LJ McKanas has been a marked man from the start of this “Survivor: Cagayan” season.
As the Old Man of the Beauty tribe — He's 34 — LJ was selected as his tribe's leader within minutes and he wore that target on his chest for his entire time on a tribe he wouldn't have selected for himself (he self-identified as “Brawn” before the season, but showed his Brains in finding a hidden Idol).
After the Tribal shuffle, LJ's “Survivor” time seemed even shorter, as it appeared that the Brawn majority in his new clan would burn through the remaining Beauty outsiders. In a shocker, though, LJ aligned with Trish and took advantage of her anti-Cliff paranoia to remain in the game.
And even after the Merge, LJ's alliance looked like it might be in jeopardy, but Kass' flip made LJ and Tony the two Alpha Males suddenly at the head of a majority destined for Top 6.
After outlasting those deficits, LJ was ready to coast, but antsy Tony feared that if he didn't boot the Boston-area horse-trainer, LJ would turn on him. Tony didn't build consensus on his decision. Instead, he lied and told Woo that LJ was targeting him and that was all it took to send LJ home in yet another “Cagayan” blindside.
[Interesting LJ fact that didn't come up on “Survivor”: He's a Northeastern University Hall of Famer as a football player. In his senior year, he rushed for over 1700 yards and 14 TDs. He left the school as Northeastern's all-time leading rusher and he's now second on the school's all-time rushing list.]
In this week's exit interview, LJ discusses Tony's skillful lying, Woo's weak gameplay and why Trish disappointed him. He also talks about being placed on the Beauty tribe and how that impacted his game.
Click through for the full Q&A…
HitFix: Let's start with a semi-positive, from your point of view, which vote were you more surprised by: The post-shuffle vote in which you survived or last night's vote in which you went home?
LJ McKanas: Last night's.
LJ: Because it was a blindside. The other one, I worked as much as I could to build a relationship with Trish and then kinda have some words with Tony and that was a big matter of hope. But [last night] was surprising because I had no idea that it was coming. I did everything I could. I knew there was gonna a point where Tony was gonna have to make a decision like that and he's all about big moves and being assertive and moves not being played on him. I just didn't think it was gonna be that early. I thought that a part of me using that Idol in reciprocation to his was I was purchasing some of his loyalty and alleviating some of his paranoia. At that point when they voted Cliff, we had a plan that, “Alright. From now on, we're gonna go through.” He's untrusting and he's making those lies, so he has it already in his mind, but I thought that by purchasing some of that, I was gonna be in good shape.
HitFix: Out there, you only saw one side of Tony, but watching the first half of the season play out and watching how Tony was behaving consistently, how much were you watching on TV and yelling at yourself to stop trusting *that* guy?
LJ: [He laughs.] Enough. I am very good reader of people… But when I can have a conversation with someone and they speak so fast without tripping up once? There was never a stutter. There was never a concern. There was never a backtrack. He was so good at it that I'm like, “He can't be lying.” I would just look at him, just let him speak, just talk, talk, talk, and he would never have to backtrack, he would never trip up. He is an amazing liar. It's just unbelievable. So I'd be like wait, wait, wait. No. Now I watch it and I can't say that I would have played a different game, because he was good at what he was doing.
HitFix: Listening to you, it's hard to tell. What would you say your balance of bitterness versus admiration is at this point?
LJ: I'm gonna say it's 50-50. [He laughs.] I'm bitter with myself and it's admirable that he actually… For better or for worse, whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision, to get me out of the game when I was… I personally think that I obviously was the biggest threat that he was gonna have if it was a situation where we're going towards the end. I wasn't sure if doing it now was the right move, per se, but for him to go on instinct and decide, “Alright, now I have to get him out”? I can't discount it, because he is still playing and I'm not. So I'm a fan of the game. I love the game. And those decisions, though they're very difficult… You played your Idol for me, because you thought they were voting for me. I played it for you because I was insuring a bond, I was keeping numbers, I was sticking to the plan and I was buying that loyalty. I can't get mad at him for it, but s***, I'm not playing the game anymore. I'm sitting and watching as a Jury member and I'm really bitter.
HitFix: As you say, Tony was anticipating you coming at him and I suspect that you must have had a plan in place for when the right time was going to be for that. So what was your plan for getting Tony out and when was the right time gonna be?
LJ: Alright, so I had a conversation with Kass. I thought, “Alright, the only way I'm gonna make a big move is when nobody can see it coming.” So one of the biggest things I was thinking was that everybody's kinda pissed off at Kass because of some of the decisions and gameplay that she had. Nobody was going to consider her and I to work together and I knew for sure that I had Jefra's vote. So when I kinda crushed the numbers, I figured if we can get out at least another member of the minority, we can actually make a blindside on Tony. In my opinion, he was the only one playing the game. Whether it's a good game, a bad game, a paranoid game, he stirred emotions and he got the game moving. So had another member from the minority gone out, it would have been time to have that conversation depending on who won Immunity and where that played out. It would have been the time either next Tribal or the one after, after numbers made sense. Right now he's got a target on him, because you not only just blindsided me, but you blindsided three of your core six people who have put a plan to do this, to win this game and to go as a group, after all that we've been through to go as a group and be in the Final 6. So it was tough.
HitFix: But if you're saying that the time for you to blindside Tony might have been the next vote, hypothetically, then really Tony did exactly the right thing? That he punched before you could punch? Right?
LJ: Yes. That's why I can't discount his move. Whether it was too soon or not, it's really difficult to say. For me, it didn't make sense to do that then, because there's a bunch of people mad at you and there's a bunch of people that know how you act. How's that gonna play out? Who knows.
HitFix: Woo was part of your alliance, but it didn't look like you were that close. Were you surprised by how quickly he believe Tony's lies about you?
LJ: No. Not at all. Woo is kinda just there, in my opinion. I didn't feel like he was really playing the game at all. He was out there playing, but he wasn't out there playing the game. You know? Running around and chasing Spencer and looking for the clue and all that stuff? In my opinion, that's playing around out there. I knew that he was with Tony from the beginning and I knew that I had a battle of loyalty with getting higher than Woo and Trish from the beginning, because they'd been there longer. And also, I had Jefra on my side. So for Woo, Tony's such a quick-talking dude that I'm not at all even 1 percent shocked that Woo just made the decision of, “OK. Well, it's not me, so let's do whatever you say.” No, not shocked at all.
HitFix: On the other hand, you seemed very close to Trish. Did she give you any indication that Tony was pushing against you at all?
LJ: No! That's what was killing me about Trish. Trish is a loyal person. I could just tell. The only thing I had going against me was that she met Tony first. That's something that is a Boston trait. I don't know if you know anything about Boston sports and the way that people are in Boston, but once you are loyal to somebody, it doesn't change and you'll beat people up over it. So I knew that I had something going against going in, is that she had a bond with Tony and he's a quick-talking liar and he's gonna do whatever it took. So when I had that conversation with her and Jefra on the boat, I was kinda hand-walking her into, “Just tell me that you want to make a move. Tell me you want to do something.” I was really hoping that she'd just open up and say, “You're right. You're right.” Had she just given me a hint! At least give me the opportunity! Come up to me, give me an opportunity and call me a liar, so that I can validate. Instead you're just going to think maybe we're both liars and then not do anything about it? You're putting your future in the hands of a liar, because you didn't do anything about it. So if either one of us is gonna stay, at least get to the bottom of it, or show me something.
HitFix: It sounds like you have more frustration with her than Tony, then, because Tony was just doing what Tony does, but Trish you felt like you had something real there?
LJ: Yeah. Yeah. We had conversations about going to the Final 3 and having that Boston Strong allegiance and just when I saw it pan out and to realize that she actually had a conversation with him and he put me on the spot? I was really bummed that she didn't have a conversation with me like, “I came to you and I said 'Listen, here it is' and then he said the same thing” and you told him I said it? So why didn't you come tell me that he said it?
HitFix: Let's go back to the very beginning. In your intro interview for the “Survivor” website, you identified yourself as being more “brawn” than “beauty” or “brains.” What was your immediate reaction to both being on the Beauty tribe and also, at 34, to being the Old Man of the Beauty tribe?
LJ: [Laughs.] Ha. I'll tell you, it was flattering and then you look at everybody and you're like, “Well, you know, Garrett could have been over here or even Woo could have been here” and then I was like, “I don't know. Maybe it was a balancing act?” But I see myself as a Brawn person. I personally think I kinda see myself as a Brain person, but there's no way that I could justify that until you go through the game and realize that I can actually do puzzles and I can actually figure things out and I'm a pretty logical person. But from just looking, I would have put myself as a Brawn. Don't get me wrong. I'm not upset that I was put on a Beauty team, by any stretch of the imagination.
HitFix: Did it help you that you were able to be the assertive and leading person on the Beauty tribe, which may not have happened on Brawn? Or do you think you'd have played a different game if you'd been on Brawn from the start?
LJ: I would have definitely played a different game had I been on Brawn. I was forced to be the assertive person because I was on a tribe where the members on my team were used to a certain lifestyle, if you will. What I had to do on this tribe was I had to do everything that I possibly could, against my will, in a manner of starting a fire, getting water, just winning challenges, just cater to them as much as possible so that when it comes time that maybe we lose a challenge, they can't get rid of me, because maybe I'm too valuable to their camp life or their challenges. The event that Morgan actually chose not to vote for me when Jefra brought my name up actually made sense. But if I was on the Brawn team, I could have hidden in the shadows a little bit and let their egos punch each other around a bit and I wouldn't have had to have been killing myself over the fire and the water and all that stuff. But the game changes every minute, every game, every second. Had I been on any of those teams, I would have had a different role and played the game differently.
HitFix: As you look at the remaining contestants, is there anything we should make of Jeremiah and Jefra being the Last Beauties standing?
LJ: Um, no. I don't know, from what they're showing they're not really doing too much, they're kinda just there waiting for their turn, if you will. I don't know if there's anything you can really make of it and we'll see when the time comes, when decisions need to be made which direction they go and how that foresees their future.