HitFix Interview: Steve Wright talks ‘Survivor: Redemption Island’

This week’s “Survivor: Redemption Island” exit interview was with Steve Wright, 51-year-old former NFL veteran and yet another member of the nearly depleted Zapatera tribe.
And that, of course, meant only one thing: Lots and lots of talk about rice, or at least the circumstances through which a war over rice led to a war over race between Steve and Phillip.
Not surprisingly, Steve still thinks that Phillip is crazy and still insists that calling Phillip crazy is a reflection on the Former Federal Agent’s sanity and not the color of his skin.
What else did Steve have to say about The Incident and about how he plans on treating Phillip at the live reunion? 
Click through…
HitFix: What’s it been like watching for the past couple months just knowing that the “Rice Wars” episode and that incident were looming on the horizon?
Steve Wright: That’s a good question. Just hoping that I would be aired and edited as who I am and what it was really all about. I think “Survivor” just did a great job and Probst did a great job of editing exactly the way it happened and who I am and who he is and what it was all about.
HitFix: How did the episode play out compared to how you remembered it in your head?
SW: I think it came out pretty much right on. I just remember laying there on the bamboo, cuz there’s nothing else to do, and just hearing the confusion over on the other side there where he was dumping the rice. And I was just looking at it for entertainment and just thinking like, “Wow. I can’t believe he’s putting it all out.” And then Andrea coming over and asking if they could put their rice in ours and being like, “No, at least I’ve gotta talk to Ralph about it… I’m a pretty easy-going guy, so let’s at least talk to Ralph and see what his thoughts are and analyze the situation a little more.” And she goes back and reports to Phillip and he comes over and tells me he’s gonna put the rice in there and I said, “Well, now you’re barking up the wrong tree. That’s the wrong way to approach it. Come at me a little different and at least ask.” And when I said, “No,” he just started getting ugly and I said, “Dude, you are crazy,” just like I would say that to you or anybody else. And just to watch him just implode was a pretty wild experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. 
Like I’ve told everybody, I’ve got a black brother-in-law. I don’t have any prejudice in me. And I think that was really brought to the surface: This is who I am and that’s who here is.
HitFix: Did watching the episodes that led up to it, did it give you a context that maybe you didn’t have previously into the way his mind works?
SW: No. I’d been around him enough to know that he just wasn’t balanced. I think that’s probably why there was always a question mark behind his name for the FBI. I just don’t think he’s completely stable. I think that underneath that, there’s some intelligence, but I also know that it’s not an act. If he did sign up for the FBI or whatever, I’m sure he was let go because of being either emotionally or mentally unstable. You can only hide for so long when you’re out there getting filmed 24-7. The real you’s gonna come out. And it reared its ugly head.
HitFix: So it sounds like you don’t buy what he said on this week’s episode when he claimed that at least some of this was an act and a strategy?
SW: No. No. Not at all. You can only act every once in a while, but when you’re out there jumping around in your underwear by yourself, you’re not doing it for an act. That’s just you out there living. The cameras are on you all the time. They’re gonna find out who the real “you” is. Russell Hantz couldn’t hide who he was. I couldn’t hide who I am. The real “you” comes out. It’s just exposed. And the guy’s a looney-tune. He’s just not all there.
HitFix: How have people in your actual day-to-day life responded to this whole thing?
SW: Absolutely stellar. Like I’ve told everybody, I’ve had at least a dozen teammates, black teammates, and my brother-in-law either text me or call me or email me, just to say “Wow. We know what you’re all about” or “Prejudice, my ass” with a “Ha ha” behind it. That just shows who I am. No one has any feeling at all that I have any prejudice in me. I don’t.
HitFix: We’re a couple weeks from the live finale and if you’ve watched the show, you know that on-air, Jeff Probst is going to make you guys talk about what happened and the state of your relationship. Have you thought about how you’re going to respond when you see Phillip again?
SW: There’s not really a whole lot to add there. I’ve just tried not to think about him too much. It’s like the way I wrote his name there at the end and I just said, “Phillip, I hope you find peace in your heart.” I don’t wish him any bad feelings. It’d be a sad way to go through life. We always thought about his son, his 15-year-old son, and just feeling sorry for him that he’s got this wacky dad being exposed on television like this.
But who knows? I’ll just shake his hand, like I tried to do after the fight. I just said, “I want to get rid of this big elephant in the room” and just to let him know there’s no hard feelings, “You’re a little wacky, but there’s no hard feelings. We don’t see eye to eye, but at least we can live together.” I had to do that in business and on football teams and everything else. It’s a lot easier to take the higher road than just to feel all ugly and uptight and tense when someone’s around, at least do the best you can so that you can sleep good at night. And I’ll do the same thing, I’m sure, when I see him for the finale. 
