HitFix Interview: David Murphy talks ‘Survivor: Redemption Island’

David Murphy had an odd run on “Survivor: Redemption Island” this season.
Described by many of his Zapatera teammates as a master of puzzles, we never saw him actually solve a puzzle. 
And although he wasn’t a part of the Russell alliance, David became most passionate when waging an ill-fated campaign to save Stephanie (a teammate he’d previously vocally criticized when she was given puzzle-solving duties instead of him on a key task).
And after weeks of seemingly unmotivated on-camera criticism for his job as a lawyer, it was maybe appropriate that David wound up being the first member of this season’s “Survivor” jury. 
On “Survivor,” where contestants are often eliminated because of the collapse of their metaphorical, strategic house of cards, David’s run ended because he failed to construct a literal house of cards quickly enough in a Redemption Island Duel against Matt and Mike.
In this week’s “Survivor” Exit Interview, David and I discussed his flawed Duel approach, his take on the rice/race conflict between Phillip and Steve, why he didn’t join forces with Russell and why the other castaways hated his day job so much.
Click through…
HitFix: The Tribal Council on this week’s episode, with the rice and racism, was ridiculously awkward to watch on TV and it looked as if everybody involved was uncomfortable. What was it like watching the whole thing from the jury box?
David Murphy: I was pretty surprised. Having spent a little time around Phillip, I know where Steve was coming from in terms of the perception of his sanity. To have Phillip decide that Steve’s statement towards him was anything other than a statement on his behavior, was pretty ridiculous.
HitFix: How uncomfortable did people look at having to be discussing this sort of thing on “Survivor” to begin with?
DM: I think it was truly awkward for all of them and I can’t imagine having been there in the moment at the camp when it all happened, but seeing it at Tribal Council was definitely an awkward situation for all of those who were involved.
HitFix: You weren’t on Redemption Island for long, but what was that experience actually like?
DM: It was alright. It was a small shelter, but if there’s only a couple people there, it’s not such a big deal. It actually was better than having a big shelter that’s open, but freezing cold at night. It was a very lovely beach that was there. It was not a bad experience, although I would say that it would not be fun to stay there by yourself for 21 days.
HitFix: Well, speaking of that, last night’s episode gave the pretty strong impression that Matt may be going around the bend a little. Did it seem that way to you? Or was that just editing?
DM: No, no. When I was there, he seemed to be in good spirits. It may have been a matter of not letting people know where you stand, but he seemed totally fine in my time there.
HitFix: No indication of the crisis of faith or whatever episode he seemed to be going through?
DM: No, not at all.
HitFix: You got that final Duel challenge and it seemed like one that could have been right in your wheelhouse. What ended up being the difference between you staying and you going?
DM: At the end of the day, I over-thought it. I built a house that could withstand the elements, rather than the fastest possible thing that I could. Building a strong base I thought was a good idea and, as you with Mike’s tower, I was a very small gust of wind away from being the one who stayed and having Mike be the one who went home.
HitFix: So it was just over-thinking?
DM: Oh yeah. I didn’t try and build the fastest possible structure. My concern going into it was that if you’re building something and it’s gotta get up that high, the slightest movement or the slightest gust of wind would knock it over if the base isn’t stable. So I wanted to make a stable base with the hopes that that would make it stronger and more supportable as you get up towards the top. It turns out that I made up substantial ground on them by the end and had I not spent so much time making the stable base to it, I probably wouldn’t be on the phone with you today. 
HitFix: It feels like you’ve been in the same tough position for maybe four or five consecutive episodes, with an elimination that was getting inevitable and just getting closer every week. Did it feel like you were in quicksand for a while there?
DM: You know, it was difficult. I just couldn’t find the room to make a move. I was looking for that gap and there just wasn’t one, going back to that Tribal Council where I tried to get the group to keep Stephanie over Sarita. That was the first move that I had an opportunity to make where I tried and nobody would do it. The next week, I think, it was an “I told you so” moment when they decided to get rid of Sarita and keep me. Her weaknesses showed through at that point in time and then after the Merge, it was a numerical issue at that point in time and not knowing what way Matt was gonna go at the end of the day was what… We couldn’t control that. We thought we had a chance to get him and going into that Tribal Council, we thought we did. And it turns out that Rob had pretty much made the best possible move by eliminating any uncertainty as to loyalty, but still keeping a numeral advantage. Matt was the swing vote at that point in time.
