It isn’t all that often that you hear a “Survivor” contestant explain to the Jury that their biggest strategic move was not trying their hardest.
That was a key part of the argument laid out by Sabrina Thompson in Sunday’s “Survivor: One World” finale, as she attempted to sway the Jury with talk of the advantages of throwing certain challenges.
It wasn’t that that was Sabrina’s only contribution to the newly competed “Survivor” season. In fact, she spent the opening episodes as one of the season’s most prominent players. She found the Immunity Idol that she had to give to Colton that played at least a small role in his medically truncated reign of terror. She also, and most crucially, formed a tight alliance with Kim and Chelsea that lasted all the way to the end.
In the end, only two Jury members came to Sabrina’s side, but you’ll hear no bitterness from the 33-year-old teacher, who calls winner Kim one of the game’s greatest players.
In her “Survivor” exit interview, Sabrina makes a very smart case not only for occasionally attempting to appear weak, but also for her steady process of weakening. She also notes, probably correctly, that the lack of bitterness from the Jury, which she doesn’t portray as a bad thing, was what ultimately swung the vote in Kim’s favor.
Click through for Sabrina’s full Q&A…
HitFix: How much of last night’s vote had you already anticipated ahead of time?
Sabrina Thompson: Kim and I talked about it on the phone and we just said, “OK, we’ve gotta stop talking about this before we just drive ourselves crazy.” We actually thought it would be a little bit closer and we thought it would come down to maybe one or two swing votes, but obviously that wasn’t the case. She won fair and square. What it boiled down to is that the jury was not bitter. I think that if the jury had been remotely bitter, I would have won and they weren’t. They respected her game-play and she came across as the sole survivor.
HitFix: Why do you think the Jury was as un-bitter as it was? We often get “Survivor” Juries that just boil down to everybody yelling at the finalists, but this wasn’t like that.
Sabrina: Right. Group dynamics can vary according to the cast and so that can be a toss-up question. I think some of it may have to do with just the close proximity. It was “One World,” so we were pretty much all within 500 feet to 1000 feet of each other most of the time. There’s a lot you didn’t see, but Kim, I called her the Julia Roberts of the island. She had this ability to look dead at you and lie straight to your face and you’d still be like, “Oh. OK. Alright. You lied to me. I’m still your friend.” She just has this presence about her. At the end of the day, she didn’t prolong her speech at the very end. She said, “Look, this is is my strategy and I absolutely nailed it.” And she did. I just think they respected it and at the end of the day, this is a Jury who voted how “Survivor” was designed to look as far as Jury-wise. They voted for who was the most deserving, who went out there and did what the slogan says: Outwit, outplayed, outlast.
HitFix: Going into the Jury, did you already know that your best chance was bitterness? That that was how you could possibly win?
Sabrina: Well, a lot of people said, “Oh my God. How come you didn’t take her out? She’s a powerhouse!” We all knew that our best chances of making it far into the game, to the very end, was to stick with each other, because once our alliance was broken, they would pick us off one-by-one. So we toyed around with breaking up, but we knew our best chances were to just take each other to the end. Going into the Tribal Council, I knew our speeches were going to be different. She could have literally walked in there and not said a word and her actions would have spoke for themselves. For me? The best part of my game was in speaking and being persuasive and I took more of the sympathetic route. I was truthful. Everything I said was truthful. And it’s just what people valued in the end: Are they gonna vote based off emotion or are they going to look at the facts and vote in a rational way? It’s the luck-of-the-draw sometimes in seasons.
HitFix: But do you think that, perhaps, with your speaking skills you could have fomented bitterness to some degree?
Sabrina: No. No. She really dominated the physical part of the game and when you’re dealing with Jury members that are mostly male, they don’t get caught up in a lot of the emotions. They see that she came back almost every single Tribal Council with this big Immunity necklace and men value that physical aspect of the game like, “Man, she was hard.” You know? If she didn’t really play that hard or win that many Immunity Challenges, it would have come down a social game and it really wouldn’t have been that clear-cut.
HitFix: Speaking of the physical side to the game. Talk me through the strategy that you laid out at Final Tribal of hanging back somewhat yourself. What do you think would have happened if you hadn’t hung back?
Sabrina: Going into the game… I’m an African-American woman, obviously, and what I did prior to going on the game, I had very short notice, and I looked at the prior women who fit my profile and how they played the game, what worked for them or against them. There’s only been one African-American [female] winner and she did not have a dominant personality and I didn’t want to play into the stereotypical “Loud Black Woman.” Unfortunately that’s the stereotype that we get and anything that I remotely say that might be assertive is going to be looked at as being aggressive and it’s going to be a little bit more threatening than somebody maybe of another race and I knew I had to be strong in a different manner. So I said, “OK. I’ll step up and be the leader in the very beginning and be the visual leader.” I knew when we had the mix-up — because everybody knew out there, “OK. Sabrina’s really the peacemaker. She’s the mediator between the women when we were a complete mess” — but when we mixed it up, I said, “Hmmm. I need to lay back just a little bit.” Because now we were playing with men and the men clearly knew that they had appointed me — that’s what you guys really didn’t see — and I said, “Mmmm. I don’t want them going in and saying, ‘Sabrina’s kinda dominating and what is she going to say?'” So I fell back a little bit and that’s when Chelsea and Kim emerged. And then when we made the Merge, I said, “Let me fall back just little bit more” and that’s when I started throwing a couple of challenges, because nobody wants to play against someone who looks like a threat, verbally and maybe physically. The first day I was out there, we were trying to figure out each other’s occupations and three people said, “Oh no. You’re not a teacher. You’re an Olympic athlete.” And I’m like, “What? No!” So there’s no way I could have gone as hard on challenges without being threat. So I kinda mastered the middle and I said, “You know what? If I can go to the end and say, ‘This is my strategy’ and I didn’t piss anybody off, maybe they might respect that I played an honest game and I was still part of the nucleus.” I was aware of 90 percent of the decision and agreed on them and kinda set the tone, but never was the messenger.
