Rob Cesternino talks with the latest player to be eliminated from Survivor: Kaoh Rong in our weekly exit interview podcast. Plus, Rob talks to Jordan Kalish about the moments from This Week in Survivor History
Survivor Kaoh Rong Exit Interview with Neal Gottlieb
Rob: Neal, how’s it going?
Neal: It’s going well. It’s great to finally get to tell the world that I lost Survivor.
R: [laughs] Well it was in a very unconventional way, so very excited to talk with you this morning about everything that you went through. First off, Neal, I’m sure a lot of people want to know: How are you physically after everything that you went through and really getting a very HD look at all of your issues going on with the infections?
N: Yeah, Mount Saint Neal is now extinct. They cleaned it out, they kind of dug at me with what looks like a melon baller, which was oh so pleasant, but I was fine. The thing is the knee never really hurt after the first day, it got lanced, it didn’t hurt after that. I was in the hospital for two nights on an IV drip here and there, and then the next day I ran 4 miles on the treadmill. It didn’t bother me. It wasn’t painful, but of course it was deep and ugly and scary.
R: And those are the kinds of things that can get even worse, in talking with Jonathan Penner who ended up going out of Survivor with an injury in a similar spot and I think that his had progressed to get even worse. He had a very painful recovery from that so they are looking out for you guys. With the hidden immunity idol, let’s get into this because this is a question that we got so much in talking about the episode last night. Why didn’t you want to give the hidden immunity idol to Aubry as you were going out of the game?
N: I wanted to, but I didn’t. The night before, we were having a romantic talk on the beach and I revealed to her that I had the idol. Later on in the conversation she’s freaking out because the Brains are being targeted and they’re trying to put us in lockers. And she makes it very clear, explicitly clear, that if she has to, she’ll slit my throat, which is fine. That’s the game we’re playing. But when you think that you’re going out the next day on a medical evac, you’re just not psyched to hear that. So that put me off, that rubbed me the wrong way. And she was likely the one that was going home that night, but me, going out, she got another life in the game. In some ways I felt like I already gave her an idol. And it was this one physical thing that I could hold onto. I had such a glorious experience. I love this game so much. It was just this last thing that I could grasp as Jeff executes me, as he pulls me, puts me on a boat to have a melon baller dig out my knee. So I wanted to and up until that moment I was not sure what I was going to do. And I didn’t give it to her. And you know what? As soon as I got on the boat I started regretting it.
R: Can you talk more about the context to which she said she would slit your throat in the game? Was it sort of like “hey if it comes down to it, better you than me” or did she feel like, was there a falling out between you two?
N: It was more just “better you than me”. There wasn’t a falling out. It was just like “hey, if I have to, if it comes to it, just know buddy, I’m gonna slit your throat”. Which is, that’s the game. I would have done the same thing. Although I did truly want to go to the finals with her. So there’s that. But I gave her my sports coat and as I was giving it to her I put some things in the pockets. People weren’t sure what those things were, so sometimes the fear of an idol can be even more powerful than an idol itself because idols get used but the fear lingers. People wonder. There’s that unknown: does she have it? Doesn’t she?
R: Well there is so much unknown about how the vote was gonna go last night. It did seem like there were people from the Brawn tribe and then a couple of the Beauties were plotting to put the votes on Aubry in the vote last night but you had the hidden immunity idol and there was some talk of how it would be used and whether or not they were going to be able to get you to flush it. So according to what you knew from that day, how would that vote have gone down that night if there as no medical evacuation and you guys went to tribal council?
N: My understanding at the time was they were going to do 4 on Aubry, 3 on me to try to flush it out. And I think my thought at the time was well, I can play it now and be dead man walking or whatever, I don’t win an immunity challenge and go to the next tribal. Or I can roll the dice. So I was still kind of undecided about that. I didn’t go out there to come in tenth place, I went out there to win. So I was undecided but I think I might not have played it.
R: But in that scenario, Aubry most likely goes home in that spot?
N: Yeah it would’ve been a 4-4 tie and a re-vote, and Aubry would have gone home.
R: Who would you guys have put your votes on?
N: I think we were thinking Jason. He seemed like such a threat, he was clearly part of a very tight triad at that point because he was tight with Scot and it was clear how tight Scot and Tai were. They ended up being this voting block of 3, so we wanted to break that up, makes a lot of sense. There was the thought that Jason had an idol, I didn’t know for sure, but it seemed likely. And it seemed like we would be able to blindside him.
R: Was there confidence from you guys going into that vote? We saw that Nick and Michele were the swings and we saw you talking with Nick and then some of the other Brains talking with Michele. Was there confidence in any way that you guys had the Nick and Michele votes going into that tribal council?
N: There was no confidence about having the Nick and Michele vote. Of course they’re saying “yeah, yeah, yeah”, but Debbie was just alienating them both, they were rolling their eyes at her and the body language, eye contact, short conversations. There was no confidence on the Brains side that we had them with us.
R: Can you expand a little bit more about the relationship with Debbie and what it was like day-to-day living with Debbie? Because certainly for us watching the show, we see that Debbie is a very colourful character, very fun TV to watch, but what is it like on a daily basis of playing the game with Debbie?
N: [laughs] Debbie’s amazing, there is no other human being quite like Debbie in this world. She’s entertaining. Not only does she make for good TV, but she was entertaining around camp. She always had stories. You’ve only seen a fraction of them. She always had stuff to talk about, she’s entertaining. Sometimes it gets to be a bit much. You probably saw the secret scene of her and I on the beach, the early morning just like “Debbie, just tone it down, please, please”. She didn’t see that. She thought that she was the center of this universe and that everyone was loving the Debbie show. Turns out they weren’t. So yeah, then she also just thought she was more charming than she was as it got later in the game because people were playing to her ego. And so she thought, just go up to Tai, not have any foreplay, not buy him dinner, just try to throw him down in bed. You kinda saw how that worked.
R: [laughs] Not great.
N: No, no, she didn’t score that night.
R: With Debbie and you at Chan Loh, we never got to see you guys go to tribal council, and I thought that was such an interesting dynamic of the two people from each tribe, that 2-2-2 split. If you guys ended up going to a tribal council, who do you feel like was going to be the person who got voted off there?
N: Jason says that he was preparing to blindside me. The thing is that in that situation, Michele had definitely screwed up two challenges, carrying the fish pieces back, she dropped it, which slowed us down a few seconds, which of course didn’t matter because we destroyed the puzzle, and then in the immunity challenge we were really, really hungry, she was untying the wrong knot. She screwed up a few challenges and she was aware about it. Everybody else was aware of that. So in that point where we’re so close to the individual game and just want to move forward, I think that she probably would have gone home because she seemed like such a liability. But who knows right? That afternoon, what happens? But it think that’s likely. I was proving myself to be very valuable not only feeding the tribe getting most of the food, but of course I showed myself to do really well in a couple different puzzle challenges so I was a valuable asset to keep around. You could argue that puzzles laid down for me like lovers more than they did for Debbie. So puzzles laid down for Debbie just like Tai did.
R: [laughs] So going back to when you said that Jason had talked about that he was getting ready to blindside you, and obviously that comes right before you guys end up going into that merge, were you aware that there was speculation from the other players that you had that idol?
N: Yeah, I was aware that people figured that I had the idol. It was never discussed but it was just kind of a given. They knew that obviously Liz and Peter didn’t have the idol. And Joe never left the camp, Debbie didn’t really wander off other than to get coconuts. So it kind of came down to if an idol is had, it’s Neal or Aubry, and I think most people in that equation, because there’s this bias that if you own a vagina you don’t have an idol, as Kelley Wentworth showed in the previous season. I figured that everybody figured that I had the idol and that’s of course what I did have. The thing is, if we want to talk about my bulge, which I know you do, the idol was never in that pocket. Not for a second ever the entire game. That was just a bunch of string and other crap that I picked up along the way. Because you know, you never know when you need a piece of string or something to build a fake idol out of or who knows what else, you picked those things up. It was in that pocket.
R: Okay so where you do carry an idol on your person?
N: Family jewels. And let me tell you, I can identify with Christopher Walken, because that gets uncomfortable, those things chafe. It’s not good. You don’t want to do it, but it’s a better strategy than wearing them around your neck and having people know about it.
R: [laughs] Okay well we don’t need to expand any further on that.
N: We can if you want.
R: We have a short amount of time. Let’s go back to the dynamic at the original Brains tribe. It looked like early on that there was something going on between you and Aubry and then the pair of Liz and Peter and that ultimately flamed out in an explosive way at that first tribal council to the point where Peter is saying “obviously it’s not going to be your plan that works tonight”. Can you tell us, what was it that Peter felt like was going to be your plan? Did you guys have a falling out before that vote?
N: No, we didn’t have a falling out before that vote. It was the young bucks alliance. It was the keep your tribe strong, we’re at such a physical disadvantage having an older person. Joe is great and Joe is strong, but he’s not fast, he’s not agile. So it made so much sense to not vote out a young person, to not vote out a stronger, more agile person. But Liz and Peter were both playing so hard, so they needed to be punished and they were indeed.
R: [laughs] We saw your Ponderosa video, which was very emotional; I really enjoyed the Ponderosa video. You were training at Ponderosa for a second chance at Survivor. I’ve never seen that before of somebody who said, “okay, well I’m out of the game a day and now I’m getting ready to come back”. Have you kept up with your training to come back to Survivor?
N: Yeah, I mean my first morning out of the hospital I ran 4 miles on a treadmill. At Ponderosa I was working out a bunch. It was so hot there, it was pretty awful to work out. And it’s cruel how they have these things, the rowing machine should have a monitor on it and it was frigging broken. So yeah, I’ve been training. I know you’re a big fan of indoor rock climbing, but I’ve been keeping that up, I’ve been doing Crossfit, the Stephen Fishbach training. I haven’t been working on the balance thing all that much, but yeah I’ve been keeping it up.
R: Alright, well Neal all the best to you, hopefully no further infections or anything like that. Best of luck to you and the Three Twins ice cream, and we’ll talk to you again soon, okay?
N: Thank you very much Rob, take care.
R: Take care buddy. Bye.