Interview: Kass McQuillen talks ‘Survivor: Cagayan’

If you read my interview with “Survivor: Cagayan” 4th Place finisher Spencer Bledsoe, you saw one approach to the “Survivor” experience. Spencer was circumspect, critical of his strategy and admitted that he would have voted for Tony, the season's winner, over himself.

Today's exit interview, with 3rd Place finisher Kassandra “Kass” McQuillen, takes a different approach. Kass thinks she played the same game as Tony only with a different gender, she thinks Spencer and the other losing castaways were arrogant and she thinks that the “Survivor” finale live vote suggesting Woo would have easily beaten her was “revisionist.” 

Kass thinks there's a double-standard when it comes to female “Survivor” players, particularly for moms, and she's confident that a male version of Kass would have won the season. 

And I'm not saying that she's wrong. In fact, on much of it, she's probably right.

In our sometimes contentious exit interview, Kass discusses the performance of Man-Kass, takes exception to the use of the word “goat” and isn't especially pleased with the nickname “Chaos Kass” either. I got a bit bogged down in trying to point out things about her social game and I apologize for what was a much-too-long digression about her decision to flip off the departing Trish in front of the whole Jury.

Click through for the full Q&A…

HitFix: First question: Based on what we saw at the Final Tribal, it certainly sounded like your vote was a no-brainer. Did any part of Woo's argument resonate with you at all?

Kassandra “Kass” McQuillen: No. I'm a fan of the show and of the game. I wanted to play and I wanted to give the money to someone who played, contrary to the rumors that I'm an emotional player. Tony played. I didn't like him, but he played. I love Woo, but nothing Woo would have said would have changed my mind.

HitFix: I'll ask more about the emotion in a bit, but is there any way to play winning “Survivor” in an “honorable” way, according to the Five Codes of Tae Kwon Do, as it were?

Kass: Not in this age of “Survivor.” Too many people come out and feel the need to make the big moves and blindsides. But maybe as a returnee you can play more honorably, because you can have bonds with people and understand them. But you put 18 people on that beach who don't know each other, you'd better be worried about everyone and ready to do whatever you need to do, if you want to win.

HitFix: You talk about everybody coming out and wanting to force big moves and blindsides on the game. How much responsibility do you take, then, for that in terms of how the season's tone progressed?

Kass: I think I made moves. I think I played with my gut and when I felt that little Spidey-Sense telling me someone was gonna gun for me or things weren't right, I followed it. And every time I followed it, I was right in terms of knowing who had Idols and who was getting ready to plot against me and the need to stir things up at certain times.

HitFix: Given the tone of the Jury as you saw it and as you got to interact with it, how confident are you still now that you would have beaten Woo?

Kass: I feel like the vote at the finale was eight months later and very revisionist. At the time and given the opportunity to speak to the Jury, I think I probably beaten Woo.

HitFix: I'm sure you're very confident that you would have made better arguments in the moment and I'm probably pretty confident of that as well, but what would you have had to overcome and how would you have overcome that?

Kass: Well, I was going to address a lot of my discussion at the Jury to the women, who were the most bitter towards me. The men didn't have a problem and, from what I understand, everyone but Spencer, of the men, would have given me their votes. There were several women who just could not get over that I played the game and I played them and I sent them to that bench. And it worked out. All five of the people I betrayed ended up on the Jury. You can't deny that. I would have argued it and told them, “Girls. Let me play the game. Tony played the game. He back-stabbed. He swore on his dead father to someone who was swearing on her dead brother. He knew it meant something. He manipulated the young, innocent Woo into a game of honor when he's the least honorable person out there.” So I would have said, “Why does that make Tony great and make me an emotional bitch?” Because whenever a woman pissed you off, it's gotta be her emotions.

HitFix: Is that just your argument? Or do you really think that you played the same game as Tony, but his game just got coded differently because he's a man?

Kass: I think I played a better game than Tony, because I didn't have allies or Idols. But definitely, yes. We played a similar game in terms of just, “Take no prisoners and do what it takes to get me to the end.”

HitFix: Let's take a hypothetical Man-Kass, as it were. Who do you think he beats in a Jury situation and who do you think beats him?

Kass: Man-Kass would have won the season. I think.

HitFix: Tell me more about that. I'm interested in the idea that gender beat you more than anything else.

