Nobody wants to be the first boot on Survivor, but especially under such harsh and unfair circumstances. That’s what happened to designer Phil Ferguson, who had their time cut short in the Australian Outback due to an overpowered advantage.
Phil had seemingly settled in well with their Brains tribemates, making quick and easy bonds early on. And while not the burliest of the Brains, Phil had proved themselves in the first two challenges of the season. It didn’t look like Phil was in much danger of being voted out first, that was until George played his advantage, allowing him to save himself and five others from Tribal Council.
With only six castaways left at Tribal, it became a battle of self-preservation, and sadly the vote came down on Phil, sending them home without any real chance to fight for their life in the game.
Inside Survivor’s Austin Smith caught up with Phil to chat about their time in the Outback, their alliances, being the first boot, that shocking twist, and more.
1. Phil, thanks for taking the time to join us and dig into your far-too-brief Survivor experience. Before we get to the chaos of the game, what drew you to want to play Australian Survivor in the first place?
I’ve been a fan of the show since it first started 20 years ago and I always knew I would want to play the game! I love the social strategy of it all, the physical challenges and maneuvering around alliances!
2. Once you landed in the Outback, what did you think about the Brain v Brawn theme? How did it affect the way you approached your game to be grouped with other players united by intellect?
I think when I found out I was on Brains, I was a bit hesitant, only because Brain tribes in the past have involved a lot of overplaying and I was never a fan of that style of play, and it hadn’t resulted in a winner. I really tried to focus more on personal relationships initially so the gameplay could come after, but, unfortunately, we had people going at 100 right out the gate and I had no time.
3. At Tribal, you emphasised that you “froth this tribe,” but which of your tribemates were you vibing with and hoping to work with in the long run? Any budding alliances?
Funnily enough, the people I was left with, alongside Rachel and Georgia, were all the people I was wanting to work with! They were all just a great time; we started actually bonding about our lives and seemed to be people who I could work with going forward! Rach and I especially as two people in the LGBTQIA+ community were really bonding, and I think we would have been a strong two, a new Shonella, Philchel maybe.
4. When the vote started to coalesce against Wai on the basis of challenge strength, you elected to join the majoirty—were you concerned about the precedent of “strength” targeting you in turn?
I actually wasn’t. I had been pulling my weight around camp and everyone had given me kudos for my performance in the Immunity Challenge (which is why the target on Wai got bigger because I completed what she couldn’t do). I was also vocal about wanting to do wrestling challenges and the sort of things that I feel like people who perceive themselves as weak would be opposed to. Everyone also expressed that there were options after Wai, so I thought I at least had a few buffers for a while if they still thought I was weak.
5. Were you approached about turning the vote on Mitch? If so, why did you choose to stick with the plan for Wai , but if not, would you have been on board for that counter-plan? Would knowing about George’s advantage in advance pushed you one way or the other?
I hadn’t heard of any vote for Mitch from George until I watched the episode! I actually would have found it hard to vote for Mitch because he was someone I was getting along with and would’ve aligned with. I didn’t even think he was the leader of the tribe at all; I thought Andrew with all his survival skills was leading the tribe at camp (you see a bit of this in the extras video on 10Play).
Though if they had approached me with the plan to vote out Mitch with the knowledge of the advantage as well, I would’ve gone along with voting him out and probably kept working with George on the fact that he would’ve shared that info with me.
6. Given his decision to leave you behind at Tribal resulted in your collateral elimination, what was your relationship like with George? Why do you think he left you at Tribal?
George and I were really similar people, and we didn’t really form too strong of a connection out there. I can see why he would’ve left me behind if he got the feeling I wouldn’t have worked with him.
7. Why do you think you became the unanimous target in the aftermath of the advantage? In retrospect, do you think there was anything you could have done to save yourself in that situation?
I think, unfortunately, Hayley and I knew we were both in the same situation, being the ‘smaller ones’ of the group, and it was a competition of who made the most bonds. That morning I felt like I didn’t do enough alliance building the day before, and I had a feeling Hayley may have done more, so while I did make my pitch at Tribal, I think the others knew I would be easier to cut as much as they didn’t want to.
8. Had you survived this Tribal, with either Wai going home as planned or the others left behind joining you to vote Hayley, what would have been your gameplan moving forward?
If Wai had gone home, I would’ve approached Joey, Laura, Georgia, Andrew, Hayley, Rachel and Mitch as an alliance or sub alliances the next day. I was hoping I’d be the glue between the groups that were forming and someone that could ensure that we were strong heading into a merge situation. I’m very naive to think that I would’ve had the time to in retrospect, but they were the people I felt good about being close to and working with going forward.
9. This was unfortunately absent in the show’s edit, but you are the first non-binary person to play Survivor in any English-language franchise internationally! How did this impact your experience playing Survivor—if at all—and is there anything related to this aspect of your identity that you particularly hoped would be represented in the episode?
It actually made it super hard. I felt like I was hiding a part of myself that I shouldn’t have, and it made me so insecure about how I was interacting with everyone. I wish I had come out when we did introductions because I think it all would’ve gone a different way for me to be honest.
I was planning on talking to Rachel about coming out to everyone the next day after Tribal because I felt the most comfortable with her, but I was out of there before I got the chance. Though I will say I wish I actually had a backstory package, I hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t get one!
10. Last of all, what have you taken away from the experience of your 2 days in the Outback? What was the highlight of the journey for you, whether it made it onto the show or not?
It sounds super lame, but because I had such limited time, I would say the whole show was a highlight. I was there for less than 36 hours; I remember everything I saw on screen and loved every part of it. I wish I had more time, but thanks to the fans, I’m very appreciative of the experience I got!