‘Survivor’ star Sean Edwards has ‘intense feeling of regret’ over quit

Ora Sawyers

It was not an easy ride for Sean Edwards on Survivor 45. The 35-year-old school principal ended up on what may go down as the worst tribe in the history of the game, as the original Lulu lost every single immunity challenge as well as the marooning competition. He also had a tribemate quit just three days into the game, and saw himself go from the top of the tribe to the bottom when his closest ally (Sabiyah Broderick) was blindsided.

So on day nine, Sean decided to get off the ride. Sean became the second person in just four episodes this season to quit the game at Tribal Council. Informing his new Reba tribemates — who planned to keep him — as well as host Jeff Probst that he instead wanted to leave the island to go spend time with his husband. Of course, folks that are voted out of Survivor are not sent immediately home and instead are put in contestant housing in Fiji called Ponderosa, so it was unclear how leaving the game would immediately reunite Sean with his husband.

On his On Fire podcast, Probst called Sean’s motivations for quitting into question, saying the player romanticized his exit and that he did not own the real reasons for leaving. How does Sean respond to that? When did the idea to quit first form? And what would he have done if his tribemates had not voted him out, as requested? We asked Sean all that and more. Watch the full interview above or read it below.

Sean Edwards on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did it start hitting you that you wanted to quit the game because unlike Hannah, it seemed to happen pretty suddenly?

SEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, Dalton, thank you for asking that question. I had moments that kind of surfaced for me, just little bits here and there that were like, “Wow, this is a great experience. I’m loving being out here.” Because my whole goal in going on Survivor — and I’ve been honest about this the whole time with production and everyone — was that it was this idea of reclaiming lost time. And bits of that surfaced for me throughout the game of like, “Well, is this really helping me to rewrite my past?” But every time I felt that throughout the game, I’d kind of push it down. “No, I’m here for a reason. Push forward, push through.”

And then literally as I was walking into Tribal Council during last night’s episode, it was like this inspirational revelation to me that was like, “Sean, you don’t need to erase your past. You need to learn how to embrace it.” And for me, that was so impactful, and I was still in the moment at Tribal — you could see me, I’m still pushing that down — I’m like, “I’m here to play Sifu. I’ll be your pizza. Whatever you want me to be, I’m here for it.”

And when Jeff asked that question of “What has this Survivor experience meant for you?” For whatever reason, that question just immediately triggered in me this automatic response. It was like word vomit. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was saying in the moment. It was just coming out very authentically and genuine, and that’s when it just all kind of came to a head.

Jeff Probst said on his podcast that you didn’t own the real reasons you were quitting and that you romanticized it by saying it was about being with your husband, when he thinks other factors were at play. What do you make of that assessment?

Yeah, I certainly respect Jeff’s thoughts on the situation and how he was reading into it. I think also about the fans out there and all of their opinions and thoughts, and I have no expectation that anyone can understand why I did what I did, because my decision was extremely personal. No one has lived a day in the life of Sean, and so I don’t expect other people to understand it.

Now again, for me, it was about this realization that I came on Survivor for this purpose, reclaiming lost time, which admittedly was an unfair expectation to put on Jeff, and to put on the Survivor crew. Because that is a very tall order to say, “Hey, Survivor, rewrite my life.” It’s an impossible ask. But that was the mentality I had. That’s what I was going into the game with.

And so for me when I realized, “Oh, this is not that,” Survivor in that moment had fulfilled the measure of its creation for me, and I was at peace with that. And so again, it really was that question that Jeff asked that really was the hinge point for me. But I would say my reasons were just different than maybe what others perceive. And that’s okay.

Sean Edwards on ‘Survivor’.
Robert Voets/CBS

You said you wanted to spend time with your husband rather that stay in the game, however you and I both know that you don’t get to go home when your torch gets snuffed. Instead, you go to Ponderosa to be with the other folks that were voted out. So how did that factor into your thinking?

Yeah, no, excellent question. The idea that I would leave the game and immediately see my husband, I think is something that people are like, “Doesn’t he know he goes to Ponderosa?” And, of course, I knew that. Like I said, it wasn’t this homesickness feeling. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I missed my husband. I want to see him, so I’m leaving the game”. That wasn’t it at all. It was that Survivor had fulfilled its purpose for me, and I realized that what I expected to get out of Survivor, my whole intention of going was not something that was a reasonable ask. And so again, I felt very at peace with my decision in that moment.

I will say there definitely is, as I’ve been able to process this experience and come back from it — it’s been months since it’s been filmed — I’ll be honest with myself and with everyone else, that there definitely is an intense feeling of regret about my decision. And it’s okay to have regrets.

I think a lot about how I wish I could have been more flexibly minded in that moment to be able to say, “Hey, Survivor, this has been a great experience. It’s not really fulfilling what I initially came out here for, but now as a player of the game who loves this game, now I can turn up and play the game instead of asking for this adventure of a lifetime. So definitely, looking back, I wish I could have been more in that space. I just wasn’t. And I have to find a way to come to terms with that.

It’s really honest of you to say that, and clearly it was a very emotional decision. All of us sometimes make emotional decisions and then later look back and second guess them. And so I appreciate you being open and saying that you’ve had that experience. So what has it been like for the past six months knowing this was coming, knowing this is going to air, and then watching it play back last night?

