Elisabeth Markham found herself in the hospital with a nasty staph infection after she was voted off Survivor. But how did she get on the show in the first place? It just so happens she met a former two-time castaway on OkCupid who suggested her to casting. We discuss that and lots more in our in-depth interview with Elisabeth, who was the third person booted from the game.
Elisabeth Markham: [Laughs.] I got my share of the punishment. I had an infection that was pretty bad. I spent a few days in the hospital after I was voted out. That was no fun, but I'm OK. I didn't die.
SK: What kind of infection was it?
EM: A staph infection. Quite nasty. There was a bunch of skin on my shoulder and back they had to cut out. I had these big, gaping wounds that were kind of atrocious.
EM: I do have some scars. I had a pretty good plastic surgeon in America close up the wounds after I got home. I'm never gonna be completely scar-free, but I actually think they look kind of cool.
EM: Yeah. It was not what I expected to happen. I felt a shift before we left for Tribal that something was wrong, but I still believed it was Peter going home and not me, up until the second-round votes were read.
SK: What made you feel uneasy?
EM: We noticed a lack of contact. Joe sort of stopped making eye contact with me and Peter. Neal was evasive and avoiding us. I think Debbie and Aubry were better at playing like everything was OK, but it was Joe and Neal that sort of tipped us off.
EM: That's sort of how I felt the first couple of days when I first met him. I didn't think I liked him that much, but he grew on me. I saw another side of him, a more humble side. I viewed his posturing sort of like a surface-level thing whereas underneath, he's filled with self-effacing humor and maybe even insecurity. He just seemed like somebody I could talk to more genuinely than the other four people in my tribe.
SK: What was your end-game plan? Was Peter a part of it?
EM: You have to play it by ear. I think I wanted to go to the end with Aubry and Debbie. Based on the way these relationships happen, that didn't really become likely since Aubry clicked so strong with Neal and Debbie clicked so strong with Joe. I couldn't just take my pick of these people. I didn't want to plan everything out too much. I thought being aligned with Peter, if we got the merge together, he would give me some cover if people were trying to take one of us out — that it would probably be him and not me.
EM: Not really. I think just the novelty of the experience, the suddenness of having to build a shelter and gather bamboo in 100-degree heat was just unsettling for her since she had not done a whole lot of outdoor things before. I guess it was like an anxiety attack. She talked about quitting. Debbie and I talked her out of it, thank goodness. She has a lot more left in her to give. She had medical come check on her health, but she was definitely struggling emotionally. She wasn't severely dehydrated or anything.
SK: Do you regret talking her out of quitting? Had she done so, it would have meant one less person there to compete against.
EM: [Laughs.] It didn't seem like a good idea to go into the first challenge down in numbers.
EM: I think the first day or two, the way I saw Debbie is probably similar to the way you feel now watching her. She's getting portrayed kind of as a one-dimensional kooky person with all these bold claims. But when you actually get to know her, when they're real situations, she reacts well. She's so smart. She's savvy. She's aware of what's going on. I guess even in the first episode, you see her comforting Aubry, which shows a little softness and awareness. In the third episode, I'm glad we finally got to see her being smart, being strategic and being more than the kooky person who Peter wonders if she has 30 or 40 cats.
SK: Who do you think does not deserve to be in the game?
EM: Geez. I think the people on the Brawn who are left, like Jason and Scot, aren't coming across very nice, but they're playing well. Cydney is playing great. Alecia is fighting for her life very well and doing a great job of playing from the underdog position. Beauty tribe? We haven't seen any fractures, really. I think that's because they haven't been to Tribal. Pretty much any of them could do anything at this point. On the Brains, I think of the remaining five people that Peter is probably playing the worst game. I guess maybe him? Hopefully, Brains don't lose the next challenge and he can make it to a swap and hope things improve.
SK: We haven't really seen the Brains tribe searching for hidden Idols. Give us some insight on why some of you believed Neal had an Idol and explain who was actually looking.
EM: Everybody was searching for Idols all the time. People talked about them all the time. There was discussion of whether they might be special Idols, and whether they might not be in the game at all. When we got back from the first challenge, we had this massive fire-making kit we won as a Reward. Neal dumped the entire thing out on the ground and went through it looking for clues for Idols, which is a pretty smart thing to do, but very conspicuous. There wasn't a sense that if you were looking for an Idol that maybe you were somehow a devious person or something. It was kind of a thing you should do if you're playing. Peter and I sensed that Neal was going Idol searching less often. He would disappear for whatever excuse less often. He would usually use "getting shellfish" as an excuse to go off by himself. Sometimes he would be actually getting shellfish. Well, a lot of the time. It made it convenient for him to be away for long periods of time.
EM: I know Stephen Fishbach from Survivor: Tocantins and Second Chances. He put the idea in my head of playing the game. At some point, it just seemed like a reasonable thing to do. He put me in front of casting and it worked out.
SK: How do you know him?
EM: We met on OkCupid. It was like three years ago. We went on two dates or something. It was fun. He was very conversational. We hit it off more as friends than as, like, romantic partners. We still talk and stuff, so that's cool.
EM: Kind of annoying to wait so long. The fact that I couldn't really talk about it. Once the cast was official, or even when it was leaked by the spoilers online, people all wanted to know. People would build up such high expectations and think I did so well. I wanted to be like, "Eh, not so much." I just couldn't really talk about it, and I wanted to.
SK: Would you do it again?
EM: [Laughs.] I think so. The game was so much fun. I really enjoyed playing. The injury is not really something I would want to repeat, but I don't think it's very typical. It was a lot of fun and a really cool experience.
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