Elyse Umemoto came closer to winning Miss America than she did to taking home the million dollar prize on “Survivor: South Pacific.”
The former Miss Washington and Miss American second runner-up became the fourth person to head home on this latest “Survivor” season after dropping a shuffleboard Redemption Island Duel to the oddly unstoppable Christine on Wednesday’s (Oct. 19)
Elyse didn’t really do anything wrong on “Survivor.” She wasn’t a physical liability and she situated herself in a strong alliance from the very beginning. Unfortunately, she aligned herself most closely with two-time “Survivor” loser Ozzy Lusth, which could have been an advantage, but became a mistake.
With their tribe unable or unwilling to vote Ozzy out — he provides fish and coconuts, after all — a reasonable alternative was to unexpectedly excise his best chum from the game. Farewell, Elyse.
To her credit, Elyse understands what motivated Jim and Cochran and Dawn to orchestrate her elimination. In fact, she probably has the best perspective on the game of any of this season’s early bootees, a perspective that seems particularly impressive given that she claims not to be watching this season.
Click through for my full exit interview with Elyse…
HitFix: So how’d you watch last night’s episode and with whom?
Elyse Umemoto: Actually, it’s confession time: I did not watch last night’s episode.
HitFix: Just cuz? Or because you didn’t want to see yourself go home?
Elyse: No, I lived that one. I think that that was the most bitter sting that there could be. Actually, I haven’t made a production about it, but I have not yet seen an episode of the show.
HitFix: Well, that can’t just be happenstance. There has to be a reason for it. So why is that?
Elyse: Well, I remembered when I competed for Miss America and I competed for my state title in Washington and it was always so weird and uncomfortable to watch myself on-screen and it always took a little bit of time and space from the experience for me to be able to objectively look at it and not critique myself like crazy, because if I did, I’d be driving myself nuts and probably throwing things at the TV and yelling at my tribemates for this or that or the other thing. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll give it a little time. Maybe closer to the reunion, I’ll cram it all in in my own little ‘Survivor’ party and see what the rest of the world saw.” But because of social media and telephones and email, I’m pretty sure I know absolutely everything that has gone on, because everyone in the world has always wanted to share with me their every single opinion about every single detail. It’s kinda exhausting.
HitFix: Who have the people been who have been getting back to you after every episode and asking questions and whatnot?
Elyse: Ironically, it’s people who aren’t even a regular part of my day-to-day life. It’s people I went to high school with, the postman from when I was a little girl, it’s the people you wouldn’t have expected to come out of the woodwork. In fact, I went to my 10-year high school reunion a couple weeks ago and in that time, I’ve done some stuff. I was invited by our state’s attorney general to work on a project… I was Top 3 at Miss America, Washington never placed higher. That took a long time. And all anybody wanted to talk about was “Survivor.” That was all anybody wanted to talk about. I thought, “Are you kidding me? I feel like I have all of these other amazing accomplishments and all you wanna talk about is ‘Survivor’?” And from complete strangers. But oh well. I think that they were very proud and I come from a very small town anyway… It’s people who are very far removed who are the most excited to know somebody who made it on the show.
HitFix: But surely there have to have been things that happened on the show that have been eating at you. When you were voted out, you were blindsided and you described the vote as “a total surprise.” Didn’t you wanna know what happened?
Elyse: Oh yes. Definitely. I did want to know what happened and I kinda pieced it together in my head and I almost had it. I almost had it perfect. The piece that I was missing was Whitney and Keith and their passive vote for me, but for Dawn. Know what I mean? That was the piece that I missed.
HitFix: In retrospect, having had a couple months to put this behind you, strategically do you understand the worries that the other people in the tribe had about you?
Elyse: Oh, absolutely. If I could go back and do it over again, I don’t think I would do anything differently except for make my relationship with Ozzy invisible, whether it’s daytime or nighttime, at a challenge or at camp, I’d just make that relationship invisible. And I think that would have served me well further in the game. Who knows? But that’s what I like to think.
HitFix: At the time, what was your thought process? The advantages of aligning with Ozzy are obvious, but were you also thinking of the disadvantages while you were in the game?
Elyse: Yeah, I was definitely aware of the disadvantages. There was this strange sense from the other guys at camp. I know that Ozzy and Keith were buddies. And then there was Cochran, who was just our little misfit, but who knows a lot more and he just is a very dynamic player and we should have given him more credit. And then there’s Jim, who wants to compete for the spotlight with Ozzy, who doesn’t have to compete for it, because he already has it and he’s a great showman. So I knew that there would be some some disadvantages if it were overt. Like Whitney and Keith? Their relationship is pretty overt. But with Ozzy and I, I thought “Oh, who’s gonna notice? What’s the big deal?” And I really should have thought long and hard about “Well, who *is* gonna notice?” and “What *is* gonna happen?” because I may have lasted longer in the game.
HitFix: How much of your aligning yourself with Ozzy was based on his Ozzy-ness, the fact that he’d done this before and you knew his reputation and stature?
Elyse: Aside from that, I think that Ozzy’s personality is the one that I just kinda got along with organically the most from anybody on our tribe anyway. So all of the fact that he’s like Mowgli and can climb trees and pick coconuts and fish the ocean and do all of these amazing things, all that aside, we just kinda socially got along pretty well from the get-go. So I wasn’t particularly motivated by “OK, I need to set my sights on this person and I need to get him to like me and then get him to trust me and then get him to align with me.” It just organically flew together.
HitFix: In the absence of Ozzy, how do you think your gameplay would have been different?
Elyse: I think that I probably would have done something I wouldn’t have been too proud of, but I probably would have made it farther in the game. I probably would have gone out of my way to make a legitimate connection with Jim, because I saw all of the webs he was weaving with everybody. It’s hard to get a grip on that guy. He’s a little slimy. But had there not been an Ozzy and I needed to find someone to be there to trust at a time I needed trust and let them trust me when they needed it, I think I would have genuinely invested in Jim.
HitFix: In your pre-show interviews you listed Parvati and Brenda as “Survivor” inspirations. They were both scrappers, but they were also schemers when they needed to be. Were you scheming at all that we didn’t see?
Elyse: No, I don’t really think that there was scheming. But with Jim, Jim and I started off with a nudge and shoulder and it was like, “Hey, I’ve got your back. Do you have mine?” Wink. Wink. “Yup. Done deal.” And we’d kinda check on that every day, but I think that both of us knew that that was just a whole bunch of baloney. We both knew that at the earliest chance, one of us was gonna burn the other, but he just beat me to the punch. He beat me to the punch, because I would have absolutely done it to him. Absolutely. So you would have seen scheming.
HitFix: So you weren’t morally opposed or anything. It just didn’t come up.
Elyse: Exactly. It just didn’t fall into place.
HitFix: I think I have a sorta sense of this from what you said earlier, but I’ll ask anyway: Cochran: Endearing or annoying?
Elyse: Oh, I don’t know if I can commit to either one of those words. If there a word that you could use to describe him… I’m telling you… “Underrated” isn’t it, but Cochran knows and is a lot more than anybody has given him credit for. I know that he’s got a little bit of attitude and I think that we’ve seen, from last night maybe, that he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder that you didn’t really see before and maybe a little bit more spunk than anybody thought he might have had. For somebody who, poor little guy, turned into a cherry the second he stepped into the sun, because he’s so pale he’s see-thru, so you can’t help cheer for somebody like that, somebody so helpless, but he’s far from helpless. Far far far.
HitFix: Have you only been realizing this about him subsequently? Or were you realizing it as you were in the game?
Elyse: No, it was all subsequently. I’ll never forget… it was before the Tribal Council, before my Tribal Council — Yes, I take ownership for the one where I got blindsided, “My Tribal Council” — he was just sauntering around camp like, “What can I do? Do you want a coconut? Do you maybe want me to push the hammock?” There was just this quirky quality about him that makes him so lovable and you forget that he’s a threat. And he is.
HitFix: Changing gears… The pig-eating challenge. How disgusting was that?
Elyse: Ugh. On a scale of 1 to Disgusting, I’d say it was about Watching David Hasselhoff Eat a Cheeseburger. It was bad. It was bad. We had that goop in our hair and in our ears and in our eyes and… Ugh. And hearing the flesh rip off of the animal? Ugh. Ew. Ew. Ew. And then all of the saliva? It was just not flattering, not flattering at all. When we heard it was a food challenge, we were like “Aw great! I’m so hungry I’ll eat anything disgusting.” We thought we’d actually get to eat it. Nope. No swallowing. False alarm.
HitFix: But y’all were so hungry. Was there a temptation to eat it? Did it taste OK except for the grossness?
Elyse: No! No, no, no, no, no. It was like swimming in somebody’s crock pot of ham and barbeque sauce. You could just barely come up for air. It was disgusting. You reeked of it for the rest of the day and it wouldn’t wash out. Oh, those stinkin’ two ounces that sent us to Tribal Council. Two darned ounces.
HitFix: You’ve mentioned your Miss America background and whatnot. Compare the cutthroat world of pageantry to the cutthroat world of “Survivor.”
Elyse: You know, there are a lot of parallels. I know that sounds silly, but there really are, because “Survivor” forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and to be around a group of people who you wouldn’t normally be around, to put yourself in a spotlight, whether you want to be there or not, to publicly fail if it doesn’t work out. And much like with Miss America, I approached this entire experience with the attitude that win, lose or draw, no matter what, I’m going to come out a stronger version of the girl I was when I went in. So knowing that, I knew that no matter what happened — first person voted off or second place — that I was going to walk out having accomplished my goal. And I did. So I feel great about it. Obviously it stings to be voted out, but there are worse ways to be voted out. I could have been voted out because I snore, you know? I could have been voted out because people just got annoyed to death of me. At least it was because I was somewhat a threat, so that makes me feel kinda cool.
HitFix: And if these are two things in your life that have sorta tested you in similar ways, what’s the next thing that you want to do to test yourself?
Elyse: Oh gosh. I’ve told people that being on “Survivor” was arguably the most difficult thing I will ever do in my whole life, because it pushed me in every sense of the word. So I really don’t know how to top that one, except maybe raise a humongous family, but that has no appeal to me whatsoever. That seems like far too much work. So that’s a great question and I’m gonna have to come up with a new, bigger adventure on my endeavors through life, because you have to admit: This is hard to top.