I wanted David Samson to stick around on “Survivor: Cagayan” until May. I had Miami Marlins-based humor to scatter through my recaps for months.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. The President of the Marlins, a position he has held in good years (a 2003 World Series title) and bad (lots of those other years) since 2002, David made his first “Survivor” mistake before his tribe ever made it to camp.
Put on the spot in the opening seconds of the season, the Brains tribe selected Samson as their leader and, seconds later, Samson selected six-pack-wielding poker player Garrett as the tribe's weak link. At the time, he said it was a 39 Day “Survivor” Strategy, targeting an obvious threat. In his exit interview this week, David offers other explanations.
See, David made an unfortunate enemy with that decision and after the Brains tribe went down in defeat at the first Immunity Challenge, Garrett targeted David and successfully evicted him from the game. Garrett, of course, was blindsided at the next Tribal, so there are no winners here.
In his exit interview, David discusses the problems with a Brains tribe, the problem with his specific Brains tribe and how he could have been clearer about the Garrett decision. We also talk lots of baseball including how he would have liked to trade Garrett to another tribe and which Florida Marlin would be a good sleeper for your fantasy baseball team this year.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: First off, any good reactions from your baseball comrades to your being first out of the game?
David Samson: It's a bit too soon and I've been sorta inundated, but I think that the reaction is gonna be sorta 50 percent “I told you so” and 50 percent “Wow, that's really too bad.”
HitFix: Well why did those 50 percent tell you to expect this?
David: I think that when you look at the makeup of the tribes and you see the 46-year-old older man on a Brains tribe, I just felt like I had a target from the beginning and I think people may have thought that, too. I think people know my personality from being in baseball for 15 years and I think they added two-plus-two and they got five and that's why I got voted out.
HitFix: Let's go back to the very beginning. If right this second, I put you in the exact same position of leadership again with the same tribe and tell you to select the weakest person in your tribe, who do you select now?
David: Am I picking first or third?
HitFix: Ummm… Give me both, actually.
David: If I'm picking first, I was picking Kass, if I'm picking third, I'm picking Garrett.
HitFix: Again? Why?
David: The reason is that once Morgan and Trish were chosen, I knew — In my mind, I knew, but you don't know anything, so “I thought” — that they're not really voting three people out in the first five minutes of the show and they're not switching tribes, because my whole tribe was dressed in green, I saw, except for me. So I thought maybe I was going to switch tribes, but certainly Garrett was not going to be voted out or switched tribes. I thought there was a challenge. So I said, “Let me put the strong guy in against these two girls and we could get a reward, or we could get something good like food or something.” So picking third, I was always gonna go with Garrett and picking first, I would have gone with Kass, as a more conventional older women “weakest” quote-unquote person.
HitFix: But that's not the strategy that you explained last night on the show for why you chose Garrett. So which actually was in your mind at that moment and which is retrospect thinking?
David: You know, it's cloudy to me. It gets going so quickly. We literally get off the helicopter. You get onto a pad. He says, “Welcome to 'Survivor' now choose a leader.” They chose me within five seconds. And then you don't know what that means, what you're gonna do. And then all of a sudden he says, “Vote out the weakest.” But again, I thought at the time that I wasn't really voting out anybody. So I really was thinking all of those things.
HitFix: How much was your Play for Day 39 strategy a good strategy for an ordinary game of “Survivor,” but maybe not such a good strategy for this particular Brains/Brawn/Beauty division?
David: I think you just nailed why we're doing this interview today. I went in with a strategy to make 39 days and I had no idea that it would be split the way it was split. When we got there and saw the three tribes, I had a feeling something was going on a little different, because of the “I Love Nerds” shirt and the three beauties on the Beauty tribe. I didn't know what it would be called or how exactly you would describe it, but it became very clear and I realized that I may have a problem I didn't switch quickly enough on the fly. I didn't have time to process sorta what I've been thinking about for so long — as in 13 years — of how I would play and I didn't adjust on the fly. “Survivor” is a lot like baseball. You have to make adjustments and I just didn't make them fast enough.
HitFix: Is that the kind of thing where you actually are able to lock in a new strategy after you get to camp and you've seen the lay-of-the-land? Or because “Survivor” is “Survivor,” is there really just no chance to ever get back on your feet?
David: It was very hard. Here's what I said to myself right after the opening segments: I basically said, “The time continuum has completely changed now. I can't go back.” There was nothing I could do at that point. I tried. I definitely thought that J'Tia should have been voted out. It made sense. She didn't do anything at camp and she was way too bossy. And our shelter was the worst ever. And I mean the worst! Ever! So to me, it was very clear who should be the first boot and it was not just strategy at that point, it was survival. My tribemates did not see it that way, but I think watching the episode shows me that I'm not sure that my tribe was anything other than dysfunctional.
HitFix: When it comes to that dysfunction, you've presumably seen baseball teams where you take one person out of the locker room and everything else gets better. Is there any chance that taking both you and Garrett out of the equation that the Brain tribe could sorta recover and, addition-by-subtraction, get better?
David: I think it's always possible. That's the interesting thing. You never know with chemistry. You put together a baseball team and you see how it plays and that's the beauty of a 162 game season, because you can adapt and you can charge. It's not over, in my mind, but I do not want to believe — and maybe it's just my ego — but I don't want to believe that my tribe's better without out me, because I just wouldn't allow myself to believe that.
