a few moments that I want to address IN the game.

First and foremost, I will call attention to the elephant in the room, RACE. No one ever wants to open the can of worms, stir the pot, and there is certainly less incentive if you find yourself in the majority. I was that person a long time ago, even though I am Black. Growing up in predominantly White communities where you are made to feel like you do not belong can indirectly teach you to silence yourself. Years ago, I made a vow to myself that I would no longer conform to be accepted by the majority, that I would be educated and informed, and I would not be silenced by anyone or myself.

I hit the Fijian sand ready to play. On the first night, I hear the word nigger. Let me offer some context. The tribe was sitting around the fire playing a game where you quote a movie line, and others guess the movie. The line was “Look at that nigger on a horse.”; the movie, Django. As soon as the word hit the air, all looks either hit the floor with the quickness or subtly adjusted to me, the only Black castaway on Kama beach. Everyone shifted a little on their logs, uncomfortable to say the least. I say, “Django?” through gritted teeth. Ding, ding, ding. I win, huh? “Wow,” I thought. On day one, really? A social game, and we’re out here dropping racial slurs? Or is it okay because it was woven into a quote in a game? No one says anything, no one brings it up. Even me.

To be honest, I was shocked. If what I was feeling in that moment was reflective of the next 39 days, I was unsure if I was ready. I thought I was ready for anything… except this. I did not think I was going to have to hit the beach and fight against racism and bias. I do that enough in my daily life. Only 4% of all doctors in the United States are Black. I will be part of this statistic in a few years and have actively battled against education systems not built for me to be successful. I am biracial and have battled against the White side of my family for perpetuating racism; I lost and do not speak to many of them. I do this education and advocacy thing. But Survivor too? Damn.

There was one bright light in all of this, and his name is Ron Clark. Ron approached me a day or two later by the fire and asked me how I felt about hearing the word. I told him I was uncomfortable and annoyed, shocked that there would be such a lack of respect and awareness. I held back most of my true emotion, as it was still early on in the game. I didn’t want him to think that I was a race crusader or to see me as potentially bringing problems to the tribe. I still had a game to win. We talked, he consoled me, and told me about his students and his Black husband. I slept next to him every night moving forward – in the shelter and on Edge.

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GIFs via survivorgifs.com

Days later, the word is said again. Same context (seems like this is a trend), quoting a South Park episode, where the Wheel of Fortune word is N*GGERS, and Niggers is guessed although the correct answer is naggers. Never saw the episode, and at this point, I have no intention to. Furious is an understatement of how I was feeling in that moment. As I was about to bite whatever bullet was going to come my way and say something, Ron interjects and says, “You cannot say that word!” A villain to you, a hero to me. A weight was lifted off my shoulders as Ron, a White man, led the charge against racism in camp. I chimed in, recalling repeated instances of racial slurs and negative racial references being used at camp. The tribe ended up having a very healthy dialogue about race, each person contributing a different perspective. We talked about the Starbucks incident (which had occurred just before we left for Fiji), institutional discrimination, cultural competency training, and bias. I am not sure how much was actually absorbed, but it felt good to finally speak my peace with the support of Ron. The unfortunate reality of it is that it took Ron speaking up for the issue to be addressed. It often takes someone in the majority to support marginalized individuals in order for them to be heard and for anything to be done. It baffles me that the use of the word nigger rolled off of the tongue so easily, especially in the presence of a Black person. Was it because I was a woman? Would this person have repeatedly used this word if I was a Black male on the tribe? Whew, there are so many layers.

