Just two episodes in to Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, we've already had our first blindside of the season. Professional gamer Mari Takahashi was voted out of the Millennials tribe on Wednesday's episode, and to say she didn't see it coming would be an understatement. Whether the tribe made the right move in keeping Figgy around remains to be seen, but in the meantime Michelle emerged as a persuasive player who could pose a major threat going forward.
TVGuide.com chatted with Mari about the Figgy-Taylor relationship, what she found the most difficult about strategizing on the island, and of course, puppies and butts.
TVGuide.com: We saw a really crazy Tribal last night. Did you have any inkling at all that you were about to get blindsided?
The energy at tribal was buzzing with so many emotions, from the pure excitement of just being at real-life Tribal after seeing it on television so many times, and being there in real life, in the company of the iconic Jeff Probst. That excitement, pulled in with the absolute fear that somebody's going home that night, was a really interesting energy and, I think, confusing at the end of the day. Because I look back, and I see myself on screen and I'm like, "You are so naïve. You have no idea what's coming at you right now." And yeah, there was side talk happening, but it's interesting because I really had the trust that it was just a side conversation. Hannah was really nervous about Tribal. She gets nervous about anything, and I figured she was just nervous and confiding in the people next to her. She was really far away from me. I just thought that they were talking about puppies and butts, as I said.
Mari: We talked about quite a lot of things on our tribe. And puppies and butts weren't too far off of the normal conversation. I think most of the conversation on our island is like unshareable and unairable, just because we were talking about the most ridiculous things.
While you obviously didn't see your vote coming, was there anything that made you believe Figgy was going to be spared?
So, what you didn't see aired was that there were a lot of names being thrown out there, and kind of randomly. Adam's name was thrown out there, Jay's name was actually thrown out there - by Figgy, of all people. Zeke's name was thrown out there. So, there were a lot of scares, and it wasn't clearly black and white whose names were gonna be on there. Figgy and Michaela obviously had their feud, and so that put a huge spotlight on the two of them, because that was causing a lot of drama within the tribe. And at the same time, Figgy was also in another relationship with Taylor, and that relationship caused a little bit of drama within the tribe as well, because whenever you see a power couple starting to be in play on any tribe, that's dangerous. ... So, a lot of spotlights were being directed at certain people that, during the day, it really did get to a point where a lot of names were being thrown out there. Unfortunately, mine wasn't thrown out there in a way where I started to be really dodgy about it and be like, oh, what's going on? I wonder if things would have been a little bit different, if I did in fact hear my name during the day and had been like, oh, I might be in danger. By no means was it coming from a place of cockiness. I think it was just more of a place of being naïve. Like, I know I'm not safe, but it almost doesn't even make sense.
To be fair, Figgy seemed pretty confident too, even knowing that she had a target on her back.
I think at Tribal, she became increasingly confident when she realized that Michelle was trying to pull yet another person in at Tribal. At that point, they already had the numbers. But I think when Figgy realized that another person was being pulled in, in that moment - which is insane - I think it made her that much more confident that she wasn't going home that night.
Mari: It wasn't from the minute. It really wasn't. Everybody was very cordial at the beginning and no one was causing trouble because nobody wants that spotlight on them. But, as soon as you start to get a little hungry and a little dehydrated, the sun's hitting your neck at all times, people start to get really sensitive. We're put on this island for a reason, and that reason is to see how we do in conflict. And some take it better than others. But they're both very honest people. I think Figgy tries to be as honest as possible by trying to be nice. And for better or for worse, that comes across as either phony or too direct. It rubs people in different ways, and for Michaela, it rubbed her in the absolute wrong way. They're just kind of like polar opposites. But, it's quite fascinating to see that at the end of the day, they voted together. I think Michaela was just happy that she didn't have her name on the chopping block anymore. Anything to get her name off the chopping block was good for her.
And the Figgy and Taylor relationship, or whatever you want to call it. Why did they pair off, knowing that would make them both targets? Did they truly think no one would notice? And on the flip side, why did the rest of the tribe have such a visceral reaction to them?
I think the visceral reaction comes from a place of being scared and paranoid. As soon as a power couple begins to happen on Survivor, that just means that they have security, and that security is one reason more to rip them apart, so they don't have the advantage of having two solid votes. So, from an outsider's perspective, when you're not in that relationship, it's a threat. It's a huge threat and your paranoia runs rampart. When you're in the relationship though, you're on an island with uncertainties, and if you can count on just one person to vote with you at all times because you share a completely different relationship, then that's seen as a road that seems really bright, and really great.
Why they would do it, I don't know. From an outsider's perspective, it's obvious that it's a dumb move, if you look at Survivor history. But the romantic in me is like, well, you know, love finds you in really weird places, and if they're truly in love, then so be it. Love is love, and you can't really halt the flow of it. From a Survivor perspective and game play perspective, we all go into it saying, "These are the things we're going to avoid." But, Survivor has a brilliant way where it breaks you down to a point where, everything that you said you were gonna do no longer is the plan. You just have to wing it, and you just go.
Speaking of game play, you talked a lot about the difference between playing games professionally and actually casting a vote against someone that's going to crush their dreams. How difficult was that for you?
There's a lot of games that I play, a lot of board games in particular, where lying is the main objective. And at the end of the game, whether you win or lose, the person who lied the best in the winner. There's board games like Secret Hitler or Spyfall or Werewolf that I really like, and we celebrate the liars, the brilliant liars, in the game, and then you play another game. And it's all fun and games and lying is great in that perspective. It's really fun. Survivor is brilliant, because it's set up in a way where the game begins to blur, because you're so offset from everything in your entire life that this game becomes your life. So, it's hard to separate, OK, this is game play and OK, this is life. Boldfaced lies conceptually seem really easy. Going into it, it's like, "Oh yeah, I'm just gonna lie to these people. I don't really care about them. That's fine." But it's almost like Stockholm Syndrome when you're there. It's like, these are the only people you have, and you have to rely on some of these people to stay alive in this game. And so, that concept of lying to these people becomes, oh wait, I'm lying to the only people who are in my life at this moment. That, I think, is the thing that makes it harder, and that's the thing that makes Survivor brilliant.
Mari: I'm a prime example of watching Survivor and being like, "OK, that's an obvious move. OK, this is what should have gone down." And then when you're in it, it's almost like this out-of-body experience where you're watching, like, a puppet, a shadow of yourself, moving around an island making moves. You're on the outside being like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, that's not the plan. Wait, what are you doing?! Whoa. Wait. Hold on." So, it's a surreal and humbling experience, if anything.
Was that the most surprising aspect for you about playing?
Yes. I found it to be a learning experience for visualization. You visualize what you want to do, right? You visualize yourself as the Sole Survivor. And, as much as you visualize it, you still have to get the ball rolling to get yourself there and see it day by day, what your moves are. You just can't have your eyes only on the prize. Not every element is something I can control, and I think not having that control, it's a beautiful thing that I know that I need to master. Because you can't control people. In your own life, you can't make somebody like you, you can't make somebody act a certain way or do something. But it's really interesting seeing how people can be manipulated. And I really enjoy a lot of videos and books and things about psychological [manipulation], from pickup artists, or psychological magicians. That sort of thing. It's really interesting to see what the tipping point is for people to be swayed one way or another. And so, it's awesome. It's just really looking into the human psyche like never before, for me personally.
Who do you see as the biggest threat on your tribe going forward?
I always think that the charmers are really threatening. And on both sides, now that I've gotten to see both tribes, David and Zeke are just so charming. What's not to love about those two? I also think that they have brilliant working minds, and so I think that's always a fun threat to look for.