On “Survivor,” when you have a target on your chest, you can only escape elimination for so long, even if you’re an expert strategist. Sometimes it takes a full-blown Grandmaster to remain in the game.
Unfortunately, Marty Piombo was only a Grandmaster in the confusing mistruth he told to seemingly air-headed Fabio.
The 48-year-old technology executive may be remembered as the smartest strategist on “Survivor: Nicaragua,” but he won’t win the million dollars. Marty orchestrated the early ouster of Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson, assembled a powerful alliance in his Espada tribe and then, when the tribes were reassembled and he found himself in a minority, he managed to scurry and keep himself in the game for several extra episodes, making it to the Merge and to the Jury before being voted out on Wednesday’s (Nov. 10) episode.
HitFix caught up with Marty to talk about voting out The Coach, his Tribal Council nemeses Jane and NaOnka and why it helped him to tell Fabio he was a Chess Grandmaster.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: On one hand, this seems too early to be talking to one of the game’s most aggressive players. On the other hand, I’m kinda amazed you weren’t voted out weeks ago. Do you have the same kinda mixed emotions?
Marty Piombo: Yeah, I think that’s accurate. I was in danger from the time of the tribal switch moving forward, so I kinda looked at each episode as “Oh my God. I can’t believe I made it.”
HitFix: Let’s do a little role-playing. Say you were a different player in this game. How long ago would you have made sure that Marty got voted out?
MP: You know, it depends on if Marty would have played with me. You know? So if I was like a Sash, I would want to keep Marty around for a while. I really anticipated the power moves to remove the really strong players were going to happen two Tribals from last night, so that’s what I was telling Sash and Brenda. I was having independent conversations with each of them, sort of coaching them, because I thought that ultimately a showdown would occur between the two of them and I was trying to position myself in the middle and coach and see where I was going to fit in into that dynamic. So I would say that keeping people like Marty around for a while, as long as they’re willing to play with you, is better as you get rid of some of the people, as they become these desperate sort of one-offs, like Jane and Chase and Holly. The moment those start connecting to each other, that’s super-dangerous. So I was always about concentrating my powerbase and then trying to blow up and put a wedge between any of these little factions that were being created. Does that answer your question?
HitFix: Absolutely. So even if we were a bit confused by it at home, you understand why Brenda would have seen value in keeping you around over a Kelly B or a Jill or several of the people who went home before you?
MP: Yeah, I think that they should have. And I think that Sash and Brenda [would have kept me]. I think you saw some of that last night. If they’d had their way, I think — Because I didn’t really get from last night’s episode whether they were coerced or forced or how the hand was played and ended up to my demise — but I think they would have kept me. I think they saw some value with that.
HitFix: You still don’t exactly know how the hand was played, but did you know you were going home? Or did you think you still had a little wiggle room?
MP: I thought I had a little bit of wiggle room, but I gave it less than 50-50, less than a 50 percent probability that I wasn’t going home. It was more likely that I was going home than not.
HitFix: With that in mind, talk about your strategy these past two Tribal Councils in going so hard after first Jane and then NaOnka. Both of those could have either worked in your favor, or they could have blown up in your face.
MP: With Jane, two Tribals ago, listen, I’m dead man walking, I’m going home anyway. I didn’t expose anything. People knew I was a strategic player and I knew the game inside and out and I was a forceful player, yada yada. Everyone knew that. So Tribal Council is a great forum for airing stuff out in a way that everybody hears the same story and it can’t be twisted around or any of that. So I chose Tribal sometimes to make my statements so that everybody heard and heard the same thing. And there’s nothing that I said about Jane that was personal or otherwise. It was very pragmatic and it was very deliberate and I wanted to make it absolutely impactful. I wanted to transfer heat onto her back and wake people up, which I think I certainly did for some people.
People like Chase? I’m sorry. That guy is dumber than a bag of hammers and if he can’t get it, that Jane is gonna be an absolute threat for the million bucks, I can’t help that guy. But I think a lot of other people, the smarter people, sorta said, “Hmmm. Hey. Strong point. Good point.” All of a sudden if you let this woman start creating a power base, that’s gonna be a problem. It’s not as easy to get somebody off if you don’t nip it in the bud early. So I wanted to do two things: Transfer heat onto her back and make sure that she did not have a shot at winning the million dollars.
Within five minutes of playing this game, Jane said, “My husband just died. I need the money. Please don’t vote me off.” That was the first thing that I ever heard out of her mouth, along with Jimmy Johnson and maybe one other person in the woods. Personally, that really turned me off. I have more human tragedy in my life than her and Chase combined, but I would never bring that into the game and I found it really, really atrocious that somebody would leverage that kind of human loss and tragedy into gameplay on national TV. That combined with the fact that she wanted to align herself with Wendy Jo and JT in the beginning, I just didn’t find her to be very smart or strategic and that’s why I targeted her for the chopping block. It was just disappointing to see the level of venom and hatred on national TV towards my kids and family and fatherhood last night.
Last night, with NaOnka, that was purely defensive. NaOnka just went off on me last night. Whatever I said was just purely being responsive to her attacks. That’s all.
HitFix: You weren’t attempting to force her hand and make her think she needed to play the Idol at least?
MP: No, I think she knew. She had to have been told by those guy that that was the plan and she knew I was going home. She’s kinda a vindictive, reckless person and she was just going to stick her jabs into me because she knew what was going on and she knew I’d orchestrated the thing to flush the Idol out. She just took advantage of the situation to air that out and be NaOnka at Tribal. I chalk it up to just that.
HitFix: So you don’t give her any credit for calling your bluff there?
MP: Well, I don’t think she called the bluff. It was probably out in the open before and whatever was decided going into Tribal was decided. I’m sure Brenda and Sash had to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Marty wants to flush out the Idol and vote for Jane.” All of that had to be exposed already before Tribal. For sure. There was nothing new or nothing that got all of a sudden divined by NaOnka at Tribal. I would never give her that credit.
HitFix: OK. Speaking of giving credit. You mentioned Jane and you mentioned you didn’t like the way she played the game, but do you give her credit for the fact that she seemed to have played a pretty major role in orchestrating your departure?
MP: Absolutely! I’ve got no issue with that whatsoever. I just played a certain brand of game which, like I said, was honest and straight-up. I never attacked people personally. I had fun in the game and saying this that and the other, but never personal attacks. My game was pretty logical and based being logical in the game. She outlasted me. There’s no question about that. Anyone who’s still in the game, I don’t know how you can possibly take that away from them. She’s in the game and I’m not. So that, in and of itself, speaks for itself. But the level of venom and hatred and, like I said, bringing up my kids on national TV, that’s below the belt even by “Survivor” standards. This game should not be about hatred and venom and resentment. It really shouldn’t. I looked at it as a non-emotional game. Playing with your emotions like that can come back and bite you in the ass.
HitFix: Going off of that. In your exit last night, one of your big points was about how not enough people were really playing the game. Whose game do you respect and whose game do you not respect?
MP: I really respected Brenda and Sash’s game. I was starting to figure out Fabio a little bit and I was digging Fabio for sure. And I loved Jill and her gameplay with me was great. We were a great team. We complimented each other. It was a super partnership and that could have gone very deep into the game.
HitFix: And the other side of the coin?
MP: I don’t really respect Jane’s game. I don’t respect the way that she played. I didn’t really respect Alina’s game. And Purple Kelly was just absent. There was no game. So I guess that’s the “No game” category.
HitFix: Talk me through the logic of the Chess Grand Master lie to Fabio and whether you think that accomplished anything.
MP: I think it clearly accomplished something, because you can see that Fabio warmed up to me and I eventually sort of won him over to my side. On more than one occasion, he stepped up for me. You had to be really subtle with him. He didn’t like to be pushed on anything. I’d just met him there and I knew that the whole Grant Chess Master thing was purely for humor’s sake. But I also knew that Fabio might somehow believe it and I knew he was not one of these guys who was gonna say, “Oh my God, he’s a chess master, I’ve gotta vote him out.” I wanted him to understand that I was strategic and that I could help in that regard and be of value. At the end of the day, if you’re not valuable, people will get rid of you. Everything in this game, as you know, is a double-edged sword. If you’re old, you’re not a threat and people won’t vote you off. If you’re old, you’re useless and people will vote you off. If you’re young, you’re strong and people will vote you off cuz of that. And everything goes both ways. In this case, I didn’t think that exposing that I was strategic and I could help in that way was going to be to my detriment. I had fun with it. I think it worked.
HitFix: Some people have certainly made the suggestion that Fabio might, at least to some degree, just be playing dumb. That he might be stealthy smart. Is that a theory that you subscribe to?
MP: I would have to agree. On everything I’ve seen in the episodes thus far, and especially last night, he’s playing this low-key game where he moves through the game and no vote he’s cast has come back to bite him. Even when he doesn’t vote with the tribe, he somehow just comes back into the fold and melds right in.
HitFix: As a last question: In the beginning, you were really determined to get Jimmy Johnson out, targeting him because you thought he was making the other players starstruck. But I’ve talked to a bunch of eliminated Espada castmates and every one of them has denied being starstruck. So are they lying?
MP: I think in part they’re lying. I just think that Jimmy Johnson being who he was was instantly… You have to spend a lot of game capital to gain respect, trust, leadership qualities, all that stuff. Nobody gives you that on a platter and sometimes that costs you and it costs you in bad way to get the tribe or get people to believe in all that stuff. He just walked in being Jimmy Johnson and had all of that instantly just because of who he was. That’s fine and I love Jimmy Johnson and I loved playing with him and had he approached me and said, “I want to have an alliance with you,” it would have been one of the best things that could have happened. But if you watch even the first episode, with Shannon and Chase hugging him good-bye and going, “Man, we wish we could have played with the Coach” and all that. I guarantee you that if he’d made the Tribal Switch, which was really only one Tribal away after Jimmy T, that would have been kinda a disaster. The fact that he didn’t want to play with alliances — he declared, “I will not have alliances — was, I think, strategically a mistake, because theoretically, if you’re not on my alliance, you’re against my alliance and I need to play as if you might be playing with other people. He was already warming up to Holly and Jane. That had happened. He was a father figure to Holly, helped her through her meltdown. Jane was washing his clothes and drying his clothes and the whole Southern thing with him. So I could see where the pieces were going to fall and they were not necessarily going to be good. But at the end of the day, you saw it. I’ll leave it up to you. I’m a good player, but could I really command a unanimous vote against Jimmy Johnson? I’ll leave you to decide that.