For the 22nd season of Survivor, CBS added a new twist to the granddaddy of reality TV shows: Redemption Island. This season, when contestants are voted off the island by their competitors, they don't go straight home. They're sent to the nearby Redemption Island to live in solitude and get a second chance to win their way back to the game on the main island.
When Matt Elrod, a 22-year-old pre-med student from Nashville, auditioned for the show, none of the contestants knew anything about the "Redemption Island" concept. But Elrod, a Christian, thought it a fitting twist for a believer who wanted his faith to come through loud and clear.
As it turns out, Elrod is king of Redemption Island. He was voted off the main island in Week 2, then spent three weeks in isolation (the equivalent of six weeks on air) on the lone island. He won six head-to-head competitions against other contestants as they were voted off; the loser of each of those duels was then sent home. When Elrod finally earned his way back to the main island in Episode 8, his honesty resulted in a tactical blunder, and he was again voted off and sent back to Redemption Island.
Episode 11 airs this week (CBS, Wednesday 8/7c), with Elrod still on Redemption Island, still trying to work his way back into the game on the main island.
CBS usually disallows contestants to give interviews until after the series ends, but the network gave CT an exclusive interview with Elrod via e-mail. Since the show is still running (it was filmed in late 2010), he wasn't allowed to answer any questions about what happens beyond last week's episode.
For all we know, Elrod could've hung around and won the whole thing—and the $1 million first-place prize. Survivor fans will learn how he finished in the coming weeks; the final episode airs Sunday, May 15 (8/7c).
Why did you want to be on the show?
I wanted to try and proclaim the goodness, faithfulness, love, and mercy God lavishes on me every day. I wanted the world to see how having faith in Jesus isn't just about going to heaven when you die, but it's a better, fuller way of life. The adventure of it all was secondary, and winning the million dollars was third in my list of incentives.
Was there something about the "redemption" twist that attracted you?
We didn't know about Redemption Island till the game started, but its name is almost a testament to Christianity—Jesus redeeming the world by forgiving our sins and breathing new life into us.
You DO realize that the goal is to stay on the MAIN island, right?
Haha, yeah, yeah. But I sort of preferred staying on Redemption Island. The isolation was difficult, but I think it was a way for God to give me a platform to proclaim his glory. I also think he was protecting me from the chaos of the game and allowing me to move forward in the game at the same time.
You got burned twice—the word they kept using was "blindsided."Why was that?
I was pretty shocked. I made a decision at the beginning to play with my heart, not my mind. I knew it would likely burn me, but I almost felt God saying, "I put you on this show out of tens of thousands of people who auditioned, and you want to play for yourself and not for me?" When I thought of it that way, and it dictated how I navigated the game.