In the first moments of the Survivor: Cagayan premiere, Miami Marlins manager David Samson was designated the leader of the Brains tribe. An hour later, he was being blindsided at the first Tribal Council, having his torch snuffed just three days into the competition. What went wrong?
"As a person who loves to watch Survivor, learning the difference between watching and playing was a very eye-opening experience for me," Samson tells TVGuide.com. "I was very happy there were no returning players. I felt that it was very cool to have 18 new players, all discovering for themselves the difference between the couch and the island."
Check out our full interview with Samson below to get his take on the ongoing struggles of the Brains tribe (or the "anti-Brains tribe," as he puts it), the group's decision to keep J'Tia over either him or Garrett, and what he would have done differently.
As soon as you were designated the leader of the Brains, you said right off the bat that you were thinking about the end of the game. How shocked were you to be the first person voted out?
I was not happy. I thought it was a mistake, and I thought that it should have been 5-1 to J'Tia. Frankly, it should have been 6-0 to J'Tia. She was very bossy and it makes no sense to keep her. It's not helpful in any way. But they perceived me as a threat. And, this is Season 28. I think that if I'd been around in the first few seasons I would have done better, because it was not as apparent on sort of a strategic front. ... But they just thought of me as a threat and that was that.
What do you think about the tribe's decision to keep J'Tia over Garrett, even after she dumped out all their rice?
I just thought it continued to prove the point that we were the anti-brain tribe. It just made no sense. I don't think anything that we have done so far as a group has made sense. And that doesn't mean it's too late for the remaining four, but there's 17 losers and one winner. To win Survivor, in my mind, you have to be playing every day with an eye toward the future, and taking care of the present. And I think the Brains tribe just didn't figure that out too well.
Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently?
I think I would not have worn a blazer. I did not expect to stick out like that. I had no idea it was Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty, obviously, and I didn't know that I'd be the oldest male on a tribe called Brains, with a blazer on. You just don't know these things. The minute I got to the mat and I looked around, I said, 'Uh-oh.' And then all of a sudden, [host Jeff Probst] asks us to choose a leader. In my mind, I knew I would be chosen, and there was zero hesitation. They went right to me. So I felt I had to respond to that by accepting it and then not hesitating ... about what to do once asked by Jeff to make a decision.
Why did you choose to designate Garrett as the weakest member of the Brains?
I really thought that there was an opportunity to get an advantage by choosing Garrett, in several ways. ... Once Trish and Morgan were chosen, it made sense to me to go with Garrett because I thought that maybe they were going to do a challenge. And if we did a challenge on Day 1 like that, with the three of them, that we'd win that. So, if I were choosing first, I was going to go with Kass, and if [Probst] chose me third I was going to go with Garrett, depending on who else was chosen. And it played out ... with the other two tribes choosing what looked like the weakest people, with no regard to why Jeff was doing that, because he didn't explain it until after. And so I made the decision to go with Garrett on the hope that he would get to do a challenge.
Why would Kass have been your first choice?
I would have just played it more straight. The straight play, if you're the first person, is to go for what people would assume would be the weakest player. And it's terrible to label someone just because they're the older woman on the Brains tribe, because Kass is great. But I thought that would be a safer choice if I were first. And I still would not have dithered around the way I think LJ and Sarah did. I would have gone right at Kass, right immediately, and moved on.
Do you think, though, that your lack of hesitation in picking Garrett actually contributed to your teammates thinking you were a threat?
It obviously did because I'm talking to you today. [Laughs] But my view of it was that, if I look like a threat and I act like a complete bumbling idiot, that people would see right through that. So I figured I'd better act the way I'm definitely being perceived, because that is going to be my only chance to make it further in the game. And so that's the decision I made. Obviously it was not the right one.
If you had been in Garrett's position, would you have chosen the idol clue for yourself, or the extra bag of rice for your team?
Idol. This is a game. You need an idol, because you want to get protection.
Obviously it didn't serve him very well though, as he was voted off in the next Tribal Council — because he didn't even bring the idol with him!
I cannot believe that he got voted off without the idol [but] it makes perfect sense. ... I actually thought at the time, on the island, that they labeled us these tribes totally not relating to what they were. I was expecting Jeff Probst on Day 2 to come to our beach and tell us that we were the anti-brain tribe and it was all a big joke. Because that's how we acted.
No argument there. The Brains tribe is really not doing so well so far. Why do you think that is?
We had six leaders. And in order to be an effective leader, you have to have followers, and there were no followers. And so all we did was paralysis by analysis. We saw it happening. We discussed what was happening, and we couldn't change our stripes, because you are who you are. Inside the game, outside the game, we try to be leaders in our lives. And we just had no one to follow us.
Was there anything that wasn't shown in Wednesday's episode that you'd like viewers to know?
I think that the one thing that was not discussed enough was how hard we tried to get fire, how hard we tried to build a shelter, how thirsty and hungry we were going into that first challenge. And there was no description of how heavy those chests were and how out of energy we were by Day 3. It was unbelievable how we felt going into that first challenge. We all thought that it was Day 36.
The two challenges were particularly intense.
[The first] was the hardest challenge. I think that's one thing that doesn't come across on TV. I've been a couch contestant since 2000. When you're a couch contestant, you imagine doing all these things and you think that you can do it. And then all of a sudden you're doing it and it's like an out-of-body experience. Because on the couch, the treasure chest is not heavy. On the couch, you're eating Doritos and you're not hungry, and you have a beer in your hand and you're not thirsty. It is so different that it's impossible to describe unless you're one of the 400 people who've been lucky enough to do it.
Had you still been a player going into the second Tribal Council, what would you have said to Garrett's suggestion that the tribe hold an open forum and tell J'Tia they were going to vote her off?
I would have literally stood up, pulled him aside and said, 'Garrett, why don't you just snuff your torch now? This is the worst plan of all time. It can't work.' Forget what the game is, that's not how you get things done in the real world either — by getting a big group together and saying, let's just all sit down and do a big kumbaya and let's all be together. It doesn't work that way. You have to build consensus, and the way you build consensus is by making sure that all the different pods have been taking care of. And he just skipped steps 1 through 10.
If given the opportunity, would you play Survivor again?
For sure. I would definitely do things differently, and that's what being a decision-maker means. It means that you make decisions. Not all of them are right. And then, it changes how you make future decisions.
Going forward, who do you think is the biggest threat on the Brains tribe?
I think it's Kass because of the position she's in. She knows that she needs to fight. She realized, once I got blindsided on Day 3, that there was a definite problem. She knew from the beginning that we were all brainless, because we weren't getting anything done. And I think she went in to straight lawyer mode, and I think it'll serve her well. But again, you're playing to win. So I don't know how it will all end up. ... It'll be very interesting to see how it all plays out.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
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