In the end, Survivor: Cagayan came down to two people with completely opposing life philosophies. On the one hand was Woo Hwang, whose goal in the game was to preserve the integrity and loyalty he lives by in the non-Survivor world — even though doing so essentially cost him $1 million. On the other hand was eventual winner Tony Vlachos, who has no regrets about saying and doing anything he could — including orchestrating a record number of blindsides and betraying nearly all of his allies — in order to be the last man standing.
"When you're in a game where the stakes are so high, you have to distinguish what's a game and what's life," Tony told TVGuide.com Thursday, one day after he was crowned the winner ofSurvivor's 28th season. "What I am in the game had nothing to do with who I am in life. I did what I had to do in that type of game. If that game was about being honorable and being loyal and being truthful, that's exactly how I would play it. I played the game exactly how I needed to play it to get to the end. ... Nothing means anything on Survivor except keeping your torch lit."
And so, despite the lopsided finale vote, both Tony and Woo say they have no regrets about any decision they made in the game.
Check out our full Q&A with Tony to find out how he convinced Woo to bring him to the final two, and what was going through his mind as he faced an incredibly hostile jury at the final Tribal Council.
First of all, congratulations! How are you doing today, now that you're a million dollars richer?
Thank you so much. I'm doing groovy.
Going into the final Tribal Council, how concerned were you about facing a hostile jury?
Playing with these people on the island is totally different from watching them on TV. We had chemistry out there. Trish, Woo and I, we shared chemistry, which is huge in the game ofSurvivor, a social game. I knew everybody respected the game, so I knew everybody was a huge fan of the game that was out there playing. I knew the moves that I was making — not so much the swearing [on my badge, wife and kids] and all that stuff — but the moves that I was making in the game, they could respect that I was doing that to better my game. I knew they were going to be a little upset, obviously. I'm ruining their chances of winning a million dollars. So I was preparing my speeches in my head throughout the game. What am I going to tell the jurors? How am I going to smooth them over again? But going into the last Tribal Council, everything just went out the window. When I started seeing how they were so angry at me, I was like, oh my goodness. So, the only thing I had left at that point was just to put my head down in sorrow and just take a beating from them.
You were definitely a player that fans either loved or hated. Is there anything you want to clear up about how you are in real life versus how you were on Survivor?
I think last night's result clears it all up for me. Nobody's going to give a million dollars to somebody that they don't like. Woo is a very likable person, so there was no way I should have won that game if I wasn't just as likable and if I wasn't a good human being. ... Out there, you're a person first, and then you're a player. These people, the jurors, they all respected my game and they all respected me as a person — so much so that they chose to give me $1 million over somebody like Woo that didn't hurt anybody and was still very likable. So that speaks volumes in itself.
It was surprising. A lot of people had a much more negative opinion of Kass than they did of you.
I was destroying people's game, but it was beneficial to my game, which people respected. Kass was out there making moves just to make moves, regardless of what it did for her. And at the same time, she destroyed somebody else's chances of winning, she was also destroying hers. So, for her to say she's this strategic mastermind and she knew what she was doing the whole time is bogus.
When I spoke to Jeff Probst before the finale, he said he really admired your ability to eliminate people right away as soon as you saw them as a threat, rather than hesitating about it. How much did that benefit you?
That's pretty much where my experience as a police officer comes into play. I knew going out there, all these people are my opponents, but not necessarily my threats. The second I identified a threat, it was a race to the trigger. Action is much more effective than reaction. Once I identify a threat, I have to make a move right then and there. And that's what I did.
Speaking of being a police officer, why did you lie to everyone at the start of the game and say you were in construction?
Being a police officer, it's a profession where you're either liked by people or you're not liked by people. So it was a double-edged sword. If you like me, you're going to say,OK, Tony's a cop. He's smart. He's sharp. He's quick on his toes, and that's true of a police officer. And then you have the other side of the spectrum, where people get pulled over for passing a red light and they get a ticket, and they get angry with you. Like, "All that crime going on and you're going to stop me for running a red light?" So I was like, you know what? If there's a possibility of somebody being there that doesn't like me because I'm a police officer, I don't want to take that chance. I want to play a neutral game. I want to go in there just saying I'm a construction worker, and hopefully there wasn't a construction worker that burned somebody so that would backfire on me.
Out of the Final 4, is there anyone you DIDN'T want to go up against? Or were you pretty confident you could have beaten any of them?
Spencer was the only person I felt threatened by. Next to Spencer was Trish and Woo. Trish and Woo were both very likable people. They were very social people. Everybody loved them. So it was a toss-up between the two, and the reason I decided to oust Trish instead of Woo when I did was because I needed Woo to help me with the challenges at the end to try to beat Spencer. Because I knew if Spencer made it to the end, Spencer wins. He's an underdog. He didn't hurt nobody. He's a very likable person. So, that was my only reason why I backstabbed Trish like I did, and it was the most devastating vote I made in the whole game.
She had some harsh words for you at the final Tribal, but didn't seem to hold any grudges when we spoke.
If I knew Trish was a vindictive person, a hateful person, I would have never backstabbed her like I did. I knew that she was a very forgiving person. I knew she was a very genuine person. I knew she doesn't have a bone of hate in her body. So, that's why I knew I could do that and get away with it.
So, what did you say to Woo to convince him to take you to the final two?
People like Spencer and Tasha, they were calling my alliance goats. They called Woo a goat because he was just following me. So I kind of used that. I told him, "Woo, listen. The jurors are not going to respect your game. They think you're a goat. For you to think that you can bring somebody like Kass and have a clean sweep, you're going to be mistaken." I used his honor. He's a very honorable person. Integrity, loyalty is what Woo is about. And I knew that from being with him from Day 1, all the way to Day 39. Woo dropped his guard that very last second, and he wasn't able to distinguish real life from the game. So there were a lot of factors to that. It was not just me convincing him, but it's who Woo is as a person. And he dropped his guard for that one minute and took himself out of the game.
What was going through your mind as the votes were read? And what did Woo say to you?
Woo said, "You know what, Tony? You're an all-star. You outplayed me. Great game." That's the kind of person Woo is. And I was very happy, because I didn't want him to think that I tried to con him. I knew I had to get my hands dirty, but I didn't want to get them bloody. So, I did my best. I was as humble as possible. I didn't want to jump up and down and celebrate, which was what I was really feeling inside. But I'm not going to show everybody that. I didn't want to rub nothing in nobody's faces. I know in a game where the stakes are so high, the wounds are deep and the scars are forever. So I didn't want to rub nothing in anybody's wounds.
Do you have any regrets about how you played the game?
Honestly, I think everything I did was situational. Screaming "Top 5!," obviously I would regret that, but it's nothing I could have controlled. That was just emotions running high. Swearing on my baby and my family, my heart was in the right place at that moment that I did that. It wasn't a strategic moment of mine. It was genuine. And that's why it was as believable as it was, because it was real. And I really meant it at that moment. My heart was in the right place, but my brain wasn't. So again, I can't say that I would regret saying that, because that's what I really felt at that moment. Everything I did in the game was what I felt for the moment and I really can't say I regret it, because there's no control over that.
What was your wife's reaction when she saw you swear on her and your daughter?
My wife knows what kind of person I am. She knows that I'm a real, genuine person. And I made it clear to her. I said, "Listen, honey, at that moment, it was real." ... And it was real at that time. It really was. It really was genuine, and I meant it. But then, like I told Jeff, I didn't sleep at night. I would be thinking about all the moves that I made and all the promises I made, and if it was good for me and if it was not good for me. So if it was not good for me, it was time to reassess what I did and change it, and change the course around, even if it was breaking promises. I had to do what was best for my game. But when I did make those promises, my heart was really in the right place.
What did you think of the Survivor: Cagayan finale? Are you happy Tony won?
Catch up on previous episodes of Survivor here — and check back Friday for our Q&As with Woo, Kass and Spencer.
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