Zane Knight was the first contestant voted out on “Survivor: Philippines,” but the 28-year-old Virginia compares himself to a DeLorean.
“You can make a bunch of cars and nobody’ll know who you are, or you can make that one and they’ll always remember you,” Zane told me on Thursday morning following a “Survivor” elimination that was both swift and memorable.
Zane initially drew attention in the season premiere by making alliances with every member of his Matsing tribe and then by having those alliances outed behind his back. But it wasn’t double (or quintuple) dealing that did Zane in.
No. Matsing lost the season-opening Immunity Challenge and Zane, whose physical liabilities were at least partially responsible, immediately announced to his tribe that he was prepared to go. There was sufficient warmth for Zane that members of his tribe soon came to him and practically introduced the idea of voting out returning player Russell. Zane subtly pushed that idea with the added conspiratorial element of the suggestion that Russell might have an Immunity Idol. The plan, which would have been one of the most peculiar strategic reversals of fortune in “Survivor” history, very nearly worked before Matsing decided to give Russell a reprieve at Tribal Council.
Was the move brilliant? Well, no. It didn’t work. Was it audacious? Absolutely and it contributed to a mighty entertaining season-opener.
In his exit interview, Zane discusses what went wrong with his strategy, why returning players mess with the pure “Survivor” game and why this is still his season.
HitFix: So first off: From your point of view, is it better to have a long run on “Survivor” and have nobody remember you or to go out first, but have people talking about you the next morning?
Zane Knight: [Laughs] I think you kinda just answered it yourself. It’s kinda like DeLorean, man. You can make a bunch of cars and nobody’ll know who you are, or you can make that one and they’ll always remember you. My biggest thing is that if America’s talking about it and America wants it, maybe you get to see a little bit more of me, know what I mean?
HitFix: Talk me through what made you decide to put your head on the chopping block coming back from that first challenge…
Zane: It’s like in life, this game. You’re not promised tomorrow. Ain’t none of us promised tomorrow. So why pile up a bunch of stuff for tomorrow if it might not come. You know? You just come on out both barrels, give ’em what you’ve got, play the game the best way you can and if it works out it, it works out and if it don’t, you’ve just gotta find something else.
HitFix: Was it always your plan to put yourself in that position early? Or was that just what ended up happening because of how you performed in that challenge?
Zane: Believe it or not, when we lost the challenge and Jeff threw up his hands, when I [willed?] the top of my head, that’s when it came to me. From Day One, I said “No celebrities.” If you get a celebrity, get rid of them, because they know too much. And in this game, you watch celebrities run a game based solely on being returning players. See what I mean? Coach did it. I’ve seen Russell do it. It’s just the way that this game works. They trust you because you’ve already been there. So, like I said, I was going after Russ from Day One. That’s the reason why, as soon as we got there, I started listening to him and I started listening to what he was saying and watching what he was doing. I was the one that was swimming and saw him messing with the clue. I didn’t know at the time that it was a clue, but I knew he was doing something. I knew something was going on. Know what I mean? So after after that moment, I decided. I was like, “OK. This is my moment right here.” And as soon as we got back to camp, Russ started talking and I knew that was the moment. Cut him off. Throw yourself down. They’ll respect you for it and you’ll lock ’em in. Know what I mean? I think what got me was telling Russ and Malcolm that I had an alliance with the chicks, know what I mean?
HitFix: You seemed pretty convinced, though, at Tribal Council that your plan had worked, right?
Zane: Oh yeah. I had it locked down. I had no thought in my mind that I was leaving.
HitFix: So what happened? It wasn’t exactly clear from what aired last night what the turning point was…
Zane: You did get to see the turning point. I came in kinda cocky and I thought I had it locked down and Russ threw himself at the mercy of the court, basically. “Give me one more chance. I won’t be like that anymore at challenges. I have so much to give this tribe.” Know what I’m saying? So I think they just thought about it for a second and he won them over. He was a little more convincing than I was, I guess.
HitFix: You figure it was just a Tribal Council decision entirely?
Zane: Yes. By watching what I saw on TV, I think that they really had it in their hearts that Russ was a dictator and they were going to get rid of Russ and then when we got got to Tribal and everybody starting airing their grievances and everybody started talking, I think that’s when Russ pulled ’em back and they were like, “You know, maybe the dude can bring something to the table. Let’s hold on.”
HitFix: As a student of the game and someone who’s watched the game before, do you think the tribe made the right decision in voting you out and keeping Russell?
Zane: Of course not! This is my season! I ain’t trying to sound cocky or big-headed, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody come in and make a mark off of one show. My Facebook, had to cut the computer off. I thought the computer was gonna break from so many comments coming in people saying, “Oh my God! I can’t believe you’re gone” or “I can’t believe that you’re not there. I’m not even gonna watch anymore of this season.” Hindsight’s always 20/20, but if I could do it again, maybe I would have done a little more groundwork.
