Meet Survivor’s Jess Chong (Exclusive)

survivor jess chong interview season 46

Survivor returns for its 46th season this Wednesday, February 28, and The TV Watercooler had the opportunity to speak with Canadian castaway Jessica “Jess” Chong ahead of the premiere!

Jess is a 37-year-old software engineer, who grew up in Hong Kong and Toronto and is now living in San Francisco, offers us insight into what could make Canadians thrive on Survivor, which qualities she’d like fans to remember her by, and some of her favourite TV shows.

I read that you moved to San Francisco “sight unseen” and it worked out quite well for you. How familiar were you with Survivor before auditioning? Looking back at both, which do you feel was the bigger risk?

I didn’t start watching Survivor until I moved to San Francisco when I was 30 or so. It wasn’t until 2016 or 2017.

Survivor came out when I was still in high school, and when I was living in Toronto. Back then, I was more interested in watching Temptation Island because… honestly, it was trashier! [Laughs] And I was a teenager!

Going on Survivor and moving to San Francisco, are both huge risks. When moving to San Francisco, I didn’t know anybody, except for the man who is now my husband and some relatives, but they didn’t live in the city. I didn’t have any roots here and I had never lived here before. I didn’t even know if I enjoyed software engineering. That was a huge risk to upend my entire life and leave everything that I knew and loved behind and come here.

Survivor is a different kind of risk. How much agency and control do people have throughout the whole process of being in the game? And, after the game? But, it’s been extremely fun and unpredictable. Everything is a roller coaster and that’s the way I like my life!

You watched Survivor with your husband, who is also a fan. Did he ever audition for the show?

[Laughs] I think he knows himself very well and has too much dignity to apply for it.

So, it wasn’t competitive at all then.

No, it wasn’t competitive at all. I know there have been lots of stories where couples have applied, and one person got on and the other didn’t. I think he just knows himself and he knows what he loves. He’s got a very rich life. I think he was like, “I don’t need to enrich my life by going on TV and running around in my underwear!” He was like, “My life is great.”

What aspect of the show were you the most nervous about?

Oh! The aspect that I was the most nervous about was the sun! I do not like the sun. I hide from the sun. I wear sunscreen every day, even when I’m indoors. So, I was like, “Please, say that there’s more shade than there looks like there is?”

With Canadians finding success on Survivor, what do you think makes us so good at this game?

My sense is that because Canada is such a melting pot and so much of its national identity is that we embrace a lot of different kinds of people. I think the Canadians that have played the game have traditionally been very good at being among people that are very different from them, and then knowing when to hang back. I think being polite can go a very long way.

I think that makes me sound like Americans are not polite! But, you know what I mean. That’s what Canadians are known for. When I go on the TTC [the transit system in Toronto] and actually bump into someone, but of us are like “Sorry!” That doesn’t happen here in San Francisco. I feel like there is a marked difference on how people treat strangers.

I think that Canadians have an advantage in the game, especially in the early tribal dynamic of “Let’s all try to get along!”

As someone who mentors in your everyday life, did you feel compelled to take anyone under your wing during Survivor?

Going into the game, I do feel like it’s in my nature to try to help people, especially if I feel like they are working against their own best interests. Everyone is their own worst enemy, so for me, I felt like it would be important to help people if I wanted to help them see how they were working against themselves.

What qualities do you hope to be remembered by the players and the viewers?

I hope people will remember me as me! I feel like I was completely myself out there… Well, as myself as I can be under the strain of the elements! [Laughs]

I was completely myself as much as I could be, and I hope that comes across. I know that’s such a throwaway answer, but I hope people will remember me as someone who is unafraid to just be silly and weird because I always wanted to see that on TV when I was growing up.

Outside of Survivor, what are some of your favourite shows? What was the last show you binged?

My favourite show outside of Survivor is PEN15! I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but my father-in-law called me and he was like, “Jess! Maya [played by Maya Erksine] reminded me of you!” I was like, “Well, I’m an adult and she’s 13!” But, I could totally see the resemblance!

I love PEN15! I’m watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith [also starring Erskine]. I think I’m just watching everything that Maya Erskine is in because I love her.

I was also watching Succession, but I missed the finale! I could not tell you the plot of it, but I love watching Succession as well.

Oh, my gosh, and this is like the most important thing that I need to convey to you, but growing up… I don’t know if you ever watching Ghostwriter on PBS? The show is about these kids that lived in Brooklyn, and they were from all these different backgrounds, and you got a glimpse of into their family lives. There was a family that lived on top of a bodega.

I was obsessed with that show! I had a diary, and I would write in it. Every day, I prayed to God that I could become a member of the Ghostwriter team!

Being on Survivor is my Ghostwriter. Like, it’s been so crazy to meet people from all walks of life! I think that was the thing that I was most excited about, about playing the game, was to have my own “Ghostwriter” and to kind of get a glimpse into other peoples’ lives and into how other people think – people who are profoundly different from me.

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Global and STACKTV. The series also airs on CBS and streams on Paramount+ in the U.S.


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