Mike Holloway is the latest Survivor contestant to wake up with a million dollars in his pocket, after being crowned the Sole Survivor of Worlds Apart on Wednesday night. But a day later, he's not thinking about the money.
"More than a million, I got a title," Holloway, 38, tells TVGuide.com. "And that's what I was playing for. Money comes and goes. You spend it and make it. But the title. You can't take the title."
A member of the Blue Collar tribe at the start of the game, Holloway had a target on his back for most of the season, but went on a tear in the final episodes, winning five individual immunity challenges in a row on his way to victory.
In our Q&A below, he reflects on which moves in particular set him on the path to victory, explains what was going through his mind during the controversial food auction, and reveals what viewers didn't get to see in the final edit.
Heading into last night's live reunion, how were you feeling about the vote?
Mike Holloway: When I left the game I felt really, really, really good about the win. Then there was a little part in the middle where I was like, oh, I don't know. And then, watching the amazing edit that I had really confirmed what I believed already. Not one single member of our cast ever told me who they voted for. They kept that a secret. Which, thank God they did. I would have hated to have actually known.
Is there one move or decision that you think solidified your victory?
Holloway: Here's the thing. There's so much strategy that you guys didn't see, and I'm not going to blow my strategy up for future seasons. But the Joaquin vote and the Joe vote were, for me, probably the two biggest steps to the path of victory. ... I don't know if you guys realize this about Joaquin, but in the challenges, that kid was on fire. If he would have made it to the individual part of the game, he could have been super dangerous. Joe, come on. Joe the Amazing. He had to go so that I could go on my run, if that makes sense.
You talked about wanting to lose in a fair fight and that's why you chose to bring Carolyn with you over Rodney.
Holloway: Take nothing away from Carolyn's game. She played an excellent game. I think she was savvy enough to see when she needed to put the gas down and when she needed to pump the brakes, and that's always a very, very strong characteristic in a player.
From what I saw in the edit, I had a hard time believing Rodney would get any jury votes. But it sounded like both you and he thought he had the potential to be a threat in the final three.
Holloway: The thing with Rodney is, he formed this crazy alliance, dude. He held Carolyn, Tyler and Will together. They were willing to follow him a long, long way in this game. I mean, think about it. They went and he didn't. He was the one that was spearheading that alliance. Rodney is also super funny. Like, really, really funny. And at the end of the game, when you're tired, you're hungry and stuff like that, humor goes a long, long way. I can't say that he would or would not have beat me. I would hate to speculate on that because I don't know. I wouldn't want to put Rodney down in any way, shape, form or fashion, because I really do respect the game that he played. But thank God I don't have to think about that. ... That's what's crazy. You can go out on the field, put it all out on the field, but still walk out of the game and have mad respect for each other. And I really do respect him.
Obviously there was also lot of respect for you after that last challenge. How did you feel when everyone collectively put the necklace around you?
Holloway: That was a really nice gesture. They'd been coming for me for so long, and I kept telling them that they weren't going to get me and they'd better start changing their thinking. Carolyn was the only one that finally bought into that.
Had you given any thought to who out of the final five or four would have gotten your vote, had you ended up on the jury?
Holloway: I probably would have voted Sierra at that point in time in the game. Maybe not. I don't know. Rodney at that point in time would not have gotten my vote. Will wouldn't have gotten my vote. It would have been between Mama C and Sierra. I don't know. I might have given it to Mama C if she would have maybe won one more challenge or something like that. Then I probably would have definitely given it to her.
How much of a boost did having your mom there give you in the final days?
Holloway: She taught me a lesson while she was out on Survivor. She taught me, no matter what's going on, no matter how people are treating you or acting towards you, that you still love them. My mom came out there and loved on every single one of those people, prayed for them, shared personal stories with them. ... She went to each individual person and took time to sit down with them and tell them those stories and pray with them and tell them how much their family loved them and misses them. Seeing her out there, what we would call in the Christian community ministering, to these people, was literally jaw-dropping to me. To see the love and the affection that she had for what would be perceived as my enemies - they're not. They're my friends now, but in the game they were. So, yeah. Thanks, Mom, for always teaching me something.
Is there anything about your game that you regret? The food auction has come up a lot.
Holloway: I don't live life with regret. I've been answering this question differently all day, but I'm going to actually tell you how I feel. I don't really regret anything at all. Because, hey, at the end of this, what's happening? And if I would have changed something, maybe the outcome doesn't come out the same way. So, yeah. I was sorry to Dan for breaking my word [at the food auction], but I'm not regretful for the move. I don't regret anything I did in the game, for that matter. I feel like I represented myself and my family and my faith to the best of my ability.
When you did change your mind about tricking everyone else at the food auction, was that really because you felt too guilty, or was it because you realized, "This could be a bad move"?
Holloway: No, my heart totally got in the way. It was literally the only time in the game where I stopped playing and let my heart make a decision instead of letting my head make it.
After the Merge, it seemed like you and Shirin quickly became the outsiders. Why do you think people targeted you guys from the outset?
Holloway: I can't say where the overwhelming annoyance came with Shirin, other than people just didn't understand her. She was very superfan-y in the beginning of the game, so that might have been a part of it.
There were definitely quite a few awkward moments and personal attacks this season. Was there anything viewers didn't see that you wish would have been shown?
Holloway: The thing that they're not showing is, for all the contentiousness and the fighting and all that, for all of that that was going on, we were having, like, five times the amount of fun. We really were. We would stay up all night and sing songs and play games and we'd be in the ocean surfing and jumping off of each other's shoulders, really being a family and taking care of each other. Even though we were battling, if somebody got hurt or if somebody needed something, we would all pitch in and take care of it. So that's what I would say. The thing that I would want the viewer to know is that a lot of the focus of this season was completely on the drama. Well, save the drama for your mama and show us some of the fun. But that's us as a cast. America wants to see the drama. ... But who am I to criticize anybody that has a job that I don't do? Because they know better than I.
What was the biggest unexpected challenge for you in the game?
Holloway: Oh my gosh, the starvation. Going on the game of Survivor, you can only prepare yourself so much for certain things. I went the opposite direction. I put on 25 pounds to go on Survivor. So I went out there with kind of a big gut, and thank God I did because I literally wasted away to nothing. But yeah, the starvation aspect of it was so intense, so hard. But you know, you kind of got used to it. Sometimes I'll go a whole day still without eating just to kind of feel that feeling. Call me a glutton for punishment, but that's just me. Or I'll just get a Snickers and bite into that.
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