HitFix: What would that have meant?
Zane: Like I said, the comment I made to Russell and Malcolm about having alliances with the other ones, I think that kinda made me distrustworthy. They were like, “Well, if he’s already talking to them, ain’t no telling what he’s talking about us.” Like I said, I was a little too cocky, man. I came in not *thinking* that I had it locked, but *knowing* that I had them all in line. That’s what this game does. You never know who’s talking to who or who’s saying what. For my plan to have worked, I would have had to have watched each and every one of them the whole time and you can’t do that. Somebody’s gonna sneak off to go get firework. Somebody’s gonna go get water. Somebody’s gonna go to the bathroom. Know what I mean? People have conversations and people decide what they want.
HitFix: As you’ve said, you made alliances with everybody. You were only out there for a few days, but which of those alliances did you feel were real? Which do you think could have actually taken you far in the game?
Zane: All of them! The only one that I was ever worried about, and I don’t really want to say “worried,” was Denise, because Denise seemed like… It kinda felt like, to me, everybody that I was talking to, I was feeling them out, I was breaking them down, I was understanding what they were about. But from the beginning with Denise, she felt like she was eying me, know what I mean? I never felt like I had control of Denise. I always felt like she might have something up her sleeve.
HitFix: You talked about the celebrity aspect and how people tend to go with the returning players. Do you think it made a difference having Russell, in particular, on your tribe? Would it have been different if you’d had Mike or Jonathan?
Zane: No. I don’t think it would have been any different. It’s like putting four letters behind your name, the four letters being B-O-S-S. After you obtain that stature in your mind, where you know you want things a certain way and you know how to do ’em because you’ve already done ’em that way, it’s an elder-type-thing. And you had a lot of young folks on this show and so it would have been the same way with any of them. I would have never tried to listen to what they were saying, because I’m steadily thinking about how to get rid of you.
HitFix: As a “Survivor” fan, do you sort of miss the games without the returning players? Do you miss the pure game of “Survivor”?
Zane: I do. I completely miss that. And was the coolest thing about this season. “Survivor” really got back back to work with this year. You’ve got a lot of awesome castmembers who have never played this game before. And even the celebrity sense of it — Lisa Whelchel and Jeff Kent — they’re celebrities, but they’re still newbies to “Survivor.” I would rather see a whole season of celebrities. Put George Clooney on there! But when you bring another “Survivor” back, that’s dangerous, man. That’s a completely different thing.
HitFix: Talk a bit about the physical conditioning aspect of it. Obviously you must have known it was going to be a bit of an issue, but did you think it was going to be that big of a problem that early?
Zane: What big of a problem? I hung in with them old boys. I got a little tired at the end, Russ had to pull me a little bit, but we were being pretty good, I thought. The smoking thing I definitely would have rethought. I think I smoked my last cigarette leaving Raleigh-Durham at the airport. We had a layover and so they said, “You have about 45 minutes before the plane takes off.” Well buddy, I took off and smoked me half a pack of cigarettes, know what I mean? So I definitely would have given myself a little bit bigger of a buffer than 12 hours. But I’ve been like that since I was a kid, man. I feel like that’s the best way to live life. If you overthink something or if you put too much into something, you’re still not promised what you’re gonna get out of it. So why let it kill you? You’ve got these people out here working out 10, 12 hours a day? I’m at work. If I’m gonna sweat for eight hours, you’re gonna pay me for it. I’m lying to you. I’m sorry. The last day that I was here, I got nervous and so I ran for about 45 minutes. And then after that, I went on back to the house. Know what I mean? I feel like “Survivor” is a social game and I feel like it’s more of a social game than it is a physical game. If anything, I feel like I showed y’all that, with myself short time on “Survivor.” was that you ain’t gotta have a six-pack. You don’t have to be able to run a mile in 28 seconds. You ain’t gotta be able to swim 10 miles without getting out of breath. If you just come in there and tell these people what to do and they trust you enough to let you do it, that’s the game, buddy. Like I said… If I… And I’m not saying that I ever will… It would be a really awesome thing to get to do it again, but if they ever let me do it again, I can bet your ass it won’t go down like that.
HitFix: So how would it go down?
Zane: The first time you’re in, you’re so new to everything and you’re away from your family and you’re missing your wife and don’t have enough food and this, that and the other. The second time you go in, you know exactly what to expect. You know exactly how you’re gonna feel and you know exactly how to run it. And, like I said, I think that’s the most dangerous thing about returning players: They come in with that tenacity. “I’ve already lost one shot. I already did this one time and let somebody take it away from me. This time, it’s mine.” Know what I mean?
Stay tuned for more “Survivor: Philippines” exit interviews as the season progresses.