Of the many confessionals that I did that you at home did not get to see, this was a significant one. I was asked to do a confessional not long after the incident, and I already knew what to expect. As soon as I sat down for my confessional, I was in tears, expressing all of the emotion that I had pent up since I landed in Fiji. Not only were there only two Black castaways on season 38, we were separated, and I was the only one on my island. I was distraught, opening up about how saddening it is to have to deal with such overt racial differences during my once-in-a-lifetime Survivor experience. But worse than all of that was the fact that I had to deal with it all alone. I talked about how I could not say what I wanted to say and address the situation in the way that I would at home in the game. No one would understand, or even if they understood, it wouldn’t be a priority to them. No one but Ron even addressed what was happening. I was conflicted. Socially, I wanted to just shut down. Speak up and put a target on my back or bite my tongue in order to maneuver my way through the game without much attention? It hurt me to feel as though I was back in that place in my life where I felt so silenced, that I would choose $1 million dollars over defending myself. In that moment, I chose the game. I stand by that decision, but never again. In or out of game, you should always stand up for yourself. By the time I finished the confessional, the camera crew, who were from South Africa (one being Black), and the producer were in tears. I received an apology from production for having to deal with this and was given praises for how respectfully I handled the situation at camp. “I have had my whole life to train,” I thought to myself. Well over a one-hour confessional, and 0 seconds of it were shown. Some stories take precedent I guess, and once again, this teaching moment wasn’t worth opening that can of worms to the viewers. “Duh duh duh duh, NEWSFLASH: racism on Kama beach sparks controversial but enlightening dialogue amongst the castaways. Will never make the edit, but a great moment nonetheless, especially in today’s political climate.” I got up, stretched my legs, wiped my eyes, and walked back to camp. Smile, Julia.

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GIFs via survivorgifs.com

Second, the Joe & Eric votes. Long story short, I was against the Joe vote. I thought it was premature. Joe was ALWAYS going to be an easy vote, and he won’t win every individual immunity. So we can use him as a number, stay “Kama Strong,” and take him out later. This logic fell on deaf ears. Ron and Eric, who were running the show, would not listen, and I tried to get through to them repeatedly, especially Ron. Vic was the only one who understood, as she did most times, but there was nothing I could do without convincing Ron or Eric since everyone else just did what they said. So Joe it was. I pulled Gavin aside the morning after the Joe tribal and told him what I was thinking. I didn’t want to play anybody else’s game – I’m not some blind follower. He shut me down initially but then came to me later – the scene in the water. That is why I “jumped ship” the next vote and split up the Ron and Eric duo. They had way too much power and were forming a sub-alliance. Everyone knew about the Eric vote except Ron, Julie, David, and Rick. Hours before tribal council I caught Kelley and David chatting it up in the woods. Suspicious. I suspected they were working together on the low for a while, and that confirmed it for me. I considered switching the plan last minute because if they were working together, that introduces too much room for error moving forward, but it was too late. Eric it was. David votes for Eric as well. How did he know if he was not part of this new alliance? Kelley. Damnit, I was right.

Lastly, my tribal council. Yes, I was annoyed and called Rick a passenger. Not the best thing to say at a tribal that was reliant on shaky trust, but in my opinion (at that time), he was. And even with a successful coup by him and Wardog, he still unsuccessfully played an idol on a nearly unanimous vote. While I definitely became a passenger who was swiftly ejected that tribal, I stand by what I said at that time. That doesn’t take away from the hell of a game that he played moving forward. My demeanor also changed midway through that tribal council, when I was called aggressive. I was probably one of the LEAST aggressive people on that island so it bothered me that aggressive was the go-to adjective. Defensive, absolutely. I was in self-preservation mode. However, I do not feel as though I was exhibiting aggression towards anyone. That’s when my tongue became very sharp. Between knowing that it was going to be me heading to the Edge and simply being frustrated, I let my words come out unfiltered. But I reeled it in quickly. If there was one thing that I did NOT have the privilege of, it was knowing that anything that I say or do will be used against me. I could not afford to step out of character, to be the angry Black woman, to be a stereotype. I have a career that I have busted my ass working toward. I would never give them that. By the time the votes were read, I was smiling. Game respects game. I respected the play and understood how my game contributed to my demise. But aggressive, ugh.

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GIFs via survivorgifs.com

 

Edge Of Extinction

I did not get a cool welcome like most did. My tribal council lasted a long time so by the time I got to Edge, everyone was asleep or did not want to talk to me. Reem was the only one who seemed interested. Luckily, I didn’t get Reemed. It was my first time meeting her, and I played no part in her being sent to Edge. So I was safe.

