As one of the most popular (and perhaps unpopular) players in “Survivor” history, Rupert Boneham left some pretty big shoes for wife Laura to fill when, on the first first morning of “Survivor: Blood vs. Water,” he elected to take her place on Redemption Island.
In a somewhat arbitrary vote, the Newbies sent Laura to Redemption, while Rupert’s self-sacrifice sent Laura to play with a group of Returnees, many of whom had established relationships either from prior seasons or from the much-discussed “Survivor” Reunion Circuit.
In that light, Laura had a solid “Survivor” season, making it to the eve of the Merge and appearing to be an asset in challenges (sometimes) and camp-life for her tribe. Still, it was a rookie mistake that did her in, as Laura alienated her all-girl alliance by telling master-manipulator Vytas that he was being voted out next. What Laura viewed as a sign of respect and honest was interpreted as strategic weakness by her alliance and she was blindsided.
In her exit interview, Laura Boneham discusses the decision to be up-front with Vytas, her emotional growth on “Survivor” and understanding her husband’s compulsion to keep returning to the game.
HitFix: How has it been watching the past couple weeks and seeing what went down, particularly with the Tribal Council two weeks ago?
Laura Boneham: Oh, it’s hard to see yourself leave the game. Of course. And then you’ve got to see yourself voted out and then you see yourself leave Redemption! It’s tough. But I’m proud of myself, because I feel like I defied the game even staying in the game that long with the tribe I was on.
HitFix: And what has Rupert’s reaction been watching your moves the past couple weeks?
Laura: He’s proud of me. I went out of my comfort zone even going to play the game, so he’s really proud that I even did the game and thinks I’m doing great in challenges. I had little mishaps in one or two of the challenges, but overall he’s very proud of what I’ve done in the game.
HitFix: In his confessionals, Vytas has made it clear that he was playing and manipulating all of the women in the post-shuffled tribe. Has that changed the way you look at which he did and your time with him?
Laura: No. This is a game for a million bucks and I knew he was playing the game hard. We talked to each other. I felt like we got pretty close out there and we both agreed that we would tell each other if the other was going home, if your name was mentioned, out of respect. Obviously he didn’t follow his end of the deal, but I know that he was playing the game really hard and that’s what we signed up for.
HitFix: So it sounds like the decision to tell Vytas he was going home after the Immunity was not a spontaneous one. Had you been thinking about it and how you wanted to do it?
Laura: Well yeah. Like I said, Vytas and I talked about it and said we would let each other know, just out of respect. There were only five of us and if you’re strong enough in your alliance, it shouldn’t matter that you tell someone they’re going home, in my mind. And why in the world would the girls would keep Vytas and Aras in the game? So I never thought that they would come back and vote me out. I really didn’t.
HitFix: Yeah, but did you give any consideration to telling him in private? Rather than in front of the other people in your alliance?
Laura: Yeah, I guess I did, but I thought that our alliance was stronger than we were. I discussed it with Tina. We talked about it and she said, “If that’s what you want to do, go ahead. I’m not gonna tell him.” And the timing, I just ended up just opening my big mouth. So yeah, that is one of my regrets. If I did it again, I would not, obviously, tell him, because that was my ticket out.
HitFix: How long did it take for you to realize that you’d made a mistake in telling Vytas?
Laura: I don’t know. A little bit before Tribal Council or a while before that, because I could see that the girls weren’t giving me eye-contact after that for a while and I could tell that they were a little pissed, that Monica was pissed that I didn’t tell them. And again, like I said, if your alliance trusts each other and you’re strong enough, it shouldn’t have mattered. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. It mattered a lot.
HitFix: How much do you think you were voted out for that decision? And how much do you think that was just an excuse?
Laura: I think it was partially to give an excuse. There’s the girl thing out there, the high school girl thing. I don’t know. It’s just weird. The girls start attacking each other. We were going to vote out Vytas and I go out fishing and I come back and there’s some girl drama and the next thing I know, we’re voting out Kat. Tina and Kat were having some disagreement or something and I came back and the vote was switched up. So there was definitely girl drama going on.
HitFix: You said that you’d thought it was a strong alliance, but it wasn’t as strong as you thought it was. Did the Kat vote give you any sort of warning signs?
Laura: No, because Kat and Colton had their drama and their disagreements. They were like the kids on our tribe and you were just kinda like, “OK, guys. Just work it out.” Initially, I thought I was in an alliance with all the guys and Tina, so I felt pretty strong with that, I thought. And then, having also the girl alliance, I thought I was pretty comfortable. I didn’t really feel like I was going home for a while. There was the flip-side, I’d think, “OK. Oh my gosh, it could be me every time, but I feel like I’m in this alliance and you have to trust that these people are going to get your back.”
HitFix: And much do you think the decision to vote you out related to plans people were already making for after the Merge, thinking forward?
Laura: Yeah, I think there was that, that they had their initial five Galang members and looking forward that they were gonna keep Vytas and vote me out, so…
HitFix: You’ve had a chance to watch how things played out before the shuffle and the Merge with the new players. How do you think you would have done if you had stayed with your original tribe and had the chance to play with them?
Laura: You know, I think about that a lot. There was the good side of, “Yeah, I’m with the experts.” We had fire right away and could boil our water and everything. They knew what to do. But being on the Newbie tribe, I think I would have done well. I’m a very strong outdoor person. I have a very strong work ethic. And socially, I wouldn’t have been awkward, because these people hadn’t played the game before. It was a little intimidating being on a tribe with people who have all played the game before, so I wouldn’t have had that emotional side of feeling intimidated and kinda awkward.
HitFix: How much did you know the returning players? I assume you’d had at least passing contact with them at various “Survivor” reunions and whatnot?
Laura: Yeah, I mean, we’re pretty much in a whirlwind when you go to appearances with my husband. I do briefly get to know some of the people, but not the in-depth relationships that these people have. They do a lot of events together. Rupert has his own Rupert’s Kids and we do a lot of our own fundraises, so we’re really not in the “Cool Kids” group that all hang out and do these reality fundraisers and things together. So I really didn’t know anybody that well. I’ve had just basic acquaintances.
HitFix: Having to live up to Rupert’s “Survivor” standard, as it were, did feel like it was a drawback? Or did it force you to do the growing that you obviously felt like you wanted to do out there?
Laura: Oh, it definitely forced me to do the growing. I had so much pressure to be Fisher-Woman. I just really challenged myself to just work really hard and be there for my tribe and provide. I kept the fire going at night. They showed me laying by myself by the fire, but that’s because I love being by the fire and I like sleeping by myself. I kept the fire going all night, every night. I would wake up and tend the fire.
HitFix: Tell me a bit more about the fishing and the responsibilities you took on. Like you suggest, we didn’t really see all that much of that.
Laura: Right, right. I was able to fish with the Hawaiian sling and I was able to hang out with the guys and go out and collect firewood. Some of the girls immediately cut their pants off to shorts and couldn’t go out in the jungle and collect wood, because they would get bites and poison ivy and God-knows-what out there, but I would just go traipsing through in my pants and hang with the guys and I felt good about what I was doing and working and being a part of the tribe.
HitFix: Colton was frustrated in your tribe by how no one would play the strategic game with him and then you got into that core group of women. Do you feel like you played the strategic game of “Survivor” out there?
Laura: If I went back again, I would definitely step up the strategy. The “Blood vs. Water,” having your family members out there, it just added such an extra dimension to the game. That’s a challenge for the Newbies, because you’re just now learning and getting in the game and then you’ve got this extra dimension of, “OK, if I vote out this person, then their family member…” And so… I don’t know.
HitFix: How do you think it changed your strategy and your game going forward when Rupert went out as soon as he did. You knew that there was no chance that you would get to play with him.
Laura: It’s kinda a double-edged sword. It was somewhat of a relief in that I didn’t have my crutch, my honey on the other side, so it was a relief because he was not there anymore and I didn’t have to worry. And then maybe I wasn’t a target? I was hoping that that would be part of the strategy of, “OK, they’re not going to vote me out because I’m only one strong, I don’t have a built-in alliance in the game.”
HitFix: You talked repeatedly about how “Survivor” changed you. How have you felt that change since you’ve been back in the real world?
Laura: I’m a more social person now. I’m more confident. There’s no strangers! “Survivor” has been a part of our life for like 10 years now and I get noticed every once in a while because I’m Rupert’s wife, but being out in public, people are so sweet and so wonderful and it’s just good to to be the Good Girl. You know? I didn’t make any stupid mistakes. I wasn’t an asshole. I was a nice person. I left the game because I too nice, so I feel like it’s been a great thing for my personal growth and my personal. And just seeing myself on TV is bizarre. It’s just weird.
HitFix: What has been the best and worst part of seeing yourself on TV?
Laura: Well, making mistakes, of course. Screwing up the challenge and telling Vytas that he’s going home, having people rip on you for making a really stupid mistake. People can say what they want, but until you actually get out there and play “Survivor,” people have no idea how hard this game is. There are so many dimensions to this game. It’s a crazy game and I’m so glad I got to do it and I’m crazy enough I would do it again.
HitFix: Rupert has played this game four times and when I talked to him, it sure sounded like he was eager to play a fifth. How well do you understand that compulsion now and how much would you like to get out there and play again?
Laura: I totally get it! It’s crazy. You get such a payoff from this game. I love competition. I grew up a competitive swimmer and I don’t swim anymore. I work out, but I don’t have that competition in my life and I got that fulfilled playing “Survivor.” It was fun competing and the social game and the adventure of going somewhere really cool like the Philippines, it’s just amazing. I’m grateful I got to do it and I would do it again. I would do it again. I’ve got the “Survivor” bug.