It took only two episodes of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” for the Villains to begin to look confident and heroic and for the Heroes to become fractured, verbally abusive and just a little villainous.
In Thursday’s (Feb. 18) episode, things became so heated between James and Stephenie that all-time good guys Colby and Tom nearly came to blows with the Mississippi gravedigger to protect Stephenie’s honor.
Of course, as any “Survivor” fan knows, Stephanie LaGrossa doesn’t need help standing up for herself. The last Ulong standing in “Survivor: Palau” and the runner-up in “Survivor: Guatemala,” Stephenie had a far shorter run on “Heroes vs. Villains,” falling victim to Heroes in-fighting and pre-established alliances. But that doesn’t mean she’s lost her fighting spirit.
The morning after her ouster, though, HitFix caught up with Stephenie, who pulled no punches regarding James’ behavior, why Cirie & Candice made the wrong choice and why All-Star editions aren’t pure “Survivor” seasons.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: So how did you watch last night’s episode?
Stephenie LaGrossa: I watched it with my fiance Kyle [Kendrick] and our two dogs, just the four of us.
HitFix: Were you hoping to avoid answering questions about what went down?
SL: I had a big party for the premiere, but there are so many people and you can’t hear it. My fiance plays baseball for the Phillies and I’m here for spring training and we would have watched with my parents, but they were away, so it was just he and I. A couple teammates were going to come over, but he’s gotta get up early, so it wasn’t a big party night. We watched the show and then I definitely fielded millions of texts afterwards and phone calls and, of course, dealt with Facebook, but it was awesome having the support from everybody. It was just fun.
HitFix: Last night’s Tribal Council was one of the tensest I can recall, especially this early in the game. Was it consistently that tense the whole time you were filming it, or did it only seem that way in the edit?
SL: No, it was. It was actually more tense than that. James was trying to yell at me and he was bringing stuff up that had no bearing and that made no sense. Some of the things that aired made no sense, like any decision to try to vote me out. He was just on this tear. People were like, “What the hell are you talking about?” I think he just really made himself look like an idiot. I mean, yeah, he got me. They voted me out. But you still didn’t look intelligent doing it.
HitFix: How uncomfortable was it? It sure looked as if Colby and Tom were both on the verge of getting into a fight to defend you. Did it feel that way?
SL: No, they did! Listen, there’s a lot I could have said. I definitely could have spoke up. But it got to the point where I knew I was going and I wasn’t going to stoop to his level. At one point, I was just like, “Alright, James. Whatever you say, James. Shut up. Good.” Because it was just overkill. Like what are you talking about losing every challenge in Palau? How does that have anything to do with whatever? But that was his little way of trying to prove to people that I should be voted out and I think Tom and Colby just go so annoyed with it too that they had to chime in. And even at one point Cirie and Candice were rolling their eyes like, “Oh my God.” And I looked at them and I was like, “You guys really wanna play the game with this dude? Really? I mean… If you do? Good for you. I’ll go home. That’s fine.” It was brutal.
HitFix: Had Candice and Cirie let you know before the Tribal Council which alliance they’d chosen?
SL: They said they were going to really try to switch, but I kinda knew they were going with them.
HitFix: How hard did you work to sway them at the end?
SL: We were back and forth, They didn’t show half of it. And then we got to the point where it was time to go to Tribal Council. It was done. The was it. There was no more talking. But before that there was constant talking and trying to persuade, like “Come with us. If you go with them, even if you get to the merge, they will get rid of you. Come with us and if we go to the Merge, we will go to the Final Five. We will not put your name down.” And we were dead honest.
HitFix: So was James wrong about the reason you guys struggled in the challenge or was he just wrong about the way he went about making that point?
SL: You know, kind of both. JT was supposed to lead the challenge and he did exactly that. And then when he got stuck, we were left with no one leading. And it’s fine to listen to one voice, but what if the one voice is wrong, or stuck? People need to chime in. And people did. Candice led the challenge and we got sort-of somewhere, but we were still behind. The puzzle was never right. They were one piece away from winning and we weren’t even one piece correct. And they of course didn’t show everybody talking, but everybody was talking. It was not just me. It was just because James and I got into it afterwards that of course that’s what was seen. That was the most dramatic. It was not JT’s fault we lost that challenge. It wasn’t any one person’s fault we lost the challenge. It was a team challenge. You cannot blame one person. You can blame James for flipping out and cursing everyone off after the challenge was over. That’s inappropriate. That’s not sportsmanlike. That’s just not how things should be done ever in life.
HitFix: Why do you think you ended up being James’ scapegoat, then?
SL: Because the when the task was over and he was yelling, “If y’all would have shut the f up, we would have won this and that” and when we was saying that, he looked right at me and I said, “James, it wasn’t just me talking.” And when I said that, he immediately though I was getting defensive and saying that I didn’t talk at all and he lost it. Really, I should have never said anything and I should have just turned around and walked away, but I have a hard time when people are screaming in your face, with not saying anything back.
HitFix: Outlasting your tribe in Palau has always been your “Survivor” claim-to-fame and it’s always been played as a positive achievement for you. Were you surprised that James played it as a negative and not just once or twice, over and over and over?
SL: I just didn’t understand what he was trying to say. On Palau, I was the last person on my tribe standing because our team lost every single challenge. So I guess I’m bad luck? Is that what he was saying? Mind you, on Guatemala, my team happened to be a really winning team and I even got to the end. So he really contradicted himself and he made no sense. That’s like me saying, “OK. I’m gonna prove you’re dumb. You had two Immunity Idols” in your pocket and still got voted out.” It just had no bearing on that specific challenge. It was just all he had against me. And we’re in Tribal Council and I’m like, “James, it wasn’t just me.” And he’s like, “This isn’t about you!” And he starts like I’m this conceited person. And I’m like, “Where did this come from? You know how you keep going about it, but I thought this wasn’t about me. It’s not about me, right James? But you’re single-handedly pointing me out. But it’s not about me. Right? Really?” And then he talked himself and at one point, he was so dumb — and I’m not good with people who are not intelligent — and I’m just like, “OK. I can’t participate in this conversation anymore.”
HitFix: One of the last things you said in the episode was that you were disappointed that people didn’t make more of an effort to get to know people outside of their particular alliances. Could you expand on that a bit?
SL: Yeah. The first day, James and Amanda were super-tight and JT was in there and Rupert. I tried numerous times to get to know James and I didn’t even know his last name, really, until I saw him on Facebook after I got back. That’s how little I knew these people personally. I tried. We all tried. But they were in their little clique and they were talking to each other. They were talking about themselves. Rupert really, really thinks highly of himself and so does James. It just became unbearable and Tom and Colby and I kinda went off by ourselves and Candice and Cirie kinda did their own thing. We were just very divided from Day One and it’s because alliances were already made and friendships were already formed. And even thought Tom and I had a strong friendship, we were more than happy to get to know other people and bring people in and align with other people. James was not that way. And neither was Rupert. I tried to talk to him. I even said, “Let’s talk a little bit about the game.” [She shifts into a fine Rupert impression.] “Oh no. Let’s not talk about about the game. Let’s just have fun.” Right then and there, I knew he had made his mind up and he didn’t even want to get to know me.
HitFix: I have to backtrack quickly. So are you and James Facebook friends?
SL: I don’t think I am, no.
HitFix: OK. Wasn’t sure. Once you mentioned his Facebook page…
SL: No, I think it came up as one of those “People you might know…” and “Would you like to friend them?” Hmmm… Listen, I don’t hate him. I just wasn’t a fan of his. I’ve seen him. I saw him in LA for the anniversary party and we quick-hugged and he said, “Let’s forget everything.” And I think he let it get the best of him. He’s a gravedigger and he made a grave mistake acting like that and I think he’s going to have a lot to defend as a person. He’s a favorite. He was a fan favorite! People respected him. People liked him. And the way he came off was a huge, huge disappointment. And that was not editing. That was exactly how he was and from the previews, it’s gonna get worse.
HitFix: I’m asking everybody this because I’m curious: Do you think the game would have played out differently if instead of segregated “Heroes” and “Villains” tribes, there had been two integrated teams from the beginning?
SL: Oh wow. It could have been. It’s hard to tell. The bottom line is that James was tied in with Amanda with who was tied in with JT who was tied in with Rupert who was tied in on the other side with Courtney and Parvati and there were a lot of ties going on. No matter where they fell on tribes, there were ties still made. As long as they had a couple people and the numbers were in their favor, they were going to to be able to use it.
HitFix: Is that the downside to any possible All-Star edition of “Survivor”?
SL: It is. It’s my least favorite of all the seasons. Palau is the best, Guatemala the second best, even though I went further, but I had an advantage because I’d played the game before. And this time there were huge advantage because people were already tied together. So it’s not a true game of “Survivor.” It’s an All-Star and you’ve gotta do it. People love cheering for the people who they were fans of, but it’s not, “Day One, let’s get to know each other. We all start from Square One. And let’s see who goes where.”
HitFix: Coming into this season, having done it before multiple times, did you have a different plan or a different strategy?
SL: No, I actually had the same plan until I got on the tribe and saw the egos. Then I realized, “I’d better be quiet and I’d better not be super-outspoken or I’m gonna get myself voted out of her.” If you noticed, I was actually a lot more quiet this time around. A lot more quiet.
HitFix: After the end of last night’s episode, it was hard to tell if you’d been quieter before that.
SL: Yeah, seriously.
HitFix: What did the concept of being a Hero mean to you?
SL: It was just an honor to be viewed as a Hero. I know that in Guatemala, I had to play a tougher game and I cut some throats and I had to play more of a strategic game, so there was some “Where is she going to land, a Hero or a Villain?” But Jeff [Probst], in his opening interviews, he said, “Regardless of what she did, she’s viewed as a Hero. She’ll always be a Hero and she’s an Ultimate Hero.” To be viewed as that, it was a total honor.
HitFix: And as a last question… Would you do this a fourth time?
SL: [Long pause.] Oh God. I would, but it would depend on where I’m at in my life. I’m getting married in November up in Napa and I’m not getting any younger, so I have to start trying to get pregnant here if I ever want to be a mom before turning 40. So, um… It would depend on where I am in my life, but if you were to ask me right now? Yeah.
Previous “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” Exit Interviews:
As always, “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” airs at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on CBS.