It is not too often that a player will make Survivor history by making a mistake. It happens, but contestants usually determine their legacy by multiplicity: winning X number of immunities, finding Y number of idols, and so on. Former contestant Erik Reichenbach reflects on his Survivor legacy and the “massive blunder” that defined it.
Erik Reichenbach first played on Survivor: Micronesia at age 22 and was the youngest on the entire cast. Reichenbach’s first season culminated in a Survivor first: when he gave away his individual immunity necklace to Natalie Bolton and was promptly voted out by the tribe of remaining women. Jaws dropped almost in unison at the perceived stupidity of the move. Twelve years later and Reichenbach reflected that he is actually proud of this defining moment, telling EW,
I am proud of myself, in how I played Survivor, and am very humbled by how much the community has embraced me despite my massive blunder on Survivor: Micronesia in 2008. I was proud in the moment every time I won an immunity challenge, and every time I survived a vote, but the feeling of completion and success from having lost twice, once somewhat disgracefully, and still having people come up and explain how inspired they were by my time on the show, or enjoyed watching my fateful last episode, or even screaming NOOOOOO at the TV when they first saw what happened… it is a real joy to know I have some kind of legacy on a game show I grew up idolizing as a kid.
Many will probably have a hard time understanding why Erik Reichenbach’s mistake might be something to be proud of. Most would likely not give up protection that could potentially lead them to a $1,000,000 prize. But those people are probably not Survivor fans who watched that moment play out like poetry on television.
Of course, fans imagine themselves playing the game, and the Erik Reichenbach blunder actually laid bare something all fans know about Survivor: the wins, the competitions, and the starvation are nothing compared to watching the strategy. It is not labeled as the “greatest social experiment ever” by Jeff Probst and the collective for kicks; it is labeled that because of Erik Reichenbach moments.
In Survivor: Micronesia a group of women were faced with the scenario of voting off one of their own because the lone male contestant, Erik Reichenbach, won immunity. This gave rise to unparalleled social strategy by Cirie Fields, who came up with the plan to trick Reichenbach into giving up his protection to prove his loyalty to the remaining girls.
Even Erik Reichenbach now can appreciate that level of gameplay and how hard it is to see duplicated in newer seasons. He said,
I would shut down whispering at Tribal Council because, one, I see it as sloppy gameplay, and two, as a viewer, it is frustrating to watch. To expand on this, in Micronesia, the Black Widow Brigade initiated some incredible blindsides and plays that didn't require any ‘live Tribal’ shenanigans, and that kind of buttoned-up gameplay is in such a higher level than anyone I see scrambling at Tribal to make something happen.
Survivor is often heralded for being a microcosm of life: you have to work with others in order to achieve your own self-interests. And sometimes in life, you are the Cirie Fields, but most often you are the Erik Reichenbach. And like Reichenbach, you have to be okay with that in the end.