Interview: Cliff Robinson talks 'Survivor: Cagayan'
On the basketball court, Cliff Robinson's statistics were quite robust.
He ranks ninth in NBA history in games played and, with playoff appearances in 17 of his 18 seasons, those were often meaningful games. He was the league's Sixth Man of the Year for the 1992-1993 season, was an All-Defensive Team second teamer twice and an All-Star once. Thanks to his longevity, he ranks in the Top 50 in NBA/ABA history in scoring, ahead of Hall-of-Famers like Chris Mullin, Isiah Thomas and Scottie Pippen.
Sadly, Cliff Robinson won't be remembered for his "Survivor" longevity. This week, Robinson became the fifth player voted out on "Survivor: Cagayan" and the first player booted after the season dissolved its Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn twist.
Cliff could have been voted out even earlier, but a basketball-themed Immunity Challenge thwarted Brawn teammate Sarah's attempts to throw the game. After leading his post-Shuffle tribe to a big Reward win, Cliff was targeted by former tribe mate Trish, who was willing to squander a prohibitive numbers advantage just to get rid of a player she called lazy, shady and claimed hadn't spoken to her in 13 days.
In his exit interview, Cliff strongly disagrees with two of those charges, though he admits he could have talked to Trish more. The former UConn great discusses the surprising toughness of "Survivor" and how he hoped to combat the familiar "He doesn't need the money..." argument.
Click through for the full Q&A...
HitFix: In your post-elimination interview on the show last night, you had a big smile. Are you enough of a "Survivor" fan that you were able to appreciate being part of a blindside, even if it was from the wrong side?
Cliff Robinson: It's part of the game, you know? It's part of the game and I've learned from playing professional sports that you can't get too caught up emotionally when things don't go your way. So for me, I knew going into this that it was a possibility that I wouldn't make it to the end, so you just have to take the chips as they fall.
HitFix: Was that lesson harder or easier to get your mind around in this environment versus a basketball environment?
Cliff: You know, it was a little harder. You're out there playing for your "Survivor" life and you get used to that environment. It's not an environment that you're accustomed to, but you get accustomed to it and you make the adjustments. So when you're instantly out of that environment, it's kinda a shock to you.
HitFix: Was "Survivor" as hard as you expected it to be? Harder? Easier?
Cliff: It was harder than I expected. You go out there with these preconceived notions that, "Oh, this a show so they may be yelling cut" or this or that. It's not happening like that. It's called "Survivor" for a reason and anybody who goes through the experience of being on the show, you've gotta give them kudos, because it's tough out there.
HitFix: How confident were you going into the Tribal Council that things were going to go your way and how much did your confidence waver listening to Trish during Tribal Council?
Cliff: Well, I felt a little unease as we left for Tribal, because of a conversation that was being thrown around about us trying to throw a challenge to get LJ out and I know the only person who could have had that conversation with Trish, who was circulating this information, the only person who could have gave her that information was Tony, so I felt a little uneasy, but at the same time, I thought Tony would stick with the numbers that we had.
HitFix: We saw on Wednesday that Lindsey was being very paranoid and saying that Trish was going to flip and you insisted that eventually Trish was going to come to her sense when she needed to. Should you have listened to Lindsey more? Were you putting too much faith in Trish's common sense?
Cliff: No, actually, from the beginning I knew there would be a possibility that she would go over to try to play with LJ and Jefra because prior to us merging with those guys, we had conversations about other tribes and this that and the other and she was very taken by LJ. So I knew it was just a matter of time before she was going to go to try to join up with them and try to make some things happen. I just thought Tony would stick with the group and get us past these guys and then worry about playing a different game later.
HitFix: Was there anything you could have done in retrospect to shore up Tony's support a little bit more? Or was he just going to do whatever he wanted to do, regardless?
Cliff: I think Tony was going to do what he wanted to do, because he went in with a way that he wanted to play the game and that's how he started playing the game and he's continuing to play the game that way. He's lying, he's trying to manipulate, he's doing those things. A lot of people go in with a preconceived notion as to how they want to play and once you get there, your game changes. The game is constantly evolving and you just have to do your best to stay up with the flows of how things were going.
