Two weeks of exit interview insanity — Nine interviews between “Amazing Race” and “Survivor” — comes to a conclusion with my chat with “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” winner Tyson Apostol.
You can certainly put Tyson in a category with John Cochran, Jonathan Penner and Malcolm Freberg among the “Survivor” contestants who I always like talking to. He’s smart, caustic and, after three times playing the game, he gets “Survivor.”
That wasn’t always the case. In “Tocatins,” he was an amusing quote machine, but he was also upstaged by the scenery chewing Coach. He came out less aggressively in “Heroes vs. Villains” and seemed to be playing a wiser game, right up until he broke with a Tribal Council vote-splitting scheme and effectively eliminated himself.
In “Blood vs. Water,” Tyson had to deal with the emotion of watching his girlfriend Rachel get eliminated early, but he soon joined forces with Gervase and then Monica to form a tight alliance that cleared out the competition on the way to the Final 3. In addition to that alliance, Tyson also found and used — not necessarily with any value — two Hidden Immunity Idols and, as the season was ending, won the last two Immunity Challenges. He won the final Jury vote by a commanding 7-1 margin.
In this funny and wide-ranging exit interview, Tyson talks about his relief at the lack of Jury anger, the shoulder injury that plagued his early game, his attempts to avoid trash-talking and why he couldn’t resist lecturing Hayden on proper terminology.
It’s a good Q&A. Click through for the whole thing.
[This interview was preceded by the publicist putting me through to Tyson, who promptly announced, “IT’S MONICA!”]
HitFix: [Laughing.] Hey Tyson, how you doing?
Tyson Apostol: Good! How ’bout you? Did you really believe that this was Monica?
HitFix: Actually, I just had a very fine chat with her, so I wasn’t so fooled.
Tyson: Oh, OK. Dangit! I did not know that. Now I look like an idiot.
HitFix: Well, it was possible that she still had some things she wanted to say.
Tyson: Yeah. She did. She’s like, “Call that young man Dan back up. And I will give him a piece of my mind, after I pull myself up by my bootstraps.”
HitFix: [Laughing.] OK. So last night’s vote. How ticked off are you that Vytas ruined your shutout?
Tyson: Ah, I don’t care. Should I care?
HitFix: I don’t know! I can’t say how invested you are in keeping the clean sheet, preserving the shutout.
Tyson: Oh, I think everybody knows and it doesn’t matter, because he ruined my shutout on both counts. No. Wait. Two people wrote my name down throughout the game. Because a clean shutout is nobody votes for you the entire game and then you receive all the Jury votes in the end.
HitFix: So no hard feelings?
Tyson: No, none at all. Vytas is a sweetheart.
HitFix: You can always tell a lot of about a “Survivor” season from the tone of the Jury at Final Tribal. Was the tone what you expected?
Tyson: Heck no! I thought they were so mad at me. You even saw how Hayden in that episode was like, “If those three get to the end, I’m voting for Jeff.” That’s pretty much the vibe I got from the Jury the entire time. I’d make another move and I’d look over at them and they’d all be scowling and they would refuse to make eye contact with me and I was like, “Well. Whatever. I’m getting to Day 39 and I’m eating that break.”
HitFix: When you got to the Jury, was there a point at which you recognized that they weren’t as angry as you might have dreaded and you realized that you had this in the bag?
Tyson: Yeah. Yeah. Most of the people’s comments were really positive toward me. Even Vytas was like, “You played a hell of a game, but I am a man of my word and I never once lied or cheated or manipulated in this game, so I have to stay true to my word.” And then Aras got up and was like, “You guys pitch one of the other two as the winner” and Gervase went off for like 10 minutes about how rad my game was and then Monica did the same and then I gave like a 10 second spiel on Monica and I was like, “You guys are just helping me win this entire thing.”
HitFix: The one person who seemed to have hostility to you, relatively speaking, was Katie. Had you anticipated that that was gonna come up at Tribal?
Tyson: Yeah, the only thing that I had hoped was that she was in so much shock on the evening that she forgot I had said anything to her. In fairness, if I were playing Monopoly with my family, I would treat somebody the same way. I enjoy a good trash-talking, but it’s not everybody’s cup of tea and on “Survivor,” especially, to rub salt in the wound like that, it is a little harsh. So I recognized my mistake and I thought, “OK, I definitely don’t have Katie’s vote. Tina’s not gonna vote for me because of Katie. That’s two.” Doing the math in my head, it was hard to come up with what the outcome would be.
