Caleb Reynolds only lasted nine days during Survivor: Kaoh Rong before being medically evacuated due to heat exhaustion after a reward challenge. As a member of the dominant Beauty tribe, Caleb never attended a single tribal council. We didn’t get much insight into Caleb’s strategies or alliances, but we do know that tribemate Julia Sokolowski was the first to point out that he was previously on Big Brother. Knowing that he was loyal on that show, Julia and the girls’ alliance approached Caleb to be their fourth vote. But having never attended tribal council as a tribe, Caleb’s loyalties to the women were never put to the test.
Inside Survivor reached out to Julia to get her thoughts on Caleb’s return to Survivor: Game Changers.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2016 while Survivor: Game Changers was still filming in Fiji.
1) Hey Julia, thanks again for doing this. You spent nine days with Caleb on Kaoh Rong. He seemed well liked by the tribe. Can you describe a little what it was like living with Caleb day to day? How was his personality?
I think I speak on behalf of my entire tribe by saying that Caleb was our shining star. Caleb has this energy that just draws you in; he is so fun to be around. I guess you could say it’s his Southern charm? Regardless, he is goofy, easy-going, and hard-working.
Caleb talked a lot about (his now wife) Ashley, and her daughter Kylie. He actually refused to sleep next to Michele, Anna or me in the shelter out of respect for her. It was evident to us from the beginning that he is family oriented. He values his relationships, which became especially clear to him after serving overseas.
He also is very passionate about God and in touch with his religion. I think this partly stems from being raised in Kentucky. He exudes Southern culture – for example, he was pretty unfamiliar with the ocean and most of the foods we ate out on the island, so it was fun for us to watch Caleb experience these things that were out-of-character for him. He definitely kept us entertained.
2) On the show, we saw you telling Anna and Michele that Caleb was on Big Brother. Had you watched Big Brother? What was your initial opinion of him? And did it change once playing with him?
It’s funny because I actually decided to start watching Big Brother immediately after I went through Survivor casting. It was December 2015, and I went home for Winter Break looking for a new television show to “binge-watch.” I had never seen the show before, but I started with the latest season (at the time), which was Big Brother 16 (Caleb’s season). I distinctly remember the challenge in which the houseguests held onto a rotating skewer while BBQ sauce poured down on them; I thought Caleb was a beast.
As many people do while watching a new show, I googled all the contestants to read about their backgrounds and check out their social media. I remember reading some articles on Caleb being racist and a homophobe (which is far from the truth). The other thing that stood out was, of course, his infatuation with Amber (another houseguest on Caleb’s season).
Right before we flew out to Cambodia and I saw Caleb was cast (he was not in my casting), I freaked out thinking that he would probably be a piece of work. He introduced himself on Big Brother as a “metrosexual cowboy,” which for someone like me, who comes from the Northeast, is really unappealing. When I found out, about five minutes before we started filming that Caleb was on my tribe, I thought exposing who he was to my other tribe members would be a great way to build trust initially. I informed Anna right away, and Michele soon after. But my initial impression of Caleb based on what I had seen on Big Brother and read online was not necessarily positive.
Nick knew who Caleb was as well, so as a tribe we decided to wait and see if Caleb would tell us about his television past on his own. It only took about two days until he admitted to being on Big Brother. After addressing this “elephant in the room (or island),” Caleb’s true colors started to shine through. He completely shattered all the negative impressions we had of him. He quickly became a hero.
3) As viewers, we only really saw Caleb when it came to challenges and his “bromance” with Tai. What was he like as a player? Did he talk strategy at all? Who was he aligned with?
When it came to strategy, Caleb was somewhat aloof. It’s difficult to even describe him as a player because we never had to attend a tribal council while he was in the game. It was obvious that the girls’ alliance was the core of our tribe, and then (I would say) each girl had a close relationship with one guy. Michele was closest with Nick, Anna was closest with Tai, and I was closest with Caleb. We didn’t talk much strategy with Caleb because we didn’t really have to – he was around for the “honeymoon” portion of the game.
Whenever we would discuss the vote, Caleb would just brush off the topic and say something about winning the challenge. Plus, Caleb was never on the chopping block, and he knew that. With Anna, Michele and I in control, we were constantly going back and forth between getting rid of Nick or Tai (if we had too). I think Caleb easily would have voted with the beauty tribe women.
4) Caleb was medically evacuated from Kaoh Rong in one of the most dramatic episodes ever. Can you talk us through that challenge and the events that followed? And what was the feeling like back at camp after Caleb had gone?
The day Caleb went home was the worst day out there (it also happened to be my birthday – shout out to Rodney!). Anna and I sat out of that challenge, and I remember being agonizingly hot – Jeff had said it was 118 degrees F that day. It was uncomfortable watching everyone dig in the sand because they genuinely looked like they were in pain. The second Caleb went down, I ran over to him with water, and he was shaking. I saw his eyes roll to the back of his head.
Medical came in right away, and both Anna and I were scared. I think that Michele and Tai were in shock/trying to catch their breath. The entire challenge was emotional. It was hard watching Debbie go down, then Cydney go down, and seeing Caleb unresponsive. It made the entire Survivor experience real for me.
Seeing Caleb being taken away on the chopper was devastating. This was the turning point; the game was no longer light and fun, it became serious. When we got back to camp, although we were crushed, we knew Caleb was in good hands and the only thing we could do was move on. We felt motivated and inspired to win for Caleb, as sad as it was, it bonded us, and I personally felt very powerful within my alliance at the time.
5) Given that Caleb was medevaced early in the season, it meant we didn’t get to see his style of gameplay. Do you think this is an advantage for him coming into Season 34 or not?
I think it definitely will be advantageous for Caleb. He has a fresh start. He is going in with a solid, strong reputation and no blood on his hands. Plus, in Big Brother, he stayed true to his alliance until the bitter end… he specified that to us out on the Island. Caleb is loyal, and I think his tribe mates will be intrigued by his character.
6) There are four Kaoh Rong castaways on Season 34, do you think they will try and work together? What would you do in their position?
It’s interesting because the four Kaoh Rong castaways on Season 34 may have been those with the most distinctive and complicated relationships of our season. You have Aubry and Tai who made it to the final three together, and both played strong games but were unable to showcase their strategy to the jury. Then you have Debbie and Aubry who started Kaoh Rong with a convincing bond but could arguably be the relationship that ultimately destroyed Aubry’s game.
And finally, Caleb and Tai who had the hilarious “bromance” that captivated America’s hearts. However, I don’t think it would be wise of Caleb to work with Tai… many people will be aware of their close-knit relationship, (Tai even attended Caleb’s wedding this past spring), and as we know, pairs can be threatening in this game. On the other end of the spectrum, during the game, Caleb never even met Aubry or Debbie, but I don’t see any of those personalities meshing to be quite honest. Given that most of these relationships didn’t work out the first time, I think it would be better for all parties to start fresh.
7) Who are Caleb’s biggest threats on this cast, and why?
Ozzy and Malcolm purely due to the physical element of the game. All three are strong, male competitors who are most likely going to dominate challenges.
8) On the flip-side, who here should Caleb align with and why?
I think that Caleb needs to align with someone like Ciera, Sarah or Andrea. These women are emotionally intelligent and physically strong yet don’t have reputations like Tony or Sandra for example. Pairing up with an understated, well-rounded player could be beneficial to Caleb. From an audience perspective, of course, it would be fun to see him align with Ozzy and Malcolm – that would be a lethal trio, but I realistically see him aligning with someone like J.T.
9) Putting you on the spot, how far do you think Caleb will make it?
I see Caleb’s game being similar to Joe Anglim’s, in that he will dominate individual immunity challenges (if he makes the merge) and then be booted the moment he loses. He’s likable and strong and towards the end of the game that is not someone you want to be sitting next to, and these players are going to be experienced and aware of that.
Thanks again to Julia for taking part. For more on Caleb, you can check out his cast retrospective and official cast bio. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing With Game Changers interviews. Survivor: Game Changers premieres March 8, 2017, on CBS.