For three-time Survivor contestant Malcolm Freberg, it's little consolation that his early exit from the Game Changersseason on Wednesday's episode came during what may be the craziest Tribal Council in the show's history.
For the first time ever, two competing tribes were both sent to Tribal Council and tasked with voting as one bloc. And though Malcolm's Nuku tribe had the number advantage, he ended up being the one going home after the competing Mana tribe played a hidden immunity idol for Sierra — whom they knew was being targeted by Nuku because Malcolm's ally JT went rogue and told them.
"Really, I got triply screwed," Malcolm tells TVGuide.com. "That's the way I've been referring to it. Crazy twist that's never happened, idol, and then my best friend in the game is the one who ends up screwing me over."
All in all, it was a head-spinning tribal that left everyone's head spinning, whether you were sitting there at Tribal or sitting on your couch watching from home.
In our interview, Malcolm reveals what we didn't see go down at Tribal, breaks down his thoughts on JT's betrayal, and talks about the group's decision in a previous episode to catch and release two goats.
I have so many questions about last night's Tribal, but first, how long did it actually go for? And what are the key points that we didn't get to see? I'm sure there were a few.
Malcolm: More than a few.[Laughs] But I think the biggest thing is, you probably saw, like, six of those tribal huddles, maybe? ... There were at least three times that many. All kinds of different groups of people. I was chatting with Sierra for a while. Hali and JT were running back and forth. ... It went a good, long time. Probably twice as long as a normal Tribal Council.
The biggest thing that you really didn't see was that JT knew something was wrong. He really did want them to vote for Sandra. He thought he had it all figured out. But, two-thirds of the way through this Tribal Council, JT, you could see in his face, was panicking. He told us to change the vote away from Sierra. He wouldn't tell us why. If he had just said, "Hey, guys, I told them Sierra, I messed up. We need to change the vote," all of us would have done it in a heartbeat. But instead, he just said, "I think we need to change the vote. I think we need to change the vote." We just thought he was panicking. So all of us said, "No, calm down, stick to the plan, stick to the plan, stick to the plan." So, JT had his head in his hands before we even voted and no one knew why until I was crying on the way out of Tribal.
I guess he was trying to protect himself and not come clean about his betrayal, but he made a few questionable calls in this episode.
Malcolm: Questionable is putting it mildly.
So were you nervous at all going in?
Malcolm: Before we got to Tribal even, me and Sandra sat down and were having a laugh. Like, "It's going to be me or you they vote for." It only would make sense for them to go for Sandra, because she's won twice and people think she's a threat, and me, because I was from the other tribe and had been doing well in challenges. So, they're going to come after me or Sandra. We kind of know that. All these conversations are going on. My overwhelming memory of these conversations is our tribe just like, "Everybody stay calm. Stay calm. What could possibly go wrong?" Because we didn't even consider the possibility that JT would just tell them who we were voting for. I do remember — and I don't know this for certain, but I think at one point Hali was mouthing to me, "They're voting for you. They're voting for you." And at the time I was just like, well, all right. That's fine. We have six, they have five. I obviously don't know what's about to happen. So, I assumed it was going to be me or Sandra. We think we still have the numbers. Somebody's going to get the votes. Hali's sitting there, "It's going to be you." I'm like, well, alright. It didn't really bother me until Sierra stands up and hands over the idol to Jeff.
Someone said that you guys had a plan for every idol scenario, but Sandra seemed convinced no one on the other side had an idol. What happened there?
Malcolm: When Sandra says something, you have to take it with a grain of salt. She's like 50 percent B.S. and 50 percent Latin fire. She just runs her mouth like crazy, and it's hysterical and she's incredibly endearing. So when she said, "Oh, I ain't going home, Jeff, how about that?" it's just Sandra being Sandra. It's not gameplay or anything like that. But back at camp before Tribal started, we talked for hours. Me and Aubrey especially sat there, because we're, like, the superfans of the show and the super nerds, and the ones who are like, "We're not letting this bite us in the butt." We decided that we were going to vote Sierra relatively quickly as a group. But after that, me and Aubrey sat there — and other people would come in and sit with us. Me and Aubry sat there for three hours going through every single possibility that we could think of on how this could go wrong. But honestly, the idea that JT would stand up and tell them who we were voting for didn't go through our heads.
So the plan was to vote Sierra all along? What about Brad?
Malcolm: The decision was made because we needed to keep JT on our side. Me and JT were very, very close out there. They hinted at it a bit on the show, but the minute we got swapped, me and JT were BFFs. Like, holding hands, skipping down the beach BFFs. So, we were pretty confident that he was on our side. ... Going into this, when we found out that we're going to vote for somebody on the other tribe, of course everybody wants to get rid of Brad. But we know JT really likes Brad. So, we can't pick somebody that might make JT flip. So we had to pander toward his wants, and we didn't love the Sierra choice, but we went along with it because the consensus was, Sierra wouldn't have an idol. Sierra, from what I know, has never looked for an idol in her life. And the idea that somebody would hand it off — which is completely insane, because they'd be giving up their own protection. So, unless they were 100 percent certain — like JT made it easy for them! — and were to hand it off, Sierra was going to be unprotected. So it seemed relatively straightforward to go for Sierra.
