Back in June last year, while the Survivor: Winners At War cast were battling it out on the islands of Fiji, I reached out to a selection of former Survivor players to get their thoughts and predictions on the returning castaways. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting those interviews here on Inside Survivor.
Today, we’re talking to Chrissy Hofbeck, who finished as runner-up to Ben Driebergen back in Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. Starting the game on the same tribe, Chrissy and Ben became close friends and allies after the first Tribal Council. However, Ben’s betrayal post-merge caused a rift in the relationship, leading to a tense battle to the end. No matter what Chrissy did or how many Immunities she won, Ben remained invincible due to a flurry of idol finds and an unexpected fire-making twist at the Final 4. In the end, these two Heroes squared off in front of the jury, where Ben walked away with the million in a 5-2-1 vote.
Inside Survivor reached out to Chrissy to get her thoughts on Ben’s return to Survivor: Winners At War.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2019 while Survivor: Winners At War was still filming in Fiji.
1) Hey Chrissy, thanks for doing this! You and Ben had an up-and-down relationship throughout Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, what was your initial opinion of Ben and how did it change over the course of the season?
The first thing I learned about Ben (like everyone else—on the ship) was that he was a marine, and so immediately, I felt an immense respect for Ben. Then I met him and loved his personality. He is so joyful and caring and absolutely hilarious (he made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe). He is a really hard worker. We both had kids, and he talked about his children and his wife so lovingly. Ben also knew all sorts of miscellaneous and somewhat obscure Survivor facts from past seasons, yet another thing that drew me to him because I did too. I truly loved him.
After the JP blindside, I felt personally hurt by Ben, which in retrospect, I realize was dumb; this is a game, and Ben was playing it—good on Ben! But at that point, Ben lit a fire under me, and then I knew it was necessary for me to turn the tables on him and make sure that he was Public Enemy Number One. So despite early in the game feeling this deep love for Ben, by the end of the game, I wanted him out—he enabled me to feel that way about him. I knew that nobody beats a marine in the end. We all knew that. Outside of the game in our real lives, we are connected and close.
2) We always see a lot of the strategizing and “big moves” on TV, but I’m interested to hear what Ben was like around camp day-to-day during the downtime. How did he fit in? Who did he gravitate towards? Did he contribute to camp-life?
In my opinion, Ben was a very hard worker around camp. He was able to make conversation with everyone, and he told a lot of stories. He was always pretty joyful. By the end of the game, things started to deteriorate as we all became very hungry, tired, tired of each other, and just weary of the experience. Then his stories (not war stories, just regular stuff) took a turn for the worst, and we began to question a lot about him. But I recognize that some of this was also mixed up in us wanting him out because no one beats a marine in the end. Confirmation bias, right? You see what you want to see, you do not see that which you do not want to see. So when we wanted him out, we began to “see” behaviors that indicated he should go. I think this is why post-game interviews have suggested Ben had a poor social game. Is this the truth? Probably not. He had a great social game until people wanted him out. At that point, we only saw what we wanted to see. Exit interviews and AMAs are not canon—they are steeped in confirmation bias. But overall, I remember him always being a very hard worker around camp and fun to be around.
3) You formed an alliance with Ben early on, what was it about him that made him a valuable ally and someone you thought you could work with?
I knew going in that I wanted to form an alliance with someone who was different from me. I have watched enough Survivor to know that sometimes people get voted out because they are interchangeable in an alliance member, and then people just “pick one” to vote for. A marine and an older mom was a good combination (P.S. also why Ryan and I were so strong). But of course, he was more than his job. Ben was strong and social and smart and strategic. He knew the game well. And we cared for each other; we took care of each other.
I remember the morning of the swap (I’m surprised this did not air—such great foreshadowing!), I woke up early and was watching the sunrise. Ben woke up and joined me. I looked at him and said, “If we get split up, just stay strong, stay in the game, we’ll meet again at the merge, and you and me will go to the end together.” We hugged. I truly loved him. I know he loved me back because that first vote after the merge was supposed to be Joe or Cole. But then Ben found out that Jessica was pushing for me to be voted out. Ben rallied the troops and switched the vote to Jess, out of loyalty to me. I remember him coming to me and saying, “She’s coming for you, and I’m not letting that happen.” He said the battle lines would be drawn, and he was not going to allow me to get voted out. I still think of that night as one of my best and worst nights of the game. It’s the power of an alliance, and why making close ties is so necessary in this game.
I should also add for completeness that there were many people on my season that I loved out there—Ryan, Ashley, JP, Mike, to name a few—and they were also valuable allies and friends to me throughout our season. And of course, Ben had other peeps besides me—Lauren, Devon, Ashley. But throughout the game, my and Ben’s relationship was deep and powerful. And fruitful—together we had three immunity idols and four individual immunity wins, not a bad combination!
