HitFix Interview: Sophie Clarke talks ‘Survivor: South Pacific’

Sophie Clarke didn’t win the most challenges on “Survivor: South Pacific.”
She wasn’t hailed by the CBS promotional team with making the game’s Biggest Move.
She didn’t give herself a bombastic nickname.
She didn’t cause drama at camp with her religious beliefs, nor did she start a showmance that set tabloid tongues wagging.
All Sophie did was follow Rudyard Kipling’s edict about keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs. She became the centerpiece of an alliance on Day One and while Albert skittered about contemplating switching things up and Coach prayed on how to make every choice, Sophie stayed the course and steered the course of the game.
It didn’t hurt that she won three Individual Immunities, including the all-important final Immunity challenge, knocking off the previously unbeatable Ozzy.
For her efforts, Sophie was rewarded with a decisive Jury vote and the million dollar prize as this season’s “Survivor” champion. 
Click through for my full exit interview with Sophie, which came on the heels of a night of CBS fun and a long morning of promotional duties for the 22-year-old medical school student.
HitFix: Hey Sophie, how’re you doing?
Sophie Clarke: [Cryptkeeper rasp] I’m doing well.
HitFix: Congratulations.
Sophie: [Cryptkeeper rasp]
HitFix: Sounds like you had a celebratory evening last night?
Sophie: Yeah. I haven’t slept yet. I’m TIRED.
HitFix: How much of the Jury vote had you anticipated?
Sophie: Honestly, I thought I was going to get one more vote, actually, than I did, so when the third “Coach” vote, I got pretty terrified, actually. I know it was just a split second, but once the third one came up, I convinced myself that I was completely wrong and that I’d misread the jury and was going to lose and I immediately started thinking of what kind of handshake I’d give Coach and how not to cry. But it didn’t turn out like that.
HitFix: Have you tracked down the unaccounted for “Coach” vote?
Sophie: People are giving me different stories. Who was the third “Coach” vote? Do you know? I knew that Cochran and Edna were going to vote for him. I heard from somebody that it was Rick, but now I’m hearing Jim. I don’t know how to figure it out, but whoever the third one was, it was surprising. But Cochran and Edna were not.
HitFix: What do you think a vote for you represented? What do you think it validated for the season?
Sophie: I think it was validating that people just wanted honesty. Everybody on that Jury, those were smart people. Those were people who came out here to play the game and they just wanted us to own up to how we’d played and we’d all played very different games. I do think, actually, that Albert had no chance of winning. I think people thought he was too slimy, he was too smooth. But when it came down to Coach and I, we had very different games. They just wanted Coach to say “Listen, I manipulated all of you.” Whether or not Coach believed it, they just wanted him to say it. And Coach, of course, can’t bear the thought of saying that he’s not loyal and honest and all that. And with me, they just wanted me to admit what I had done, which was I had screwed a lot of people over. So yeah, I think that in that case, my blunt honesty worked in my favor. I remember Cochran actually asked me a question about what the biggest move in the game was and I said to him, “Well, it definitely wasn’t yours. Yours sucked.” And that’s a rude thing to say, but that’s what they wanted to hear. They just wanted us to be real.
HitFix: If Coach had somehow owned up to what he did and he’d been able to pull off a win, would you have been OK with that? Would you have understood?
Sophie: Well, obviously not. I was really surprised, actually, when I came into Tribal and the first sentence out of Ozzie’s mouth was “Coach, this is your game to lose.” I remember that shocked me and I immediately started to think on the defensive, because I really felt the whole game that I was in control. Every vote went how I wanted it to. I felt like I could have decided how every vote went. Granted that I did it in the background and I was kinda a passive player, but I was always involved and I think that wasn’t evident really in the edit or to the people on the beach, but I think it wasn’t a “Coach lost” situation. I think that I deserved it by my own merit, but I think it definitely helped that Coach shot himself in the foot.
HitFix: I think a lot of people maybe don’t realize how difficult it is to stay the course out there when everybody around you is freaking out…
Sophie: Exactly! I keep getting asked the question, “Well what was your big move?” and I had no big move. I’ll say that. My move was that every day I worked on my alliance. I had an alliance of six people and you saw with Savaii that the biggest thing they did wrong was that they didn’t make Cochran feel included. We had Edna. Edna was the equivalent of Cochran on our tribe. She was No. 6. And I had an alliance with Edna. I made her feel comfortable. Coach made her feel comfortable. We kept her in the game. And then after Edna, I had a Final Three alliance with Rick, with him and Albert, so we made him feel comfortable. So it was a question of every day checking in with people and making sure that they felt that they were going to go to the Final Three. Granted I think that staying the course was a little bit easier, because I had Rick and Brandon and Coach, who were immovable objects. They were not variables in the game. So the only people I really had to control were Albert and Edna and Edna was quite easy. It sounds so boring to say, “My strategy was to stay the course,” but I saw a clear path from almost Day 10, whatever the stupid cliche is about the onion, I saw my self in the middle.
HitFix: Did you ever come close to freaking out? You had Albert constantly spinning around contemplating big moves and you kept having to calm him down. Did you ever come close to deviating? 
Sophie: What mattered was that it wasn’t me calming him down to stop him from making the move. Albert couldn’t make the move without me. He needed my number. The point was that I knew that Coach and Rick and Brandon were not going to flip and I knew that if I kept Edna comfortable then she wouldn’t flip. And Albert, without me to vote with him, couldn’t do anything. I wouldn’t even need to calm him down. I didn’t calm him down. I just said to him, “Albert, I’m not voting with you.” It didn’t make him feel anymore comfortable. He just couldn’t do anything about it. I think Albert waited a little bit too long… It took him too long to realize that he was screwed. If he had made something immediately with Jim, that was his only chance. But he didn’t.
HitFix: One the Jury points you made that I found most amusing was your comparison of Albert and Coach to the young ladies Boston Rob used to win last season. Could you elaborate a bit on that?
Sophie: Well, it’s really just Coach. What are Boston Rob and Russell looking for in a partner? They’re looking for someone who’s really passive, who’s not going to make any unpredictable moves and is going to listen to what they say. They’re looking for somebody who’s a chess piece and not a variable and that’s what Coach was. On Day 3, Coach and I sat on the beach and I’d seen Coach’s seasons and I knew what type of player he was. I knew that he wanted to play with integrity and I knew that if I got Coach’s word  that he wouldn’t vote me out, and I kept my word with him, he wouldn’t vote me out. That’s like a Natalie Tenerelli for you right there. So I think that when I said “young girl,” it’s just that often on “Survivor,” these young girls are pawns and Coach, because of his insistence on being this loyal, honest guy — I don’t know if he actually was that — he was a pawn and Brandon, because of his intense religious beliefs, was also a pawn and Rick was, up to a point, as well.
HitFix: As you just mentioned, there was a heavy religious component to your tribe’s day-to-day activities. You were never exactly the center of those activities. How did you feel about the way that all developed?
Sophie: I think that when people are feeling very vulnerable and are in very intense situations, I think that prayer helps. I think that Coach and Brandon and Albert are all very religious people and I think that it was genuine, but I also think that somehow it got out of control, because they were all so religious and it started to become a public thing. I think Edna’s Buddhist or something and she was always in the circle praying. That said, I also recognized the strategic benefit of it Day 3 or Day 4 when it started, because I realized that if these people thought that they were “in real life,” which is what my tribe kept saying that this was “real life,” and they thought they were answering to God and if they betrayed my trust they were going to hell, I mean, those are some serious repercussions there. I didn’t feel any of that weight on my shoulders. And it’s not because I’m immoral. I just don’t think it applies to “Survivor.” So yeah, I think I said it last night, that they created this framework to kinda minimize the variables in the game and it made it easy. 
HitFix: But if people like Whitney were accusing you of being generally condescending, that seems like a situation in which it might be extra hard to keep inside any condescension. How did you keep that under wraps?
Sophie: I don’t know. I think I was very patient out there and I think you’re playing a game. Up to a point, I was always aware of how I related to other people. I think I was genuine with them. I was aware of how other people were perceiving me and what every conversation meant…. What was I saying? What was the question? I’ve been up for 48 hours.
HitFix: Your tears at the Tribal Council with Rick’s elimination… Was any of that theater? 
Sophie: So, it started out with a bit of theater. I’d been talking trash about Ozzy as much as Ozzy had been talking trash about me, but by that point in the game, I’d realized that the passive, behind-the-courtain, game that I’d been playing wasn’t going to win me the million, because nobody knew I was playing it. There’ve been Survivors in the past who have lost because of this. So I realized that I needed to start being more vocal, just vocal in general, make myself more of a presence. So I wanted to call Ozzy out and that was kinda a bit of playing to the jury, but when Ozzy started saying that these were not his opinions, that they were opinions of people who had passed through Redemption, insinuating that it was Dawn and Whitney. And Dawn and Whitney were two people who I actually felt very close to at the Merge. It was nice to be around other females. We would sit on the beach and tan together and talk about Whitney’s life at home and Dawn’s kids, so I actually thought that we had become friends, so was all very genuine and I felt very hurt by that. I think that on Day 36, we’re all exhausted, we’d lost 25 pounds, and very small things can set you off. 
After this was over, I remember going back to the beach and immediately thinking, “Oh my God, I screwed myself.” Nobody wanted a crybaby for a winner. But then I started thinking about it and I realized that the reason that they were calling me arrogant or condescending or whatever was that I had this hard exterior and I has so blunt about things and not that warm-and-fuzzy and that by breaking down at Tribal and being more vulnerable, I’d almost remedied that situation. You saw the Jury’s response to it that night. I think Dawn was crying. And granted that I don’t think it takes that much to make Dawn cry, but still, to them, it was very genuine as it was.
HitFix: All of the Upolu’s who have been voted out early, they’ve all told me that their biggest regret was that they weren’t on the beach that first night, so they just missed out on being part of that super-alliance…
Sophie: I think that the people who go pre-Merge don’t have a very firm grasp on the game, because they never got to hear our strategy. They don’t know what happened. There was a reason we were all on the beach. Within five minutes of getting on the beach, Albert and I formed an alliance. We just kinda had a good vibe with each other and Albert and I, throughout the day, brought Rick in and by midway through Day 1, Albert, Rick and I had a tight alliance. Then we decided to approach Brandon and Coach. Even on Day 1, Albert and I said to each other, “Coach is a guy that’s not going to backstab us. Let’s use him. Let’s not be terrified by this returning player thing. Let’s use it to our advantage.” So this whole beach thing, it’s not like we were all just chilling on the beach and said, “Hey, let’s have an alliance.” This was something that was being formed throughout the day and there were very specific reasons why the other girls in the tribe were not included. Christine and Stacey were already searching for the hidden Immunity Idol and some people got a bad vibe from Mikayla and Edna was kinda socially awkward and difficult to relate to. So it all just worked.
HitFix: Thanks for chatting and I hope they let you sleep at some point.
Sophie: I hope so too!