Kass: Well, I don't think gender… If I were a man with my personality — I'm kinda introverted and socially awkward — it's more acceptable, I think. Then people would say, “Oh, he's just kinda a weirdo.” But because I'm a woman, I just think people perceived different. I mean, Tony was horrible to people out there. He was very condescending to the female castmembers. Even his votes were very emotional. [She does a Tony impression.] “Oh! Jefra said she was gonna get me out, so I've gotta get her out.” Why would you take out Jefra and not Spencer? Because you were mad at a woman, a woman who was never gonna beat you in a challenge. You know? There's an emotional player, no someone who says, “You threw out my rice and I almost beat you up for it, but I'm gonna get rid of Garrett because he's lying about an Idol.” That's where I'm at. I do think it's a double-standard. You should have seen Tony out there. He speaks llama. He runs around screaming and yelling. He's paranoid as hell. If he were a woman, they would have called him a neurotic bitch, I guarantee you, if a woman were that paranoid and crazy out there. [She laughs.] Let's make Tony a woman in that scenario.

HitFix: Who has been a Woman-Tony in “Survivor” history?

Kass: Uh, I don't think… Was it Suzie from… Gosh, it wasn't Nicaragua.  Oh, I can't remember. There've been a couple women who are a little nutty, present company included, I guess. But Man-Kass versus Woman-Tony. Put a wig on Tony. Shave my head. Let's just switch. If Tony played my game and I played his game, just play that out.

HitFix: I'd be interested to see how that would go. But in your scenario, is Man-Kass still flipping off Trish after Trish leaves at Tribal Council?

Kass: Well, Trish would never have insulted Man-Kass' family and gotten catty. That's what the finger was for. She went down a road that you shouldn't travel down in “Survivor.” Do not bring up my kid. That's all I have to say. And I stand by that finger.

HitFix: I can buy that, but you still had to know how things like that were going to play in front of a Jury. Didn't you?

Kass: No, Trish was very abrasive out there. When people went home, she sang “Another One Bites the Dust” and went off on little rants. She was rather vulgar and inappropriate. She deserved the finger. I think she's probably gotten the finger a lot in her life. I mean, I like her as a person. I love this rough-and-tumble, Boston crazy lady, but you know… We'll probably give each other the finger all the time in the future.

HitFix: I'm not even questioning that. I'm just talking about the idea of how you — or Man-Kass, either one — think that that sort of behavior plays to a Jury? Like if what you want to have is the Jury thinking of you as a strategic  player and not an emotional player, how do you think that plays?

Kass: I think they liked it. I mean, they laughed. It's a long road. I don't think I lost any votes because of the finger. I think that's highly dramatic to think that. And if someone would have asked me about the finger, I would have said, “Hey, she talked trash about my five-year-old.” 

HitFix: I wasn't saying the finger would have been a deciding factor or a determinative factor. I was just saying it was symptomatic of something. But you don't think it was…

Kass: Well yeah. Socially… That really was the first time… Me and my “stone face” or my “poker face” or whatever the heck anybody calls it, that was the first time I did that. You saw how shocked everyone was. Like, “Wow, Kass just flipped off Trish.” But I was so happy she was gone, because she had been absolutely horrible. This is the only person in the history of “Survivor” to have been so mean to someone that they were gonna punch her and then rather than get in a physical altercation, they quit the game. Who does that? All I did was give her the damn finger. Anyone who spent time on that beach knows what was going on.

HitFix: Then at Finale Tribal, after Trish gave her emotional speech, you were the first one to put your arm around her. Was that just an instinctive reaction?

Kass: That's the mom in me. And I don't hate Trish. I don't harbor ill-will to these people. We played a game and we all process it differently. To me, when I went out of the game, I felt like I left it out there. I did everything I could, but for that half-second. I felt for Trish. I had tears in my eyes when she was talking about that, because that is Trish. She's a passionate woman and I know that promise meant the world to her and it hurt her tremendously that Tony voted for her.

HitFix: On that last episode, you told your husband “I'm not a goat, I'm just hated.” Was it always your plan out there to accept being the one, but not the other? And did something go wrong given the number of people who kept calling you a goat?

Kass: Again… The goat is the person who does nothing, who lays around the shelter. Like Morgan was wanting to be a goat. That was her strategy: “I'm not gonna talk to anyone. I'm not gonna be nice to them. And I'm gonna suck at challenges and I'm just gonna lay around here.” That is a goat, in my opinion. Someone who backstabs and makes moves and does stuff, that's not a goat, that's someone playing. I think it just speaks to the arrogance of the players I was with. Spencer saying I'm a goat when I ruined his game every step of the way. I was one step ahead of him every time. [She does a Spencer impression.] “I got an Idol, Kass.” “Yeah, I know. I can tell by your body language.” Think about that, I was Lucy to his Charlie Brown out there pulling the football.

HitFix: Is the problem one of semantics, though? If I came up with a different word instead of “goat” for “person you think you can take to the end because you'll beat them,” would that make a difference? If we stopped saying “goat”?

Kass: Well, yeah. As a “Survivor” fan, you don't want to be called a goat. It's very offensive. To me, that's the worst word you can call me. But I did make some goat noises last night. Towards Tony. We speak animal.

HitFix: Along those lines. You mostly weren't telling people out there that you were a lawyer and you were telling them something about reindeer and other animals?

Kass: Yeah. Really, in real life, my family owns the largest herd of reindeer in the state of California and we have an exotic animal ranch and from Thanksgiving through Christmas, we are working at celebrity parties and and TV shows and various amusement parks with reindeer. So I am an attorney. I'm a small-town attorney. I only work during school hours. It's kinda a hobby thing. I do quite well with it and I do reindeer for two months out of the year. Everyone in my family does. So I decided when I went out there, when I got on that Brains tribe, my original plan was not to tell anyone I was an attorney, because I don't look like one and I don't act lack one, or I didn't think I acted like one till I saw myself on TV. But then I got on the Brains tribe and everyone was, “Oh, well I do this and I do that” and I just said, “Hey, I think I'm the common sense one out here” and they called me Farm Fit and Farm Smart, because I knew how to do stuff. I do live off-the-grid. I am am a country girl. Putting a shelter together, I let J'Tia run with that, because it was hilarious and I thought, “Well this'll be the first one gone, cuz she is running this stuff into the ground.” But after that, the shelter that got built was me. The men all got blisters on their hands and couldn't open coconuts. I was a CB in the military, which is Construction Battalion, so they bought it and I was able to play it off.

HitFix: You had to be Chaos Kass out there basically from the second episode of the season. In an ideal world, would you have held her off a little bit longer? Would you have maybe not brought her out at all? Or was she always going to play a major role out there?

Kass: First of all, I'm not a huge fan of the Chaos Kass thing. I guess it's funny, but it was not my intention to give myself a hashtag or whatever. What happened on the Brains was when we didn't get rid of J'Tia that first vote, which was the logical thing to do to keep the tribe strong and cohesive and try to win challenges when the Alpha Boys went after each other — With Garrett and David — and Spencer went right along with it and the girls went right along with it, I was like, “This tribe is terrible. I am gonna have to go and play full-throttle from Day 3,” because I was on the bottom there. And I went to the girls and said, “You'll never break up Garrett and Spencer” and I went to Garrett and Spencer and said, “You're never gonna break up J'Tia and Tasha.” And I worked it, worked it, worked it for three days and when we lost that challenge… They actually wanted me to do that puzzle that J'Tia did and J'Tia was so vocal about wanting to do the puzzle and how great she was at puzzles. I thought, “Well this is great. She either wins it or loses it for herself.” And we saw an epic failure on the puzzle and that worked in my favor. Would we have won that challenge if I was on the puzzle? Probably. But would that have helped my gameplay? Not really, because I still would have been on the bottom of those four. So forcing that rift in there? And when we came back from Tribal, those four, they said. “Kass, we need you to leave so we can talk about you.” And I acted like I walked down the beach, but I came back and I was standing right behind the shelter when they were talking about getting rid of J'Tia and J'Tia was right there. I mean… I don't know. It was so fun out there.

HitFix: Do you think you could play “Survivor” again with people expecting you? With people seeing you coming?

Kass: Because I'm so bad socially, I think I would have a chance to stay in, because people would be like, “Kass is just gonna piss people off, so we should keep her as our goat.”

HitFix: Even though you hate the word.

Kass: Right. Well, hey. If you're a woman over 40, you're gonna be a goat. Lemme just throw that out there right now. You're either gonna latch onto a man and be his goat, or you're gonna tear it up and make everybody crazy and be a goat. So maybe I can have an Old Lady/Goat alliance or something. Look what happened to Dawn when she tried to play the game. She was vilified for making a move to save her game. Historically, look at Monica, who was a nice lady who stuck with people. People tore her up. There's this problem with reconciling that a mom's gonna go out there and tear you up. But these kids haven't been to PTA meetings.

More “Survivor: Cagayan” exit interviews:
Spencer Bledsoe
Trish Hegarty
Tasha Fox
Jefra Bland
Jeremiah Wood
L.J. McKanas
Morgan McLeod
Sarah Lacina
Alexis Maxwell
Lindsey Ogle
Cliff Robinson
J'Tia Taylor
Brice Johnston
Garrett Adelstein
David Samson