This is not a good season of Survivor to be seen as a threat. Week after week, we have seen big players be handed their walking parchment papers, blindsided or ousted by former allies looking for a clearer path to the million dollars. This week it was Zeke Smith’s turn to be shown the proverbial door to the jury house.
Zeke was undone in two ways. First off, Will flipped to pad his résumé. And then Adam pulled out his #CrotchIdol to ensure they had enough votes to get make the Oklahoma football fan the fifth member of the jury.
How does Zeke feel about his ouster? Why was Chris still mad at him when he arrived at Ponderosa? What does he consider the best and worst moves in the game? We asked him about all that and more — like the incredible moment between him and his father that may have actually hurt his game — when he called into Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) this morning, and now you can hear the entire thing on the EW Morning Live podcast. Here are a few highlights from our chat:
On if he thought he had Will or had lost Will going into that last Tribal:
“I actually was about 60 percent confident I had Will, because it made sense for Will to stick with me because he could hide behind Jay and me as shields. Also, I needed Will much more than Dave or Hannah needed Will. So I thought strategically it made the most sense for him to stick with me. But you can’t account for an 18-year-old wanting to make his mark on the game, right?”
On that emotional moment at the loved ones visit where his dad said he modeled his behavior on Zeke’s:
“So my dad and I, we haven’t really been that close in our lives, but in the past couple of years have really tried to make an effort to get to know one another. And we’re both kind of like stoic, unemotional guys. And when my dad came out there and was crying and said that he considered me his hero, I didn’t know what to say. I was so overwhelmed with emotion and the feeling of love that I hadn’t had in 33 days. I sort of didn’t know what to do with myself. But I was so touched and it didn’t matter that I didn’t win the million dollars after that because I had this new, profound relationship with my dad.”
On if that loved ones visit may have caused him to lose focus on the game:
“I do think it affected my game in a negative way. It’s such an unfortunate way to characterize such a great life moment to then say I think it affected my game, but I went back to camp and I was a little rattled. I sort of wanted to keep remembering that moment and what my dad said in my mind, and checked out of the game a little bit. And I think that’s a bit of a downside to the loved ones visit is that it takes your mind away from the game and you really have to have your mind on Survivor 24-7.”
On the moment where Bret confided to Zeke that he was gay:
“I was very surprised. I had no idea Bret was gay. He didn’t come up on my gaydar in the least. First, I was just so proud of Bret, because coming out on national television is a really big deal. And I was really touched and honored to be part of Bret’s journey. I think Bret’s an incredible guy and if what you saw last week didn’t make him enough of a hero, on Sunday he’s receiving an award from the Boston mayor’s office for saving a guy’s life. So I just think Bret’s an incredible dude and I love that we got to go through this experience together.”
On Chris not talking to him when he arrived at Ponderosa:
“Chris was very mad at me. He refused to speak to me for a few hours. He did not greet me at the door and it took a couple of days to get back to a working relationship. Chris was not happy.”
On why he wanted last week’s vote to go to a tiebreaker with pulling rocks:
“I actually was trying to force going to rocks. Going into that Tribal Council, I know in that afternoon that I have five votes coming against me, so my best option to stay safe is to tie the vote twice so that I become immune and force rocks for everyone else. And the first thing we had to do was to get the idol misplayed. That was our first task. So we had a decoy name in Ken, and Sunday executes beautifully, dropping Ken’s name and making Adam and Hannah hear it and that’s why Dave ultimately plays the idol for Ken.”
On if he was feeding his side a pep talk before that vote to make sure they all stayed with him to force the tie, thereby putting their own games at risk:
“That’s exactly what happened. Everybody on my side knew we were going to rocks. I maybe didn’t explain that I didn’t have to draw a rock to the people. I maybe indicated that we were all going to rocks together. But that’s also a big reason why the vote was Hannah. I had to give them a name that they were going to be emotional about writing down, and there was a lot of animus towards Hannah because she flipped on me, and we were really tight buds. So people were hyped up to write down Hannah’s name.”
On whether he would have gone to rocks if the tie vote had been on someone else:
“No. Absolutely not. I would have never stuck my hand in a bag of rocks. I think you have to look at the nature of the game and that relationships and alliances are extremely fluid. I think you’re better off trying to stay in the game another day than going out on a rock for people that you wouldn’t necessarily be voting with next week. If you look at who goes to rocks on my side, all four of those people I blindsided within the past three votes. They’re not people I was working with. And I think that’s indicative of this evolved level of gameplay that you’re seeing in season 33, is that alliances are broken and reformed almost every Tribal.
On whom Zeke wanted to bring to the end with him:
“I think I was in a position where I could sit with anybody and win, but my dream final three was Hannah and Ken. There was a perception of both Hannah and Ken that they couldn’t win. If the collective conscious says these two people are not winners, then whether or not how hard they’re playing the game or what they’re doing, they’re always sort of colored as goats.”
On his best move and worst move:
“I think they both have to do with relationships, because that’s the cornerstone of Survivor. I think my worst move was at the beginning, in the Millennial tribe and not working harder to have a relationship with every single person on the beach. I didn’t try to build trust with every single person and got blindsided. I actually am most impressed with the rocks move, because Hannah flipped on me after the Chris vote. Hannah and I were so close. We’re both members of the same cult, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and I thought that bond would never break. So my best move was convincing three people — since Jay had immunity — to go to rocks for me, even though I had previously blindsided them. That’s something I’m pretty proud of.
You can hear the entire Zeke interview — along with Cary Elwes chatting about The Princess Bride, Walking Dead star Tom Payne telling us what’s next for Jesus — below. Or take it on the go by subscribing to the EW Morning Live podcast. Also make sure to check out our Survivor recap and weekly Jeff Probst Q&A. And for more EW Morning Live podcast updates, follow @EWMLPodcast.