For this season, regular contributor Jacob Derwin is bringing you a brand new weekly (-ish) feature called Alternative Reality. Each week, Jacob will be interviewing stars of non-Survivor reality-tv shows and getting their thoughts on the season. From Big Brother to King of the Nerds to The Amazing Race and more!
This week Jacob talks with Randy Rice from HISTORY series Smartest Guy in the Room.
Randy competed in the new HISTORY series Smartest Guy in the Room where “each episode, our everyday geniuses devise smart and substantive challenges designed to outwit the competition.” We talked to Randy on the phone about episode twelve of Survivor: Millennials vs. Generation X.
Jacob Derwin: Let’s start at the end of last week’s episode at the rock draw – because that’s kind of important. What were your thoughts?
Randy Rice: I really felt for Jessica that she knew that she could have changed her fate and that she probably made the wrong call in allowing it to go to rocks in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that it was a bad move. I think she was kind of screwed either way. I get it.
JD: Yeah, I was in the same headspace. It’s that respect thing. Do you lose the respect of the jurors and your remaining tribemates if you don’t go to rocks?
RR: Right, and with that precedent having been set before, I think she was in a really tough spot, but at the end of the day, you can’t win if you’re not in the game, and she could have kept herself in the game.
JD: Getting to the beginning of this episode: Hannah’s pretty stressed out – I mean, it’s Hannah – and obviously Zeke’s pretty happy with how things went. Where did you think the episode was going to go from there?
RR: I thought that this was going to be David’s boot episode. I really thought he was going to go home having burnt that idol and I just can’t believe that he managed to totally avoid really being under the microscope in this one for the most part. But I started to get nervous early in the episode for Zeke when he started bragging about how David’s going to lose. I feel like overconfidence… I mean, Survivor 101 says overconfidence almost always a bad thing.
JD: The other big thing at the beginning of the episode was that Ken received the legacy advantage. Do you have any theories about what the advantage is?
RR: I think it’s probably just gonna be a run-of-the-mill challenge advantage where you have less puzzle pieces, or you get to skip the first round of a multi-stage challenge, something like that.
JD: Okay, an advantage at the final immunity challenge basically?
RR: Yeah, yeah.
JD: Good thought. Honestly, there are so many ideas, I think most of them are viable at this point. Let’s move into the reward challenge. How are you with the loved ones visit?
RR: The loved ones visit always gets me because I know how much I rely on my little support network at home. I can’t imagine having to go, not necessarily for the amount of time, but to go through the amount of seclusion from friends and family. I can go a month without seeing my wife, I’ve done that, but we can talk on the phone. If something comes up and I need some advice, she’s a phone call away. It always amazes me how quickly, like Jeff Probst said in the episode, the game “melts away.” With one little taste of someone you love. I really think it’s pretty moving.
JD: Every time. Jay’s sister and Adam’s brother – really amazing.
RR: There was something that came out of the introduction of the loved ones that was unexpected in that Hannah had sort of a character reversal when her mom showed up. And that was really surprising to me to see that Hannah with her mom is the polar opposite of Hannah in the game. And I really didn’t expect that so, that’s another check in the win column for the family visit because I don’t know if I ever would have seen that side of Hannah otherwise.
JD: It was definitely that “don’t worry Mom, I’m okay” kind of thing. It was really cool to see that side of her.
RR: She was probably more composed than any other player left in the game at that point.
JD: The other big thing was with Adam. He pretty much announced that he refused to use the reward stealer for this. Probably the right thing to do, right?
RR: It’s definitely the right thing to do. It was gut-wrenching to watch, but Adam is a really savvy player. He’s a smart guy, and he’s always known that he could never use that advantage. So I think, as emotional as it looked on the surface, I think that was completely strategy, knowing he couldn’t use it anyway, to at least lobby for some sympathy in the case that he didn’t win the challenge. And it worked.
JD: It did work. And then he gave it to Jay!
RR: [Laughs] I think that Adam’s game awareness is so great that he was able to put aside all of the emotional relief that was happening as a result of his family visit, and stay with strategy in the game. I think he made the decision to get rid of that advantage as soon as he got it. So emotions maybe dictated the moment that he chose to give that advantage away, but it was definitely the right move. And Jay’s the right person to give it to because Jay’s guard was also down at this moment and so Jay didn’t really see it as a game move. I think he saw it as a compassionate gesture from one human being to another.
JD: Yeah, Adam managed to build up that relationship, which wasn’t very stable, with something that really isn’t going to benefit Jay. I can’t even come up with a good metaphor; it’s just a good move.
