HitFix Interview: Ralph Kiser talks ‘Survivor: Redemption Island’

A farmer from Virginia, Ralph Kiser began the “Survivor: Redemption Island” season as one of the game’s most colorful players, displaying carpentry skills, stumbling upon an Immunity Idol and not shying away from confrontation with the notorious Russell Hantz.
By the time he departed on this Wednesday’s (May 11) telecast, Ralph had become quiet and surly, even refusing to make space in the Redemption Island shelter for new arrival Andrea. More than anybody, Ralph was frustrated with Boston Rob’s post-Merge segregation and his inability to find anybody willing to let him into an alliance.
Ralph was the last contestant eliminated before Sunday’s big two-hour finale and our exit interview conversation gave some insight into why Boston Rob is going to find it difficult to win and why the producers had to subtitle so much of Ralph’s dialogue.
Click through for the interview…
HitFix: At the beginning of the season, you seemed so happy and enthusiastic. At the end of Wednesday’s episode, you were a good deal less so. Were you surprised by how much the game wore you down?
Ralph Kiser: Yes. The game was very hard. I was feeling… I held my head high, but I was getting closer. It broke my heart that I couldn’t do better on the puzzle. But I held my head up high anyway. And I went out with that little smile. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but my lip quivered just a little bit. It broke my heart.
HitFix: What would you say went wrong? You had the lead through the maze part of the Duel. And then you got to the puzzle. What got you there?
RK: What got me? It was just like everything broke on me. I just could not get started on it. The pieces, they all looked the same to me. I don’t know if I was excited that I was so far ahead or I just wasn’t worth a damn at it. I wasn’t great at puzzles anyway, but I just couldn’t do nothing. Couldn’t do a thing. I don’t think I got three pieces.
HitFix: Was there a point at which you realized that you were blocked and you just weren’t going to get it?
RK: I realized pretty quick and it went through my mind, “I’m beat. Right here. It’s over with.” I just stood there. I didn’t know what to do. There’s my shot at a million dollars gone. 
HitFix: In your bio on the “Survivor” site, you said you’ve wanted to play “Survivors” for years. What drew you to this game and how did the actual experience compare to your hopes or expectations?
RK: When I first started “Survivor,” I’d get up in the chair and I’m a very active, pretty good-sized guy and I’d jump right on off and say, “You can do better than that! You can do better than that! Come on!” I thought I could go out and just whup the crap out of everybody who was on the game, unless you hand-picked somebody to just beat me. Well, when I got there it didn’t take me very long when the challenges started to say, “By gosh, this might be tougher than I thought it was gonna be.” You don’t know what it’s gonna be like without sleep, good sleep, a decent place to bathe, a decent place to get something to eat. Your mind goes to wandering. Or mine did. I can’t say for the rest of them. But it was pretty tough.
HitFix: Did you have some fun with it, though? Were you able to enjoy some of the experience as a whole?
RK: Yes. Yes. Being in a different country and running into people from different parts of the United States here, I was proud. I was very proud that I made it as far as I did. I was tickled to death. To be be honest with you, words could probably never even explain right how.

HitFix: What were your highlights and lowlights?
RK: The lowlight was that it’s very hard and stressful on your body. The highlight was enjoying meeting other people and getting to spend and knowing a little bit about ’em. It’s a game, so you didn’t learn a whole lot about them. They just played the game with you. So we didn’t get blame nothing about our real life, what was down. We talked about it just a little bit. But meeting the other people was awesome.
HitFix: How much of your strategy out there was having people underestimated you?
RK: Well, you know, when we first started the game, I didn’t wanna act like I was a leader. Back at home, where I live, I’m a team leader where I work and I give it everything I’ve got and I wanted to there. And in challenges I did, but building the shelter or whatever, I asked for their opinion on doing this and doing that and y’all don’t want to do it, we’ll do it my way, but I wanted to be a team. You’ve got to be a team to get further and have a strong team. You have to talk to people and see what’s going on, what’s on their minds, how they they wanna do it this way, how they wanna do it that way. And if you watched the game, you saw pretty quick we had two little teams there together and fighting against another team and that was a no-no. But that’s the way we had to play it.

