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