HitFix: So there were periods you had doubts?
Tyson: Not at the end. Not afterwards, but going it to it thinking about Katie. Even after Katie sat down, I was pretty sure that I had won her over with what I had said to her.
HitFix: I know that you didn’t like being thought of as the “villain” after your first season, that you just viewed it as having played a strategic game and so you took exception to that title in “Heros vs. Villains.” How frustrating was it to hear the v-word surface at the end of this season?
Tyson: Oh, I didn’t care. I never cared. I thought being a villain was fun. It’s funny. The villains are the love-or-hate characters. They’re not America’s Hero. I don’t claim to be America’s Hero, either. But they’re the people that you either really love or you really hate. There’s people that don’t particularly enjoy or understand my brand of humor or my snarky comments and they can enjoy Rupert instead. That’s on them. If Rupert’s their favorite and I’m not, then that’s fine with me.
HitFix: Do you think that with each of your subsequent times playing you’ve tweaked your behavior or persona?
Tyson: You know, I think in “Heroes vs. Villains,” had I not flopped my vote, I would have played a similar game to this. I really made it a point to communication with everybody as much as I could and at least be personable. It’s hard when you are up numbers and people are going against you to just bite your tongue and not give them too much sass. That was something that I worked on a lot and always was like, “OK, I want to trash-talk these guys, but I know it’s not gonna go over well. So I’ll just let Gervase do it.” And he did a beautiful job.
HitFix: How did you decide the moments when you couldn’t just bite your tongue, when you couldn’t resist twisting the knife. I’m thinking about that Immunity Challenge when you took the food instead of doing the challenge. You put in very little effort to resist trash-talk there. [Tyson laughs.]
Tyson: I had heard my name had been brought up, so I thought, “I have to insure that everyone hates me enough to vote for me, so that when I play my Idol, it’s worth it.” And then nobody still voted for me. It’s ridiculous, dude! But I got that sweet meal out of it and it was my birthday.
HitFix: So that was just theater positioning yourself for a big shocking move at that Tribal?
Tyson: Yeah, I felt that at seven I needed to play the Idol, because they would be unwise to not try getting rid of me and the only way to get people to vote for me was to be as asinine as possible. So I kinda taunted people a little bit and I really thought that people would be gunning for me and then it ended up that they weren’t really. I was shocked when I saw the smoke and nobody voted for me. I was like, “Every voted exactly how they told me they were going to vote. That doesn’t happen on ‘Survivor.'” Every single person was like, “This is how we’re voting.” And I was like, “OK. How are you voting?” And they’d tell me and I’d be like, “OK.” And then next person would come up and tell me and I was like, “Everybody sounds great. I don’t care. I’m playing my Idol.”
HitFix: OK. Does that speak to how well you were controlling everything out there or does that speak to how easily controlled the people you were playing with were?
Tyson: [Long pause.] OK, Dan. You’re gonna get me in trouble with this question, bro. If I tell you how awesome I am, people are gonna be pissed that I’m not humble and then if I tell you how easily manipulated the other contestants were, they’re gonna be pissed at me because finally there will be some validation to Hayden and Ciera’s lies about me saying Monica’s my lapdog.
Tyson: [Laughs.] Maybe a little bit of both, but I don’t think that the people I played with were pushovers at all. I think most of them were very intelligent and had a grasp of the game. A lot of them just made their moves or wanted to make their moves one or two Tribal Councils later than I got to them. A lot of that was keeping my ear to the ground and having relationships enough with everybody around me that I was getting the information I needed to make strategic decisions.
HitFix: You were doing a lot of biting your tongue at the last four or five Tribal Councils. But I’m sort of curious why certain things made you break. Why, for example, did “rustle” make you break?
Tyson: [Laughs.] Dude. The saying is “ruffle feathers.” Don’t piss me off, Dan!
HitFix: But why was *that* a moment you were unable to bite your tongue? Why was it essential to make sure that Hayden knew the correct saying?