RR: [Laughs] Yeah and I’ve been wondering how Adam was going to get rid of this thing and if he could get rid of this thing without somebody seeing through it. Good for him to figure out the right moment and the right person for that.
JD: Absolutely. The challenge itself was a pretty standard follow-the-rope challenge. Adam got stuck under a bar, which was pretty hard to watch.
RR: There really wasn’t much of note in the reward challenge, except, of course, building up Adam’s story in this episode by the brutality of getting stuck under a pole the one time he really needs something to happen.
JD: So Jay wins, he picks Adam, Will, and Sunday. He said it was all because he had made deals with people beforehand. Seems legit to me, Will and Sunday were both people he had been tight with, right?
RR: Yeah I think so. I think that Jay’s a good guy at the end of the day and he’s just honoring something that he had said earlier in the game.
JD: I think so too. That’s what it looks like! Moving on… man, this really was Adam’s episode. As great as it was for him, it was also pretty tragic with his brother giving him the information about his mom. Oh man.
RR: Yeah. It’s really a tough spot that Adam’s in because of his decision not to share that information with anyone in the game. I understand that, I understand holding that card close to the vest so that you always have something to pull out when you need it. But that’s really tough to do. I think that he needed this emotional relief of being able to not only find out information but to cry it out! To let out that emotion that you’ve had to bottle up for 30ish days.
RR: And his brother tried to frame it as, for the time being, she’s getting stronger and better, but Adam knows that this is not good news overall. And that’s just more that he’s going to bottle up. I feel terrible for the situation he’s in, but I also hope that he’s able to use it to his advantage somehow, which would be the only reason for holding it in all this time anyways.
JD: Let’s move on to the immunity challenge, which was a life-sized version of that little thing you have on your desk that you squeeze for finger strength – I don’t know – I’ve never seen a challenge like this.
RR: [Laughs] No, I mean, it’s another endurance challenge, which seems a little funny that they keep going back to these not-so-thinly veiled endurance challenges.
JD: “How long can you hold the thing challenges,” yeah.
RR: You know, the pole on the statue, things like that. Because it doesn’t give a chance to a guy like me who, on the show I was on, there was very little that had to do with physical ability; for someone like me, where my strength almost exclusively lies in puzzles and mental-type challenges. A player like that is sort of at a disadvantage with all these physical challenges that they keep coming up with. But you know, a run-of-the-mill immunity though, and I think Adam really got an extra boost and was fueled by the weight that came off his shoulder by being able to talk to his brother.
JD: Adam wins, he’s had a crazy couple of days. We get back to camp, and this is when stuff starts going all to hell. We know Will has decided that he wants to start playing. Hard.
JD: [Laughs] I mean, what have been your thoughts on Will now that he’s decided to become more present?
RR: I think Will as done a great job at just being a foot soldier and working around camp and staying under the radar, and there’s something to be said for that. There are a lot of people who win Survivor who spend the first 20-25 days not making many very big splashes. But the problem with Will is a bit of a classic Survivor mistake, which is making a move just to build the resume. I’m sure he had some kind of strategy that he was working towards, but it just felt like he wanted the resume and wasn’t necessarily making a move that was in his best interest. I don’t know the benefit that comes from this flip.
JD: Do you think him approaching David in the first place was the right decision?
RR: I think it was a good idea to approach David because, after the last tribal council, there’s a big battle set up between David and Zeke. So, picking one side of that battle to approach, and the other side to throw under the bus is a good idea if someone’s already got a target on their back and you’re giving opportunity to someone who also has a target on their back.
JD: And things seemed like they were going pretty well, and then Ken and Will chatted. Ken’s been kind of a fan-favorite. He’s this beautiful, physical power who’s also soft-spoken and authentic and good at talking to people but… this probably wasn’t his most brilliant showing.
RR: Definitely not. Ken kind of reminds me of a high school guidance counselor.
RR: He’s always sort of there, and will say things to appease you and put you in a comfortable state. I think a really bad, ugly side of Ken started showing tonight. The honor and integrity thing is good for building relationships, but it’s not always good for playing the game because he’s so inclined to take things personally. And blowing up Will’s spot by going right back into camp and telling everybody what Will told him, is absolutely not a characteristic that typically belongs to someone who does well in late-game Survivor.
JD: Very true.
RR: This is when you need to be extra focused, extra calculated, and you really need to – not to overuse the expression – but keep your cards close to the vest. This is not good for Ken.
JD: Somehow he managed to get away with it without things going terribly wrong. But before tribal, it’s chaos in camp, and Will’s really the only wild card by the time we get to tribal. What did you think was going to go down? Who did you think was in trouble?