HitFix: I just would have thought that if any tribe would have understood mutually assured destruction, it would have been the Brains, but it seemed like that was here you and Garrett ended up in the first two Tribals. Did it feel like that while you were there? That you guys were going to just blow each other up basically?
David: It did feel a little bit like that. I felt like I was living the movie “WarGames” and I was playing Tic-Tac-Toe on the board and the reality is that in Tic-Tac-Toe, there's never any winners and I felt like that's where we were headed.
HitFix: Other people also seemed a bit confused by that initial decision with Garrett, including Spencer. As you had that long walk to camp, what read did you get on your other tribemates and what read maybe should you have gotten in retrospect? How should you have used that time differently?
David: I should have better explained what was in my head on why Garrett was chosen so quickly. I didn't want to dither, right? I thought that LJ and Sarah spent a little time sorta dithering and figuring out what to do and explaining it. I always feel like less-is-more and there was nothing to explain. They voted me as the leader. I had to make a decisions. I made a decision. For me, making decisions, that's what I do for a living and you make 'em. And, by the way, you're not always right. And when you're a decision-maker, you don't have to be always right. What you have to do is make decisions and that's what you're counted on to do. So I don't regret it. I feel as though they asked me to make a decision. I made one. I made it quickly. And I made it for what I thought was right. Remember, if “Survivor” were different, and that Day One it was a challenge with Garrett, Trish and Morgan, the Brains tribe would have had an immediate advantage.
HitFix: This particular dysfunction that has happened with the Brains tribe thus far, do you think it's a product of this group of six personalities, or do you think that because of this imbalance of the tribal dividing, this is the sort of thing that was always gonna happen if you put a Brains tribe out there?
David: I think the problem with the Brains tribe is there were six leaders and in order to be an effective leader, you have to have followers. There were no followers. All of a sudden, if you have just leaders and no followers, you actually have nothing that gets done. And that's what happened. Nothing got done.
HitFix: A couple people in the second half of the episode were questioning the “brains” credentials for some of the people on the tribe, specifically in this case Garrett. Were you also questioning that as you were out there? Like, “These are people who are called Brains, but I'm not seeing it”?
David: I didn't see it with Garrett, I didn't see it with J'Tia, I didn't see it Spencer and I didn't see it with Tasha, which leads me to believe that it was my problem and I had the wrong glasses on. Because they're smart people, but I've gotta tell ya, my thought in my head is that I thought Garrett had more abs than brain cells and that's how we were acting. It was so insane. We couldn't build a shelter. We couldn't get fire. We couldn't do anything. And I thought that maybe it was all a big joke. I thought maybe that Day Two, Jeff Probst was gonna show up on the beach and say, “By the way, just kidding. You guys are the Anti-Brain tribe.
HitFix: And what would that have said about you?
David: It would have said I was completely miscast. [He laughs.]
HitFix: In your job, I know you have to be able to massage a lot of different types of egos. Do you think you would have been better if you'd been plunked in the middle of the Brawn tribe or the Beauty tribe?
David: I've thought about that all the time. I would have preferred either one, because that's really what I do. I'm surrounded by Brawn and Beauty in baseball. Those are the waters I navigate every single day. I think I still would have been a threat on those tribes, but I would have had a better handle on leading and I would have been able to manipulate a little better than I was able to, obviously, on the Brains tribe.
HitFix: OK, so you're good at trading strong players for prospects, for undervalued resources. If you could have traded Garrett for any selection of Beauty or Brawn players, how would you have traded him?
David: I would have traded Garrett straight-up for LJ and I would have offered J'Tia as a throw-in.
HitFix: How did you approach “Survivor” strategically in terms of the different competitive modes you've had with the Marlins? You've had those teams with big contracts that were expected to win immediately and then you've had teams that weren't built to win now, but maybe in four or five years. How does “Survivor” feel vis a vis those different mindsets you've had to have in baseball?
David: You're nailing it, because these were all things I thought about actually. I thought the Brains tribe, when I learned how we were all being split, I thought we were in a position to win. I really did. I felt as though we could use the “brains” quote-unquote that we had, to sort of get through the drudgery of what is everyday, trying to get things done and trying to survive. Trying to eat and trying to build shelters and make fires, I thought we'd be great at all that. It was just a straight miscalculation. It's like when you're scouting a baseball player and on the bullpen mound before they go into the game, they're throwing 90 miles-an-hour, 95 miles-an-hour. You think they're great. Then they get on the mound and they face a live hitter and they start throwing 70. Believe me, that happens. Those are people who don't make the big leagues, because they're not good enough. That's what I think happened. I think we were great 5 O'Clock Players. That's an expression in baseball when you're really good in BP, but you can't hit in the game? That's what we turned out to be in my mind, including me. I turned out to be a 5 O'Clock Player.
HitFix: And, finally, I'm a week or two away from a couple fantasy drafts. Give me a Marlins sleeper this season for my teams.
David: I think that Christian Yelich would be a sleeper for me. I think that people don't realize how talented he is and what his capabilities are. He's young and when we drafted him, he was not nearly the physical specimen that he is. We knew he'd be a good hitter, but he is someone that I'm looking forward to watching this year.
Stay tuned for more “Survivor: Cagayan” exit interviews.