Tyson: First of all, he said “rustle” like six times! And when somebody says something that’s incorrect that many times, it’s like talking to your friend with food in his teeth. You’ve gotta let that guy know, you know? So I was like, “Hayden. For the rest of your life, you’re gonna use ‘ruffle feathers’ and then people won’t laugh at you behind your back.” So first I felt I was doing him a service and then secondly, he had been on such a long rant that I had to get in there and break it up. It was so harmless that it didn’t come off as bad. If I would have raised my voice and yelled back at him, then I would have looked just as bad, or worse. So the fact that I was able to do it with a little bit of humor and really get the conversation just ground to a halt immediately, I think it was a wise move. Whether or not that was 100 percent my intention, I don’t really know. But I think mostly I was just like, “This guy is so heated right now and he said the wrong word and so this is the perfect time to correct him on his grammar.”
HitFix: Changing gear to the injury to your shoulder. How long was that actually impacting you out there?
Tyson: I would say it was about two weeks before I gained enough mobility to feel confident in most of the challenges. I couldn’t move it the entire rotation, like an entire swim stroke, for a lot longer than that, maybe three or four weeks, but definitely two weeks it was really, really tender and very little mobility.
HitFix: How do you think that benefitted you in terms of taking a target and moving it at least somewhat away from you?
Tyson: I really don’t think I used it to my advantage as much as I could have, because I didn’t want my tribe feel like I was helpless. I didn’t want them to think I was helpless, so I still participated in every challenge and I did a lot of physical stuff that I shouldn’t have even done with that shoulder, but I jumped in there and I tried to do it. I probably should have slacked off a little bit more and played up the injury more than I did, but it definitely helped for a while there, but I think there came a certain point where people didn’t necessarily forget about it, but people realized that having an injury like that wasn’t as detrimental as maybe they first thought when I got injured.
HitFix: Those last two challenges, you won Immunity when it was absolutely necessary. Was there a different effort that you put in on those two? Or did it just happen to be two challenges that were more Tyson-friendly, I guess?
Tyson: I think a little bit of both. I knew that I couldn’t come out of the gates super-strong and win challenges back to back to back to back, so I didn’t throw any challenges, but I don’t think I went into them with a full pump, so to speak. I didn’t go into them amped and adrenaline rushing and ready to go until it got down to then and that was the point where I was like, “OK. I have to win these.” I’ve always been a pretty good clutch player. I do better when it really matters, for the most part, so I think that was just that coming out, the adrenaline going and me being able to keep my focus and being calm and collected and be able to do it.
HitFix: Speaking of remaining calm and collected, because of Rachel there was this more emotion side to your game that we hadn’t seen the first two times…
Tyson: I’m sorry, Dan. I’m sorry you had to watch me cry on TV.
HitFix: Several times, actually.
Tyson: Yeah. I apologized, Dan! What more do you want?
HitFix: To what degree do you think that emotion made you a better “Survivor” player and at any point did you worry it might make you worse? That it might cause you to lose your focus?
Tyson: Yeah, I never was. It was emotional. I think a lot of it was Rachel and her leaving the game and me dragging her all the way out there only to have her last a week and then get voted out on my account. And then part of it was just that I’ve already had my heart broken by the game of “Survivor” twice before and to be out there and inch my way close to the end, it was one of those things where it was I like, “I can almost taste it, but not yet. And I know this is the point when the rug just gets yanked out from the guy in charge.” So I could kinda feel the game starting to crumble a little bit and I was just thinking… It’s hard. Definitely. It’s been five years coming for me since the first time that they had me on the show I focused on winning the game.
HitFix: So I guess the last question is pretty obvious: If you had the rug yanked out from under you twice and this time, no yanking, is this the end of your “Survivor” journey? Did you reach the point you want to reach and you’re done now?
Tyson: I think for the love of the game, if they wanted to have me back, I would come back. I’m not sending out audition videos. The game’s too much fun. The adventure, it’s hard to pass up a chance at a million dollars, but it’s even more than that. To me, it’s so liberating and there’s such an amount of freedom of just being out there and not having to deal with the daily doldrums of life, in general. That, in itself, is enough for me to play again. I may not go out on top if that’s my strategy, but there’s got to be some respect in playing past your prime, right?
HitFix: It always works out well.
Tyson: Well, who do you respect more: A pro athlete that retires on top or a pro athlete that takes a salary cut so he can play into his 40s?
HitFix: It depends. I suppose I’ve probably respected people on both sides.
Tyson: OK. Well, if they call me back, I’ll call you and find out which way you’re leaning as far as respect goes and we’ll go from there.
HitFix: Sounds like a plan, Tyson!
Other “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” Exit Interviews: