Survivor SA’s Meryl Szolkiewicz Is First To Join The Jury

"The physically strongest person isn’t the one who plays the game the best. The one that reads people well, that’s able to adapt, is the person best suited for Survivor."


Nadim Nyker |

13 Survivor SA castaways made it to merge on Thursday night. The new Manumalo Tribe saw castaways try make their mark, in what quickly turned into a popularity contest. And unfortunately for Meryl Szolkiewicz, she wasn’t popular enough.

“Every other time we had been about six or seven people in a tribe, this time we were 13,” she says.  “Everyone was so loud and it felt like a high school cheerleading contest and it was a popularity show. So on a personal level I clocked out a bit and felt that was really overwhelming.”

Related: 5 Questions With Survivor SA Castaway Rose-Lee Smith

The mother of three boys, Zack, Ethan and Michael, was the first to join Survivor SA’s jury for the rest of the season, and that means a holiday in Samoa, too. “To be part of the jury, first of all mamma gets a holiday in paradise, I get a bed and a kettle – imagine, a kettle!

“But it is a big responsibility because I am a big fan of the game and to award the sole Survivor, I would award it to the person who played consistently and played the hardest and I would convince the rest of the jurors to do the same,” she adds.

We caught up with her on her Survivor SA experience, and the lessons she took home.

What went wrong for Meryl

Manumalo at tribal council.

The 31 year-old walked into the merge on the back foot, she says, only maintaining a strong relationship with Danté. Her downfall was her curiosity to find out why Nathan left the island, with her talkative nature being mistaken for ‘campaigning’ amongst tribe members.

Related: Here’s What Nathan Castle Learnt From Being On Survivor SA

“At the beginning of the show they asked me what would be my downfall, I said that I talk too much and I said I’m adopting a bit of a mantra: talk less, smile more,” she says. “Reflecting on that, I didn’t realise that me just talking to people would seem like I was campaigning. And I’m very  much an external processor, so I was just trying to figure out what the flip went on with Nathan’s vote, like what even happened?

“As soon as we merged I felt like I was a wandering feather finding a breeze that was gonna take me. Little did I know that I was actually seen as a big threat. I feel quite touched that these big guys were seeing me as a threat, I am pretty proud of myself.”

Did she use the immunity idol too early?

Meryl prematurely played her immunity idol in episode 8, but despite being voted off on Thursday, it’s a move she doesn’t regret. “No, I don’t regret it,” she says. “At that time of the game, everybody knew I had it and it was bringing a lot of heat on me. And in that tribal council I knew there was a lot of smoke and mirrors happening, in one of the secret scenes I told Danté things were not adding up, Geoffrey was not reacting like his name was on the chopping block.

“I knew something was up and the idol was insurance, so I played it and I don’t regret that at all.”

It’s all about relationships

Meryl and Danté.

“I was with Danté from the beginning, I played my whole game with him. From Day 4 we made an alliance, he decided he trusted me and that was the way it was going to go,” she says. “We didn’t have to check in with each other regularly, we just knew we could trust each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt, even if the other people were trying to sneak things in.”

Related: How Survivor SA’s Rob Bentele Got His Body & Mind Ready For The Island

But Meryl’s downfall came when false perceptions were created about her amongst the Manumalo tribesmen. Until this point she had stuck to her game plan: to play socially and build good connections with people, she says.

But Meryl hadn’t been given the chance to pull out her heavy artillery. “I just hadn’t started playing the game, so [my leave] was very much pre-empted. My strategy was to play socially and build good connections with people and only after the merge, then start playing really hard. I hadn’t even started with any of the conniving actually!”

As a pilates instructor, was she physically ready?

Meryl nabs the immunity idol.

“Listen, I am a pilates instructor and I go to the gym and do all these things…But on the first day when I was on the boat and saw the titans around me; I saw there was no way I could compete physically with professional athletes, there was just no way.”

Related: Survivor SA Castaway Ting-Ting Says Why She Has No Regrets

This forced Meryl to use her mental skills, and her triumph in episode five was remarkable. After winning the reward challenge, Meryl spotted a clue in the roof of the smoothie bar hut and retrieved it with the help of Danté. She later secured the Ta’alo tribe’s win after solving the sliding puzzle for immunity – going on to retrieve the immunity idol.

“[My physicality] did help me, but because of the level that the others have been competing on their whole lives, I couldn’t realistically compete physically.”

Her strongest and weakest points

“With regards to gameplay, the physically strongest person isn’t the one who plays the game the best. The one that reads people well, that’s able to adapt, is the person best suited for Survivor.”

“My weakest was not trusting my intuition more,” she says. “With regards to gameplay, the physically strongest person isn’t the one who plays the game the best. The one that reads people well, that’s able to adapt, is the person best suited for Survivor.” Meryl also notes that her alliances will help influence her jury decisions, with Danté being on top of her list to win.

Related: Survivor SA Gets Rid Of Its Strongest, Rocco van Rooyen

“I think that my strongest point was to make good connections with people; there’s authenticity in that. I’m not trying to play you, I’m actually just looking for a good connection. And that’s how I live actually, if I meet someone I try to make a good connection with them.”

The lessons she took home

“Survivor left me with two of the biggest life lessons, says Meryl. “One is that my intuition is spot on, I did not know that about myself. The last 10 years have been about my family and raising my boys. So I haven’t been in a competitive environment to test myself.

“I want to make life choices around the kind of life I want  to live rather than chasing a particular thing.”

“Secondly, the support I have from my family—from my husband, Michal, and my kids⁠—is really priceless. I really have an incredible life, and we may not have everything, and we may not be the best, but we have an incredible life. I want to make life choices around the kind of life I want  to live rather than chasing a particular thing. I realised more about what I had after coming back home.”

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