Going into Wednesday's finale of Survivor: Kaoh Rong, Michele Fitzgerald was, to put it mildly, not the favorite to win the game. But she pulled it off, winning back-to-back challenges and using a last-minute advantage to her, well, advantage, in order to pocket $1 million.
TVGuide.com caught up with Michele the day after her big win to get her thoughts on how she managed to beat Aubry when it came to the jury votes, as well as what we didn't see during the season, and what happened to Mark the chicken at the end of the game. Read our full Q&A below.
At one point you told Tai you thought that he basically handed Aubry $1 million. How were you feeling at the end of the Final Tribal? At what point do you think the game tipped in your favor?
Michele: I looked at Aubry's game and I said, wow. That is an amazing game. She played social. She played strategic. And I totally was intimidated by that. I felt the same way with Tai. He's so lovable and likable, and such a huge personality, that sitting next to either of them was concerning. But, I played up my relationships, I played up my friendships with people. And I made a few crucial moves at the end, where I had some momentum that I could really run with and say, "Hey, I came out at the end kicking and screaming, and I was not going to lose at the 11th hour."
You won the final two challenges. How did you pull it off, and how much do you think that contributed to your victory?
Michele: I had kind of a fire under my butt, I suppose. I knew that there was no way I was going to get there unless I did it myself. And so, winning that was absolutely crucial for me. And having that necklace on, the jury sees that. They see that as a strong thing that you've done and that's a check in your box. And then, I come in with this new twist and it plays out really, really well for me, and that looks like I made another smart decision. ... They saw me in the beginning as somebody who was playing kind of the underdog role. But when you're leaving on such a high note, that's what they're remembering right before they vote. And so, I think ending strong was really, really important for those votes.
Did you ever consider anyone else besides Neal to eliminate from the jury? Why not Joe? Michele: Yeah, Joe. I did weigh out all my options. I listened to [Aubry and Tai] and I heard who they were rallying for, rallying against. It gave me a really good idea of where their heads were at, where they thoughts the votes were landing. It was actually a cool advantage, in the sense that I could see, "OK, they think they have this person. They think they have this person. They think they might have this person. Maybe I have this person." So, it was actually really cool to talk it out with them, and I knew it was going to be Neal, just because I knew that he had gotten medically evacuated. He wanted to play this really big game, and I knew he was going to use this as an opportunity to say something bold that he would be remembered by. And I knew that that probably would be something that wasn't for me. It would be for Aubry, and I just did not want that to be ruining me right at the 11th hour there. I knew I could go with Joe, but Joe was really honorable and I don't think that he was going to have it out for me. I think that he would commend Aubry, but kind of leave it at that. And I think that's kind of what he did.
Neal was pretty vitriolic towards you at the end. Were you surprised by that?
Michele: I wasn't surprised, because it must hurt. It must hurt to not be able to play the game that you thought you were going to play because you got medically evacuated. And then, the only say that you have left in this game is making the pitch for the person that you want to win, and I took that away from him as well. So, there's definitely, I'm sure, bitterness there, and I think it came out of a place of upset-ness and anger. And maybe he didn't respect me from the get-go, and that probably played into it as well. But, in the end it showed that I did make the right decision by cutting him.
The twist clearly worked in your favor, but objectively, what do you think of it as an element of the game?
Michele: I thought it was a really cool element. ... It sucks for the jury, because you sit there and you're planning all of this and you're excited that you get to have input, so that part's kind of hard. But I think it's a really cool twist in the sense that it's just another dynamic. It's another layer of, OK, you have this power that I can take away from you. So it was cool. It was a really cool advantage.
Tai had obviously made some enemies along the way, but the perception going into Wednesday's finale, among viewers, was that Aubry was the front-runner. Why do you think people voted for you over Aubry?
Michele: I think Aubry played a really great game in the sense that she was really in control over her alliance, and she was able to create very, very deep relationships where they would never turn on her. And she was able to really sway them, always. That's a powerful position to be in, to have Tai and to have Joe that were not going to budge from you. But the flip side of that is that she never really gave people like Scot, people like Jason, people like Julia, the time of day. And those people, they want their voices to be heard too. And so, as much as I had maybe not had people in my pocket as much as she did, I had overall a wide span of friendships with everybody. And I always listened to them, and I always heard out their strategy and made sure that I considered it. At least consider every option is something that I did. And as a player, you want your options to be heard. So I think people valued that, when they were on the bottom, to say, "OK, maybe I have this opportunity with Michele." I think they appreciated that.
Do you have any regrets about the way you played the game?
Michele: I don't really have any regrets. I think I would play a little bit more outspoken if I were to play again, or if I were to go back, maybe I would speak up a little bit earlier, just so it would be more open how I was playing. I think I shielded a lot of what I was doing. It was kind of more just social and kind of just building those friendships and bonds. I would speak up a little bit sooner, just to make sure that everybody knew where I stood, so I wasn't out scrambling so hard at the end.
What was your reaction to what viewers got to see? Was there anything you think got lost in the editing that you think audiences should know?
Michele: I wish that they had highlighted mine and Cyd's relationship more. I think they highlighted it at the end, but I think they were really focused on more Aubry and Cydney's relationship. But me and Cyd were super tight. We were tight from Chan Lo. It had been in the works from when there was a tribe swap, that we planned on turning on our alliance. On the Nick vote, I had wanted Jason out. She had wanted Nick out. But we were in that together and she said, "OK, I'm going to go talk to Debbie and Aubry," and I said, "OK, I'm going to go talk to Julia. Let's make this move now. Now's the time." And so, first off, I wish that I had openly spearheaded that vote. But secondly, I wish that they had kind of highlighted that that was done as me and her, and not just her, and [shown] more of our relationship ... and strategy talk between me and her. Because there was a lot of it. And that kind of got lost. ... We were literally like sisters out there. We wore matching outfits all the time. We are two peas in a pod, me and Cydney. We were super, super friendship tight, and then an alliance just comes naturally with that.
If you had lost the last immunity challenge and been on the jury, who would have had your winner's vote — Tai, Cydney or Aubrey?
Michele: I love all of their games for separate reasons. Tai is so lovable, such a cool character. His energy out there was infectious and inspiring. Aubry played this amazing strategic game and I looked at it and I was like, wow. Even if she was weak in her confessionals, she didn't show that out there. She always seemed to be in control. And I thought she played a really amazing game in that sense. But Cydney — Cydney knew when to speak up, when to sit down, when to shut up, who to talk to, when to talk to them, how to talk to them, and she didn't take s--- from anybody. And I love Cydney's game, and Cydney is such a great friend to me and such a great ally. I could not have done it without her. So, Cydney would get my vote and I would write out the check myself.
Last but not least: What happened to Mark at the end?
Michele: [Laughs] They had a wildlife handler come out and take him away to wherever chickens go after Survivor.
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