I am just so glad that the episode has finally aired. It’s finally out there because the past few months have been…. It’s been hard, because I want to hype up the show. I’m still a super fan of the show. I love the show. I love Jeff. I love Survivor. I mean, everything about the experience was just absolutely magical. Best nine days of my life, seriously loved it.

And so through the past few months, I’ve just been so excited for the show. I just want it to air, I want people to see my story. I just want it to be out there while also feeling that just within me, that tinge of like, “Oh, what’s the reaction going to be? What are people going to say? What’s it going to be like when it airs?” Because you just don’t know what the edit’s going to look like. And so there has been a lot of anticipation around it. And now that it’s finally out, I’m like, “Okay, that’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Sean Edwards, Hannah Rose, and Brandon Donlon on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Was it hard to watch last night? You said you didn’t know how it was going to look on screen. You’re relieved now that it’s over, but how was it during that hour of television viewing last night?

It was intense. Matt and I were watching with bated breath, like “What is going to be shown? What’s going to happen?” But I was really comforted in knowing that this whole season, the editors of the show and Jeff, they’ve put together such a beautiful story that I really feel like has captured the authenticity of the show in the moment that it was happening. And so I really felt confident that the same would happen for my story as well.

Your tribe lost every single immunity challenge, and the marooning challenge. There was a lot of drama on Lulu. You got blindsided by the Sabiyah vote, then you’re maybe on the bottom again right when the tribes swap. Had you had an easier Survivor experience and been on Belo or Reba at the beginning, are you still asking to be voted out, or are you getting excited and counting down days to the merge?

Yeah, great question, Dalton. I have thought about that as well: Was my decision informed by my Survivor experience? And I definitely did not have the Survivor experience I imagined I would. Loved it nonetheless. But as I reflect back, I actually do think that my decision would have been different had I possibly been on a different tribe with more winning potential and earnings. Because for me, it was in those moments of failure where I sat in my failure and reflected on: How did I get here? What led me to this point? Why am I here? And just that thinking and that reflection during those times were where those moments for me bubbled up of like, “Oh, is this fulfilling my need, my core of why I’m here?” So it was those moments of failure that I think brought those things to my mind.

When Hannah quit, she basically told you and the Lulu tribe that she would essentially walk out if you all had kept her. What would you have done if they had kept you and voted Sifu out anyway?

I have a lot have respect for the show. I know people aren’t going to think I do because I left the game, but I do respect the show in that I feel like Tribal Council is the formal way to be voted out. And so honestly, if Sifu was the vote out, we go back to camp, I have a moment with the Reba girls, and I believe that I would’ve stayed until I received a vote out at Tribal Council.

I also believe that if I wasn’t voted out and went back with the girls, that that’s just more time for me to consider my decision and was that the right thing? And I think with time, I would’ve maybe come to this place of like, “You know what? No, I want to play this game. I love this game. I’m here to play.” And so I think, again, that moment of Tribal Council just really completely got me, and I ended up getting myself, if that makes sense.

The Lulu tribe on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

What did you think was going to happen at that Tribal? Jeff said he thought maybe when he asked you that question that you then took that as a cue, like, “Oh, it’s me,” but that it actually was going to be Sifu. Did you feel like it was going to be you voted out, or did you think it was going to be Sifu?

I did not think it was going to be me. No, I absolutely did not think it was going to me. I thought it was going to be Sifu the whole time. I had many conversations with Dee, Julie, and J about the vote, and I felt very reassured, very confident that Sifu was going to be the vote that night.

When Hannah asked to be voted out, Probst just verbally checked in with everyone and you all didn’t vote. Why did that not happen here, or did he do a verbal check-in and that did not make the episode?

I think the situation was different because Hannah — I love Hannah — she throughout the first three days was talking about very openly at camp like, “I don’t know if this is for me, I want to go home.” So she had been talking about it. I had had some thoughts throughout the game, but I never expressed those thoughts. So the very first time that any of my tribe members, Jeff, production was hearing me talk about even leaving was in that moment at Tribal Council. And so I think it was very wise of Jeff to put it to a vote because there was no preconceived idea that I would ever leave the game. So yeah, I think that’s why we went to the vote, which I think was appropriate.

Sean Edwards of ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Anything else that happened out there during your time on Survivor that didn’t make it to TV that you wish we had a chance to see?

I would say there is so much that happens on the show that I wish could be aired, and I understand why it’s not. But for me, it was just the amazing connections with the people on my tribe. I really made some authentic, genuine friendships. Dee and I had so much great conversation. Same with Julie and J. Sabiyah and I obviously were really close, but we had moments that were really fun between us that weren’t shown. Kaleb, Emily, Hannah, Brandon — all of them. So I wish more of my connections with my amazing tribe members could have been shown.

Obviously when it comes to the game, there’s disappointment. I feel it. The fans feel it. You feel it, as we’ve talking about. But you also talked on the show about having walked a very tough road and having now found your happy place, and found your partner, and where you should be in life. And I’m hoping that all of that has been strengthened as a result of this experience.

Certainly, yeah. I cannot express with enough gratitude, my entire experience through Survivor. The Survivor crew and Jeff are absolutely nothing but kind and supportive. And I have so much compassion and love for the show and for my experience. And so I just am relishing in that because I got to do this thing that I’ve always wanted to do. And looking back, like I said, I wish I would’ve maybe just had a different mindset about it.

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