For several days, he was in a position of strength, at the center of a seemingly powerful all-male alliance and holding the only available clues to a Hidden Immunity Idol, courtesy of wife Candice's success at Redemption Island. But John didn't find the Idol and his alliance turned on him, spurred on by Brad Culpepper's insecurity about the game-status of his own wife.
That meant that John and Candice had a quality two days together on Redemption before she went home, followed fittingly by Brad. John, in fact, made it all the way up to the last Duel before a castaway would return to the game from Redemption, only to face a task that seemed to give an advantage to female competitors. Attempting to cling to a pole with only small space for footing, John ditched his shoes to get a more literal toehold, but still went out first.
In his exit interview, John talks about his time on Redemption, including his conversations with nemesis Brad, his mistakes with the Immunity Idol clue, the frustration with that final Duel and his new understanding of what drew Candice to "Survivor" thrice..
Click through for the conversation.
HitFix: Your frustration at going out early in the Duel was so raw last night. Has the frustration mellowed yet or did it still piss you off to watch it last night?
That's an awesome question. Yeah. It was frustrating to watch that last night again. I feel like I left a lot of game out there on the table. I had a lot more to offer and I was sorta sitting there biding my time at Redemption Island and all of the frustration just piled up and all of the 12 days that I'd spent out there just sucking it and then thinking that I'm gonna be able to get back in the game and then to be walk in and see that challenge and still do my best and just know that, deep down, I probably didn't have a chance to win that challenge -- Or maybe I did and maybe I'm selling myself, but historically guys like me don't do well in those challenges -- so yeah. It was pretty raw and I was very frustrated at the time and watching it again didn't make it a whole lot easier. I'd be lying if I said I haven't lost some sleep since that challenge thinking about it.
HitFix: Talk me through the difficulties of that challenge. Was it as simple as just being a man and your feet being too big and center-of-gravity and all of that? Or was there something else that did you in? Was there exhaustion that was playing it to as well?
John: I don't know how much exhaustion played a role. I didn't feel like I was exhausted out there. Obviously I'm sure there was some of that, but everybody's tired and they're exhausted out there. From that standpoint, it's probably equal across the board. But I think that it's a simple matter of physics. It's pounds-per-square-inch. I have many more pounds over a smaller surface area of my feet that I'm trying to hold up with that challenge. You see tons of guys that are my size that drop down after two or three minutes on those challenges. I will say that I probably could have lasted a couple more minutes if I had not had my socks on. I was able to kinda wedge my shoes in a little bit at the beginning. I debated not wearing shoes at all, but I kinda was able to wedge them in a little bit in the beginning, but mostly I was supporting myself with my arms and then once I started slipping with my shoes, I couldn't get them back in, so I kicked my shoes off. So then it was the socks and I was like, "Awww, this is terrible! Why did I leave my socks on?" I probably could have lasted a couple more minutes, but in retrospect, looking back on it, Laura M, I don't even think she moved the whole time she was up there. I couldn't have lasted long enough to beat her.
HitFix: When you look back on your "Survivor" experience, how clear is the delineation between the two segments of the game that you played -- the brief time with the tribe and then the 12 days on Redemption?
John: It's obviously a completely different experience when you're on Redemption Island versus when you're in the game, on the beach. On the beach, you're talking with people, you're nervous, you're never comfortable, you're worried about how everyone's viewing you and all that kind of stuff. On Redemption Island, it's survive and advance, win or go home, do or die. Every time. So I sorta became comfortable with that when I was out there on Redemption. I think it would have been easy to sit there and only think about the challenges and just kinda waste away from a strategic standpoint, but I was very dedicated to keeping my mind sharp, thinking about the game, thinking about different scenarios. Every person that came through Redemption Island, I picked their brain to find out as much information as I could about what was going on with each tribe and to figure out who I would work with and why I would be able to work with them and how I would be able to make those in-roads coming back from Redemption. You're definitely at a disadvantage, but I had a lot of things going for me. I'd been giving Monica the clues and she'd been burning them, so I'm the only person who really knew where the Hidden Immunity Idol was and I could share that information with whoever I chose if I got back in the game. Plus, I could tell Tyson that I didn't want to vote out Rachel. I think he'd probably appreciate that. I could try to convince the single players that we needed to vote out the couples. There are a lot of different dimensions to the game that I was thinking about the whole time I was out there. So while on the one hand it is very clear, the delineation between being on the tribe and then being on Redemption, but it's actually not that clear, because I was trying to stay active mentally in the game at all times, even when I was on Redemption.
