Interview with a Survivor: Erik Reichenbach

June 4, 2013

He made the banner for Enil Edam. He did not get to the top of the coconut tree. Having a crazy high school track coach helped prepare him for the challenges. And reality television is quite real, but heavily edited. Erik Reichenbach and I sat down at our respective computers in late May and had ourselves a little interview (Italics are my editorial comments).

What was a typical day like? At first it was exciting, with a lot of different things to do (build shelter, collect firewood, get coconuts, talk with cool people ) but after a while it got to be very boring. We all talked to each other so much and kind of ran out of things to talk about and it just got to be very boring... just waiting for time to pass while you're starving. Poor Erik. He didn't like the starving part. At all.
Were coconuts and rice the only food? Could you find your own food as well?  A typical meal was a seashell amount of rice, and we had two meals a day. Very small portions. There were a lot of coconuts but after about day 28 we ran out of coconuts, something I relied on for food my first time on Survivor. We tried our hand at fishing but nobody was good enough to use our Hawaiian Sling. It also takes a lot of energy to actually hunt and fish, something that we needed to conserve for challenges. We did happen upon a giant clam from time to time which was pretty tasty. I relied more on winning reward challenges.
What personal item did you bring? Most people are not allowed personal items because they serve a dual purpose (one person wanted to bring a surfboard, which can be used to help in fishing. Not allowed!). I brought contacts as my luxury item and it included saline solution. Others did this as well and it was allowed because of its medical nature.
What were the toilet facilities? No toilets. You dig a hole and bury it, or you swim way down the beach and perform a "water dump" lol
Did everyone stink, or did the smell become so normal that is wasn’t a big deal? Certain people who didn't actively bathe did emit a worse odor then others. I recall asking other people if I stank and they informed me I didn't, but who knows. The whole island was full of liars.

I gathered some questions from the Pinckney Boys Track team - the toilet question, naturally, was one of them. The fact that Erik is citing current cross-country coach (and former high school track coach) Tom Carney as an inspiration in learning to deal with unpredictable life situations won't surprise anyone in Pinckney. Some of the team road trips are epic tales full of "learning experiences."
How do you think being a former Pinckney Track athlete helped you during Survivor? It prepared me for the unpredictability of the game itself (Coach Carney is the definition of unpredictable when it comes to running road trips and camping excursions), but also prepared me physically to deal with the bad times. I think running is more of a mental sport than a physical sport and it helped me know my limits. How much energy you can conserve is a valuable thing to consider in a long-term game such as Survivor.
What did you need to do physically to prepare? I ran a little bit but focused more on upper body strength and a lot of swimming, knowing there were probably going to be a lot of water challenges
Did you really climb to the top of the coconut palm? I didn't make it to the top of the palm tree, I got trapped halfway up - I was out of energy and still had a ways to go to the top. That was the only climbable tree on the island that had coconuts though, and I was pretty determined...just out of energy.
Your brother joined you for Day 35, and you guys were ahead on the challenge - who screwed up? What happened? We did great in the race portion, and I thought my bro would be better at throwing the string-balls in that challenge. Unfortunately he was dead tired after that run and I was throwing like a girl. We may have over exerted ourselves running. It was the other team's fault! Brenda and her dad killed it!
How much of the drama is scripted? Survivor is not scripted, but there is a ton of editing that takes place. Each episode is usually three days worth of footage on multiple cameras edited down to about 45 minutes. They have no choice but to edit it, and because of this a lot of information and events have to be cut down, shaped differently, or be manipulated. Anyone can be edited to say anything, which is one reason I have lost some enjoyment in watching reality television. You never know if what you are seeing is accurate.
What challenge was your favorite? I enjoyed any challenge with running, climbing, and racing. The one in which I won immunity by putting together the puzzle ladder; it was my challenge to win and it was awesome.
What was your overall game plan, and how did you have to alter it during the game? My overall plan kind of came together halfway through the game, where I decided to tell other players "just tell me who to vote for right before we leave for tribal council." It helped me cut out the crap; I didn't want to know who wanted who voted out two days before tribal, I wanted to know who is definitely voting for who right before we go to tribal. I set myself up as a swing vote player, and just listened to everything people came and told me and decided what threats I wanted to get out. I never really had a core alliance until later (Brenda and Dawn) but tried to play both sides of whoever was gunning for who. It worked pretty well, but I don't think I could have won against Brenda.

Erik's family hosts a cross-country running retreat each summer for the Pinckney team, and everyone gets a t-shirt. So the team needed to know about the green t-shirt that Erik wore every day on the show - and probably had to burn afterwards.
What year was your green R4 shirt from? That R4 shirt was from the 1st year of the Reichenbach Rustic Running Retreat (R4). It's an awesome way to build team unity, have a great time, and build up your team for the upcoming XC season!

We all know Erik's Survivor game came to a tragic end when he was hauled off the show in the back of a van with an IV in his arm. Here's what really happened.

When the doctor told you that you had to leave the game, what were you thinking/feeling? So something was actually amiss the day before the Tribal Council when Brenda went home. I saw my older brother and he was looking me up and down and said “Dude, what’s wrong with your leg?” And I looked at my right leg and I had injured it previously in the game. I had a big scar on it. And I thought it had been healing. My brother had noticed that underneath all the dirt some kind of infection was happening and it was all over my leg. I really didn’t even notice it until that moment. So we started to talk to the Survivor doctors that day and they said just drink water, and eat as much food as you can. They can do everything but give you what you need basically. So we were playing it by ear.
We got to the Brenda Tribal Council (when Brenda was voted off, right after she sacrificed her own reward and generously gave them all a nice meal and visit with family) and as I’m walking in I started to feel very dizzy and sick to my stomach. I was aware that I was at a Tribal Council and that people were answering questions, but other than that I was completely out of it. I remember thinking, if you fall off your stool now you’ll go home before whoever ends up getting voted out today.
What basically happened was, the vote went down, I was still dizzy. When the vote is being read I ended up thinking Sherri went home. It was really Brenda but I thought it was Sherri. I thought there were seven votes instead of six, so that was also off. If you go back and watch the episode you can see me waving at Brenda and smiling. At that moment I just saw Brenda and was like “Oh, it’s my friend Brenda," so I waved. But that was the moment where she was getting her torch snuffed and I wasn’t really aware of that. So we leave Tribal Council, and immediately I said, “I need a doctor. I need some help.” And I lay down. And at that point they brought in medical. And the rest of that is what you basically saw.
How much weight did you lose? 18 pounds I think. We didn't get an accurate in-game weight because I was fed and hydrated at that time following my hospital visit.

Of course, we all want to know about the other's Erik's take on a few:

What was Cochran like? Cochran is awesome, a very humble down to earth guy. He deserved to win and I am happy for him. Just a genuine guy.
How crazy was Brandon? Was he for real? Brandon is not an evil person, he is very young and has some problems in his personal life he needs to work out. I have nothing but compassion for Brandon; I got along with him fine.
What was Phillip really like? Phillip is totally delusional or playing a character at all times; he is an intelligent guy but is incredibly annoying, self-involved, and will probably never change his ways. I asked him at the reunion show where he was born and didn't get a solid answer. I am guessing he plays this character just because it gets him money; he makes for great TV.
Did you get along with everyone on the show? I was friends with most everyone aside from Phillip, who I find particularly annoying and grating, and Andrea who called my girlfriend a "little bitch" prior to the Reunion show. The drama never ends.

Other than the million dollar winner, does anyone else get any money for being on Survivor? Do you get money for being in the final 5? Everyone gets paid to be on Survivor, I can't say how much but the longer you stay in the game the more money you earn, similar to a poker game. It's worth it to stick around one more vote.
I read in EW that you were not happy with how you and other contestants were treated at the reunion show, which did not follow the usual “catch up with everyone” format. What happened there? Basically the cast was not treated with respect and Jeff Probst's agenda had changed from "Let's hear more about where these people are in their lives after playing an incredible life-changing game" to "Let's talk to random people not even on this season and promote pointless merchandise." As a longtime fan of Survivor I was horrified by the way the reunion was handled.</p>

Rich Reichenbach without a hat? Mark it on your calendar.
How did you get your dad to not wear a hat at the reunion show? Hahahaha, mom told him "no hats!" but I told him to wear a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt which he did.

