Interview: Yung ‘Woo’ Hwang talks ‘Survivor: Cagayan’

Martial arts instructor Yung “Woo” Hwang hoped that his integrity would be worth a million dollars in last week's “Survivor: Cagayan” finale.

After a relatively uneventful 38 days in the game, Woo scored a key victory in the season's Final Immunity Challenge, which left him to decide whether he wanted to go to the Final Jury against Kass, presumably easily beatable, or Tony. Although there was the sense that Tony had played this season's most aggressive game, Woo made the surprising decision to take his Brawn alliance-mate to the end. Or perhaps it was BECAUSE there was a sense that Tony had played the season's most aggressive game. 

Put in position to make a game-changing decision for the first time this season, Woo decided he wanted to rest his laurels on Honor, taking Tony because Tony deserved to go to the end and Kass didn't, or so he said. 

After some signs of bitterness at the Final Tribal, the Jury ended up agreeing with Woo's opinion, but not his strategy and, by a vote of 8-1, they gave Tony the Sole Survivor status. 

In his exit interview, Woo discusses his slight surprise at Tony's margin-of-victory, his possible social failings and the highlight of his season, a Reward win that included bringing school supplies to local children.

Click through for the full Q&A…

HitFix: So I guess my first question is you had to expect the Jury vote last night to be a bit closer than that, didn”t you?

Woo: I did. I did. And I don”t know. As a viewer what did you think, Dan? Like at Tribal Council you hear these comments being thrown at Tony and you just feel like Woo could run away with this. So I thought I was in a good position and I really thought my decision to take Tony was about to pay off.

HitFix: Well if I had asked you yesterday afternoon, what would you have predicted the vote was going to be?

Woo: Man, that”s a tough one. Because, you know you”re taking a player who played the best game to the end, but you”re also taking a player who has a kind of blood on his hands and has taken advantage of a lot of the Jury members” trust and use it to the betterment of his game. In that light, they were all fooled at one time by Tony. So keeping Tony, it”s, “Wow. What a gutsy call!” But in my eyes and going to Tribal Council and hearing Tony speak, the reactions that you see off of the Jury member”s faces is how you base your decision on who to pick. And whenever Tony would open his mouth just to see the reaction on LJ's face, Jefra's face, Morgan's face, Sarah”s face. Gosh, you could see that everyone on that Jury just cringed every time he would say something. So I”m thinking, “Okay. He”s not liked at all and yeah, they enjoyed his game, but, they were fooled once by him and my thought process was there”s no way that they”re gonna fooled twice by actually voting for him. I was wrong. I trusted Tony and he played a good game and congrats to him.

HitFix: Do you think that Spencer”s closing statements made any actual impact?

Woo: [He laughs.] I”m sure it didn”t help my cause at all but, I”m pretty confident that those guys came in to Final Tribal Council with a decisive decision on who they wanted to claim the Sole Survivor. So did it help? No. Do I wish I got a chance to say something after he said that? Yes. But what are you gonna do? That”s yesterday”s news. I've gotta I look forward now, I speak to Spencer and, you know, I want to put him in that little chokehold but, you know, he”s a good guy. He”s such a… what a wonderful person and his whole journey and run through this game was very admirable and, you know, hats off to Spencer for going through the worst  and managing to come out and succeed in his game like that. He did what he needed to do and as a superfan, I thought that he would respect the fact that I would take Tony and not take someone who's not deserving, like Kass. But he made that closing statement that didn”t help me any, but Spencer and I we”re still close. We're gonna go surf this weekend. I look forward to taking him out and seeing him get pounded by a couple waves. That should be enough to lighten the mood a little bit. 

HitFix: Jeff Probst mentioned this on the show last night that your body language at the live show did not seem particularly happy. Could you have done without the sort of show of hands on the “million dollar mistake.”

Woo: Yeah, absolutely. You know, when Jeff closes at the commercial break saying, So did Woo make a million dollar mistake?” What a dagger. And with the show of hands, “Who would have voted for Woo?” And you don”t even need to turn around. You can see the hands, fell the vibration of those hands and you just knew it on the back of your neck, everyone raising their hands. It”s a lonely journey. I mean your life. The cameras on the stage. Your parents are there. But you”ve got to be a man, because everything you do in life, whether it”s good or bad, will dictate your future. So assume that, respect it, understand it and embrace it. Understand that life does go on. Life”s a wave. You ride it. The wave will end in seconds. Turn around and paddle back out, get ready to try for the next one.

HitFix: Now a lot of people who I talked to after their eliminations, they said that they didn”t dislike you but that they didn”t know you well enough. That you sort of kept to yourself or kept to Tony and your alliance. Did you feel like that was a mistake you maybe made out there, not sort of getting enough of the people on the Jury to like you as it were?

Woo: Right. So, you know, when I got called to play this game I had ideas of how I wanted to play. Of course you want to go in there and make a strong statement. But, you know, being outside of the game, I'm a very interactive, I'm very social. And, you know, I”ll be candid with you. A lot of times I like to be in the center of attention. I knew that if I were to do that in this game, that would just wreak havoc and would play not a very, it wouldn”t be very advantageous for me to be myself going into this game. So when you see me on the show and I keep to myself, my gameplay was to ride as far as I can without being noticed too much, to be discreet. Do not put yourself on limelight, not do anything to draw too much attention towards yourself. And yet at the end of the day, I thought it took me very far. It took me to the Final 2. But yeah, maybe being a little more open and… Yeah, being more open and allowing these people to see who I really was. You see who I am in that Reward Challenges. That”s who I am. That”s who I love to be. I wish I would have been a little bit more like that with the rest of the castaways.

HitFix: And I do actually want to talk about that a little bit later. But first, you obviously saw some of Tony”s maneuvering and manipulations out there but how much of what you saw on TV these past couple of months was still a surprise to you?

Woo: I knew he was doing it. He”d be the first guy to tell me that he was gonna make these moves. There”s no surprise.  Even when he made up that story about LJ wanting to vote me off, he could could have came up to me and said, “Woo, “LJ's got to go” and I would have been up for it immediately. During the Swap, I wanted LJ gone. I”d put his name down on that card to get them out. I walked up to Tony that day. I said, “Yo Tony, what”s up. You know, good. LJ's got to go. He said 'Yep, absolutely.” Trish, Cliff, Lindsey, we were all on-board. So, you know I wanted him out pretty early. He”s a perfect social guy, perfect athlete, great with puzzles, he needed to go.

HitFix: Okay, so having seen Tony actually sort of lie to you about that when he could have just, you know, come up to you and told you what he wanted, did it sort of give you any second thoughts about the loyalty that you showed him?

Woo: No, He was playing the game hard, he playing the game. And, at the end of the day, yeah maybe he wasn”t as loyal to me as I was to him, but I stick with what I know best. If your question is did it bother me that he lied to me about LJ his loyalty to me. No, it”s a game and he made it pretty clear pre-game and during the game that he was gonna do everything he could to better his game. So, no, no hard feelings.

HitFix: Now you had that early alliance with Cliff and to a lesser degree Lindsey. Did you feel like you were more yourself when you were in that alliance more sort of Real World Woo?

Woo: The early part of the game, it was very nice. I was in a fun position, a good position.  I had an alliance with Tony, an alliance with Cliff. And so being able to have those actions was great. I felt like, for the most part they all saw me as the Wuiet Woo. I didn”t really open up too much even with Cliff. I didn't want to get too excited. Like, “Man. The guy's my hero. He's someone I looked up to as a basketball figure all my life,” so it”s all about just being calm, cool and collected and just keeping myself under control as much as I could.

HitFix: And is there sort of in your mind is there a different version of the game where you keep with that Cliff and Lindsey alliance and you don”t go with Tony and Trish?

Woo: You know, when Sarah decided to go with Tony, look at the numbers. It”s in Tony”s alliance's favor. And if they”re coming up to me proposing we either blindside Cliff or, you know, anything, you”ve got to make the right decision. You”ve got to go with the majority of the alliance. At that point when they wanted Cliff off and they wanted to blindside Cliff, I kept my allegiance to those guys until he was voted off. But I kept those options open and I was considering everything that they were saying because that's the majority and the only way you”re gonna get through this game is with the majority of the alliance. 

HitFix: And first a sort of somewhat negative question. Trish was the only person who told me anything negative about you and she said that you were a weasel and that she couldn”t say why. Do you know what she was talking about?

Woo: You know what? When I see that comment from Trish, maybe it”s because I wasn”t as open as I would like to be. Being out in this game, man, it's so cray. Every you say and do will dictate everything. So you”re very careful in whatever you do and say, you”ve got to do it and think before you do things. That was the toughest thing for me. I'm a very energetic person and I kinda do things with lots of emotions a lot of times.  But if she called me a weasel, maybe it's because I wasn”t as open with her. But through the course of the game, we got a good chance to know each other after the swap and I'm sure her feelings towards me were a little different.

HitFix: And so talk a little bit about that experience at the school because I do think that a lot of people thought that that was your best episode of the season. Talk about that experience and what it tells us about Woo.

Woo: How wonderful was that, my friend? Not only do I get a chance to play such an amazing game, now I get a chance to be an ambassador for an awesome, awesome game like “Survivor.” Not only am I representing myself, I represent CBS, the “Survivor” family and to give back to the Philippines? They have been so grateful and hospitable with us coming to their country and playing this amazing game, for me to give back, just a little, to me was, that was a million dollars to me right there. Just to see the reactions on these kids' faces and driving up to that courtyard and seeing the small, run-down village and walking into these classrooms where they have one chalk for one teacher for 15 students, one calculator. And to give all of those essential tools for a young person to let those kids better their education and give back in that way? Hopefully, one day they'll remember that. It's a beautiful thing. That I was able to go on that trip, to me that was hands-down my favorite experience on “Survivor.”

More “Survivor: Cagayan” exit interviews:
Kass McQuillen
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