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Sonja Christopher. Francesca Hogi. Katrina Radke. Pat Cusack. Depending on your level of Survivor fandom, these are memorable names — legendary, even, in some cases. But for those who view Survivor as weekly television comfort food and not much else, those who can’t recite boot orders and don’t remember who won which season or which season filmed where (“Fiji” is a safe answer), the aforementioned names are likely lost in the sands of time. They are the first ones out, the players who were knocked out of their respective seasons before anyone else — twice in the case of one of them, and via medical evacuation for another.
No matter what the audience remembers about Survivor: Edge of Extinction in the days, weeks, months and years ahead (and indeed, much will be remembered, even if much is better forgotten), there will always be this: the CBS reality franchise’s 38th season produced the single-most memorable first boot in Survivor history. Her name: Reem Daly. Her title: Mother of Extinction. Her favorite word: dude. See also: lame.
Voted out of the Manu tribe after only three days of play time over the simple crime of moving some clothes from one dark corner of the beach in order to dry out in the sun, Reem exited the season’s first tense Tribal Council (read all the gory details here) and went on to become the Edge of Extinction’s veritable ambassador. As the first person stranded out in the middle of nowhere, with no instructions about what to expect and even less chill about it all, Reem became a touchstone for Edge of Extinction, a weekly highlight. No matter what else happened in what’s easily one of the most divisive seasons in Survivor history, the audience could always count on Reem to close things out with a cutting one-liner against whoever showed up at her beachfront property next — typically someone who wronged her and therefore found themselves on the receiving end of a verbal dropkick.
For someone who only logged three days of active game time, Reem Daly quickly emerged as the most valuable player of the season, if only from an entertainment perspective. Her soundbites contributed greatly to the Survivor community, particularly among fans who listen to the way too many hours of podcasting about the show. (Ask two-time player and prolific podcaster Rob Cesternino to Reem you out sometime; he’ll be more than happy to do so.) As far as first boots, nobody has had more screen-time on Survivor than Reem, excepting those who played previously and were voted out first on their second or third times out. In a season that was often extremely complicated, confusing and frustrating, Reem provided extremely simple, straightforward and frustrated comic relief on a weekly basis for the audience, daily for her fellow Edgers. Torture for them, sure, but utter bliss for viewers in desperate need of some laughter.
While she may not have her very own 20-foot statue in the middle of the Fijian jungle, Reem’s indelible and iconic impact on Edge of Extinction cannot be denied. Of course, try telling that to Reem. She doesn’t see it. Hopping on the phone in the immediate aftermath of the live finale, Reem sounds surprised that she’s even doing an interview. (“Thanks for wanting to talk to me,” she says. “That’s so nice of you.”) There’s no rosy bow to wrap around her time on the Edge. (“I felt like a complete loser for quite some time.”) Unlike some of the others who experienced their own journeys on Extinction, Reem doesn’t spend much time dwelling on how she made her family proud; they are proud, of course, but they’re also “a freaking tough crowd, man.” When it comes to the winner of the season, Chris Underwood, Reem doesn’t sugarcoat her feelings. (“True confession: Chris and I were ready to freaking kill each other.”) Instead, at each and every turn possible, Reem does what Reem does best: she tells it like she sees it, no filter.
Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter presents a candid conversation with the first one out of Survivor: Edge of Extinction: the great Reem Daly. Enjoy it, or don’t. Whatever, dude. It’s fine.
How are you feeling, Reem?
I’m feeling good. That was a pretty sweet reunion. It was nice to see everybody. You forget what went down, when it all went down. Holy shit, I did a horrible job in that challenge. (Laughs.) What can I say, dude? I went up against freaking Captain America, a Cross Fit beast, a freaking firefighter, and the Amazing Joe. Aubry, too. Seriously, I had no fucking chance. But I did my best, man. I just wasn’t going to give up. It’s all good. It was fun to watch.
That was your philosophy all the way through, though. First one out, first one to see the sign out for the Edge of Extinction. Did you always know you were going to push through or were there moments you wanted to give up?
Well, in the beginning? I just didn’t even know what the freak was going on. You’re on a need-to-know basis out there, which kind of sucks. But you know what I wasn’t going to do? I wasn’t going to let any of those fools freaking boss me around. They’re all nice people, obviously. But I wasn’t going to allow someone to be the boss of my destiny. If I had an opportunity? They couldn’t vote me out anymore, so I was going to stay as long as they would have me, know what I’m saying?
How was that first Tribal Council for you? If we spoke right afterward, what would you have said to me?
Dude, it was a straight-up nightmare. I think I even said it a couple of times. It was a freaking nightmare, you know? You talk all this crap before it even starts, and of course, nothing you say is even reality once the game starts. You are who you are, right? I’m a mom, dude. They were put their freaking clothes in the shade. It wasn’t going to dry in the damn shade, you know what I’m saying? I mean, hello! They’re all bitching that I put it in the sand, but I put it in the sand because the sun was shining there, dude. We were miserable. We were cold, we were wet, so I’m sorry I gave a shit. My bad! But you know what? I don’t take it back. It’s who I am. I’m a mom. I don’t like to see people being miserable. If I can somehow make it better, I will. Unfortunately, it’s a freaking game. I seemed to have forgotten that you’re not supposed to baby people, and nobody came out to freaking hang out with a mom, so, my bad. But at the same time? I have no regrets. I just didn’t want people to be freaking cold and wet. Dumb me!
Speaking of wet and cold, it was raining when you were voted out. How rough was the first night alone out on the Edge of Extinction?
Like, honestly? That was the absolute worst night of my life. Because they drop me off, right? And now I’m just like, “Okay. There’s gotta be some kind of information. There’s gotta be a note. There’s gotta be freaking something.” It was pouring down rain. I didn’t even really have fire from my torch. It wasn’t really happening. I was just roaming around like a psychopath: “Where’s my note? Where’s my note?” I was losing my shit. I keep looking around and then I see this bunk platform bed, and a freaking bench, and I’m like, “This is it, dude? Seriously? You’re freaking kidding me.” Then I see that tarp, and that tarp was all jumbled up and woven within the wood. There’s rope tying everything up. And I’m like, “Are you serious?” There was nowhere to hide from the rain. There’s the karma of me telling them I hoped they get fucking rained on. Because they had more cover than I did! I was miserable. I never cried so hard in my life. I sat there rocking like a psychopath. It was just absolutely terrible. But I had to see what was ahead, right? I couldn’t just give up. But it was terrible. It was freaking so terrible. So terrible. I just cried. I was so pissed off. It was absolutely the worst night of my life.
How about the next few days? There still isn’t any information and it’s at least two full days before the next person shows up, right?
Totally. So, in the morning, once I could see what the hell was going on, I saw that mast and I saw that sign, and I go, “What the hell does this mean?” I still didn’t know what the hell it meant. There’s nothing. There aren’t any real coconut trees there. Don’t think there’s palm trees, coconuts. That sand is riddled with ants, dude. It’s filled with lizards. There’s rats. There’s nothing awesome about that island. It sucked. It was capital S-U-C-K-E-D. It was terrible, dude. Like, it was so bad. And I didn’t even know, man. I’d looked around. Maybe there’s an idol? But there wasn’t shit. I’m not a fisherman. I don’t even eat fish normally. So I was like, “You know what? Screw you. You want me to hang tough here? I’ll hang tough. You’ll see what happens.” But then it was like, “Bro, what if nobody else comes? I’m just sitting here, stranded?” But at the same time, I didn’t want to leave. It was embarrassing enough that I was on losers’ island. I still have a chance; don’t get me wrong, it’s a golden ticket. But I freaking felt like a loser, man. I was depressed. I’m not going to lie about it. It sucked.
When did things start to turn up? Did they?
Well, it was kind of nice once Keith showed up, to have a little bit of company. Listen, I work from home, right? I hang out at home a lot. My kids are at school. My husband’s at work. I don’t mind being alone. I really don’t mind. It’s fine. But when Keith showed up, I couldn’t just leave him hanging. There was no way he was going to hang out here by himself. It was just an episode of we’ll just see what happens. When the rice showed up? It was like, halle-freaking-lujah. But you’re still so freaking tired, man. That hike to get to the rice was no joke. I don’t know. It would always be an episode of seeing what happens next. When Chris came, I was like, “Haha! Okay! Anything can happen now. I can’t believe that dude got voted out.” And then I was like, “Well, shoot. I’m not going to leave. I’m not going to let any of them think they made me leave. At this point, I’m staying.” When Devens came — and I would like to reinforce that I am great with all of these people now — but back then? I was bitter with everybody. Because I was like, “Screw you, dude. You don’t even know me, and you voted me out. And that’s not cool!” I didn’t know what Keith had done, and that’s been kind of funny to make fun of him for now. (Laughs.) But I had no idea. They kept making fun of me: “I have no idea why you’re so nice to Keith, he totally screwed you over.” And I was like, “Shut up!” But I didn’t know. I thought they were just lying to me because they wanted me to be anti-him and I just didn’t know. Anyway. The more that people showed up, the more I felt, “No, you can’t make me leave. You can’t vote me out. If anything, I’m going to stay here and make your lives freaking miserable.” That was my thought process.
It became a tradition on the show that every episode would end with you reaming someone. Did that really happen daily or was it overblown? You did also talk about how everyone has their process when they first come to Extinction…
Well, everybody does have a process. I would always want to know: “Why did you vote me out? What was so bad about me giving a crap about you? That’s so lame to me. What was your deal?” Then they would be like, “Get over it, Reem. You were voted out a while ago. Just let it go!” And I’d be like, “Wait, I have to let it go, but you don’t have to let it go? No! That’s not freaking cool. You’re not the freaking boss of me. And on top of that? You can’t vote me out, so I’m going to say whatever the hell I want to say.” It was awesome to not have to have a filter, to be able to say whatever the hell I wanted. If they pissed me off, I was going to tell them they pissed me off. And if they got voted out? I would be like, “Well, ha, ha! It sucks! How does that feel? You like that shit? Doesn’t feel good, does it? How about that?” So, yeah, it was kind of fun to mess with people who got voted out who voted me out. Because now you know how I felt, dude. How about that? Karma.
Kama, meet karma. Yeah, whatever!
How did you entertain yourself out there? What did you do for fun?
Well, entertain is a big word. We did build a chess board. We played chess. Chris did teach us how to fish, which was very sweet, until my fishing pole got all jacked up. (Laughs.) It’s wavy out there! Once you get down to the rocks, it’s pretty much a done deal. But we would look for food. I’d be as helpful as I could be. What do you call fun? Gathering wood to keep your fire going? Playing a game of chess? Collecting rocks? There ain’t much to do out there, dude. Fun’s a big word.
Who did you get along with the best, and who did you get along with the worst? Who rustled your feathers?
True confession: Chris and I were ready to freaking kill each other.
We just were, man. I think he takes a lead in his family. We’re just completely different people, you know? As he would put it, I’m emotional and he’s rational. Look, I don’t want to hear that crap. Yeah, I am emotional, but I’m also not an idiot. I’m forty-freaking-eight years old. I’ve lived life. I know the world. I know how to treat people. Unfortunately, a lot of the younger players just weren’t as kind or didn’t realize that, guess what? We don’t have to be mean to each other out here. Everybody out here is mad or upset or sad. Would it kill everybody to just be nice? Do you have to be snarky? It may show me as being a little snarky. Yeah, I was in the beginning. But at the same time, if I saw people who were hungry? I wouldn’t even want my rice. I’d offer them my food. I would offer them my blanket. But again, not everyone wants their mom. But it’s okay to accept kindness. [Reem calls out to Chris, who is nearby waiting for our interview.] Chris, I was honest and said you and I were ready to kill each other. I’m on the phone with Josh Wigler. Anyway, we ended up awesome. You asked who I’m closest with? I’m very close with Wendy, Julia, Aubry, Keith. I do have a nice relationship with everyone else but I am very close with those folks mostly from the Edge.
You and Chris were ready to kill each other—
But you still voted him to win a million dollars—
I a million percent voted Chris to win.
Because he was like my son. I was so freaking proud of him, man. What kind of person goes in knowing that they are locked and loaded, and then they say to you, “You know what? I’m going to prove to you that I’m the man.” He took off his freaking immunity necklace and passed it on. Who does that? Nobody freaking does that. I’m so freaking proud of him. He apologized. I apologized. Listen, we were hungry, we were tired. Maybe I reminded him of someone in his life. Maybe he reminded me of someone in mine. At the end of the day, maybe he didn’t want to be taken care of. But he needed to know it’s okay to have somebody love you and take care of you. Be glad that somebody cares about you if they care about you. Doesn’t mean there’s ulterior motives. But hell yeah I voted for him, because I saw that kid bust his ass for 30 plus days. He provided for us. He got voted out because people were scared of him. There was no good reason for him to be voted out. I was shocked! I mean, I laughed at it, but I was shocked, you know what I’m saying? I one million percent voted for him. It was either going to be him or Devens in my book, one million percent. I was so proud of him.
Did you get along with Devens?
Well, you gotta understand! Devens came to the island all bitter. He and Chris were buddy-buddy, and me and Keith were buddy-buddy. They kept telling me, “Keith screwed you over!” And I’d tell them to shut up because I didn’t know. [Reem calls out to Chris again.] And yes, you did screw me over, Chris. Thank you, I did not know that. [Back to the call.] At the end of the day, I have nothing but respect for Devens. When I walked into Tribal and I saw him with immunity? I’d be like, “Hell yeah, dude. Take them down. Give them hell.” I was proud of him, proud of Chris, so glad at how it all worked out, super glad that Devens got the Sia award. [Editor’s note: singer-songwriter Sia is a noted Survivor fan and has made a recent habit of awarding one player each season a cash prize based on her own unknown metrics. This season, she gifted $100,000 to Rick Devens, the equivalent of the series’ typical second-place earnings.] He busted his ass. That’s amazing. It’s all good. But we gave each other hell on that island, a million percent.
You’re legendary too, Reem. The first person voted out plays three days, and that’s it; you never see them again. We got to see you the full way through. What has this journey been like for you?
I’ll be honest with you. What everybody’s said to me? It’s super nice. But when you’re the first one voted out and it’s your dream to come out here, all you feel like is a freaking loser. That’s a million percent how I felt. I’m a loser, I’m on losers’ island. Yes, there’s another chance, but I still got voted out first and I have to face my family. I’m not saying they’re not proud of me, but they’re a freaking tough crowd, man. I legit felt like a loser up until day thirty-whatever. It took me a long time to finally be proud of myself. When I saw other people showing up, being like, “This place sucks,” and they were all down and out? I’d tell them, “Lighten up. At least you have another chance.” It wasn’t until much, much later that I was proud of myself. But I felt like a complete loser for quite some time.
When was that?
That was at the end. That was like… [Reem calls out to Chris again.] That was like, what, Chris? Three or four days before the game was over, before the last challenge, that I was finally able to do it? It was toward the very end.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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