Survivor: Where Are They Now? – Tammy Leitner Interview

Catching up with some old school castaways.

Earlier this year, I reached out to 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.

We are kicking things off with Tammy Leitner, who competed on Survivor: Marquesas in 2002. Tammy was 29 years old when she played Survivor and was working as a criminal reporter based in Mesa, Arizona. She was noted for being a vital member of the dominant Rotu Four alliance, seen as John Carroll’s second-in-command.

The Rotu Four holds a special place in Survivor history, being the first controlling alliance to be overthrown by the underdogs. As the group fell apart, Tammy landed in the minority and had to survive by winning immunity challenges. She won two back-to-back immunity necklaces but after her streak ended, she was voted out at the final seven.

Inside Survivor caught up with Tammy to find out what she’s been up to since her time on Survivor.

Potential Trigger Warning: The following article contains a discussion of Tammy’s crime reporting career, including mention of sexual assault.

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

After Survivor, I transitioned from crime reporting for newspapers to crime reporting on television. That led to investigative reporting. I spent about a decade as an investigative reporter at CBS in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, many of my investigations focused on drug cartels, smuggling, and border issues. I once surprised a drug spotter in a cartel cave on top of a mountain and landed an interview right there on the spot. I tracked smugglers through a sewage tunnel underneath Mexico, interviewed members of the international gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and confronted a man suspected of multiple murders who police had not yet arrested.

But the most impactful story at that time was our international investigation that exposed a decades-old government cover-up, where American soldiers were ordered to bury Agent Orange on a U.S. military base in South Korea. My team received a George Foster Peabody, an Edward R. Murrow, and a Sigma Delta Chi award for a documentary we eventually put together on this.

Eventually, I took investigative jobs in New York City and Chicago. The types of stories I covered changed dramatically. I spent years reporting on cyber security and the dark web, domestic and international terrorism and exposing the underworld of body brokering.


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A post shared by Tammy Leitner (@tammy.leitner)

My investigative reports led to a job as a network correspondent at NBC News, reporting on The Today Show, Nightly News, and MSNBC. This was a wild ride, and I rarely saw my family or slept in my own bed. I spent years traveling the globe, going from one natural disaster to the next, reporting on human rights injustices from Syria to Russia, Venezuela to Mexico. I spent three weeks in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, traveling the island with my team and with international rescue crews, finding and interviewing survivors who were completely cut off from the rest of the world – no food, no water and no electricity. (This was not Survivor!)

In 2017, I flew to the remote village of Mocoa, Colombia, on a military plane after heavy rains triggered flash flooding and landslides. I stood side-by-side with family as rescue crews, volunteers and community members frantically dug through the mud for survivors. As hours stretched into days, the death toll rose to 336, with 400 injured and 200 missing. It was one of the worst weather-related disasters in Colombia’s history.

In 2019, I left NBC. I was burned out and needed a reset. While taking some time to myself, I dusted off a book I had started writing 20 years prior when I was living in Scottsdale Arizona. It was a true crime book, about a case I had covered when I was just starting out as a newspaper crime reporter. A case that was literally too close to home…


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A post shared by Tammy Leitner (@tammy.leitner)

One morning I opened my front door to walk my dog before work and was trapped by crime scene tape – stretching from my neighbor’s door to my own. I ducked under and poked my head into my neighbor’s open apartment. It was a mess and she was nowhere. Something bad had happened, I sensed. Later, when detectives questioned me, I learned she had been attacked in her home.

I headed into work to research and write a story bout the sexual assault for the next day’s newspaper – that was my job. That night, when I got home, the detectives were still investigating and could be overheard saying, “She didn’t see his face, only that he had a tattoo and was wearing a black velcro watch.” I walked past them and into my apartment. There, in the middle of our living room, was a black velcro watch.

Typically, as a journalist, I choose my own stories. But this story chose me. I continued to cover it for months – discovering that the man who raped my neighbor was a serial rapist who had been eluding law enforcement for decades, assaulting women across the United States. That may be the reason I was never able to let go of this story – even after he was caught.

I finished the book, deciding to include and reveal also, for the first time, my own personal trauma. The book, Don’t Say a Thing: A Predator, a Pursuit, and the Women Who Persevered, was published by Thomas & Mercer in July 2023 and became an instant bestseller – on the Wall Street Journal Top 10 List and it became #1 on multiple Amazon lists. We are currently developing a podcast based on the women who survived these crimes. And I’m working on my next investigative project. Stay tuned!

What kind of impact did Survivor have on your life?

Survivor quite literally changed my life in that it opened the door into broadcast reporting. I loved being a newspaper reporter, but at that time newspapers were already having financial problems and many were starting to close. When the local CBS station offered me an on-air job as a crime reporter (after Survivor), I knew that I had to give it a shot.

Reporting on TV was totally out of my comfort zone (even though I had just been on Survivor), but I liked the challenge. And boy was it a challenge. Learning to be a broadcaster in market 12 was not easy. I made a lot of mistakes on live TV – like spitting out my gum, not realizing that the anchor had already come to me. I thought I would surely be fired for that incident.

Eventually, I got the hang of being a broadcast journalist and that led to a 20-plus year career.

What is something you still cherish from your Survivor experience?

When I think back to my Survivor experience, I am very aware I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to take part in such an amazing adventure. I loved everything about the experience!

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

Only through social media.

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?

No. But I am rewatching our season with my 9-year-old niece.


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A post shared by Tammy Leitner (@tammy.leitner)

Would you ever consider playing Survivor again if asked? Why or why not?

I was contacted years ago when I was working at NBC in Chicago – and was asked if I would be interested in playing again. As much as I love the idea of competing again, I didn’t even consider it because it would have required me quitting my investigative reporting job at NBC.

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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