I felt the cold shoulder from Aubry, although she did make a space for me by the fire my first night. Thank you. The next morning Aubry wanted to know why I called her “inauthentic.” She kept pressing the issue as though she was looking for specific insight that I presumably had. Okay, let’s address it. I never really fell into the fandom of playing with returning players. I was not adamant about getting them out immediately or working with them long-term; I was fluid. I was simply down to use them for whatever and however long I needed. Early Kama days, as you saw, Aubry was going to multiple people telling them the exact same things. True or not, it had been less than 3 days since we even met, and regardless of watching her seasons, I don’t know her personally. If my tribemates and I reconvene and realize that she sold us all the same story with the exact same catch phrases, it comes across as inauthentic. What they didn’t show was the multiple conversations that I had with Aubry, where I probed her to see if we could be useful to each other. I asked her how tied to Joe she was, and she made it clear that Joe was her only safe ally, and they were not separating anytime soon. That is all I needed to hear for the time being – it wasn’t going to work if they came as a tight duo. So I tuned out the strategy talk, and she didn’t want to talk about much else. Then we swap, and I never see her again until the Edge, where I soon discover she is still very much so upset about my choice of words. We all knew Aubry came to play, to finally get the win. She’s a beast. My saying she was inauthentic was in no way reflective of her as a person outside of the game. She took my comments so personally and would not let the “dialogue” thing go during the season. I apologized for how she felt as a result. Different season, different twist, I definitely would have worked with Aubry. I know this season was hard for her, and we witnessed the emotional rollercoaster firsthand. Hopefully she found peace with the game.

The Edge of Extinction is what you make it. It was an opportunity to cope, reflect, wallow in pity, be mad as hell, or simply get a tan. For me, Edge was therapeutic. I never realized how distracted we are in life. Between school, work, friends and family, and social media, there is always something that we can get lost in to pass the time or intentionally distract ourselves. Edge stripped away all of these distractions. The endless time with nothing to do around individuals you don’t really want to talk to all the time forces you to spend time with yourself. It forced me to look internally and identify flaws and areas for growth, seek closure for open wounds, and find internal peace. Reading the letter that I wrote myself before the game started brought it all full circle for me. I realized that I did not need to win the game to be a winner. I had an experience that transcended the million. The universe, God, whatever you believe in, put me on that island for a reason, and reading that letter made me realize why. At that time, I needed closure and peace more than I needed the money or the title, and I got it. I was going to give it my all down the home stretch, but if it wasn’t me who won, I was content.

I would be remiss if I do not mention finding a lifelong friend in Reem Daly on Edge. Reem and her family are family, and I am grateful to Edge for giving me them. That woman kept me sane, drove me crazy, made me laugh, but through everything, she maintained that I keep my positivity intact. She helped me work through demons, gave me life advice, and saw me as a person not as a competitor. She deserves all the credit in the world for trailblazing the Edge the way she did. That island was no joke dude, and she set the bar high. All hail Queen Reem.

To the Edge of Extinction, you shitty patch of beach, thank you. I needed you.

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The Edit

The “reality” of it is that you truly only see 1% of what happens on those Fijian islands. 18 individuals, 39 days, 56,160 minutes of game… shown in less than 900 minutes of television. So let’s dive in.

It is unfortunate that in a season with fourteen amazing new players who are all unique in their own way and all have a story, the first half of the season focused entirely on four returnee players who do not go nearly as deep in the game as the fans or production probably expected. Then, the second half of the season is focused on Rick. It is also disappointing to not get recognition for the contributions that you made, or worse, for your accomplishments to be credited to other individuals. I felt this way pre-merge when EVERYONE (fans, castaways, Jeff) credited Joe for all of Kama’s wins. No one but Joe. “Joe carried Kama.” Bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, being on a tribe with Joe pre- and post-swap was the biggest advantage in my game and helped me to make it to the merge without ever having to see that dope tribal council setup. However, I did not get carried. I busted my ass in those challenges. I was able to do physical things that both the girls and guys struggled with. Same for Aurora, one of the strongest women I know. Manu 2.0 was stacked physically, and we still managed to pull out wins. So give ALL of us our respect. Post-merge, I won the Chinese reward for my team nearly by myself because Victoria could not lift the heavy puzzle planks. We beat Ron and David on the puzzle (where challenges are won or lost), and Joey Amazing was on Edge. So spare me. The same can be said for strategy. I went to Gavin about the Eric vote. I led the charge and pulled everyone in, including the Lesu 3. Wardog did not plant the seed; it was already in motion. Women make moves too. Prime example, Vic, the killer strategist herself. Give people their rightful credit.

