Holly Hoffman and Dan Lembo have been linked since the earliest days of “Survivor: Nicaragua.”
It was the season’s second episode and Holly was beginning to feel restless at the Ancients’ camp. Unhappy and discombobulated and contemplating quitting the game, Holly stole Dan’s $1600 shoes, filled them with sand and dropped them in the water. If not for the much-vaunted wisdom of Jimmy Johnson — and her tribe’s win in the next Immunity challenge — Holly would have headed home.
Instead, Holly kept going. The Comeback Kid only got stronger, orchestrating several big power moves, positioning herself in a strong alliance and finding herself an unlikely member of the Top 5, next to the equally unlikely Dan, whose balky knees caused him to alternate between sitting out challenges and stumbling through other tasks. But despite a physical profile that would have gotten him voted out early in most seasons, Dan also made it all the way to the finale.
The last remnants of the original Espada tribe — the “Old” in the season’s “Old vs. Young” theme — Dan and then Holly were both voted out in the first half of Sunday (Dec. 19) night’s finale and, as luck would have it, the Shoe-Thief and The Man Who Brought $1600 Shoes on “Survivor” were paired in conversations with reporters the next day.
Click through for my full conversation with Dan and Holly…
HitFix: Let’s start off with each of you explaining your final vote…
Holly Hoffman: Actually, walking into Tribal Council, my decision, I was actually going to vote for Sash. I thought that, strategically, Sash played a great game. He was always talking to everybody. He was making alliances with everybody. I thought he was definitely there to play the game. I really did. But after listening to what Chase said about how if he wins the million dollars, he’s gonna give $100,000 to the charity for his dad, that just kinda hit me. I thought, “I’ve played most of the game with Chase and he was always there for me.” I know sometimes he had a hard time, well, most of the time he had a hard time making up his mind, but I felt like I kinda owed it to him to vote for him and that’s why I voted for Chase.
Dan Lembo: I voted for Fabio… I mean, the kid won three challenges at the end. You’ve gotta give him credit. There was that one challenge where we had to feel out the shield and I couldn’t even remember one piece on that shield. How he did it, how he felt each piece and got them in the right place was just beyond me. He won the three challenges and I just think he deserved it.
HitFix: What do you say to that, Holly? Did Fabio deserve it?
HH: You know, he did. He did deserve it. I always say it’s not how you walk onto the playing field, it’s how you walk off. Look at how he finished. He’s very deserving of this win. But at the same time, I also wonder, Did he start a little too late in the game? Was it luck? But it worked for him. He won a million dollars.
HitFix: Going the other way, Dan, you seemed rather angry at the final Tribal Council. Would you have been unhappy if one of the other two won?
DL: Absolutely. Yeah. I didn’t like either one of them. Chase and I started off being really friendly and this and that. We spoke about cars, because I’m a NASCAR fan and he was a jackman with NASCAR. I’m also, which is a little wacky being born and raised in New York, I happen to big country music fan. I go to the Country Music Awards each year. So he and I, we spoke a lot, but I dunno… I just think Fabio deserved and he won it. Obviously we had enough votes to get him in.
HitFix: What did it mean for each of you guys being the last two surviving members of the Older Tribe?
HH: You know what? For me, it was a huge accomplishment. I felt like I had a great comeback. I had a really, really rocky start. I got out there and I double-guessed myself why I did this. I missed my family horribly. I had the meltdown…
DL: At my expense.
HH: Yeah… And I came back. So for me, it meant a lot to be the last woman standing and the last Espada member. Being in the Final Three would have been fantastic, but just being the last woman and the last Espada member was a great accomplishment for me.
DL: Listen, the fact that I got there? Everybody was, if you really look at it, there were people there 40 years younger than me. Fabio’s 21 and I don’t want to tell you how old I am. It was crazy. I was out there and I lasted so far and so deep with two bad knees and never ever sleeping outside. And I hated sand, as Holly said. It was tough. I’ve gotta tell you, it was really tough. But I just had to stay in there. I happen to be a people person and I think that’s what kept me there.
HitFix: The game started out as being all about the Old vs. Young, but once the tribes merged, was that dynamic still a part of the game that you felt or was did it check out after the Merge?
HH: I feel like it checked out for me when I picked the blue rock and the tribes switched, because I made a better connection with the younger kids. I always felt from the beginning that I didn’t really fit in with the Espada tribe. For some reason, there just wasn’t a connection there for me. So I felt like my game switched when the tribes switched and I got the blue rock.
DL: Same with me, because I got really, really close with Benry and I also got pretty close with Chase. We’d talk about music and NASCAR. That was a gamer-changer. You go through this game and things happen and they just happen. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw.
HitFix: Since you both brought it up, it’s fitting that you guys are sharing time on this call. We’re a long way past it, but how do each of you guys look back on The Shoe Incident now?
DL: It doesn’t even bother me. I don’t care. Holly’s a good lady and she has a great family just like I do and s*** happens, you know? Listen, it’s a tough game. I’d like to take you and put you out there and I’d like to see what you would do. Everybody thinks that a lot of the show is contrived, but it’s not. You go out there and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. You don’t know if you’re gonna get that next rain. You’re laying in the rain. Don’t forget that Holly and I were in the rain for 20 days.
HH: Yup. Dan and I went the longest without a tarp.
DL: Yeah, 20 days without a tarp, because Marty, who proclaims to be a genius, the first day when we won that first challenge, instead of taking the tarp, he took a fishing pole. You know what he should have done with that fishing pole, right?
HH: And you know what? I had absolutely no reason to do that to Dan’s shoes. Right at the beginning of the game, he really got under my skin. He was constantly bragging about how he has a Ferrari and he has a Hummer and these $1600 shoes and an $800 sweat and I was like, “What?!?” And he was constantly complaining about having sand on his feet and saying “This is not for me?” and he just got under my skin. Once you get to know Dan? He’s a great person. But that’s just the way he is. So strategically, I had no reason to do that to his shoes. I took his personal property and I needed to return it and that’s why I gave him a pair of full quill ostrich boots and game them to him at the finale.
HitFix: You gonna wear the boots, Dan?
DL: Absolutely. Now I can stick my head in the ground like ostriches do.
HH: And the reason I decided on the ostriches is that Dan told me, when I apologized to him, he said, “It’s really OK. I’ve got 20 more pair at home.” So I thought that I’d better throw a pair of cowboy boots, ostrich, in there because he has to have a little bit of variety in his wardrobe.
HitFix: It’s time to play with some hypotheticals. Holly, you first. Fabio doesn’t win those Immunities. You make the Final 3. How do you beat Chase and Sash?
HH: Well, of course, Sash definitely made too many enemies, so I didn’t think that he would get a lot of jury votes. Chase, I would have tried to convince them that look at how many people he turned on, like Brenda and Jane. But I think I could have convinced them, in a way, that I had a huge comeback. I was the person that had the meltdown on Day 5 and look where I went from there. That’s how I would have tried to convince them. Also, I tried to convince two people to stay in the game. Who at that point in the game, when you have 11 days left, would try to convince people to stay in? Someone asked me, “Why did you do that?” and I said, “Why did Jimmy Johnson do it for me?” I wanted to give back what someone gave to me. That’s why I was trying to convince them and say, like, “Hey Kelly Purple, this is gonna look a lot better if you get voted off instead of quitting the game.” So that’s probably how I would have pleaded my case to the jury about. And also, I really think giving up going to a Reward to get food and a tarp for the whole camp was a good gesture.
DL: It was a good gesture, but I think it worked against her. It was such a good gesture that you knew that people were really appreciative of what Holly had done. Sometimes in this game, when you do nice things and then everybody looks at it the other way and says, “Wow. Everybody’s gonna vote for her when she gets to the Finals.” When you’re out there starving and all of a sudden somebody gives up their food for you, it goes a long way in people’s memories.
HitFix: Dan, for your hypothetical… You made a big deal about how the best reason to keep you around was that nobody would have given somebody with all of your money the million dollar prize. But I assume that if you’d made it to the Top 3, you weren’t just gonna get up there and go “Meh, I don’t need the money.” So what would you have said?
DL: Ha. What would I have said? I would have played on my knees. I would have played on what a nice guy I am. I would have played on never really voting anybody off, how I kinda went with it. I don’t know. You know, when people talk at the jury at that time, they talk and they make their plea, I don’t know how much of it is really scripted and how much it just comes out and you say whatever you’re feeling in the moment. That’s what happened when I told those three guys how I felt about them. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what I would have said.
HitFix: Dan, do you regret not at least trying to make some sort of counter alliance when it was you and Fabio and Jane against the Chase/Holly/Sash alliance? Why didn’t you try to shift the power?
DL: You’re right. You’re 100 percent right. All of my friends who are avid watchers of the show, texted me immediately, “What are you, nuts? Why didn’t you vote with Jane?” Listen: If you go out there for 37 days and you don’t eat and you don’t sleep, you think you’re always thinking so clearly? No. You’re not.
HH: What I didn’t understand is that Jane said at Tribal Council, “Let’s vote Holly off” and then she went and voted for Sash. So the whole thing just didn’t make sense. I didn’t understand it. I thought I was going home at that point. I was shocked, especially that Jane knew she was going to be voted to be voted out and… I take that back. She did say she went and tried to talk to them, but there was no way they would change their minds, but that was a total shock for me that they didn’t vote me out.
HitFix: Leaving aside the million dollars, did you get the other things you wanted hoped to get from the “Survivor” experience?
HH: Absolutely, for me I did. When I applied to be on this show, I’d volunteered 16 years of my life coaching a swim team, running campaigns for my husband, I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to do something challenging and I wanted to do something adventurous, so for me? I got the total experience.
DL: And I had no right being there, to be honest with you. They found me in a bar, which Holly didn’t like, because she had to apply and I didn’t have to do. I was in a bar having a martini and the next thing you knew, I did a video and I sent it in and I was on the show. I had no right being there, between my knees and my age. It was offered to me and I was not going to turn it down.
HitFix: You came in with plenty of aches and pains, but did “Survivor” make anything worse for you, Dan?
DL: Not at all. It probably improved my liver. It gave it 40 days to come back, without having a drink. I’m not kidding. When I came back, I went to the doctor. Besides looking emaciated — I had lost all of my muscle tone and it was just crazy — I went to the doctor and he said to me, “Dan, it’s like you picked up 30 years.” He said, “This is perfect and your triglycerides are perfect, this is perfect, your blood pressure is perfect.” Well sure, I was 30 pounds lighter, 37 pounds, and I hadn’t had a drink in 40 days.
HH: So physically this was good for you, Dan?
DL: It was fine. Well, I don’t know. At the time it didn’t seem so good to me, but when I went to the doctor… I guess there’s a lot to be said bout not drinking, but who the hell wants to go through life without drinking?
HitFix: I love that as a place to close the interview!
The full season of “Survivor: Nicaragua” Exit Interviews: