Interview: Reed Kelly talks ‘Survivor: San Juan del Sur’

“Survivor: San Juan Del Sur” has been losing a lot of its biggest personalities and most aggressive strategic players in recent weeks.

No, I'm probably not talking about Wes, but in Josh and Jeremy, the season lost its two biggest ringleaders and this week the game lost Reed, whose was forced to scramble in Josh's absence and was, if nothing else, trying very hard to move the pieces around the chessboard. 

That's the thing with the recent eliminations. Were Josh and Jeremy and Reed the best “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur” players? Apparently not, but all three seemed to know what they were doing out there, which can't be said for many of the castaways still in the game.

That makes it a little bittersweet to talk to players as affable and into the game as those three. In his exit interview, Reed talks about Keith's “Just stick to the plan” blunder and explains where his game might have gone if Jon hadn't played his Idol. He also talks about the challenges of playing relationship counselor to the game's swing couple.

Reed also gives context for both how hard he was pushing Keith at that ill-fated Tribal and he gives context for his reference to not needing to win this past week's pony-ride reward because he has horses at home. And he admits that comment sounded bad.

Check out the full Q&A with the “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” veteran…

HitFix: So okay. I guess I first want to play a little What If with you. 

Reed Kelly: All right. I hate the What If game! Oh, it”s murder. But let's do it.

HitFix: Sorry, sorry. I like people to put on their imaginary thinking caps.

Reed Kelly: I live in my imaginary thinking cap. That”s the problem. All right. Let”s do it.

HitFix: Okay. So how does the game progress if Keith doesn”t say “Stick to the plan”? What is sort of your path to the million dollars if Keith keeps his mouth shut in that moment?

Reed Kelly: Okay. There were so many different strategies I had for that. Let”s see, obviously Jon goes home. Jon is gone. Then I have to go home and I have to reassess. Like I have to get back to camp and take people”s temperature essentially and see where Jaclyn is. Like how does she fall? Is it gonna be one of those things where I look at her and be like, “Alright girl, you took out my boo, now I took out yours. Now let”s work together.” You know, that was something that I was toying with in my mind because Jaclyn and I really did connect well out there. Our games never really lined up in the version that happened but I felt like Jaclyn and I could have worked together and I would have liked to have gone to the Final Three with her. I think it would have been great to sit next to her. I mean if I was taking someone else to the final three it would have been great to sit next to Baylor too, to get down to that. So really for me the strategy changes from moment to moment but it would definitely have to be going back and figuring out, “Aright, am I going to continue working with Keith, Wes and Alec right now or am I gonna make something else happen?” Because what was awesome – you don”t really see it because twice I basically had my own alliance vote for me, but they were actually really loyal – Keith, Wes and Alec. So they were really great to work with. They were so unpredictable though, Dan, because they couldn”t keep a secret, they would run their mouths and stuff so that was really, really frustrating to work with. But we worked well together so I don”t know. I was taking it like literally one day at a time out there. So that”s as What If as I can get with that I think right now.

HitFix: Going off that idea of loyalty, you felt like your alliance was loyal but how did you feel when you sort of looked at the component pieces of that alliance? How comfortable did you feel with working with Wes, with Alec and with Keith out there?

Reed Kelly: Oh, I was never comfortable with it, but you have to play with the cards you”re dealt and Josh obviously felt comfortable with them or made it work. And so I had to continue on with that because at that point that was kind of the cards that were on the table to work with. So was I comfortable with it? No, I mean, I love Natalie. Natalie and I got along really well. Day One we were gonna work together and then that didn”t pan out but yeah, there were probably other people that I would have preferred to work with but, you know, what you prefer and what actually happens are two vastly different things out there Dan.

HitFix: Okay, the conversation that led to the stick to the plan Keith comment, you were sort of prodding Keith out there. In retrospect did you push him too hard?

Reed Kelly: You know here”s the thing. I have to step farther back from that. Before we went to Tribal I said, “Keith, Wes, I have to come at you at Tribal Council tonight in order to make this believable to the majority alliance. So no matter what happens do not get spooked. We will make this happen. It”s going to be amazing. We just need to stick to the plan and it”ll be fine.” And Keith was like, “Roger that Reed,” you know? And apparently my acting was just a little too good or something because it did. He got spooked and then you saw what happened. So I don”t feel like there was much more that I could have done because literally told them that I was going to do that. So I mean what else can I say? So did I push too hard? Apparently yes looking back in retrospect, but when you tell somebody that you”re going to push like that, you'd think that they would understand what was happening. So that”s frustrating because yes, of course, now I look at them like, “Well I shouldn”t have said that.” But had I not said that, Dan, the majority of the majority alliance was not fully on board in that moment. I could tell and that”s why I had to speak up.

HitFix: Is that one of those circumstances where the second the words come out of his mouth you know you”re screwed or did it slowly dawn on you?

Reed Kelly: Oh, over. Absolutely over. It was done. You know I literally wanted to light myself on fire in that moment. I was like, “Oh, the best laid plans!”

HitFix: Was there not any point at which you were sort of hoping, “Okay, maybe Jon didn”t get that…. Maybe he missed that comment…”

Reed Kelly: Dan, I mean we had some dimwitted players in our season but I think everyone caught that. There was no missing it. And then on top of it, you know, this goes back and back and back because it actually I started working on this prior to the Jeremy blindside. So there was still much that went into all this that you just don”t see, but it was just one of those things. And then Natalie, Natalie kind of knew about the plan for us to take out Jon that night and once that happened she panicked. Once Keith said, “Stick with the plan,” she panicked and told Jon to play his idol.

HitFix: On the episode where you actually went out Jaclyn expressed shock or feigned shock that she and Jon were once again the swing votes. Now do you view that as being a positive reflection of their game play or was it a negative reflection on all the rest of you guys that you didn”t stop that from happening every week?

Reed Kelly: Dan it”s not for lack of trying. I mean interesting. Sometimes dynamics just develop and sometimes they become a little bit of a juggernaut. I don”t think it was by their design that it happened. But I think they were able to capitalize on it while it was taking place. So yes, absolutely you have moments where you”re like, “We need to split these people up,” but you have to prioritize and for me after Josh went out I was like, “Okay Reed, there”s no one else to hide behind. It”s you. You have to figure this out.” And so what you saw was I went through Keith”s bag. I found a Hidden Immunity Idol instructions and it basically looked like I was going after Keith through that whole episode. But I think that was because they wanted to save the blindsides for America because they knew it was going to be so splashy. But what happened was I pulled aside Missy and Jaclyn and Baylor and I really wanted Jon to be there but he was unavailable at that point and so I said, “You guys, here”s the deal. We have two options right now – an average 'Survivor' play or an epic 'Survivor' play.” And Missy was like, “Well what”s the average play?” And I was like, “We go after Keith, we flush the Idol and we don”t have to worry about that anymore.” And she”s like, “Well what”s the epic 'Survivor' play?” And I said, “We pretend we”re going after Keith. Maybe we could potentially get him to play the Idol if he”ll finally play it and we take out Jeremy in the process.” And I think in that moment that really appealed to Missy”s desire to want to be involved in all these big moves. And so they were down and they were down to do it and I said, “Jaclyn, you need to convey this to Jon. Will he be down with this?” And she”s like, “Absolutely. I”ll talk to him.” And so Missy then asked me, she said, “Alright, what about your alliance? What do we do with them? Where are they voting?” And I wanted to make sure that no one on the majority alliance felt panicky about getting votes. So I said, “Listen, just tell them to vote for me. They”ll do it because they don”t want to upset the apple cart. They don”t want to go out so they'll go with me, or they”ll go with voting for me.” And Missy was like, “Okay, great. I”ll tell Natalie.” And I was like, “You can”t tell Natalie, Missy.” And she”s like, “What do you mean? Why not?” And I said, “If you tell Natalie she”s gonna tell Jeremy and this is gonna blow up in our faces.” And she”s like, “Okay,” and she said, “Well who are they supposed to be voting for then?” And I said, “We can make this very believable and say that we”re going after Keith because we want to take him out because we want him to go home with an Idol in his pocket. So just put the pressure on Keith during Tribal.” And I said, “Jaclyn, can you do that? Can you and Jon pick a fight with Keith and Wesley during Tribal.” And so that”s why you saw that take place is that all of a sudden they”re randomly like picking on Keith. Well that was so we could get Jeremy and Natalie to believe that we were actually going after Keith. 

So it was a lot of stuff that was taking place that you just don”t get the opportunity to see. And then the moment I got back to you to camp that night after the Jeremy blindside happened I already was trying to think, “How do I continue to prolong my game? Hey, you guys, this is so great. We have an easy vote next time. We”ll just split the vote between Keith and Wes and we can take care of the Idol and we don”t have to worry about it.” So the moment I got back I was already spinning the game for the next three days. So it was a good six or seven days for me of no sleep and running numbers constantly.

HitFix: Talk about the difference in gameplay between the first couple of weeks when it looked like you were sort of under the radar and you didn”t have to be as aggressive in your game play versus those last seven days when you had to be as frantic as clearly you did?

Reed Kelly: Yeah absolutely. I mean it”s so different because you start running out of places to hide and there”s only so long you can be like, “Hey, look at that person, they”re terrible” or distracting. There”s only so much sleight of hand you can do when you get so deep into the game. So yeah, I really had to fly under the radar for the earlier part of the game and apparently the only thing I ever talked about in confessionals was food. Like, “Really? I talked about strategy but that”s all we”re seeing. All right. Apparently nobody can describe food like I can.” But yeah, once you get that deep into the game you just have to start playing and hope that the people around you respect that you”re playing.

HitFix: Now did you expect that you were gonna find yourself having to be a relationship counselor out there and what in retrospect do you think you could have done to have made things better for Jon and Jaclyn so that you could have stuck around?

Reed Kelly: Dan, I feel like a huge portion of my game was just trying to placate Jon and Jaclyn. Like a huge part of my game was like, “Hey you guys good? Okay, we”re good. Are you sure you guys are good? Do you want to talk about stuff with each other?” Like I felt like I did that so much out there. So I don”t know how much more I could have done. It was really frustrating for me because I feel like when you give me the chance to talk about stuff I can present really logical arguments for something, but what the fight did was it completely distracted them from what was taking place in the game and shut down communication. And when there”s no communication I can”t spin my game. So that was a huge problem for me and it was really frustrating because they literally were not speaking to one another. So I tried to, you know, zhuzh things along and Jon and I talked about his feelings and Jaclyn and I talked about her feelings. And then finally you saw it in the episode I was like, “I get you guys are upset with each other right now but I”m gonna go home if you guys don”t talk to one another.” But there was really not a whole lot else I could do at that point.

HitFix: At Tribal Council Jeff said that the feuding and feelings were what make Blood versus Water so interesting. But from your point of view, looking back at that stuff being responsible to some degree for sending you out, what are your thoughts about what Blood versus Water does to pure “Survivor”?

Reed Kelly: You know, Dan, I”m a super-fan, so getting out there and having so much focus on relationships and, you know, Jon and Missy having this weird mother/son relationship and Joh and his girlfriend having fights and stuff, it was really frustrating because it really interferes with some of the strategy out there. However, I do know from being a fan of the game that Jeff says every season, “You make your own rules,” and so that is the dynamic that we were playing in. So you have to kind of mold yourself to what you”re playing. But yes, when it comes down to playing a game that”s just straight “Survivor” or playing a game that”s Blood versus Water I think I would opt strategy wise for just, you know, a balls-to-the-wall straight game versus Blood versus Water.

HitFix: Well ultimately if “Survivor” were to be all, “Oh, we can only bring back Reed or we can only bring back Josh,” which one of you guys do you think is better suited for a non Blood versus Water game of “Survivor”?

Reed Kelly: Ummm… Duh, it”s me Dan. [He laughs.] You know honestly I feel like it”s interesting because Josh and I, our story arcs took off at different points in the season but I think we”re both entirely capable of being really good in a traditional game of “Survivor.” And yeah, I think we would both make good TV. I think we”re different but I think we”re both very strong players. So I think it”s much of a muchness. I think we would both have a lot to bring to the game and I think the fans would probably really enjoy it too.

HitFix: And just a last question. Regarding that last Reward challenge, talk a bit about your horses and whether or not you regret the whole, “Oh I have 12 horses back at home” comment.

Reed Kelly: Well here”s the thing. It”s so funny because it came off looking so douchey. [I laugh.] It did! I was like, “Oh, Reed, that looks terrible.” But the thing that we kind of didn”t see was that we were kind of bantering back and forth a lot with Jeff on the reasons why. You know, Alec was saying this and I was saying that. Like, “We don”t need to go…” because for this reason and that reason. So we”d been doing a lot of that like making up reasons why we didn”t want to go on the reward. So I kind of thought because it looks like I was just being a total douchebag right there. So do I regret it? No, because that wasn”t really the context that I felt it was set in but, I mean, do I regret the way it looked in the edit? Absolutely. [He laughs.]

Other “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur” exit interviews:
Wes Nale
Jeremy Collins
Josh Canfield
Julie McGee
Dale Wentworth
Kelley Wentworth
Drew Christy
John Rocker
Val Collins
Nadiya Anderson

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