Have you forgiven JT?
Malcolm: Have I forgiven him? I don't think I'll ever forgive him, but I still love him. We're still good buddies. I still talk to him. Even last night after the episode, we were chatting about it. He's a good guy, just maybe shouldn't be allowed to think for himself sometimes. No, I love JT. He owes me something though. Somewhere down the line he's going to pay me back for costing me 29 days and a million dollars. [Laughs]
Your emotions were pretty raw afterwards, but you said you were happy to have left at such a memorable Tribal Council. Now that you've had some time to process, how would you sum up your thoughts/feelings?
Malcolm: It's still terrible rubbish. Like, I still hate everything that happened. [Laughs] But I think my reaction in the moment... it wasn't just getting, like, blindsided on a goofy twist with an idol because my best friend just [screwed] me. It was because, Survivor... it's definitely been a chapter of my life. It's been a lot of years I've been involved with this. And playing three times is sort of usually the maximum amount of times people play. So going into this season, I'm like, this is the last time I'm gonna do this. Trying to savor every moment, have more fun than I ever had before. Which I definitely was, for the short time I was there. But because the time got cut so short, it felt like this big chapter of my life was over prematurely. And that's, I think, where the waterworks came from.
But there are a couple people this season who are playing for the fourth time. Would you play again if asked?
Malcolm: That's so rare that that happens. ... I kind of counted on getting a third shot and assumed that would be it. But because I didn't even feel like I played this time — I ran around, made jokes, hung out in my underwear. I didn't even start really playing a strategic game this time. If they called again, yeah, it feels like unfinished business. I'd have to go back.
Can you offer any insight into what Hali was doing at Tribal?
Malcolm: Yeah. I'd love to help you out on this, and Hali's genuinely one of my favorite people out there. I never know what the hell Hali's thinking, or saying. The stuff that comes out of Hali's mouth very rarely makes sense at Tribal Council. Great for a soundbite, not for, like, rational game play at Tribal Council.
I can tell you this: Our tribe's plan going in was, there was very much this idea that the game was going to be played along original tribe lines. All of the original Nuku was going to stay together and all of the original Mana was gonna stay together, especially after we saw Caleb get voted out. So we were thinking that we have the numbers. JT's probably on our side here. Let's just keep Hali as safe as possible, and just not involve her. Make the other tribe think that we don't want to deal with Hali. Even though everyone loves Hali on our tribe, make it look like we're not including Hali. That might keep her safe a little bit longer if our tribe has to go back to Tribal. We didn't think we needed her, so why involve her and put a target on her back?
She seemed like she was trying to play both sides.
Malcolm: Who knows. I don't think Hali knew about the idol, or she would have told us. That's my take on the situation, but I don't know that 100 percent. I don't think she knew they had the idol, or she would have told us. So, when she said that, it's just Hali saying crazy things at Tribal Council. We're all just kind of like, Hali, what are you... when Hali speaks, it just kind of goes over your head.
Do you have any regrets about the way you played?
Malcolm: Regrets? No. Actually, it's hard to have regrets. The first couple times I played, I can look back on very specific things that I could have changed or done differently. This time, it's just like, what the hell else am I supposed to do? You kind of just shrug it off. That's just crap luck. It happens sometimes, and just be able to have a smile on your face that it took that much nonsense to knock you out.
Let's talk about the goats from last week. How much of a discussion was there about whether or not to eat them, and how difficult was it to do the "right" thing? Do you think you would have made the same decision on, say, Day 33?
Malcolm: [Laughs]You don't allow the hunger to make that decision for you. I was the one who jumped on the mama goat and I was so proud. I caught a goat! And then you see the baby and it's like, oh, sh--. It was a long discussion, don't get me wrong. The mama goat was tied up for several hours — like, three, four hours, while we talked about it. And what it ended up coming down to for the tribe was, would the baby goat be OK if we just ate its mom? I've seen Bambi. I know how that works out in, like, a Disney film. But actually in the world? We all live in suburbs. We don't know how this works. So it was JT who explained. And, there's goats all over this island. JT's the one who told us, finally, like, "Guys, if we eat the mom, we have to eat the baby, because no one's going to take care of that baby. No other goat on the island's going to, like, take it in." And once he said that, the decision was easy for me. Now, there were still some naysayers for a while — Sandra, obviously, and a couple others — that were kind of gung-ho on getting fed. But once it was like, the baby's not going to make it if we eat the mama... we're not doing this.
I was surprised you guys caught it at all. How did you manage that?
Malcolm: Me and JT had talked about it. I'm like, can we catch a goat? He's the cowboy. "Can we catch a goat?" He goes, "Yeah, it's probably not that hard." So, all right. I think it was, like, the second day I was on that beach. I wasn't even with JT at the time. He was, like, 50 yards away. And you just see him sprint up this rock. I'm like, what the hell's he doing? He goes, "Malcolm, look left." And you see the mama goat running down. I'm like, all right. I'm going for it. I played some football in college. I can still tackle all right. So it wasn't, like, this planned thing like getting it into a corner. It was, JT started running, so I started running, and just jumped on it. The only reason I probably caught it was because the mom knew its baby'd been caught so it wasn't running away as fast.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)