Tai Trang had quite the journey throughout Survivor: Kaoh Rong, he went from the lovable underdog who everyone was scared to go to the end with to a zero-vote getter at Final Tribal Council. He spent most of the season with Michele Fitzgerald, both members of the dominant Beauty tribe, the two never had a strong connection in the game. Michele was initially sketched out when Tai was caught looking for an idol and they never had full trust in each other from that point forward. While they did work within the same alliance at the merge, Tai didn’t feel like Michele was a real member of the alliance and even tried voting her out with his extra vote advantage. As the numbers dwindled, Tai and Michele had a heart-to-heart, discussing why they had never clicked, and Michele even tried to persuade Tai to join her in targeting Aubry. However, Tai stuck by Aubry, and together with Michele, the three of them made Final Tribal Council where Michele was awarded the victory in a 5-2 vote over Aubry.
Inside Survivor reached out to Michele to get her thoughts on Tai’s return to Survivor: Game Changers.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2016 while Survivor: Game Changers was still filming in Fiji.
1) First of all, congrats on winning! You spent more time with Tai than any other person on Kaoh Rong, how did your opinion of him change over the course of the season?
Thank you!! I spent about 30 days with Tai, so I saw most of his journey through the game. My initial opinion of him was similar to what the audience saw – a cute, fun, little Vietnamese guy who loves all living things and who snuck around camp looking for the idol. As the game progressed, Tai suddenly had a lot of power, making him the frontrunner to win our season. He worked hard, won challenges, had advantages, was in a power alliance and made everyone laugh. Plus, who can beat the guy that kept Mark the Chicken alive?
After the Nick vote, Tai followed the Brawn boys, and he seemed to lose himself in that. He was divided between wanting to provide for the tribe and wanting to appease his alliance. I noticed Tai’s behavior shift with self-doubt and I saw him losing control. He was torn by conflict within the group, and I believe he pulled himself out of that by finding comfort in Aubry. Once their connection was made, Tai was able to have an emotional crutch, and he was guided by that, up until the final vote.
In the end, my opinion of Tai as a person is different than my opinion of Tai as a Survivor player. He is the purest friend that I know, making his betrayals in the game sting that much more.
2) Tai made it to the Final Tribal Council but didn’t receive a single vote. What do you think lost Tai the game?
I think the jury wants to vote for a person whose game they can understand. They want to see a positive progression and logical game moves, and Tai seemed to go the opposite way. The further we got into the game, the more Tai appeared to deteriorate, and I think people perceived his decisions as emotional and irrational.
3) It seemed Tai was very well liked until he started actively playing the game and blindsiding people. Was Tai judged more harshly than others for playing an aggressive game? If so, why?
Tai made great moves, but because he couldn’t explain why those moves were necessary, nobody respected his gameplay. I would like to believe if he stood up and said, “this is the decision I made knowing the effect it would have, and that is why I needed to do what I did” the jury would see that confidence and say “Wow, well played.” He just wasn’t able to vocalize any confidence behind his moves. I don’t think he was penalized for playing aggressively; I think he was penalized for being unable to defend his decisions
4) We saw Tai put his foot in his mouth at Tribal Council on many occasions. Did this hurt his game? And do you think potential allies will see him as a liability for this reason?
Tai has the unique disadvantage of a language barrier, and this made his game more challenging. He was constantly struggling with when, what, and how to say things. Often times, this backfired for him – such as our conflict during the Jason vote, and revealing the ‘super idol.’ It also has the ability to get him further if people believe he will ultimately be unable to describe his logic to a jury.
5) He seemed to make deep bonds with certain people throughout the game (Caleb, Scot, Aubry) but was distant with others (Jason, yourself). Why do you think this was?
I had a very in-depth conversation with Tai about this in the water one day. Tai explained that he created bonds in the game based on the immediate chemistry he felt with certain people – this is what he does in his regular life, and it carried over into the game. I guess it’s like dating – either ya got it, or ya don’t.
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?
I think that there is an equal amount of love and distrust between the four returning players. I know that Tai and Caleb are stronger than ever, even sharing a dance at Caleb’s recent wedding. The more questionable relationship would be between Aubry, Debbie, and Tai. I’m not sure that they will be able to leave what happened on Kaoh Rong behind.
The benefit of them working together is that they can use the preconceptions of each other’s past game to their advantage. Despite this, I don’t think it would be in Tai’s best interest to work with Debbie or Aubry, mainly because Debbie is such a wildcard and Aubry has proven that she has the emotional pull to sway his decision making.
7) Who on this cast is Tai’s biggest threat and why?
I think Aubry is the biggest threat to Tai’s game, mainly because we have seen that she is able to manipulate his emotional state to her advantage. If he is blinded by their relationship, it could cause him to make moves that are more beneficial to her game than his.
The other biggest threat to Tai is himself. If he over exerts himself, over strategizes, or over complicates his situation, he may get wrapped up and lose himself again.
8) On the flip-side, who should Tai align with?
I think if they are together, we will definitely see the Tai and Caleb bromance continue. Also, I can already picture scenes of Tai and Ozzy scaling trees, spearing fish and winning the hearts of America.
9) Putting you on the spot here, how far do you think Tai will make it?
I think that Tai has a strong chance of making it pretty deep into the merge. With his positive attitude and his work ethic, I think it would be smart to keep him around camp. I don’t think that he is an immediate strategic threat, but down the line, he may be viewed as a liability due to his indecisiveness in Kaoh Rong.
10) By the way, how good are Tai’s massages?
Our relationship was pretty tense, but Tai knew exactly how to work out the kinks. Seriously, who doesn’t dream of getting a Thai massage on a beautiful beach to the soft crowing of Mark the Chicken?
11) Before we let you go, what is new in the world of Michele? How has life been since winning? And are you hoping to go back and defend your title some day?
Update 02/20/17: I took a Tour Consultant job in Boston with Education First so I spend my time exploring the city. I am taking a watercolor class, volunteering with a women’s group and bartending a few nights a week. So… life is pretty slow. Survivor Update: I live with Julia now and am a proud member of #beerandwings.
There has been a mixed reception to my win which has been incredibly frustrating. I definitely feel that I need to go back to prove that I can do it again and defend my title. I am proud as hell of what I did, so next time the goal is to make the fans feel the same way.
Thanks again to Michele for taking part. For more on Tai, 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.