I was pretty sure the Enil Edam banner was Erik's work....
Did you do the artwork on the banner? YES! I loved the Enil Edam flag! You can see more of my artwork online at

Reichenbach Falls: Starvation boots Erik off Survivor: Caramoan

May 13, 2013

Well, I guess he wasn't kidding when he said he was starving. After overcoming a load of self-doubt last week, Erik Reichenbach exited Survivor: Caramoan within the first 10 minutes of the final episode, attached to a bag of intravenous fluids in the back of a medical van. Diagnosis: starvation state and dehydration.

The show opened with a shot of Erik staggering off from the previous tribal council and cut quickly to scenes of him having trouble with dizziness and complaining of a headache. "Everything is spinning," he muttered as he held a hand to his forehead, as if that would keep everything still. I found myself wondering how much weight he had lost. I read somewhere that the guys on the show lost 15-20 lbs typically, and there was no way Erik had that much poundage to give away.

Body fat. It's good to have some if you're planning on living on rice for a while.

When host Jeff Probst asked Erik if he thought he might be OK if he could get back to camp and rest up, Erik - showing yet again his inability to lie convincingly - mumbled "Well, I'd like to..." as he tried to keep his eyeballs from rolling up in the back of his head. No dice, dude. The doctor noted Erik's low blood pressure and slow pulse, which, combined with the other symptoms, prompted him to pull Erik from competition. As the doctor said, the body compensates for conditions, until it just can't compensate anymore. No need for the drama and politics of a tribal council vote here - Erik's own body booted Erik off the island, ending his dreams of Survivor finalist glory and a chance at the $1 million prize.

And dooming me to watch another 110 minutes of this damn show without my primary - no, wait, my only  - reason for watching it.

My fan loyalty quickly switched to Cochran. I am a sucker for an articulate man and Cochran's commentary, analysis and strategic play were the most interesting bits of the show. And how can you not root for a redheaded geek with skin so pasty white he spent the first few days with sunburn so bad he could barely walk - and yet he was still in the game? While he was clearly not a physically-dominant player, he won challenges - including building a Jenga-like tower of wooden cards on a balance scale to win an advantage in the final immunity challenge, a puzzle-based competition that he won handily.

You should know that I am skipping over all kinds of drama, crying, angst - it was, after all, a two-hour finale. There was some nostalgic trudging up and down the beach by the last four contestants, collecting badges of their long-lost tribe members and conducting a ceremonial burning of them - which I found hilariously redundant. You already burned them, you voted them off! Despite everyone being fed up with Dawn and her daily breakdowns (although Cochran noted that they are more of the "catatonic" variety of late), poor Eddie finally gets the vote he's been expecting every night all season. He actually seems relieved.

The Final Three - Cochran, Dawn and Sherri - have to appeal to the jury of their peers in a final vote to see who is the Sole Survivor. The peers being, naturally, all the folks they voted off all season. Then each jury member was able to...I dunno. I didn't really understand the point of this part of the show. Rather than gather more insight to make their decisions, the jury seemed more inclined to thrash each of the finalists. Which is fine, I like snark and pithy criticism as much as the next person, but none of this was particularly well-done. Erik was not in his comfort zone in this role - nasty, face-to-face confrontations, like lying, are obviously not situations he has experience with - and good for him. He managed to dismiss Dawn due to her vote against Brenda, who had been one of Dawn's staunchest allies; his scathing comments about Sherri resulted in an argument that rattled him enough that he gave up before commenting on Cochran.

The final vote? Nerds Rule The World, baby, even on remote islands in the Phillipines. Cochran for the win.

Just in case two hours wasn't enough, CBS thoughtfully tacked on another hour with a "reunion" show that featured most of the contestants, cleaned up and - since this was a few months later - sporting a healthy weight gain. It was amazing how much better everyone looked - you watch them gradually lose weight, see the effects of the stress throughout the season, but their reunion show appearance was a huge contrast and, intentionally or not, made a real case for the beauty of appropriate weight.

And Erik looked good. I really think he could have taken his Mr. Nice Guy routine right to the Final Three. Thanks for making me watch Survivor again, Erik! Your hometown loves you and wishes you well in everything you do!

Erik's 'beautiful prison' stay continues on 'Survivor'

May 9, 2013

Day 35 was Erik Reichenbach's turn for a meltdown on Survivor: Caramoan. At least he doesn't have one every day - my God, Dawn should be dehydrated to the max by now. I can't wait for someone to vote for her in tribal council, and when they do one of those whispered here's-the-reason scenes, it's gonna be "Man, she cried ALL THE TIME. I can't stand it. She has to go."

But I digress. Erik is hungry. Hungry enough to listen to coconuts laughing at him from the top of a very, very tall palm tree. Hungry enough to decide to climb it. "They've been laughing at me since about Day 3," he mused. "I think I can climb it."

Yes, Nice Guy Erik was having a Hard Day. He was unhappy, bored, hungry and felt like he was in prison. A very beautiful prison, but still. As he contemplated climbing for coconuts, he was almost in tears over the fact that self-sabotage had popped into his head. He could climb the tree, fall, break a leg and leave the game - an honorable discharge of sorts. "But I'm almost trying to defeat myself at this point, and that scares the hell out of me," he tearfully explained, before getting a grip and admitting that wasn't the game he wanted to play.

Using universally-recognized proper Palm Tree Scaling Techniques, he climbed the tree under the watchful eyes of the women. No one tried to discourage him beyond a few faint-hearted protests about how tall the tree was; I suspect they were hoping he would find dozens of coconuts (there were, in fact, no coconuts), and, Nice Guy that he is, he would share them. I found myself wondering what the game strategy would be if he fell - would someone try to catch him? Or do you stand back and watch, knowing it will take him out of the game? And if you are Erik, do you consider accidentally dislodging a few coconuts in some strategic manner? Like on Cochran's head?

Yeah, this is the stage of the Survivor game when ethics start getting a little murky. Just you wait.

It was also time for the blatantly emotionally-manipulative episode - the arrival of the Loved Ones. Seriously, that's what they call all the friends and relatives - "The Loved Ones," like it's a funeral, except there was more sobbing on this show than at all the funerals I have ever been to. Erik's brother Richard was Erik's "Loved One" - and THANK YOU REICHENBACH BROTHERS FOR NOT CRYING. Instead, they were totally adorable in using what was clearly a traditional greeting of "Brother!" and showing some good-natured brotherly love (Erik: "You're so much bigger than me!" Richard: "You're so much smaller than me!").

Each contestant partnered with their Loved One for the challenge - unscrewing a rail from a post, building a ladder and flinging a bolo at the ladder rails. First team to wrap three bolos on their rails would win a BBQ. So, I'm thinking - two Reichenbach boys, physical challenge, food reward, they so have this! But, no. I'm not sure what happened - it wasn't shown - but can only speculate that it will be fodder for future brotherly torment for years to come because clearly, someone screwed up.

In a typical Survivor twist, the winner of the challenge was allowed to invite another contestant and their Loved One to the BBQ (which also included a Second Loved One - in Erik's case, little brother Kurt). Winner Brenda invites I'm-A-Tear-Spigot Dawn - and then, Brenda is offered a tricky dilemma: trade it all in and give it to the other contestants and their Loved Ones. Food and a relaxing afternoon with people you haven't seen in over a month - for yourself and one other, or for the majority. Brenda gives it all away - and surely buys her way to a win. Or at least a slot in the final three.

Or did she?

The Survivor world is a cruel one, kids, where one nice turn doesn't necessarily deserve another. Sensing that Brenda could make it all the way, three contestants cast the votes needed to remove her from the game. And our local boy makes it to the final round.

Erik Reichenbach's Donut-fueled immunity win on Survivor:Caramoan

May 1, 2013

Someone must be missing that local running mecca, the Pinckney Bakery. In the first immunity challenge of the day, our Erik gave up a quest for immunity in a dubious trade-off for a plate of donuts and a large glass of ice cold milk.

"I so want that," he moaned, as host Jeff Probst took a huge bite out of a chocolate-frosted donut. Erik promptly made a deal to split the goodies with fellow tribe member Eddie, and they both stepped out of the competition.

It may have helped that the challenge was deadly dull. Balancing on a floating roof-like structure in the lagoon on a windy day, the contestants just had to stand there with their feet braced on either side of the structure. Then they moved up a level. And stood some more. And moved up a level and stood some more.

The final two stood on top of those things for THREE HOURS. Which made Erik's Donut Decision seem brilliant, as he sat on the dock quietly munching his donuts and sipping the milk to make it last. But what happened next made all the Erik fans gasp in collective did-he-learn-nothing horror.

In addition to immunity from being voted off, challenge-winner Andrea also won a clue to the location of a hidden immunity idol, which she shared with her alliance. Erik ended up finding the idol...and promptly handed it to Andrea. Who already had immunity for the evening vote.

What. The. Hell.

"These women are going to be the death of him," I thought, but this somehow worked for him. He just sat back as everyone else questioned his motives, his intelligence and his trustworthiness while they negotiated who to vote off the island - but his name was never mentioned. While his name did show up on one ballot (much to his surprise), he lived to see another Survivor day.

The next challenge was far more interesting. The contestants had to weave a buoy through a ladder structure on the lagoon, then untie a tangle of knots to get to a key. The key unlocked a chest with rungs that had to be fitted into a ladder - first one to put the ladder puzzle together and get to the top would win immunity.

"The challenge was right up my alley and I killed it," he said afterwards, and oh boy, did he. With what could only be Powered-By-Donuts determination, he was the front-runner all the way, and in addition to the immunity protection, he gained a visible confidence boost that somehow did not increase his perceived threat level to the rest of the group. They are not sure they can trust him, but again there have been no discussions of voting him off.

In a brilliantly constructed final bit of strategy, the group blind-sided Andrea in tribal council afterwards. Not suspecting a thing, she didn't play the immunity idol that Mr. Nice Guy so helpfully handed her previously, and suddenly she is Old News and Erik is looking a Little Less Nice.

Pinckney's Erik Reichenbach & Survivor: No more Mr. Nice Guy?

April 29, 2013

I am not a big TV-watcher, and definitely am not a fan of reality shows. But I am watching Survivor-Caramoan each week for one reason, and one reason only - local boy Erik Reichenbach. We may not all know him personally, but he is "our" guy, and we are all cheering him on.

He's famous here in Pinckney as part of the Reichenbach running family, and for his work in Hell as an artist at Screams. He's famous - or perhaps infamous - on a national scale as the naive youngster who got wickedly outplayed by those evil women on Survivor Micronesia in 2008. They cried and he gave up his immunity idol, and they promptly voted his butt off the island. I think he probably learned a lot about women and crocodile tears that day.

I am watching each episode online, the day after (no commercials!)...and the first few shows were of low interest.

Erik was definitely a background player. But as the season goes on, the brilliance of his strategy is becoming clear. He is playing the role of Mr. Nice Guy to the max. And in the April 24 episode, it became clear that he wasn't going to be Mr. Nice Guy for long.

He hasn't been perceived as a player of special value, nor has he been seen as a threat. No whispered player huddles about how to engineer his exit. Nobody thinks he's an asshole. His name has not been scribbled on parchment for the final vote each evening. He is just quietly doing his thing, wearing his green R4 t-shirt, which he designs every year for the running retreat his family hosts for the Pinckney cross-country team each summer. Erik is not the strongest guy on the show, but he does well in the physical challenges, especially running and swimming - no surprise there for a Pinckney native growing up surrounded by lakes and running trails.

And he's a nice boy. His mom raised him right. The girls think he's sweet. The guys think he's a bro. He worries about the women who are crying all the time. He is quick to give hugs. He can't believe Phillip, covered in mud, jumps into a resort pool without showering. He goes along with the dumb "Stealth R Us" group thing with modest enthusiasm - although you can almost see the "OMG. WTH?" thought-bubble over his head when the group does their daily high-five.

And he looks right at his competitors, bats those pretty blue eyes - and lies. Or tries to. You can tell he doesn't have a lot of practice with this. But - it seems to work well enough with this particular group of stressed-out, hungry players in the final ten days of the show.

"Of course you can trust me!" he says. And everyone seems to believe him. Then the show cuts to his explaining how he is playing both sides, and how he plans to strategize his vote at the last minute during tribal council.

He survives another round, his nice guy rep intact, his name not showing up in the tribal council votes. But one alliance is starting to take a second look at Erik, thinking they should maybe get him on board.

Yeah, maybe. Because I'm thinking pretty soon it's no more Mr. Nice Guy. And I'm looking forward to the next episode of Survivor: Caramoan.

Check out Erik here.