HitFix: When you were out there, were you aware of how much Trish disliked you, was gunning for you, whatever that was?
Cliff: Well, after a while I knew that we weren't in an alliance, because I wasn't talking to her about the game and she wasn't talking to me about the game. I knew that eventually I was gonna try to get her off.
HitFix: OK. Trish leveled some very specific accusations against you on the show, specifically not working at camp and never talking to her. What did you think of her saying those things?
Cliff: Well, about me never talking to her? I mean, that was... you know... Probably, we spoke briefly at times at the beginning, talked strategy, I talked strategy with her. But as far as me not talking to her by the end, you know, she was probably correct from that standpoint. As far as me being lazy? Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm definitely not buying into that, because I don't have a lazy bone in my body.
HitFix: So in retrospect, should you have talked to her more?
Cliff: Oh yeah! Yeah, that's the one thing I do regret, is letting Trish kinda get under my skin a little bit. I should have done a better job at faking it, faking it to make it. That's a part of the game that you have to really try to do your best at when it comes to people's little quirks that they might have, things that they may do that can irritate you or get under your skin. You've gotta try your best to not let that kind of stuff come into your game, because if it does, it's gonna show. So that's one thing that I do regret, is that I didn't massage that relationship a little bit better until I was able to get her out of the game.
HitFix: And she and Jefra both described you last night as "shady." Do you think there was anything shady about your game out there, do you think?
Cliff: No. Not at all. Not at all. That's a part of their game, to try to get people to have bad thoughts about different people out there. I was with Jefra for two days. Jefra couldn't even form an opinion of me being shady within those two days, so I definitely don't put any weight on what she said. What Trish said? You know, me and Trish didn't get along, so I would expect her to say something like that.
HitFix: Before watching last week's episode, had you had any awareness that Tony and, to some degree, Sarah were plotting against you?
Cliff: Me and Tony, we were kinda just really keeping an eye on one another. I had a feeling about him and he had some kind of a feeling about me. The one thing that did surprise me was Sarah trying to throw a challenge to get me out. Instead of her coming to talk to me about what Tony said, she just automatically bought into it and that was a little disappointing. But at the same time, it's part of the game.
HitFix: In the middle of that challenge, did you have any awareness at all that your teammates were not trying their hardest?
Cliff: I didn't. I just thought they couldn't swim. I just thought they couldn't go down very deep. But after looking at it, it did seem a little shaky, especially with Sarah, who's such a good athlete, who said she was a very good swimmer, to not be able to go down three feet to get a buoy? That was kinda... But they gave a good try. It didn't work out for them. [He chuckles.]
HitFix: How stupid was it that they tried to throw the one challenge that had a basketball component?
Cliff: It was extremely stupid, but at the same time, going into a challenge, you don't know what the challenge is. As contestants or tribe members, we don't know what the challenge is, so I'm sure they didn't know before going over there that it was gonna be a challenge where I was gonna be shooting baskets at the end. They probably would have rethought their decision.
HitFix: How gratifying was your domination in that challenge and also in the post-Shuffle Reward where there was nothing anyone could do to move you off that pole?
Cliff: It was great to be good in challenges. It felt really good to be helpful to my tribe, to be able to bring some rewards, to be able to stay away from Tribal Council. That's always a good feeling, but at the same time, I think those guys knew moving forward -- Tony, LJ -- I think those guys knew that I would be tough moving forward in the individual challenges.
HitFix: And whenever there's a professional athlete or any successful professional on "Survivor," the argument that immediately comes up when people are talking about them is the "He doesn't need the money" argument. Had you already begun to think about how you were going to combat that when the time came?
Cliff: It started running through our tribe before we merged into the Solana tribe. It started running around, Sarah started the conversation, so I had to start right into the fact that I'm out here playing just like everybody else. I had to go right into that a little sooner than I thought, but I knew it was something that was gonna have to be addressed.
HitFix: But did you have a specific answer to the argument?
Cliff: Oh yeah. My answer was: I'm out here playing just like everybody else. I'm putting myself through this just like everybody else. If I put myself in a position to win the game, I deserve to win.
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