Luck is a key ally to anyone who has ever succeeded at the game of Survivor. Without it, great players can appear awful. With it, mediocre players can become legends. On Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor: Cambodia,” a stroke of serious bad luck royally messed up the game for Andrew Savage, and it wasn’t the first time old lady luck decided to kick him in the pants. He may have flipped the bird towards Abi when he left Tribal Council, but based on what Savage has dealt with on his two seasons, it would have also been an appropriate action if intended for the game itself.
In case you’ve missed anything, get caught up on Episode 8 here.
“Savage” as he is referred to by close real-life friend Jeff Probst, first appeared on the show’s seventh season, Survivor: Pearl Islands. He was one of the strongest members on his tribe that season and was in a good position in the game, before one of the worst game-twists in Survivor history was unleashed on him. The famed “Outcast-twist” had previously voted-out players return to the game, and one of these returning Outcasts flipped on his alliance after the merge, sending Savage home way earlier than anyone – especially Savage – anticipated.
If anyone in the history of the show deserved a second chance, it was Andrew Savage. Long-time fans (like myself) would have rebelled if his name was not listed among the possible returning players for this season. When it was announced that he was a finalist, Savage – by many – was thought to be a shoe-in for a spot. He was. Savage was going to get a second chance at Survivor!
Wanting to make the most of his second chance season, Savage once again had to deal with major spells of bad luck. Starting the game in a solid “alpha male” alliance with Jeremy and Joe (and Tasha), Savage pulled the dreaded yellow buff that sent him to the vile, barren Angkor Tribe. Somehow, someway, despite being in the minority at his new tribe, Savage and Tasha managed to flip the script and soon found themselves running things at Angkor. Just as he had turned that situation around, the merge reunited him with his original allies, and it seemed that he was in a great position to make a deep run in the game.
He made a few blunders along the way, no doubt. Back at Angkor, he had thrown out Ciera’s name as a potential fake target vote, but that did not sit well with Ciera. That probably planted the seed for what would eventually occur. When Joe and Fishbach began targeting one another for a blindside, Savage was all-in to remove Fishbach, going so far as to swear on his children to Joe that he would never write his name down. Had he been able to convince his alliance to stick with the Fishbach vote, Savage may have very well been safe this week and stayed in the game. Even so, targeting Kelley Wentworth seemed to be a safe play by his alliance.
But Savage got that all-too-familiar sinking feeling in his stomach again – just like last time – when Kelley pulled an Idol out of her bag. Blocking all nine votes against her, Savage was their target and was sent to join Kass in Ponderosa, as the second member of the Season 31 jury. Another horrible stroke of bad luck claimed Savage’s second chance just when it seemed like his game was on the up and up.
I had a chance to speak with Savage today about his time in the game, that moment where he mentioned Ciera’s name, and of course, about last night’s improbable Tribal Council.
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: Andrew! Let me first just say that this is really cool for me, and it’s an honor to get to chat with you! You’ve always been one of my all-time favorite Survivors, and every time there would be discussion about returning players, I would yell, “Bring back Savage!” If there is anyone that deserves a second chance at Survivor, it’s you.
Andrew Savage: Oh Tom, thank you! I love hearing that, especially after a bit of a tough episode last night, that makes me happy.
Tom Santilli: So the question everyone wants to know is, why not split the votes last night?
Savage: So here’s the deal with splitting the votes. As you know we split the votes the last time at Tribal between Kass and Ciera, and what you didn’t see is that took about two hours of strategizing. Splitting the votes is risky because you have to make sure everyone votes the right way, if there is a swing vote that goes the wrong way it can really end badly. So this time around, what you also didn’t see, is that my toe was ravaged by a poisonous spider, it was infected and swelling up. So I was sick and didn’t really have the energy to figure out how to split the votes, who to vote for, those types of things. Also a couple of other things came into play. First off, nobody knew that Idols were even in play except for Kelley and Jeremy, and they didn’t tell anyone. Myself and Joe, Tasha and Fishbach, we had searched for Idols for hours, we looked for clues every reward challenge, every single item at every single reward, we scoured them looking for clues. Nothing. So we honestly didn’t know that Idols were in play. So first off me and Joe wanted Fishbach out, we thought that was the best play, because he’s going to build his Survivor resume and make a big move, so we needed to head that off like Kass. Jeremy had a decent argument, he was like, look, Wentworth is the only physical threat from the bottom of the barrel at that point, Abi and Ciera are never going to win Immunity. In my opinion at least, that was unlikely. So Wentworth can win challenges, so let’s take her out and we’ll focus on Fishbach at the next Tribal. So we really didn’t have the energy or the inclination to split the votes. So we just thought, let’s just load up on Wentworth, and we went around the group and asked each person, what do you think are the chances that Wentworth has an Idol? And everyone was pretty sure it was like a 98-99% chance she didn’t have one, someone would have seen it or said something at some point. We also thought that Wentworth would have no idea she was going home.
Tom Santilli: So yes, how do you think Wentworth knew to play the Idol on herself?
Savage: Ciera probably thinks she’s going home, she got several votes the last time. What we didn’t know, is that somebody tipped off Wentworth. It wasn’t game-play, it was a mistake. I mean it’s out there now, it was Joe who unfortunately tipped her off that she was going home. He didn’t do it on purpose, he didn’t do it maliciously, it was just a mistake and he feels horrible about it. That was the thinking behind not splitting the votes and as you know, Tom, it was a colossal blunder but at the time it made sense.
Tom Santilli: Talk to me about that moment a few episodes back where you sort of created a riff between you and Ciera, where you mentioned her name as a potential fake target in attempting to blindside Spencer, and she took great offense at you doing that. Watching that back on TV, were you aware of how she took that at the time and what are your thoughts on that whole incident?
Savage: I was not aware of her reaction. And that’s on me. Was I insensitive for offering her name up as a decoy? At the time I didn’t think so, but in hindsight yeah I was. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have either offered my own name up, or Woo’s name, I thought that it wouldn’t work if I offered my own name up, because I knew that Spencer was going to come up to me and ask me what we were doing, and I can’t say they’re voting for me. I wanted a plausible decoy. What you also didn’t see, is that Spencer and Wiglesworth went to get water when we hit the beach, and that freed us up to talk about strategy. And Kass at the original Bayon tribe, about ten times a day would say, we’ve got to git rid of Spencer, we’ve got to get rid of Spencer. So I just went up to Kass and went look, they’re down by the water right now, do you want to practice what you’ve been preaching and get rid of Spencer? Then I could see Spencer walking back up the beach with the water, so I knew I only had like five minutes or so to lock down the plan. I just wanted to lock it down. Everyone kept asking questions, and was wondering what the strategy was, so I just, stupidly, said Ciera. I looked at her a few times and said, you’re not going anywhere, of course it’s just a decoy. But man, boy was I just wrong as to how that was received by her.
Tom Santilli: What sucked for you too last night, was that the wheels were in motion to blindside Fishbach, and you were in favor of that happening. But then as it was shown on TV, Jeremy came into the conversation, and then was subtly able to re-direct the vote from Fishbach to one of the girls. In hindsight, was Jeremy running your alliance? Why wasn’t your argument to vote Fishbach out strong enough with the others? If that plan stays intact, you stay in the game.
Savage: So Jeremy is a key player of course, and he’s a good friend of mine. What we didn’t have was just one player who was pulling the strings and running the whole alliance. What we had was me, Joe, Jeremy and Tash, and we were connected at the hip, and we were collaborating very quietly. Meeting very quietly and talking about tribe dynamics, and who should go. So it was very much a democracy, if you will. I know that sounds a little odd for Survivor, but it was. Jeremy was an integral part of it, absolutely. But what you don’t see is that there like two or three deep conversations about who should go home. I mean, it’s a 42 minute show. All you saw was Jeremy come in have one conversation with us. There were three other ones. He said in one of them that Fishbach is down with us, and re-iterated that. In another conversation, we talked about Wentworth and another about Ciera. And what was happening is that Joe and I kept saying Fishbach, Fishbach, Fishbach, and Tash and Jeremy kept saying no, the smarter move is to take out Wentworth, we’ll take out Fishbach at next Tribal. You know, (laughs) it’s foolish of me. I honestly think Tom, that if I would have pushed it even harder, that they would have just been like, OK Savage, enough! But at that stage, I’m trying to be diplomatic, I’m trying not to stick my head above the foxhole, and ultimately I trusted them. They’re my friends and I trusted them. It didn’t work out so well for me, but at the time it made sense.
Tom Santilli: You mentioned Joe making a mistake earlier and I want to return to that. Joe is regarded as a “Mr. Perfect,” and he is awesome, he’s a total challenge beast, he’s a great social player, well-liked. But time and again he has shown that he is capable of making strategic blunders. Everyone else in the game – even those in your alliance – talked about having to take Joe out at some point, that he was only around as a sort of meat shield, but there is nobody out there that would have wanted to sit next to Joe in the end. Yet, last night you vowed on your children that you would never write Joe’s name down. We all know you as a very trustworthy guy and a man of your word, but would you really have stayed loyal to Joe until the end, even if that would have meant going against some of your other allies?
Savage: Yeah, I’m telling you as best I can Tom, that I would have stuck to my word, and I would have taken Joe to the end. And I think I would have at least had a fighting chance of beating him. I don’t know, maybe not. Depends on the jury votes. But you know, I’m a trial lawyer, I’ve done opening and closing statements for many, many trials, I can plead a very persuasive case. And I also am of the mind-set that I’m an old-school Survivor. I can’t help it. I wanted to play with the best of the best, and let the best person win. I didn’t want any goats. I wanted to stand with Joe, Tash, Jeremy and Keith. Let’s just have an epic ending to an epic season. No goats, just do our best and may the best person win. If that’s not me then I’m cool. That was my mind-set, so honestly I would not have turned on Joe. If that sounds stupid, from a Survivor strategy standpoint, but I wouldn’t have.
Tom Santilli: So Kelley is going to play her Idol and nobody else knows it. She could have targeted any single person (other than Joe) as the person she could have blindsided with her Idol and taken out. Why did she choose you? Why not Jeremy, or Tasha, or any of the other players? Why you?
Savage: (Laughs) I’ve wondered that, Tom. First of all I think it was very personal, I think Ciera had a real say in who went home. I think she was still stinging from my silly decoy situation. And her eye-rolling last night, clearly she had some problems with me. But what’s funny is that the first six days of Bayon, me and Ciera were really tight. We had long conversations and she was in the mix, a driving force of Bayon. And I don’t know where that went south. And it’s hard for me to imagine that my one single little mistake…not my little mistake, my big mistake…of offering up her name as a decoy, just poisoned the well and I was dead to her after that. But apparently that’s what happened. It was astounding to me that they chose to take me out, instead of Jeremy. Because I’m the old guy out there. Jeremy is this 36-year-old Division I athlete, an incredible athlete. And to come after the old guy instead of Jeremy was crazy, so I definitely think it was personal. I also think that there was a lot of confiding in me at the merged tribe. I was sick, really sick and my toe is blowing up, and I had difficulty walking around and I was just lying in my hammock, and my alliance just kept coming up to talk with me. So there was this comment that Savage was the Godfather, which isn’t true at all. We’re all on equal footing, but it didn’t appear that way because I was sick and couldn’t walk around and people kept approaching me.
Tom Santilli: I wanted to ask you about your time at Ponderosa (where the jury is sequestered). Your Ponderosa Video on CBS.com is one of the more entertaining I’ve seen in a while. So what was it like spending three days alone with Chaos Kass?
Savage: Yeah it was rough, especially the first 24 hours. And that’s on me. But what you didn’t see or what I’ll share with you Tom, is that at Tribal, there was a break in the action, Kass stood up and looked at me, and mouths “no effing votes for you,” then takes her index finger and puts it across her throat like she’s cutting my throat. I’m standing up stretching my legs and I sort of waive my hand at her like, whatever. Five minutes later I’m on a boat headed to Ponderosa and I have to deal with Chaos Kass. I just had my second chance, my dream, my second adventure of a lifetime ripped from my hands, my heart was torn out. And she’s acting like that and I have to go deal with her at Ponderosa. So that’s the backdrop, that’s the raw emotion that you see at first. But then I get a decent night’s sleep, I’m calm and I just told her I don’t ever want to talk to Chaos Kass, I don’t ever want to talk about the game, if Calm Kass is here, I’d like to talk to her and get to know her, but if Chaos Kass rears her ugly head, I’m out of here. She said done. We have very different approaches to the game, she’s new school, I’m old school, but we just got to know each other. She’s a lawyer, I’m a lawyer, and she’s got a great family. So we bonded on the common ground, and we took Chaos Kass and set her aside.
Tom Santilli: Over the years since you first appeared on Survivor, there have been a lot of comments and reports made that insinuate that you are very close friends with Jeff Probst outside of the game of Survivor. What can you tell the Survivor fanbase about Jeff Probst that might surprise them?
Savage: (Pauses) Interesting question. What might surprise people is that he is just unbelievably creative. He’s not just a one-hit wonder with Survivor. He wrote and directed Finder’s Fee, which is a great movie, it’s a brilliant movie. He does all these other things. He’s an award-winning novelist with his children’s books, and he’s really smart. If you peel away the onion of Jeff Probst, he’s just an unbelievable person. You see him in Tribal Council and he’s brilliant, and that extends to all other aspects of life. He’s just a fascinating guy. And just to be clear Tom, we are not BFFs. We don’t talk every day. Yes, we’re friends. I do want to be super-clear that he is the best in the business. He would never compromise the ethics or the morals or the rules of the show. He would never give me any favoritism. When I’m out there, he hammers me at Tribal Council just like he hammers everyone else. He’s incredible.
Be sure to join me next Wednesday for another episode preview, full recap and instant analysis, and of course, the next exit interview next Thursday.
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