HitFix: I asked Candice this as well, but other than your wife, who was your favorite person to spend time with on Redemption?
John: Laura M and I had a very good time out there and it was nice. I probably would say Brad, except that I just had this nagging thought in the back of mind that I was so pissed that he had voted me out and, as a result, the two of us were no longer in the game. You know? We got along and had a good time, but it was hard for me to kick that thought out of my mind. But you know, Redemption Island is a weird place. There's really no hard feelings towards people. There shouldn't be. When you're out there, you just keep going on and at some point, one person gets back in the game, so there's really no reason to harbor any ill feelings towards people out there, but Laura M and I had fun, Brad and I had fun, but obviously, of course, Candice and I had the most fun.
HitFix: Tell me about those couples days that you guys got to spend out there and how it made this experience worthwhile for you.
John: A lot of things made this experience worthwhile for me, but I would say that it's funny that we were the only couple that got to spend time together in the game at all, so it's kinda funny that it happened on Redemption Island. It was nice, because we didn't have to have the high stress of being it. You see what Ciera and her mom are going through. Candice and I would have had that same difficult time. If she hadn't been sent to Redemption Island, we both would have had people that we were in with and trying to make that decision would have been very tough and very stressful. It would have been fun to play the game with her, but if we were going to be voted out of the game, it was nice that we got those two days together to just be like, "Hey look. This is the hand we were dealt. It sucks, but let's go out and fish. Let's hang out and decompress a little bit. Let's talk about the game." We'd been out there for eight or nine days and I hadn't gotten the chance to talk to her at all. So it was nice. It was a fine silver lining, but it was a fun experience and it's definitely going to be a really cool thing to tell our kids someday.
HitFix: You say there's no room for anger when you're on Redemption Island, but was there a "Dude, what the hell?" conversation with Brad?
John: Only every day we were out there together, yes. We had the "Dude, what the hell?" conversation, but then we'd go out and we'd throw the football around and just kinda decompress. Because at that point, like I said, I knew I was going to beat Brad at some point, so it wasn't like I had to sit there and beat him down so that I could mentally overcome his situation and beat him in a Redemption Island Duel. I knew I was gonna go and beat him, so I was like, "I may as well have as much fun out here as I can and not make my own life miserable." We had fun. We'd joke about stuff. He'd tell his stories and we'd go out and fish together. It wasn't like we had a rough time, but we definitely had those, "Dude, what the hell?" moments, but he'd say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I know. I know." But you've gotta needle him a little bit.
HitFix: Was he able to understand that the fact that he joined you one vote after you got there probably meant that he'd done something wrong?
John: Oh, he knew. He talked about the fact that he didn't solidify his relationship with Caleb and make him feel safe and all of that, but he also readily admits that... He doesn't regret the decision that he made, because in his mind, he was trying to do what he could on our tribe to not mess with Monica on her tribe and that was a problem that I had with several of the contestants out there, that we had to play our own game. Now it's easy for me, because Candice was already on Redemption Island, but we had to play our own game, because the returning players are certainly playing their own game. They're not caring that they're sending us to Tribal Council every single time, so we have to win challenges. Why not give your loved ones, who are in hopefully a majority alliance, the opportunity to vote out some people who are maybe gunning for them. You know? Going to Tribal Council isn't always a bad thing, when you go once, because you can get rid of some dead weight or you can get rid of somebody you've been wanting to get rid of, but going three or four times in a row is a bad thing for any tribe. So my big things was that, as a tribe, I wanted to win challenges and play our own game and not worry about what was gonna happen at the Merge because, to be honest, Brad voting me out would have kinda hosed him at the Merge too, because then he and Monica would have been a very intimidating pair. If you are a fit, athletic pair of people, you want to have other people that are like you around. You don't want to go to the Merge with a whole bunch of people that are gonna be intimidated by you, because they're just going to vote you out.
