Survivor's Sala stayed awake at night, asking 'is my dad still alive?'
As he lay stranded in Nicaragua, Survivor contestant Matai'a Salatielu Tiatia couldn't sleep. Everyone else was shattered but one thought kept him awake: "Is my dad still alive?"
Tiatia exited the game during Sunday night's episode, but stayed in Nicaragua as part of Survivor's "jury". Luckily, he was able to call back home when he finally left the tribe.
It's been about nine months since Survivor was filming, but even now those memories bring Tiatia to the brink of tears.
"It was hard, bro. It was so, so hard. I really thought I was going to be hangry from day one, but I was OK with no food – I was really surprised. But the homesickness. I can't explain how hard that was, it's hard to put into words," he says.
The Christchurch alternative education manager says the anxiety around not knowing how his family was became hard to handle. His 69-year-old father was sick when Tiatia got on a plane to compete in Survivor. "We had zero knowledge of how things were going in Aotearoa," he says.
On the morning after the nation saw his Survivor hopes get dashed, Tiatia says his "skux" father is still doing "OK". "He's not 100 per cent. He's getting old, man, 69 and still flirting with girls at McDonalds," he adds.
Tiatia speaks with vibrancy when discussing his issues on the reality television show, but his flow is interrupted by one topic: family.
His former tribe mates, the people that voted him out, excused their actions saying Tiatia's integrity made him a threat. Therefore, they say he had to go. Tiatia doesn't buy that.
"I still believe you can [win]. I still believe you can get to the final still being nice and still holding your mana and being respectful," he says. But he later adds a caveat: "Maybe I'm still just naive."
Tiatia repeatedly stated he didn't want to sacrifice his mana to win the game. He wanted to win, he wanted the money, but if he got the money without pride, then he says it wouldn't have been worth it.
"Unfortunately, deceit and betrayal is a part of it. I disagree with it and I hate that part of it, but it's part of Survivor. Some chose that path, and that's fine," he says.
Why didn't Tiatia play harder? That question touches on a nerve, as it brings the player closer to home.
"I missed my kids," he says.
Tiatia goes on to say he feels gutted, "gutted that I wasn't able to win money for my family. But I also am brought to the reality that..." Then he pauses, that stammer is now rife.
"I still get to wake up and I've got my family... It's overwhelming, bro, just trying to make sense of all those emotions."
When he arrived back home, Tiatia didn't take a break but says maybe he should have.
"It was a hard transition back in. I think, I could have done that better."
He says that because he was still processing his strange 40 days in Nicaragua, "I was different."
"Normality wasn't normality at all and I'm still processing that. I'm solid now, but the first two months after the show, yeah it was pretty hard."
Tiatia says he arrived back to a "hard place". He says there was "a lot of emotional stuff that I was trying to make sense of, you know, it's a mental game".
When he talks about his kids supporting him on his return, that's it. It's a topic Tiatia can't get past. "I'm still stuck with the kids question, maybe I just need to breathe a little bit. Sorry, brother."
"Those tears I was trying to hold back earlier, those were for my own children, brother. I love them, they're my heartbeats. They're solid bro, they're sweet az."