In a season full of contestants that were voted into the game by fans, Monica Padilla was practically gasping for air-time through the first three episodes. On Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor: Cambodia,” we knew something was up when the show started featuring her.
In case you missed it, here is the full Episode 5 Recap. And follow me on Twitter (@tomsantilli) for all of my Survivor coverage, including my exclusive exit interview each week.
Monica first appeared on Survivor: Samoa, a season dominated by the presence of Russell Hantz. Monica was one of the few who confronted him head-on, which is why Russell had to get her out of the game quickly. But she left a lasting impression as someone not afraid to fight, matching that drive with a strong amount of in-game perception skills that made her a candidate to return as an all-star. And although she made the final cut of nominees for this season, many were surprised that she made the show over others that were considered shoe-ins, like “Mama C” Carolyn or “T-Bird” Cooper. We were all hoping that she would have a chance to shine with her second chance.
But then the show started, and Monica seemed to be missing. By the third episode, some fans were beginning to refer to her as “Purple Monica,” a nod to the famously invisible “Purple Kelly” on Survivor: Nicaragua. Her tribe continued to win, so very little was shown, but even when we did get glimpses of Bayon, Monica was never really featured.
Last week, in Episode 4, we finally got a Monica moment where she once again showed that she does have good insight into what is going on around her. As everyone on her tribe was lapping up the “new” Spencer, Monica saw right through it and pegged him as an imminent threat. This week, after her tribe was finally facing Tribal Council for the very first time, Monica seemed to be safe if she would have just went with the flow.
But “going-with-the-flow” isn’t Monica’s Survivor style. A short, seemingly meaningless conversation with Kimmi ended up being her demise when Kimmi – already annoyed with her over their clam argument – went for the jugular and turned Jeremy and Stephen against her. They didn’t need to even share their plan with Spencer or Kelly, both of whom thought they were vulnerable. This kept their plot a complete secret resulting in a jaw-dropping blindside that sent Monica, speechless, on her way out of the game.
I had the chance to chat with Monica today about her time in the game, her lack of screen time and just what the heck was going on with those clams and Kimmi.
Monica Padilla: Hey Tom, good to talk to you! How are you doing?
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: I’m doing great! Sorry to see you go.
Monica: Aww, me too (laughs).
Tom Santilli: So last night’s episode, it pretty much implied that you were voted out primarily because of that little conversation you had with Kimmi, where you brought up the idea of an all-girl alliance and she then shot it down. Was there more to it than that? And what were you thinking at the time was the reason you were voted out?
Monica: I mean, I’m assuming so. Just to base it off of that one conversation just seems silly to me. Also because me and Kimmi were very close from the onset. I’m not sure people saw that. I tried to hide it, because on my previous game I was really close to Laura and people saw that and were targeting us early on. So with Kimmi I was just like, let’s be tight and not make it obvious to everyone, but it was glaringly obvious in the beginning. They were trying to target Kimmi early on, and I tried to protect Kimmi. I don’t know where that turned, people must have been trying to turn Kimmi against me and they planted really, really early seeds for that plan. And I think that’s where it stemmed from. Kimmi must have felt that I was out to destroy her, or out to ruin her game and really I just wanted to be loyal to Kimmi.
Tom Santilli: Well when you get blindsided, it’s hard to know the exact reasons why. But they made it seem last night that Kimmi’s plan to get rid of you stemmed from the whole argument you both had over the clams. Was that scene blown out of proportion or do you think that the clam incident actually played into Kimmi’s decision?
Monica: I definitely think it was blown out of proportion. Maybe the argument should have been an indicator to me as to where Kimmi was at. But I argue with my close girlfriends all the time. I mean, not “all the time,” but we have stupid back and forth, and then we’re like, OK do you want to go get sushi or steak? I want to get sushi, well I want to get steak. Well steak is more protein. OK fine let’s go get steak! That’s sort of the argument that I’d compare the clams to. With Kimmi I just had no idea she had all this underlying tension with me. I wanted to trust her and to stay loyal to her. So I didn’t know where that all came from
Tom Santilli: So when you talked to her about the all-girl alliance, she shot the idea down quickly. But had she been open to it and would have responded favorably, what would your plan had been? Would you had tried to flip things and get Spencer out next?
Monica: Yeah. Originally I wanted to target Spencer. The boys were really set on keeping him and I didn’t want to cause any drama. I just tried to let them know what my rationale would be, but I didn’t want to cause a big stink about it and come across like a super-aggressive player. Initially I wanted to get Spencer out, I still strongly believe that would have been the best move. I mean, I like Spencer, he’s great, but that’s exactly why he should have gone home. In that, I would have tried to keep the girl numbers strong, because the guys definitely did bro out the minute they hit that beach. It was very clear to me that the guys were definitely bonding and the girls were just trying to get along and tack on to a lasting alliance.
Tom Santilli: So do you feel like if you would have just gone along and not raised the idea of the all-girl alliance thing, and would have just allowed Kelly to get voted out, that they wouldn’t have targeted you? Like, had that happened, would you have been the next target anyways?
Monica: Hmmm. That’s interesting. I think that Wiglesworth would have been the next to go, but anything can happen and things change quickly. As you see. You never really know where the wind would go. But next they might have voted for Kimmi. I know that very early on people were super-annoyed with Kimmi. And if we had gone to Tribal with original Bayon the talk was that we would have voted Kimmi out.
Tom Santilli: Well unfortunately, much of the talk around you this season has been with your lack of air-time through the first three episodes. What was your reaction to really not being seen at all through the first three eps?
Monica: Oh for sure. It sucks! You never know when you come off the game how you’re going to be portrayed or what sort of edit you’re going to have. Obviously there was more of my story to tell, and they didn’t deem it worthy of telling. I think it would have been a more interesting character arc to see where I started and where I failed. And to see me bonding with Kimmi from the beginning and seeing how loyal I was to that, and then seeing the blindside. I think that would have been a more interesting story. You didn’t see that and I don’t know why. I mean, maybe I just pissed off the wrong person, I don’t know (laughs). But it’s not like I walked on that beach to see the view, I was definitely forming alliances and playing the game. I don’t know, that may be more of a question for CBS (laughs).
Tom Santilli: Yeah, in your CBS day-after interview…
Monica: Oh yeah, I haven’t even seen that yet. What did I say? (Laughs)
Tom Santilli: Well, one of the things is that you talked about how aggressive you played when you started the game, which is something that we obviously didn’t get to see.
Monica: Right and that sucks! I mean if you want to vote me off because I’m too aggressive then cool, but show that (laughs). I’m just going by after the fact from speaking from other people who played the game, that I was just too scheme-y and aggressive. That’s all I know, I only know what people tell me. But I definitely went in wanting to play an aggressive game and thinking strategically through the end. But that didn’t last very long (laughs).
Tom Santilli: At the tribe swap, you ended up in the majority alliance with three other Bayon members, Kimmi, Jeremy and Fishbach. And I know you said you were close with Kimmi, but were there any of the other Bayon members that you were close to? Was that tribe swap a good thing for you or did it separate you from your closest allies?
Monica: I was always closest, so I thought, with Kimmi. I thought Kimmi was my girl and she turned on me. I still don’t really understand why or what the reasoning was behind that. I mean I protected Kimmi from the onset. But I was really cool with Joe and Ciera. Kass and Tasha, I never really completely clicked with them. But overall I really thought that Kimmi was my go-to. I feel a bit betrayed by that, but it’s just life. The people you put the most trust in are sometimes the people that backstab you the most.
Tom Santilli: Take me back to the Live Reunion Show and getting selected to be on this season. I’ve been asking everybody about this, but did you form any pre-game alliances and if so, with who?
Monica: A lot of the people I pre-gamed with actually didn’t make it on (laughs). I definitely pre-gamed with T-Bird and I loved her, I thought she was amazing and so awesome. We talked before the show a ton and I really thought that she would be on, I actually thought that she would have definitely made it over me. But then she ended up not making it. I pre-gamed with Shane Powers, he didn’t make it out. I figured he would have been very fun to work with. I pre-gamed with Mkayla. And then the others that did make the show that I pre-gamed with, I never got to play with. Like Peih-Gee, who I absolute adore and who is a great strategic player. Kelley Wentworth, who I was very excited to play with but never got to. But yeah, maybe if I would have been on Ta Keo, or with a few more of my pre-game allies, I mean, I wanted to try to play a pure game, but these were all cool people that I thought it would be good to align with. Maybe I should have cast my net out a bit wider, like Varner, who pretty much was calling everybody (laughs).
Tom Santilli: What can you tell me about Kelly Wiglesworth as a player this season? A few different people keep saying that she is not “playing the game,” and I found it very odd that she was a potential target to go home last night, and yet they did not show her even one time during the whole “pre-Tribal Council scramble” segment of the episode. What’s going on with her?
Monica: I think that Kelly Wiglesworth is playing an early Survivor game. The game has grown and has evolved into this monster. People are aggressive, they are going out and going for the frickin’ jugular. They’re in to play. So I think that when Kelly hit the beach, she didn’t like that very much. When she first played, no one knew about a merge, no one knew about a swap, there were no hidden Idols, you didn’t even know you were going to get tree mail. It was just a whole different monster. When you come in and you’re put on a game called Survivor, you’re like, OK, I’m going to just try to survive. Nowadays, people have been watching this show for 15 years. She just stuck to what she knew, which was just set up camp and develop these very real, natural alliances, and we’ll worry about the vote-out later. I think she just went in wanting to survive, and then was just like when we go to Tribal, we will figure that out then. I don’t think she likes what the game has become, from what I gather from her. She wanted no part of it.
Tom Santilli: Everybody is talking about the new school vs. old school thing as if old school players need to “get up to speed” and play a new school game, but in your mind is there any chance that an old school player could win the game?
Monica: I mean, it’s like playing in a game and not knowing the rules. How are you going to win a game when you don’t know the rules? I love her, I think she’s really awesome and I hated writing her name down, but I hope she picks it up and starts really playing. She’s smart, she’s cunning, she’s great at being a Survivor, she’s athletic and I still think that she can like snap out of it and go fine! I’ll play by your stupid rules! (Laughs)
Tom Santilli: The theme of this season being second chances, there is a lot of talk about how each player must find the ability to adapt and to change from the person that they were the last time they played. How would you characterize your gameplay the first time you played and what did you want to do differently as a player this time around?
Monica: Well, when I left Samoa and was voted out, people were like, why didn’t we see that feisty, aggressive Monica from Day One? So I went in this time just wanting to be more aggressive and just stepping it up to full speed. I was in it to win it and was looking all the way forward to Day 39. So I tried to adapt in that way. But sometimes the things that help succeed or fail initially might flip on you in the end. I think that going in and being aggressive the second time was my downfall. Whereas the first time I went in and developed true bonds and true relationships with people and didn’t have a strategic game in mind, or at least it was in the back of my mind. This time the strategy was what drove me forward. So yeah, I definitely tried to adapt and that might have been my downfall because I let some of things that made me succeed the most in my first game go by the wayside.
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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