What was more frustrating was that I spoke out on the edit disparity after episode 3.

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I received much backlash, with people calling me boring and ungrateful, claiming I was pulling the “race card,” saying it was still so early in the season, and plenty more. The thing is, players  know more than fans do. Don’t forget, we were there. Players know when something significant happened in their game and when it wasn’t shown. I realized very early on that the edit was going to be problematic but bit my tongue until episode 3 to see if the tide would turn. Then, midway through the season, some of those same individuals (fans, past players, etc.) who bashed me for speaking up started complaining about the edit and the lack of airtime for some of their favorite season 38 castaways… castaways who still had by far more confessionals than I did. Let me run down some statistics for you.

I did not get my first confessional until episode 5. All 17 other castaways had at least their first confessional by episode 2. In 38 seasons, only 6 out of 570 castaways who have ever played the game did not get a confessional until episode 5.

I finished the season with 10 confessionals, the least time of all 18 castaways, even though I was not voted out until episode 8 and was present all 39 days in some form (in the game, on Edge, or as a juror).

If this isn’t a clear disparity then I am not sure what is. What bothers me is that I wanted to play to inspire and encourage individuals who may not see people who look like them on the show to apply. As someone who has made something of myself despite some of the challenges that I have faced in life, I wanted to be a representation that anything is possible. As Jeff said in my introduction video, I knew that I was coming out there and may be looked at as a role model. I was ready for that. So safe to say it was more than disappointing that the lack of equitable (not equal) airtime prevented me from seeing my goal through to fruition.

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At the live reunion show, Jeff asked me about my Edge of Extinction experience and spoke about how watching Survivor helped me to overcome the passing of my father as a kid. That was nice and all, except for the fact that none of the story of my late father and my reasoning for being on the show made the air until the finale. I know that they were trying to find the silver lining in the Edge of Extinction twist that the fans are hoping is buried for good. But it was misguided. If you watched this season, what can you tell me about the fourteen newbies that you learned during the season without having to look up online? I believe that there was a severe lack of character development this season. There was too much to cram into 42 minutes a week, and unfortunately, new players took the hit. Well, most of us. Sad because my castmates are all great people, and there is so much more to them and their gameplay than what you got to see.

Let me finish by saying this. There is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion. Casting a few Black faces each season simply isn’t enough. Include them in the story. Stop giving them stereotypical edits that perpetuate the same stereotypes that many of us come on the show to combat. I remember during the introduction each season when Jeff would say “16-20 individuals from all walks of life.” All walks of life? Where? Because I feel like I watch the same season every season. We get it. We know the White, male story on Survivor and how it plays out. Slapping a different theme on it does nothing.

There is a major disservice occurring by not tapping into the millions of minority viewers who would be more interested in Survivor if more castaways who look like them were cast. Yes, I know not nearly as many minorities apply, but that excuse does not cut it anymore. I have yet to see a cast that is reflective of the nation in which we live. If you can put together a cast of 16 or more regular individuals at any given time, then you can give more individuals of color a chance. Let us also not forget that there is $1 million dollars up for grabs, and there should be equal opportunity to win this prize. I am happy to see a more diverse cast for Season 39, and I hope that progress continues to be made across all shows and networks. Representation matters.

If you read all of this, kudos to you. I hope that you took something away and are able to see a little more of my perspective. If not… sorry, got nothing else for ya.

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Much Love.

Julia Carter

*The stories told here are from my perspective and are in accordance with contract. All beliefs and opinions are mine and may not reflect the views of the network or any other castaway.