HitFix: On Wednesday’s episode, when Andrea arrived on Redemption Island, you seemed almost angry about the way Rob’s Tribe treated you guys after the Merge. Would you like to talk a bit about that?
RK: Yes. Andrea, I tried to talk to her when we merged. I said to Andrea, “‘Survivor’ is part of a game and we need to make some big moves. I’ll go either way you want to go.” And no, no, no. They didn’t wanna talk about the game. They wanted to talk about growing up and “What’d you do on your farms” and all of this. And I said, “Well, I’m here for a game.” But they didn’t want to talk about the game. So when she came there after I told her what would probably happen — when we were all gone she would be probably the next one — well, sure enough. So here she came and she wanted say, “Oh, I didn’t…” And I said, “Andrea, I don’t want to hear about that. We tried to tell you.” “Oh, but I figured it’d be somebody else.” So, I didn’t want to be cruel, and some people probably thinks I was cruel, told her she could sleep on the floor or on the ground under me, let her work her way. 
HitFix: When you watched the episode, did it feel to you like you were cruel?
RK: No. I didn’t think I was a bit cruel. I wouldn’t have let nothing hurt her. She going to be just fine there on the ground. That way, she could talk. She talked the whole night. She talked, talked, talked. Same old thang. Same old thang. Same old thang. You don’t need to go sleep, but you can at least rest your eyes and rest your bones. I was laying on a board and it wasn’t very comfortable. So I just figured it would be better for her to be on the ground. I hope she didn’t take it to heart the wrong way, but I took it to heart when she didn’t want to play the game and try to make some moves. 
HitFix: Do you respect the way that Rob separated the tribes, or does it only annoy you?
RK: You know Rob, he lucked out. Like winning the lottery, that he got them kinda players to follow his footsteps and play the game and him sit back and watch. I think he watched most of the game played by the other and then he’d just give them a little advice, feed ’em a little bit and they’d just keep working for him.
HitFix: Is that you saying he would not have done as well if he’d been on your tribe?
RK: Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Myself, I’d have rather had Boston Rob on my side and then played against Russell, because Russell didn’t like me at the first and if he didn’t like me later, that would be fine, cuz I had other people to help me do something with him. Boston Rob, he’s played all like that every time that I can remember. He’ll tell ’em one thing. He’ll shake your hand, “That’s the way we’ll do it,” do the opposite and give that little s***-eating grin he gives. Like last night, the way he done Grant. That’s the way he plays the games.
HitFix: And give me your read on Phillip…
RK: Me and Phillip, we didn’t have no problems. He argued about the ride. He thinks arguing is a game. I acted like an adult. Phillip, I think, is a big put-on and that was probably his way of playing the game. He figured, “Hey, nobody likes me. They’ll vote them off and keep me to the end.” That’s the way I think he played it and so far, I think that’s what it looks like it’s  coming down to. Cuz every one of ’em said, you know, “I can’t stand Phillip. He’s this. He’s that. He’s this and he’s that.” Well, they had the power to get rid of him, but somebody else kept saying “Hang onto him. Hang onto him.”
HitFix: As a last question: At various Tribal Councils, you had some very creative spellings of certain people’s names. How much of that was a joke?
RK: Well, a little bit of it was a joke. I live in Russell County and I even spelled “Russell” wrong… [I lost a couple sentences here. No amount of replaying helped. Sorry.] The hardest thing to me is sitting still. I hate sitting. I’d rather lay. And sitting there at Tribal Council? I didn’t even know what Jeff Probst was talking about half the time. It’s like I left the game. I was dozing off. He’d ask me something and I’d jump up, like I didn’t know what this meant or I didn’t know what to say. I figured I made an ass of myself, but when it’s sitting there that long, I lose interest. I’m horrible for that. I’d rather be on my feet.
Previous “Survivor: Redemption Island” Exit Interviews:
Note: Due to the sheer volume of contestants still competing in Sunday’s finale, CBS isn’t doing individual interviews with the remaining eight contestants [the scheduling logistics would be insane]. There will be conference calls, but due to duties covering upfronts, I may not be able to do all of the calls, so this will be the last 1-on-1 interview of this “Survivor” season. Presumably, the regular 1-on-1 exit interviews will resume in the fall.