HitFix: Several people from Russell’s ill-fated alliance have told me that they approached you to join them, but that you wavered and eventually decided not to. What was your thought process at that time?
DM: Well, if you’re taking aside numbers and just looking at who I would have rather have worked with and what I thought would have been a strategically better fit for me, I would have gone with Russell and his group. However, I had been approached by both, essentially, and had a choice about which one I wanted to go to. Had I thought that there was any way to get somebody else from the core Zapatera group to come with me towards Russell’s side, I would have done that instantly. But I didn’t think that there was any likelihood of success with that, so there was no numerical reason for me to do that and then, had I tried to do that and failed, I would have been screwed. So looking at it from “What is the safest play to keep me around for the time being and not alienate myself?” I was left with little choice but to go with what eventually became the Zapatera Six.
HitFix: So you always were a little uncomfortable with the alliance that you found yourself in?
DM: Yeah, that was not my preference in terms of directions to go, but I was left with no choice based strictly on the numbers.
HitFix: If Russell had never been involved in the season in the first place and it had just been you and the Zapateras, would you have played a more aggressive strategic game right from the start?
DM: I probably would have been the first one they would have gotten rid of, if Russell hadn’t been there. In a way, he took the heat off of me. I was around a bunch of people who had very clear opinions of my profession and it wasn’t a favorable one. That’s something that was totally out of my control. I don’t think anybody really, fully trusted me within my alliance, which is kinda amusing to me. It was the hand that I was dealt and I played the best game that I could, under the circumstances. If things were different… It could have gone differently in two directions: If Russell wasn’t there, I think I definitely would have been the biggest target to get rid of within my alliance. And then if it had been Rob instead of Russell, I think the game would have played much differently.
HitFix: Explain, please?
DM: There would have been a different attitude around camp. I think the alliances would have formed much differently. It wouldn’t have been, as Sarita liked to put it, “Good vs. Evil.” And in her mind, I was the Evil one on the Good team. It wouldn’t have been that way. The alliances would have formed not based on these ridiculous opinions of The Good People vs. The Bad People. It would have a more strategic game that would have been played. That’s not to say that Rob would have had a different fate than Russell would have if Rob had been on Zapatera, but you would have seen the formation of groups within the alliance go much differently.
HitFix: Going back a bit, “Survivor” has had plenty of lawyers compete over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the anti-lawyer hostility that was under the surface and even at the surface for Zapatera. Where do you think that came from?
DM: [Long pause.] Ummm… Well… There’s… Hmmm… I’m trying to offend as few people as possible.
HitFix: What’s the point in that?
DM: You know, that’s rare. I usually don’t bite my tongue, but for some reason, this time I thought about it. But what the hell? There was a lack of intelligence. If they’re gonna view me as a bad person because of the career that I’ve chosen then so be it, but at the end of the day, it’s funny that people consider lawyers to be so untrustworthy, when, in reality, people trust us implicitly with everything. Nobody likes lawyers until they need one, so everybody that likes to criticize us is fine, but don’t call me when you have a problem.
HitFix: You seemed very impressed with Rob’s move to blindside Matt for a second time. What did you think of the post-Merge segregation he’s imposed?
DM: His strategy to this point has been essentially flawless. He has complete control over his Tribe and he sent a message to them with the Matt move that if there’s any inclination that you can’t be trusted, then you’re gone. He managed to figure out the hierarchy, so to speak, within Zapatera as well. Ralph’s decision to play the Idol for Mike showed that obviously Mike was physically the strongest competitor we had and just further solidified that. And it got rid of the Idol that Ralph had. It served a lot of purposes and it was a pretty brilliant move, as was the separation that followed from that. He’s got them in the palm of his hand right now. One of them had better step up to make a move if they want to have any chance.
Previous “Survivor: Redemption Island” Exit Interviews: