The wait was worth it. Michele Fitzgerald finished playing Survivor: Kaoh Rong over a year ago. And she says when Jeff Probst walked out at Wednesday night’s finale with the votes, she still didn’t even know if she had won. That sounds like a year’s worth of torture, but the reward more than makes up for it.
That’s because Michele was indeed crowned the Sole Survivor and received the million dollar check that comes with it. The winner called into Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) this morning to talk about her year-long wait, when she started to feel she had a good shot at winning, whom she would have voted for had she not made the final three, and what she’s going to do with all that money. (Also check out our interviews with Aubry and Tai.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You had to wait over a full year from the time of the final Tribal Council to hearing your name called as the winner. How unbearable was that?
MICHELE FITZGERALD: It was a heck of a long time. It was a long, long year. We were lucky to have this experience and we just got to have it a little bit longer. It was a hard wait, but we got to draw it out and this experience would have been over months ago if we had aired when we were originally supposed to.
Did you know you had won?
I had no idea, so I didn’t buy anything. I’ve been living on my regular budget. I really didn’t know because Cyd keeps things pretty close to her chest and you never really know where Debbie’s head is at. So I didn’t really have a clear-cut answer on which way it was going to go last night, so it was pretty shocking.
I got off the island and I was really, really high on it. I was like, “Wow, I killed it.” And I think I played an amazing game and I felt really confident that I had won. But as the year wears on, it wears you down and you start to get like, “Wait, did I play exactly how I thought I played?” You start second guessing and doubting, and it all came to a head last night and I was a nervous wreck. I had no idea which way it was going to go. I was really on pins and needles waiting for this episode and super excited when it finally played out, and I could definitely sense the strength and momentum as the hours progressed last night.
How did you feel about your chances walking into the final Tribal Council?
It took me to be sitting in front on the jury. I thought I had somewhat of a shot and once I was sitting in front of the jury and I’m looking up there and I’m like, “You’re my friend, you’re my friend, you’re my friend, and you’re my friend. You all respect me,” then a lot of my concern went out the window. I just talked to them from my heart and I think that they valued the game that I played. I felt confident and it got stronger as it progressed. People started speaking up for me. Debbie started speaking up for me at first, and then Jason, and then Scot, so I started feeling stronger.
How key were those two challenge victories at the end in terms of giving you a résumé that showed you deserved to win?
It was really, really important for me. You can even extend it into my conversation with Tai when I was really standing up for myself at the Tribal because that was a huge shift with me saying, okay, here’s my voice. I am here. I am playing. Don’t forget about me over here. I’m on the bottom and now I’m going to show you how I’m going to get back on top. It was evident that there was nowhere to go and nobody was going to help me out. I played that up to the jury, so I think coming off that huge display of “Oh my gosh, now Michele is way on the bottom,” to coming in and winning both of those and knocking things back in my favor, and doing it myself, and remaining positive, and believing in myself the whole way — that was very respected by the people on the other side, I think.
Do you think what Neal said to you when you removed him from the jury may have helped in a way as well?
That was a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, Neal got pulled for his medical evacuation and that’s a shame. You never want to see somebody who has such a passion for the game have their game end like that. And then here I come in and I kind of strip him of the one power that he has left in this game, and that’s to vote for the person that he thought had played the best.
For me, I just think he was probably going to knock me down and he showed that he had that probable intent. It would have messed up my mental state to have someone really knock me down there. I kept getting stronger and stronger and I think if somebody really took one hard at me that I maybe would have lost a little bit of momentum. So it was a good choice for me, and people saw that hey, he definitely didn’t have the intention of voting for me and he probably would have said some nasty things, so it really proved I made the right decision.
Let’s say you hadn’t won that final immunity and they sent you to the jury. Whom do you vote for in a final three of Aubry, Tai, and Cydney?
My girl Cyd gets my vote. I probably would have to sit down and talk to Julia a little bit, because as you know, I like to talk it out with everyone and make sure that I’m seeing every angle. But Cydney was my girl from the beginning and she’s badass. She never made herself or her game smaller. And she came from the bottom. Talk about an underdog. I mean, Brawn was really having it rough out there. And I thought she knew when to shut up and when to speak up. She proved every day how fierce she is and she really inspires me, so I think probably Cydney would be my vote there. But nothing against Tai or Aubry, they both played amazing games in their own right. And totally different games from each other. But it would have to go to my girl Cyd.
Was there anything about your game that did not make the final edit that you wish we would have seen?
I did beat myself up at first. And I did wish I was a little more aggressive and little more assertive. But looking back, my family is all like, “That’s you. You played exactly like you are as a person.” I am who I am, and I played the only way that I knew how, and that is as a social game, building those foundations of relationships and friendships first and foremost. There were some huge personalities on our season, and sometimes the best thing to do with big personalities is kind of sit back and let them all eat each other up, and at the end of the day, be like, I hope you respect me enough. I can only work with what I’ve got.
So, what are you going to do with the money?
I am going to fix my car. Then, maybe a little trip. I’m going to Napa with my girls this week, so we’re going to drink some champagne, and once that’s over, I’m going to go back to real life.
Also make sure to read Dalton’s full episode recap as well as Jeff Probst answering burning questions from the finale, his reaction to the Sia reunion surprise, and scoop on NEXT season of the show. For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and also check out our interviews with Aubry and Tai.