The ninth episode of Australian Survivor saw the culmination of the Exile Beach twist and the elimination of one of the season’s most controversial castaways. After Tegan returned to the game, she worked her way back into the good graces of her tribe by exposing the lies told by Benji. While the returning Contender initially wanted to target Benji, Fenella and Shonee had had enough of Zach’s bad attitude and pushed for his elimination instead. At Tribal Council, the former Gladiator continued to dig himself a hole he was unable to escape from, and the entire tribe sent him packing.
Inside Survivor’s Austin Smith caught up with Zach to talk about his time on the island, his negative comments towards the women of his tribe, his challenge performances, and his unexpected friendship with Stevie.
1) Zach, thanks for taking some time out to give us your side of the story! First of all, what was it that drew you to apply for Survivor? How did the real thing compare to your expectations going in?
I have been a Survivor fan for many, many years. I have always wanted to be a castaway and to finally have the opportunity was an incredible blessing that I will be forever grateful for. Survivor is the hardest game in the world and for good reason. It really was everything I expected, nothing more, nothing less. Just the toughest game in the world.
2) As a physical competitor, you seemed to relish going up against the Champions in the challenges – what was it like to square off against such formidable competition and in these huge challenge designs?
I am a hyper competitor and competing at the highest level possible is always the goal. Laying beat downs on the Champs was epic and I also learned many lessons in my defeats. My physical and mental preparation is ongoing, so I am always ready for a fight. I am never nervous, just excited for the opportunity to chalk up some more wins.
3) On the other hand, the losing streak hit the Contenders hard by the end – did you truly feel like the tables could be turned, or was it an unwinnable battle?
The frustration was real. When you constantly push yourself to the brink and still fall short, it’s important to not let those losses defeat your spirit. I truly believed that we could turn the tables with the right challenge. Unfortunately the challenges were more physical than anything else, and the resources available to me had skill sets other than what was needed for those challenges.
4) Strategically, you hit it off with the guys like Robbie and Benji, but also with an unlikely ally like Steve. How did you all come to work together?
My relationship with Rob and Benji really just developed organically. We were like-minded individuals that had very similar senses of humour and we spent much of our time laughing our asses off, telling jokes and taking the piss.
Stevieee!!! Hahaha that was a friendship that took me by surprise. Many of the other tribes mates did not like Steve and said that he was good in small doses. Kind of the way I felt about them to be honest. The more I spoke to Stevie, the more I realised how much we had in common. We had amazing conversations about politics, religion, philosophy and innovations. Everyone else just wanted to talk about their favourite foods or the last time they felt afraid or some s**t. Even though Stevie is a little quirky, he has much depth to his character, is kind-hearted and really amusing. I tried my hardest to keep Stevie in the game, which was the beginning of my inevitable demise.
5) How did Steve’s blindside – and Heath, Tegan and Jenna flipping to work with the girls – impact your own gameplan?
Stevie being voted out was a major blow to my game. Not only was it the loss of my closest ally and friend, it marked the break of a solid 7 person alliance, placing me firmly at the bottom of a gynocentric, egalitarian hierarchy from which I had to fight to stay in the game.
6) By the time of the Tegan vote, you were beginning to talk about needing to work on your social game. What led you to this realisation?
People are easily offended nowadays. A difference of opinion, of which I have many, is all it takes to get someone offside. A critical analysis of the tribe or of individual performances, once again, is enough to offend. Even being angry at myself for a poor performance in a challenge would upset people, so it was a very sensitive environment for someone like me to be a part of. Identifying the need to adjust my social interactions to accommodate sensitive individuals was something that would have been beneficial earlier in the game because hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Unfortunately I’m just not that guy.
7) After Tegan’s elimination, you spoke to Heath about wanting to stick together. Was this genuine, or just gameplay? Did you actually consider voting with him against Anita, and did you ever suspect he might have an Idol?
I had been trying to work with Heath from the get-go, but he was really wanting to work with Tegan who wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. Also Jenna had told Heath that I was coming after him around day 3. It didn’t matter how much I told him this wasn’t the case; he did not believe me. Anita was a target of Heath’s very early in the game. Heath and I had very similar ideas to maintaining tribe strength, something that Anita had very little to contribute, so I was on board to make that move early, but the window for that move had closed after Tegan was gone and I needed Anita as she was my connection to the girls.
Heath spent a lot of time looking for idols so I was concerned that he may have one, it wasn’t so much of a concern for the rest of the tribe and we made Survivor error 101. Split the vote.
8) Fenella and Shonee seemed intent on targeting you at your last Tribal, but did you know that the votes were coming your way? Do you think that any of what you said at Tribal impacted your elimination?
I knew well before we sat in front of Jonathan that they were voting for me. No one was talking to me before tribal council, the women were all sticking together and the fact that I was the target before Tegan was blindsided, led me to believe that they were just going to pick up where they left off before we sent her to exile beach. A conversation with Heath confirmed my suspicions. What fans need to understand is that almost never are decisions as important as eliminations decided at tribal council and rarely do plans change. You are either aware of the plan or you are not.
9) I’ve got to ask – we saw a lot of the negative comments you made about the women on your tribe. How much of what we saw on TV was the real you? Or were you playing the heel?
I’m not sure what playing the heel means. I call things as I see them and I am brutally honest with my opinions. I also like making jokes that have shock value. The best jokes will always offend, hit subjects of taboo and go places where the PC police do not want you to take it. To me, that’s kind of fun. In reality, I really love women. I was raised by a single mum, I have a partner of 6 years and we have 2 young girls. I work with many women of whom I respect and admire. I also liked most of the women on the Champions tribe. I just didn’t really get along well with some people on my tribe, who happened to be women.
10.) Finally, what do you take away from your 22 days of the Survivor experience? Of what part of your game are you most proud?
This experience helped me learn a lot about myself. I learned I had layers that I did not know existed. I also learned an appreciation for the blessings I have in life and for things we take for granted such as food, running water, electricity, clothing and shelter. That first night with no fire or shelter, I thought that we may not make it through the night. Literally it was that bad. There are people homeless, living on our streets, and that is their day to day. I have always helped the homeless with a few dollars and some words of encouragement, it’s just something that I do. I would urge you all to do the same. It takes very little to drop a gold coin and to look someone in the eye and say “don’t give up, you got this.”
I was always going to be a challenge beast, it’s what I have been training to be for the last 23 years, so that wasn’t what I was most proud of. I’m just happy that I stayed true to my core alliance until the very end in a game of lies and manipulation. I’ll always have these amazing new friends and be part of a very exclusive club of which I am very proud to be.