HitFix: You mentioned how having Candice at Redemption from the beginning maybe freed you strategically, but what was the balance between that freeing, but also I guess the guilt or responsibility that you felt the entire time from not taking her place there?
John: Yeah, it's tough because I never felt totally free because Candice was really kicking ass out there. This was this thought, and I was playing it down while I was on the beach with everybody and I was like, "Yeah, it's kinda nice. Candice probably isn't gonna make it out," but in the back of my head I was like, "I think she can do this." I believed in her and I thought she totally could have done it, she could have run the table if things had been a little bit different. That last challenge, Candice was up for two hours and 15 minutes the first time she did it, so she would have a much better chance than I did at getting back in the game if that was the final challenge and she was out there. Everybody on the beach that was on my tribe, after every Redemption Island" Duel -- or at least the first two -- all they would talk about is how Candice did and how she's just so dominating and all this stuff and I knew that that wasn't necessarily a good thing. And on top of that, I'm getting these clues to a Hidden Immunity Idol. And my whole deal when I was going in to play the game, I was like, "I wanna fly under the radar. I don't wanna make any waves. I don't want to be the person who's the center of attention. I just wanna kinda do my thing, do well in challenges, show that I'm a trustworthy guy and just kinda get in with a good alliance, get a good suballiance going," but obviously that plan went right out the window the first five minutes of the game when my wife gets voted out and all of a sudden, we're in the center of attention and then continuing to be the center of attention when I'm getting these clues. It was a little bit of a mess. Admittedly, I probably could have handled some of those things a little better.
HitFix: OK, then. How frustrating was it to watch Tyson basically stumble upon the Idol last night and, in retrospect, what do you wish you'd done differently, Idol-wise?
John: So I didn't want to look for the Idol all the time, because I didn't want my tribe to think that I was just going out and looking for it. And I really wasn't. The one time I really spent any chunk of time, it seemed like a lot longer than it was, but there's a lot of delays and everything with how things go down, but I really only looked for about 30 minutes. But that 30 minutes turned out to be pretty critical, because all of my tribemates were talking about voting me out, which was obviously a rookie mistake on my part. You don't leave before Tribal Council and give people the opportunity to plot against you, but I felt safe because, in my mind, there was such a clear, logical decision that one of the other two girls should have gone home after their very poor performances three challenges in a row. We just lost every single time and it was mind-numbing to me to think of anything else other than voting somebody out who's weakening our tribe, so in that regard, I felt safe enough that I would go look for it. I told the guys that I was gonna go look for it. I said, "If I find it, this is gonna be great for us as an alliance." In retrospect, I obviously should have just been completely all full-disclosure, "This is what the clues say," show people the clues, going and looking for the Idol together as a team and if that ends up biting me because somebody else finds it and uses it to vote me out then maybe that's less dumb than keeping some information to myself? But you can get screwed either way. It's really all about how the chips fall and one person finds one reason to vote you out -- Brad got a little bug in his ear about Candice and I getting back in the game and not wanting to work with him and Monica and he's like, "Well, we've gotta vote John out right now." Everyone kinda went along with it because it wasn't them and they all kinda hung onto this idea of, "Well, he's being shady with the clue," but there definitely were a lot of different things that were at play. It wasn't like one single thing, so it's hard for me to go back and say, "I definitely would have done this differently and it definitely would have worked out better for me." But if I had to choose one thing, I would say probably being more open with the clues.
HitFix: As a last question: Candice talked to me about how once you've played it, "Survivor" becomes an itch that gets in your blood. Did you understand that compulsion to return before and how well do you understand it now? And how much do you have that itch now?
John: Oh my God! I never would have totally understood why someone would want to do that again and again and again to themselves until I went out there and did it. And it would be one thing if I went out there and won. Then you're like, "Well, I did this and it was awesome and I have nowhere to go but down." But I think I definitely have so much more potential and could have done so much better if the chips hadn't been stacked against us like they were with Candice getting voted out right away and then immediately I was the odd man out, I was the only person who was uncoupled on my tribe. I think in a different scenario, I think it could have worked out a lot better for me. I definitely feel like I had a lot more to give to the game, so yeah, I definitely understand the itch. That's the No.1 thing I understand most now after playing is that itch to watch to do something different and go back and not repeat the same mistakes and do better.
Other "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" Exit Interviews:
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