RR: I thought that it was going to be Zeke versus David. It seems like a little bit of an obvious way to go, but Zeke and David are such consistent targets; it sort of doesn’t make sense to give either one of them any air. I sort of assumed people would still be going one of those two directions.
JD: I was a little surprised that they decided to go for Hannah again actually. Maybe I just didn’t pick up on their reasons why. Maybe she was just a safe bet in their eyes. I don’t know, seemed like a weird decision to me.
RR: I’m wondering if the reason for putting votes on Hannah is maybe because they thought the other side wouldn’t expect the same play again.
JD: It goes down, and Will decides to flip on Zeke. We talked a little about Will already, he certainly didn’t come off super great during tribal, but was this the right decision? Did it make sense to ditch that alliance?
RR: That’s a good question, and I agree that Will didn’t look great, his bravado looked a little forced, and I think that falls back under the category of making a move for the sake of the resume. He just wanted people to understand, or at least believe, that he is here to play and make big moves. But being a swing vote is something that only has temporary value. It’s dangerous at this stage in the game because you end up pissing off as many people as you gain favor with. And if the people you’re pissing off all end up on the jury, and you end up at the final tribal council, you haven’t done yourself a service. That’s not great jury management to come out swinging this hard when you’ve been relatively quiet for so long.
JD: That was the thought that I had. Even if he gains the favor of these people, it’s at the expense of the same number of people who are not happy with him.
RR: Right, which is always the risk in flipping. I just don’t think this was the right time for that to happen with Will.
JD: Yeah, fair enough! So, Zeke is out. Let’s talk about him a little bit. How do you think he’s been this season? He was hyped up by Probst; I think he has a pretty positive fan reception overall.
RR: I think that Zeke’s ultimate downfall was that he knew he was probably the biggest student of the game that was on the island in this particular season. I think Zeke’s nature as a human is very warm and people seem to really gravitate towards him, but building relationships with everybody is only half the battle. You have to keep that confidence in check, and I’m not sure that Zeke was able to do that. I think he was a little blinded, especially after all this time by being in the driver’s seat and knowing he was there.
JD: Mhm, I think you’re right about that. He knew he was in charge and he didn’t exactly handle it subtly a lot of the time.
RR: Right and it’s another classic Survivor mistake. You have to be aware of how you’re coming off because there are ways – as has been demonstrated numerous times – to make decisions without being so overt about it. And to influence votes without being so overt about your control over what’s happening. And I think that is what inhibited Zeke from realizing here that all Will wanted was a little credit, as he told us a million times at tribal even, in front of everyone. I think Zeke was blind to the fact that Will just wanted his back scratched a little bit. He wanted somebody to pat him on the head and say, “Yeah Will, you’re playing this game, and we know it.” And that’s, in a more immediate sense, what Zeke’s downfall was. He even made the mistake at tribal. He talked about having protected Will, which is the opposite of what Will wants to hear. And Jay swooped in and gave Will exactly what he did want to hear in saying that they always make moves together; they got rid of Michaela together. I think that was really well timed on Jay’s part and throwing Zeke under the bus in that moment may very well be what put the nail in Zeke’s coffin.
JD: I’m curious to see how the Will-Jay dynamic is going to work from now on.
RR: It’s gonna be really interesting, and I’m curious to see if after Jay was so good at working Will at that tribal council if Will’s just gonna revert right to being a lapdog again, but this time for Jay.
JD: Honestly, that seems likely to happen. All right, a couple of last things! What have been your thoughts on the season so far?
RR: I really have enjoyed it start to finish. Which is funny because when I first heard the theme of the season, I immediately scoffed at it. I thought it sounded pretty bogus and that it was sort of a stretch. But it really proved to work out in the end. And the casting on this season has been better than any all-new player season in recent memory.
JD: I agree. I was also pretty skeptical of the theme. As a younger guy, it seemed cheesy and unnecessary, but the cast has been really good. And as you said earlier, it’s been a really high level of play almost constantly. Like, even in the pre-merge, there has been some really good stuff so far.
RR: I’ve been amazed at how these players have managed to play so hard that there’s always some crazy plot. The way that it’s played out in this season has been so rambunctious. It’s hard to read what’s going on and I think that’s what’s keeping it exciting.
JD: As someone who does a prediction blog I can agree with that [laughs]. I’ve been right a couple times, but I’ve been completely wrong just as many, if not way more times.
For the rest of our interview, including Randy’s winner picks and elimination predictions, check out the Next Time On…Survivor blog tomorrow!
Header Photo Credit: History Channel.