I was just shocked to see him saying on the show that he didn’t think it was sincere.
HitFix: Though you were on-camera saying that you didn’t understand why it had to be you doing the apologizing, so that may be why…
SW: Well the way I was looking at it, I was just like… I can’t believe… If I would have made that much of an ass out of myself — just around friends or even just he and I and I was just going off like that — I would have just taken the higher road after a night’s sleep and said, “Dude. I am sorry. I freaked out last night” and it made me think, “Wow. I’m gonna do it for him. I’m gonna just reach out to him and take the higher road.” I was shocked that I had to be the one. It had to be done, because we were gonna be living together. It had to be done somehow someway. I was hoping that he’d come over, but I didn’t have a problem going over and just reaching out my hand and saying, “Dude. Let’s just bury the hatchet here. And please not in my forehead while I’m sleeping.” 
HitFix: Let’s shift gears here. The Zapatera Tribe’s decision to throw the challenge to get rid of Russell: Was it worth it socially? And was it a mistake strategically?
SW: No. It was not. And I will take that one to the end. When you have a cesspool, cancer cell like that, you’ve gotta cut it out. It’s like they say, “hire slow and fire fast” or something like that. You could not… We could not… I could not keep that guy around. To live with that guy 24-7 for whatever it was, seven or eight days, something like that… When he had gotten to our camp, he was pulling me aside within 15 minutes saying, “Hey, we’ve gotta get rid of this Mike. I’ve been watching him. He looks intimidating. He’s gonna be a stud. We should get rid of him.” I said, “Dude. Not now. Let’s think about this in a couple weeks.” And it just went on and on, non-stop. And Julie would come over to me and say, “Hey, Russell’s just working the hell out of me to get rid of you.” And I’d go, “What?” So I had quite a few conversations with Russell like that, like, “Relax. Let’s do this in a couple weeks, but right now we’ve gotta go into the Merge with numbers” and he’d be, “OK, Steve. We’ll do that.” And then he’d talk to one of the girls, “Let’s get rid of Julie.” 
And he was just lazy around camp and he wasn’t doing anything. He was just planting a bad seed in Stephanie and the other girl, the little blonde. It just got really old and being around him that long, they wouldn’t work at all, they wouldn’t get wood or fish or get crabs. They were just an irritating group and, hey, we had to go for it. Plus, we won the next challenge as soon as we dumped his ass.
HitFix: And then what happened?
SW: Well, then after that, Rob and the one man wrecking crew Grant… If we had an opportunity to vote Grant out, that would have helped us a lot. When you have a guy like Grant, who’s a wide receiver with 4.4 speed and him out there running around in the sand? That’s what happened. That’s what happened, Dan. Grant is what happened. In a nutshell. He was the one who made the baskets. He was the one running around catching the balls. He was a one man wrecking crew. It wasn’t Rob at that time. And it wasn’t getting rid of Russell. It was the one man wrecking crew, Grant.
HitFix: If it was all the result of Grant being a one man wrecking crew, then it was all on the other side? And you haven’t been able to second guess any way that you could have played the game differently from that point? Where maybe you would have lasted longer?
SW: No. Maybe just eating a little more food, I think, to have a little more nutrition in my body to work a little harder. Probably. But if want me to say something about keeping a fat, bald-headed, unathletic, mouthy, stab-you-in-the-back cancer cell named Russell Hantz around? No.
HitFix: But even after that… Were you just in a position where absolutely nothing you could have done anything? You were just on this path to elimination the whole time?
SW: Yeah, there’s nothing I can see, in the time that I played or in the time since. There was nothing that I think that we could have done different.
HitFix: And as a last question: How physically battered did you get out there and how did that compare to your time in the NFL?
SW: Nothing even close. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. At least in NFL, in training camps you’re getting fed like kings and you’ve got a soft bed and an air-conditioned room. This was beyond my wildest dreams with how tough it was.
HitFix: And the overall experience, did you get out of it what you hoped to?
SW: Yeah, I’ve got some great relationships. I learned a lot more about myself and not complaining, being really content with what I have and not wanting something bigger and better. Like I said, not complaining and just enjoying the now of when you’re connecting with somebody, stay connected with them and not grab your blackberry or your iPhone or the phone or the computer or just distractions. It’s just enjoying the simple things in life.