4) There was a conversation between yourself and Ashley post-merge, where you discussed how Ben was being a “dictator.” Was that a common consensus around camp?
I don’t know how the others felt. I just remember Ben not hearing some of us out, and for at least one vote, Ashley feeling like her position in the game was in jeopardy simply because she wanted a different vote order. I also remember trying to tell Ben gently that immediately after the merge is not a time to be publicly calling the shots or you risk taking on the target. He told me I was being paranoid. We weren’t going to see eye to eye about this, so I just dropped it. I never felt intimidated by Ben and didn’t think he’d turn on me—it’s anyone’s guess if the JP blindside was Ben turning on me. I have always felt that Ryan and I stayed safe at that vote because Ben wanted to keep me safe, and Devon wanted to keep Ryan safe. But who knows?
I also think that Joe calling Ben “King Ben” was a game move by Joe to try and develop a narrative. Do I think that Ben was truly the leader of our Round Table Alliance? No. My season had a lot of really sharp, great players, hard workers, strategic minds. Yes, Ben was one of these, but not the only one. I see you, Lauren Rimmer!
5) There is a lot of controversy surrounding Ben’s win, with many fans claiming you were “robbed” due to all the idols and the unexpected fire-making twist. How did you view Ben’s victory at the time? And has your opinion changed at all since?
Immediately after the game, I said that Ben played a winning game and I also played a winning game. And that if Ben played my game, he still wins. I still think this is an accurate statement. The number of idols and the final four twist was unprecedented but good on Ben for using these to his advantage, to get to the Final 3 and win. Even though I didn’t win, I still can feel proud of our season’s winner. I adore Ben in real life!
6) What do you think Ben’s mindset will be coming into this all-winners season? Will he adapt to a new style of play or should we expect more “Ben bombs”?
A few months before casting for Season 40 began, Ben and I were talking on the phone, and we brought up the idea of how we would play if we ever played again. Ben said that he would want to have more fun and just really enjoy the experience. Will we see that in Ben? Not sure. I think we’ll see a Ben who is looking to be a little more laid back, but his nature may put him into full-on “I’m winning Survivor” mode.
I think Ben’s biggest problem out there is his idol finds. The others may want him out before those idols start surfacing. So, I think he’ll need to find them to stay in the game. I don’t think he’ll be playing with such drama (Ben Bombs/King Ben), given the reputation of the cast and the fact that they are all winners. But Ben, by his nature, has a big, interesting personality, so I’d expect we’ll see a lot of him during the season. I’m excited for more Ben!
7) Who on this cast do you see Ben gravitating towards? Who do you think would make a good ally for him?
I think Sandra and Ben will be close because of the military connection. Also, I’d expect the New School guys (Ben, Nick, Wendell, Adam) to stick together so they can shield each other. But also, Jeremy, Sarah, and Ben are in our Rotten Coconuts fantasy football league, so there’s a natural alliance right there.
8) Who on this cast poses the biggest threat to Ben? Is there anyone you see him butting heads with?
The only thing that I can see Ben really getting upset over is anyone being disrespectful to the Marines or servicemen and women. I can’t imagine anyone out there doing that. Maybe another Type A personality like Tyson could get under his skin. But I otherwise can’t see Ben getting into any sorts of altercations. He is really a positive, joyful, and caring person. Theoretically, the Old School could target the New School simply for being New School (or vice versa). So Ben could see a target on his head simply for his season number, and not for any perceived “flaws” in gameplay.
9) What is Ben’s biggest strength? And his biggest weakness?
Ben’s strength is that he literally does not ever give up. He is so motivated to make life better for his family that he will do anything to get it done. He also is extremely charismatic and likeable. He’s fun to be around. He has natural night vision—he can find his way in the absolute pitch dark when the rest of us couldn’t see 2 feet ahead.
His biggest weakness is the game he played previously. The idol finds and turning on his closest ally (me), and then his next closest ally (Lauren) very quickly thereafter without any second thought, could make others question his loyalty.
10) Before I let you go, what is new in the world of Chrissy? How has life been since we last saw you on HvHvH?
Life is good. It is a new normal. I joined the Board of Directors of the Society of Actuaries and am doing some part-time actuarial consulting. I have been traveling a lot for speaking engagements on business issues. I did a TEDxTalk. I wrote a nonfiction (business) book and got a literary agent—I assume it will hit bookstores in 2020, so I’ll keep you posted! (Update 01/06/20: Chrissy’s book [title not yet final] will be published by Simon & Schuster and is scheduled to hit bookstores on Sept 8, 2020). I sent two kids off to college. I had to have my shoulder reconstructed (ah, the perils of the game). I still feel extremely thankful for my Survivor experience and the insane number of fans who have absolutely wrapped me up in love. It’s all good. Life is good, and I feel blessed.
Thanks again to Chrissy for taking part. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing with Champions interviews.
Survivor: Winners At War premieres February 12, 2020, on CBS.