Interview: Garrett Adelstein talks ‘Survivor: Cagayan’

03.02.14 4 years ago 7 Comments


As I mentioned in my recap of the “Survivor: Cagayan” premiere, poker player Garrett Adelstein managed to get himself blindsided through a number of impressive, self-generated circumstances. 

He pushed easy target J'Tia on a path to nutso rage at camp with his open forum strategy back at camp. He nudged Tasha to more aggressive play by trying to cut of strategizing at camp. He alienated Kass at Tribal Council by outing their semi-alliance. And, of course, he found an Immunity Idol, but left it buried at camp. 

To me, I also felt like he fixated too heavily on getting David out at the first Tribal Council, a decision that left J'Tia in the game in the first place.

Although Garrett came across as failing to live up to his tribe's braininess in the premiere, in his exit interview, he seemed much more articulate and introspective about his performance. One thing he didn't want to entertain was the possibility that targeting Dave was a mistake and, in that answer, he impressively filibustered for nearly half of our interview time, leaving me with a number of things I wasn't able to ask about. 


As I suggested in my recap, I think that the season goes a very different way if Brice, whose IQ I don't actually know, and Garrett had been swapped. Probably the season goes different if Garrett had been on the Brawn tribe as well. You can tell Garrett has thought about these things and more.

Click through for the full Q&A…

HitFix: In your last interview at the end of Wednesday's episode, you said you were embarrassed about a lot of things that led to your elimination. After having a few months to think about it and reexperiencing the whole thing on TV, what is the thing that's most embarrassing?

Garrett Adelstein: Right. Sure. There were several decisions I made, strategically, that are somewhere between “marginal” and just clearly “poor,” but I think to answer your question sorta more on a conceptual level, I think I'm just embarrassed that I worked so hard for something, only to see it kinda go disastrously wrong. I'm such a perfectionist in all areas of my life, to have it play out like that was really really tough. It would be one thing if I could sit here on the phone with you and be like, “You know, I played great,” and of course that's like what everyone who gets voted off says, right? But that's just the opposite of who I am. I'm so incredibly self-critical and that's just not the case. Certainly I had a lot of things go against me, starting from the moment I got put in the Brain tribe and several other things, but there were also several things in my control. Every decision I made is defendable, but at least a few of them, I feel at this point pretty strongly, weren't optimal. Hopefully I'm not being results-oriented when I say that.

HitFix: But OK. What is the decision that's the most crippling decision for you. Is it fixating on David so totally and not playing strategically beyond that or is it something later and different?

Garrett: No, I think everything sorta happened with David, I'm pretty comfortable with, in fact. Obviously that sorta worked out fine. I think the one everyone's gonna discuss the most, or two things if we want to go there… First and foremost, the open forum. After we lost the second Immunity Challenge in a row and I decided to make the unorthodox and pretty high-variance play of having an opening forum about it, which we've seen before in seasons, but it's definitely atypical. But there's so much more that went into that that was wasn't really shown on-screen. 

I think Tash is really the key to that and explaining Tash's game — who we really didn't see that much of — is really important. Tasha realized, admitted a few days after Spencer and I did, that Kass was gonna need to be an important piece of her puzzle. So to get intricate with “Survivor” strategy here for just a second, in a six-person tribe, once David went home, if we were to lose another challenge as we did and were to make the standard decision of just voting Kass out, right, to keep our alliance of four intact, what happens if we lose again? And, by the way, by using that word “if,” given our performance in the first two challenges, it seems pretty likely that we would have lost another one, right? Well, now we're gridlocked at four in this two-two tie and Spencer, someone I knew I could trust, but only as long as our interests aligned, at that point he has every reason to try and flip on me. So it really didn't make sense for me to set it up that way. And Spencer knew the same and Spencer was fearful of the same and that's why the two of us knew that at five, our best play — and this is one I feel very strongly about — is to flip on the two girls and pull in Kass. What you don't see is Tasha thought the same thing and Tasha was doing the same thing. Now you see this sequence where Tasha is getting really upset with me and using that as sorta an excuse or leverage to get Kass and J'Tia against me, but that's just not reality. The reality of the situation is that's what Tasha wanted all along and give her credit, she correctly and pretty beautifully, was able to do that exact thing and sorta use that situation again me. If it didn't go down, would she have not been able to do that? I don't see what not, you know? In fact, I don't know of a scenario that could have worked out worse for me, in that I couldn't be more sure I wasn't going home given the way the situation played out with J'Tia throwing our rice in the fire. It ended up happening anyway. I do feel very strongly, given what happened, that if we would have sorta tried to approach it in a traditional way of blindsiding J'Tia, the exact same sort of thing would have happened. 

Another thing that's sorta being missed here is that of course I have the Idol. I could use the Idol as leverage. That was sorta part of my plan with all of that as well, to try and get Kass' reaction, gauge her response in that spot, and if I didn't feel like she was totally on-board, at that point I could use my Idol as leverage to be like, “Kass. Listen. You're the only person who knows about this Idol. It's you and me to the end. This is how we're gonna get there.” But the way it played out, I just could have never seen that coming. The viewing audience still only got a small piece of just how crazy those two hours were, right? Give you a couple things you didn't see on camera: One, before J'Tia threw our rice in the fire, she tried to burn out our fire by dumping water on it. Right? Kass flips out on her for that. Then she goes down to the water, whatever, and Tash is trying to work her or whatnot, and that's when J'Tia throws the rice in. But the second part's even more critical! I've done so many of these interviews and I'm losing my train of thought at this point, but the second part's even more critical. J'Tia and Kass get in this huge verbal altercation aver. Kass takes her clothes and she's throwing them everywhere! They're two seconds away from going to blows. Both of them just being kicked off the show! I don't think you can really put into words just how much Kass always hated J'Tia! But certainly that day, you just never could have predicted what happened and as shocking as it was to see on television, it was infinitely crazier if you had all of the information at your disposal.

HitFix: And the decision to leave the Idol back at the camp. Why did you do that? And was there a moment at Tribal — other than when you saw your name written down, of course — when you realized that you wished you had the darned thing so that you could play it?

Garrett: Sure. Obviously there's two million dollar questions and this is the second of two. Here's what I'm gonna say about that: First of all, should I have brought my Idol to Tribal? Yes. I've decided and I've talked with many people of course about this, and I just think that that's the right play. I just think if you have an Immunity Idol, you just need to bring it to Tribal all the time, every time, no matter what. OK. It's really that simple. But there is a counter. That's what's tough about doing all these interviews today is that I feel like there were decisions that I made were maybe kinda bad and some potentially really bad and it's really hard to even know without just being incredibly results oriented. But in a tribe full of very smart people, they know before Tribal! Everyone's looking out to see if anyone's sneaking away. It's very hard to go get my dug-up Idol and then put it in my pocket and keep it a secret from everyone, which I had done successfully up to that point. There's a very real risk in that scenario and I don't think it's one that maybe is clear to some of the viewing audience, so it's a tough spot. 

Here's one thing I will say about it, though: Tribal was edited in a way…  Of course, they only have five minutes, whatever the case, to sorta give the highlights to what happened. But if you were there for all 90 minutes, it was infinitely less clear about what was gonna happen. And even then, I think people were just shocked that I went home, given what happened earlier. I do feel very confident in in saying that I just wouldn't have played the Idol anyway. The chances of me going home before that vote were, I will say, although not zero percent, I thought were very remote and not worth playing the Idol at that point, that's how unlike it was. I mean, I guess if you want to force me to put a number on it, I'll say five percent, if that. So it was a tough spot and, of course, I look like a complete fool for being the first to find an Idol, maybe, in “Survivor” history and then the quickest to go home with an Idol sitting back at camp, which obviously one of the first five things you learn about “Survivor” strategy and clearly something I probably should have picked up in the infinite amount of time I, in the end, wasted prepping for “Survivor.”

HitFix: You seemed really unhappy out there. Was there a moment after your torch was snuffed when you realized that if you had the choice between going someplace comfortable or going back to camp where you had no food, that you were, to some degree, happier to be voted out?

Garrett: Another good question, but the answer is just “No.” I can't take any side other than, “Absolutely not.” 100 percent I wanted to be there. I dedicated so much time and wanted to win “Survivor” so bad that I was never ever, ever even considering quitting. Was I unhappy out there? Of course. I think everybody probably was. I've already heard some stuff like sorta the standard, “You know how many people would kill to be there? What are you complaining about?” Well, it's easy to say that sitting on your couch! Yeah, it did take a physical and mental toll on me without question, but I don't think that negatively impacted either my strategic or social game. What do think is I used confessionals as therapy. Give producers credit. They're really good at doing that. So I did use that as my time to whine, I did use that as my time to be like, “Gosh! This sucks” and “Wow, I'm starving and now this sociopath just dumped all of our rice out as well.” So yeah. I guess I'll sorta just leave it there. Clearly it was portrayed in a way like maybe I wanted to go home and there was something behind-the-scenes with that, but that is so far from the truth. I really do feel like I was on my A-game as it relates to keeping a smile and just being like that around everyone else. I know that was the case, because talking to people after the show, they're like, “Wow. I had no idea you were so depressed. You always seemed like such a happy guy.”

HitFix: I'm sure you've played this game over a million times in your head with different variables. So tell me what happens in this season of “Survivor” if you and Brice are switched tribes, if you were on the Beauty tribe.

Garrett: [He laughs.] Yeah. God, it's hard. I hate to be that lame guy that's like, “Man, if only this would have happened then I would have done better and if I would have done better, I would be so much happier with life as a whole” or whatever. What do you want me to tell you? Yeah, I have a lot of confidence in myself. I really do think if I was on the Beauty tribe, I think I really would have steamrolled through that Tribe. I think I would have set myself up to be in a really good place. Is “Survivor” filled with variants? Of course! Are my chances of winning still well under something like 20 percent? Of course. Of course. But I do think that I was put at a distinct disadvantage, in and of itself, being on the Brains tribe and I do think it played out in a way — with J'Tia dumping out our rice and me just never being able to predict the way it went down — a lot of things did go against me. But I don't. It's not really worth focusing on that. To be honest, seven months later, it's probably not even worth me focusing on things that *were* in my control, that I'm at fault for. I should probably just get over it. And I probably will in 48 hours, but at the moment I'm still kinda reliving the pain and disappointment. 

HitFix: Going back to something you mentioned a couple answers ago. You've talked a lot in percentages and whatnot. As you got to your low point, in the diminished capacity that everyone gets into on “Survivor,” what percentage of your mental capacity would you say you were working with in your last day or two out there?

Garrett: I really want to say like 99 percent, 100 percent. Somewhere in that range. To answer another question you haven't asked but others have a lot, maybe I should have gone into the game with a little bit more body fat. Maybe that would have helped me physically and mentally. I think you saw me on the Day 6 challenge, physically I was still fine. I almost single-handedly gave us that huge lead in the challenge, but maybe it did effect me in some small way mentally. I don't know. I really do feel like I was able to think clearly and logically when I had time to do so. I'm gonna  be the first to tell you that my Tribal Council performance was bad. Ugh. It was so bad! And when you really break it down, it's hard to know if or how much it effected me or if Kass had already made her mind up or whatever. But either way, gosh it comes across poorly and I guess maybe I would have done a better job if I was rested and had food and all of those other things.

More “Survivor: Cagayan” exit interviews:
David Samson

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