Survivor: Where Are They Now? – Dave Johnson Interview

Catching up with some old school castaways.

CBS; Dave Johnson

Earlier this year, I emailed a selection of former Survivor players that fans haven’t heard from in a while to find out what they’re up to these days.

Today’s edition features Dave Johnson, who competed on Survivor: The Amazon back in 2003. Dave was 23 years old when she played Survivor and, at the time, worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a rocket scientist.

Dave was part of the all-male Tambaqui tribe, who were quickly humbled when they lost the first immunity challenge of the season. As fellow tribemate Rob Cesternino pointed out, Dave came onto the show to play a loyal game and seemed committed to working with the men.

In one of his most memorable moments (other than using the word “bangarang” at the first tribal), he and eventual winner Jenna Morasca enjoyed a night of food and wine before being asked to assign new tribes. Dave showed some strategic sense by immediately splitting up Jenna from her close ally, Heidi Strobel.

However, when it came to the merge, Dave believed the men would still be sticking together against the women. He was left blindsided when his friend Roger Sexton was voted out 7-3. Finding himself in the minority, Dave tried to put a target on Matthew von Ertfelda, but it was too late, and Dave was voted out unanimously for his athleticism and threat status.

Inside Survivor caught up with Dave to find out what he’s been up to since his time on Survivor.

What have you been up to since you last appeared on Survivor? Biggest life events? Changes?

Somehow, 20+ years have passed since Survivor 6 (The Amazon), almost double the age I was while on the show. Highlights include growing a career that I am proud of (i.e., from NASA to advising some of the top technology companies on launching new products and efficient operations). Nurturing amazing family and friend relationships (including a wonderful wife and adventurous bernedoodle). Traveling the world (e.g., from living aboard a sailboat to a multi-year UK expat life) and building a lifetime of stories and experiences to share and bring laughter over pints of beer late into the night.

What kind of impact did Survivor have on your life?

Survivor is an incredible opportunity and something that I am forever grateful for being a part of. The Amazon gave me an initial realization on how far you can push your body and mind. I love the challenge; it is unique and irreplaceable. While not as common these days, it is still surreal to be recognized and warming to hear stories like, “I remember your season! I used to watch that with my parents / friends / etc.”
What is something you still cherish from your Survivor experience?

Every Thursday, my grandmother would drive up to Pasadena and join our rowdy crowd for weekly watch parties at our favorite dive bar. She would often bring her elderly friends, and they would invariably become the life of the party. The smile on her face and twinkle in her eye during my cringe-worthy comments or cheers on accomplishments remains one of my fondest memories. That and some ridiculous parties that I definitely wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise (endless thank you, Heidi [Strobel]!!!)

Dave Johnson
Dave Johnson

Do you still keep in touch with any of your castmates? If so, who?

Our cast is forever bonded (like any other season). I remember the magical period after we wrapped filming until Season 6 aired. We shared a secret and would often call each other in growing anticipation of what was to come. Once announced, the world exploded with excitement. We rode that wave together. I’d love to see everyone again… perhaps a 25-year reunion? 

(Note – my heart goes out to Roger [Sexton]’s family. While strong-willed, he was extremely loyal and the first to do anything for those that he loved. I’ll always remember laying under the Amazon stars and sharing our life experiences, albeit decades apart).

[Editor’s note: Roger died on October 26, 2022, after a battle with Lewy Body Dementia).

Do you still watch Survivor? If so, what do you think of the current version of the show? If not, what made you stop watching?

I rarely watch the show these days. Nothing really happened… life got in the way and I never picked it back up. Perhaps part of me wants to remember our experience without the influence of subsequent seasons.
Would you ever consider playing Survivor again if asked? Why or why not?

Tough question my wife always asks as she would love to see me back on TV. For the challenge and adventure, I’d jump back in without hesitation.  However, the social media attention makes me think twice. The opportunity hasn’t come up (yet?) to force a definitive decision.
What do you know now that you wish you knew during your time on Survivor?

I’ve learned to pay higher attention to my instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, there are probably other forces at play.  

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

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