Interview: Dawn Meehan and Sherri Biethman talk ‘Survivor: Caramoan’

In my recap of the “Survivor: Caramoan” finale, I pretended that Dawn Meehan had finished second, beating Sherri Biethman.
That wasn’t really true, of course. Dawn and Sherri received the same number of votes, which was “zero” as John Cochran rolled to a commanding victory.
The result was easy to predict after one of the most lopsided Final Tribal Councils in the show’s history. Dawn was forced to defend being both strategically tough, but also emotional. Sherri was forced to defend her mere presence in the Top 3. And Cochran was asked what animal his game most resembled. It was rather strange.
I’ve said this all along: In my own opinion, Dawn deciding to split off from best-bud Corinne and expose that burgeoning sub-alliance was the biggest single move in the game. You may disagree. I also think that Sherri’s ability to wrangle Shamar for exactly long enough to pick off Allie and Hope destabilized the Fans alliance with the greatest potential strength and reshaped everything that followed. You may disagree. 
In Dawn & Sherri’s joint exit interview, they discuss why it was so hard for them to convince the Jury of their value and how long it took them to become Zen about not winning. We also talked more about the impact of gender and age in the “Survivor” endgame and I think some of the perspectives, particularly Dawn’s answers, are quite interesting.
Click through for the full conversation…
HitFix: You guys both seemed very philosophical at the live show about your chances of winning. [They both laugh.] How long did it take you to achieve that level of Zen about it?
Dawn Meehan: Oh my gosh. I think we were very fortunate that the response and the questions that we got at Final Tribal Council let us know immediately where people were leaning, so we’ve had all this time to really share this experience together and try to get to a place where you go, “Hey, this is what went well and this is what we maybe could have differently and we’re happy.” We did something that all those other people didn’t do. We weren’t voted out of that game. And I don’t care if someone says I cried and I don’t care what people say about how Sherri played, but no one voted us out. We went to the end, so there you go.
Sherri Biethman: While I was watching the Jury unfold in front of us, I knew I had no shot to win and I’ve had a year to reflect on this and… yeah… there was just no chance.
Dawn: Plus, don’t you think, we were happy with the three people that went to the end.
Sherri: My goal was to be sitting, Day 1, with Dawn and Cochran, period, meaning once we Merged. That was my goal. I saw the rest of the people we were playing with and I didn’t want to sit with them, so I was happy.
HitFix: You guys said you could assess your chances of winning based on the tone of Final Tribal, but going into Final Tribal, how were you each feeling in terms of your chances of winning?
Sherri: I didn’t think I had a chance at all to win. I’m being very honest. There was no way I could win. I ran number scenarios, everything, just sitting there. Honestly, I thought Dawn had a better chance than Cochran because I thought she played…. At times, she was making the harder calls and I thought they were going to respect that and I could not believe the way the Jury turned on her. So I was very surprised. Cochran played a fantastic game. Don’t get me wrong. It was between the two and I was happy with either one of them winning, but I was very surprised the way the Jury reacted with Dawn.
Dawn: I think around the time Reynold entered the Jury, I felt a little more, when we were being asked questions at Tribal Council, I felt that there was a sense that I wasn’t liked. I think that’s even why I made the comment like, “I’ve pretty much maligned everyone on the Jury,” so I thought “Uh-oh.” At different times I had more confidence that maybe people would see that I played a different game than I did in South Pacific and that that was a very hard thing for me to do. So I thought that maybe that would be respected, but in the end I think that Cochran played a better game as far as… My husband and I joke and he’s like, “Cochran stabbed people in the back. You stabbed them in the front.” What more personal? So that was just something that was too painful for people to get over.
HitFix: Watching the Final Tribal on Sunday, how frequently did you find yourself wishing you’d given different answers?
Sherri: Well, you have to be asked questions to give different answers and nobody was asking me questions. I couldn’t have answered any differently, honestly.
Dawn: My own feeling is that there isn’t a ton of wiggle room at Final Tribal Council. I think a lot of people have been at Ponderosa and had time to reflect on the 35+ days in the game, so I have a feeling that it’s fairly rare for people to go in completely undecided. I try to tell my kids, “I did the best I could!” I did the best I could at the time. I truly was surprised at the anger, at how much anger was directed. I was kinda just glad that I wasn’t taken out on a stretcher. 
HitFix: But Dawn… You had Reynold standing there BEGGING you to insult him. Why was that hard for you?
Dawn: It was actually funny for me. I think his question also… I don’t know if it came in the right sequence. It came after Brenda had just had me take out my teeth, so I think I was still reeling in my mind. It wasn’t as easy for me to transition to, “Hey, this could actually be kinda fun.”
Sherri: And I would have had no problem. I wish Reynold would have asked me that question.
Dawn: That’s true, Sherri! That’s so true!
Sherri: But he knew I would have had an answer for him, so he wouldn’t have asked me that question.
HitFix: And Sherri, do you think there was any answer you could have possibly given Erik and Eddie that would have at least half-satisfied them, a quarter-satisfied them, at all satisfied them?
Sherri: I promise you, I don’t even remember the question they asked me.
Dawn: Did they ask a question? What was the question?
HitFix: I think basically, their question was to ask you to justify your very existence, which is a kind of broad question.
Sherri: Right!
HitFix: But they mostly wanted you to say what you’d done to get there. Have you thought of an answer you could have given them that would have worked?
Sherri: With Eddie, absolutely. Eddie saw the beginning of the game. Hello! I took out the Cool Kids Alliance and he knew that. Yeah, from the beginning, I would think that Eddie would have appreciated my game more. Erik didn’t see my game. Eddie was just… First of all, I know Eddie didn’t come up with that question on his own. Someone had to ask him to ask that question. He couldn’t have done that by himself. The only thing I could think of, again, would be Eddie talking about the pre-game, when he saw that I took out the Cool Kids and he was upset with that from Day 1 and then me having to do something that he was not able to do, nor Reynold was, which was align myself with another alliance and not be seen as a traitor like Cochran was in his first season. No one ever questioned me or said a word that I was betraying the Fans or doing anything to the Fans. I became part of the Favorite tribe, but there was no way they were going to see it that way.
HitFix: You’re both talking around it and I want to talk about what came up at Final Tribal, which was the idea that certain “Survivor” behaviors are more acceptable from male players than female players. This is a forum. Do you have more you want to say on that subject?
Dawn: Oh my gosh! Gender is such a fascinating thing in the game. I have a couple of thoughts about it. One is that if I’m a fan of the game, then I should go in and be mindful of how masculine and feminine gameplay factors in and I should adapt my game to it. I think I’m kind of hard-coded, personally, and so I play a more feminine game and so for me to be duplicitous and then for me to be emotional and have a hard time when I vote someone out, it was contradictory, especially when we had a predominantly male Jury. So Reynold saying, “Own it! Just own it!” and I’m thinking, “Well I don’t typically say mean things about people, so as much as you’d like me to say that I kicked your butt, that’s kinda not my way.” This is just a hard game, in my opinion. That’s how I play it. So I think what’s hard is that I should have done a better job of recognizing and adapting my game and saying, “OK, this is like a predominantly male Merge and we’re gonna have men on the Jury and they’re not going to appreciate me not being brutal.” So I see flaws in my own ability to adapt that way. But I also think it’s frustrating. I was thinking this last night. I’ve just never seen the show have someone apologize for voting another person out, but I did that. I had to facilitate an apology last night. I’m trying to imagine Boston Rob apologizing to Grant and they were really close. 
Sherri: I also wonder where Brenda’s apology was for you, why Jeff didn’t feel like the need for Brenda to say she was sorry to you.
Dawn: I just saw her as hurt at the end and I don’t know… To me, that was just pure emotion, that was raw, so I was OK with her not.
Sherri: That’s another conversation, Dawn, between us.
HitFix: And Sherri, do you have anything you want to add on the gender issue and how it impacted you?
Sherri: Obviously I was not strong in challenges and I knew going in that I wasn’t going to be strong in challenges and the people I was playing with, that’s what they thought gameplay was, too, and that’s what they admired, was if you were strong.
Dawn: Plus, we were MOTHERS. No one wants to burned by their mom. It’s hilarious when you think about it. It’s not only gender. It’s mothers. Who wants to be betrayed by their mother.
HitFix: Let’s stay along those lines and go from gender to what the confluence of gender and age might be in how you were perceived and maybe in the difference between the way older women are viewed as opposed to older men.
Dawn: Yeah. I have two thoughts: One is that we made it to the end, so in some ways I think, “OK. We made it to the end.” So in some ways, I think, “You can’t complain, because there you were at the end and you worked your buts off.” And for me, being a mother helped and people trusted me and people went to me. I joked, but I felt like the school nurse a lot like, “Oh here. How can I help you?” So that benefited me. It also allowed me to express my emotions more, because I didn’t get voted out when I cried and I guarantee you, if there was a crying guy, he would have been voted out. So there’s benefits to it, too. So we got to the end because we were revered and not seen as a threat. So there’s good and bad to it. I think that in this case, for me personally, my downfall was a pretty predominantly male Jury and a young Jury. Cochran played a great game and he won a lot of challenges. That was part of it. I don’t know that he won because he was like a guy and they’re like, “Let’s go to a bar together.” 
HitFix: Just a last question. Say at the Final Four Cochran and made a different choice. Dawn, if you’d been on the Jury and the choice had been Cochran, Eddie and Sherri, who would you have voted for? And Dawn, if the choice had been Cochran, Eddie and Dawn, who would you have voted for?
Sherri: If I would have been sent to the Jury, who would I have voted for? Oh God. 
Dawn: That’s a hard question.
Sherri: That’s a very hard question. Ummm… [Long pause.] I probably just… Oh God, this is hard.
Dawn: I would have voted for Cochran, sorry Sherri.
Sherri: Oh, I know you would have. I think I would voted for Cochran, too. At the time. Yeah.