HitFix: Do you think you could have sorta turned on the jets in the end and won a few Immunities if you’d needed you?
Sabrina: You know what? The last two… The real massive one with the maze, I had a pretty good start and I got to that puzzle and I swear it had like 75 pieces and I was like, “Oh my God. This is ridiculous. This sucks.” I said, “Let me just slow it down. Slow and steady may win the race when it comes to the puzzle” and I just to the puzzle pieces and just fell apart. And the last one, it was very tricky. I thought it was just going to be this endurance challenge and it really wasn’t. It was a very meticulous challenge about stacking the blocks on the shaky platform and with that, although I’m an athletic person, you don’t have to be true athlete to win these challenges. You have to be very skilled in certain things, whether it’s balance or whatever. On the last one, I have cataracts in my eyes and this had a lot of depth perception. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m screw.” But you know what, I said, “Let me just go at my own pace and you never know. The wind might someone’s down.” You just go at your own pace and you hope for the best, so… yeah.
HitFix: If you had won that final Immunity, who were you going to take with you?
Sabrina: I honestly still would have kept the Final Three. I know it sounds crazy, but yeah. Our thing at the end of the day was this: We said one time, we were talking me, Kim and Chelsea, and I said, “We want to be able to go to the end and look to our left and look to our right and whoever wins the money, we will be satisfied with that and we will know that they would use that money to better their lives and not blow the money.” We didn’t have the same sentiments towards Christina and Alicia that we did each other. We were cut from the same moral cloth. Honestly, I can sit here and say that Kim will go down in history as one of the best Survivors and it’s not because her castmates sucked and it was an easier win for her. I hate seeing that on different blogs and in different interviews. She is the best and if I had to lose to her? I’m OK. I really am OK.
HitFix: When you guys were doing the Rites of Passage, when you got to Colton, I think it was Kim who said that the game would have gone very differently if Colton had stuck around. Based on what we saw, you seem possibly to have had the most to gain from Colton’s return after the Merge. How do you think that would have impacted things?
Sabrina: Actually, I didn’t have the most to gain. As illogical as it seemed, Colton loved who he loved and his BFFs out there were he loved Kim and he loved Jay and that’s who he wanted to sit next to. I’m like, “Are you kidding? Like… No. They’re both dominant forces and they’re both very well-liked.” So I think the game would have been slightly different, but not a lot different. Yeah, he had an Idol, but for some reason, the people on the Monano tribe, they were just terrified to blindside him. There were certain people that he could have duped out there, but I don’t think he could have duped me, Kim, Chelsea and Troy. He was gunning for Chelsea if we had merged, because he knew that that was Kim’s right hand and he wanted to cut that off. But I think he would have lasted maybe one more round and then we would have gotten rid of him. Yeah. I think it still would have boiled down to, not necessarily an all-girl Final Five, but I think it still would have been an all-girl Final Three.
HitFix: So you don’t figure that that Idol you gave him would have led to any advantages for you?
Sabrina: No. I don’t think he had plans of working with me after that.
HitFix: I just talked with Chelsea about this, but do you think that this sort of all-female Final Five could have happened in a season where the teams were gender-integrated from the beginning?
Sabrina: It would be very difficult. I look at Boston Rob and Natalie, for instance, you might have somebody younger who’s just like, “Oh my God. I need a guy to win this” or if it’s a coed tribe, you kinda want to hang onto the stronger guys in order to win the group challenges. So usually they tend to kick off the weaker players and sadly, people look at women as being weaker, so I think this really played up to be our advantage. At first, Kim and I were just like, “Are you serious? All girls?” But we kinda look back at it now as a blessing, because we were looked at as some of the stronger women — Chelsea, Kim and I — so they wanted to hang onto us to possibly win challenges, so that lent to our longevity.
HitFix: It sounds like you’re satisfied with the way that the season ended. Are there any sort of regrets that eat at you?
Sabrina: Zero regrets. I’m a firm believer that everything is designed already before we — for the most part… not everything, because I do believe in some free will — But how I got on this show, the little time I had to prep. I was thrust into this game and for me to get second place behind one of the greatest players, in my opinion, in the history of “Survivor”? It’s still surreal to me. I really wouldn’t do anything differently at all.
Previous “Survivor: One World” Exit Interviews: