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Bradley Kleihege is a fantastic Survivor player. Just ask him! He’ll tell you! But as prone as Bradley was to talk himself up on screen, he was also acutely aware of his faults — chiefly, his proclivity for being bossy, impatient, and, in his words, “a total d—.” And that is exactly what ultimately did Bradley in this week on Survivor: Ghost Island, as he was the seventh player voted out of the game after annoying his own alliance.
Or at least that’s what we were led to believe from the edit. But Bradley says there may have been another reason, and he shared it with us when we spoke the morning after his televised ouster. How much of what we saw on screen was the real Bradley? How much does it kill him to not even make the merge? And who is not playing the game out there on the island? Bradley revealed all that and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, what the hell happened?
BRADLEY KLEIHEGE: I got blindsided, but I think what happened that maybe wasn’t 100 percent as clear was that Dom saw me as a really big threat, and that’s something he’s told me since we got back from Fiji. What he told me is that he thought I was voting off all the older people, because I got rid of Brendan and then I got rid of Stephanie, and he just felt like he couldn’t trust me
Interesting, because the edit makes it look like they got rid of you because they just didn’t want to put up with you.
What did you make of it at the time?
I thought it was Chelsea, because what the edit didn’t show is that I never trusted Chelsea. She threw my name out on day 2 to Kellyn, and Kellyn immediately told me that Chelsea had thrown my name out, so I knew from the very beginning that I really couldn’t trust Chelsea so I was excited to get back with Dom because I thought Dom and I were really solid. But I knew I couldn’t trust Chelsea at all, so I knew I was in a lot less of a strong position going back to Naviti than the edit showed.
I thought Chelsea had convinced them to flip on me. I think big picture-wise, I was playing too fast and too hard at Malolo and it just put a massive target on my back. Because what was interesting from the edit is it made it look like Des and Chelsea had a say in the matter [at Malolo]. What actually happened was Kellyn and I would go and talk about who we wanted to send home. Then we would go back to the group and wait for them to suggest what we wanted, and then immediately encourage it so that they would make the decision that we had already decided on, but they felt like it was their decision. And that’s how we got nobody to feel like they were on the bottom. We had such a grip on Malolo that it was too much for Dom. He thought it was too big of a threat. It was 100 percent Dom’s decision to get rid of me last night.
What, then, was your plan moving forward had you made it to the merge?
My ride or die was definitely Kellyn, and at that point, I was also working with Michael, which is something that is not being shown quite as strongly, which is how much Kellyn and I had Michael at that point. I had that. Sebastian and I were very close. If you go back to the Brendan vote, he was never going to flip on me. He was 100 percent in my back pocket. So I had those two, I had Des, I was very close with Wendell. I thought I had Dom. Apparently, I didn’t. That’s generally our core group.
Whom did you want to be sitting next to at the end?
Sebastian and Jenna. Or let’s say a Jenna or a Chelsea. I knew I had to be sitting next to two people that were not gamers and that were not the most-liked people in the entire world, or the entire universe of Ghost Island. I knew it was an uphill battle, because I’m not somebody like a Kellyn or a Laurel or a Wendell to a degree — they’re just a lot more easygoing. So I knew I needed to pick people that really were not playing the game too much.
You said that “For me, the hardest test out here is to not be a total d— because historically, in my personal life, that’s been what derails it all.” In what ways has that derailed your life?
Um, I’ll say that was a bit of puffery to the camera in some ways. What you saw is me, but it’s definitely me as an exaggerated version. You cannot take that at face value. I’ve been watching the show since I was 9. I wanted to be a villain, and I knew it makes better TV if you are ridiculous. With that being said, elements of being impatient — you see the part after we won the steak, and I’m like “C’mon, guys, let’s go!” What you don’t see is that the producers were also like, “C’mon, guys, let’s go! It’s taking you forever to cook your steaks, and you’ve got bugs all over them now.”
It’s that impatience where I have a hard time putting up with people that are just being difficult, and based on the edit, if you just watched the episode last night, it looks like I was being 100 percent difficult and no one else was and it was all my own demise. And I’ll take responsibility that, yeah, there were people on Naviti that were irritating me, but I think it was definitely a two-way street.
You mentioned wanting to go out there and be a Survivor villain. Why is that?
I just think it’s the funnest character on Survivor. A lot of people go on Survivor and wish they could be the villain but don’t have the balls to go out there and be the villain. It’s just a fun way to play the game. I remember what happened, but I don’t necessarily remember what I say, so it’s as amusing for me to watch myself on TV as I think it is for someone back home. You watch last week, and I talk about how I was underestimating my own game — that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, and I have no recollection of saying it, and I think it’s hilarious. I think from an entertaining standpoint, it’s really fun to watch on TV.
With that being said, from my villain standpoint, I never want to come across as a phony, and I never want to come across as malicious against someone else. It really all is in good fun, and in a way, it’s kind of making fun of myself.
How much does it kill you to go out right before the merge?
It was devastating. It was really, really hard. I really didn’t see it coming. Right before we left for Tribal there was a very weird energy at camp. I had been on a walk, I got back, we had about 15 minutes, and the mood was just very off. And at that point I had no actionable intelligence that they were going to flip on me because logically I agreed with you — I didn’t think it made sense for them strategically for them.
I knew I’d be in the hot seat as soon as the merge hit, but I didn’t think it was going to happen that night, so I felt funny about it, but I had nothing to go off of. So what I didn’t want to do was blow up my whole game at Tribal on the chance that they were going to flip on me. So I was pretty surprised, and then I’m on the boat to Ponderosa, and I’m devastated, but at the same time, I have to go spend three weeks with the people I voted off. So I had to get to Ponderosa and, in a way, keep playing the game, but playing the game now in the sense of, “I have to get these people to like me because now I have to spend time with them outside of the game.”
Once the game is over, there was a whole different dynamic. So while it was devastating and the worst experience, it was also amazing. I was having the whole spectrum of emotions of awfulness, fun, and being thankful that I got a chance to know, like, Brendan and Stephanie, because Brendan and I especially, we did not get along in the game and were not very close. We get along great outside the game. But it’s tough. There hasn’t been a morning where I haven’t woken up a little bit devastated since it happened.
What surprised you the most watching the season play back on TV?
I think the biggest surprise is the number of people who look like they’re playing on TV, but 19 out of 20 people on our season will say that that one person didn’t play the game a second they were out there. Or people that were never going to win. So it’s really interesting to see and look back and be like, “Okay, well, that is not how I or anyone else perceived that person as having played, but I guess you have to make it look like some people are playing.”
Are you talking about Libby?
Donathan is a good example. Yeah, Libby. Chelsea. It’s so tough, and I want to couch all of this by saying that I am friends with almost every single one of these people outside the game, but going back to what I was thinking right as I was being voted off, yeah. Chelsea was completely irrelevant. Her edit is actually pretty representative of what she was doing out there. Even you look at some people talking strategy like Sebastian — he didn’t play the game a single day he was out there. Jenna wasn’t playing. It’s kind of amusing to see.
Obviously, they cannot show everything. What’s something we as viewers did not see that you wish had made it to air?
I think the biggest thing is we didn’t get to see the dynamic those first six days at Naviti outside of Chris and Dom. And so that was a bit of a bummer because, as a viewer, we ended getting to Malolo, and it’s like, “Okay, you have five original Naviti at Malolo, but why are they so strong? Who is working together and who isn’t? Who is on the bottom?” Because as a viewer, it looks like all of a sudden Michael just pulls out that Chelsea and Sebastian are at the bottom, and it was a much more nuanced structure between the five of us.
And then I think the other thing that is interesting for me that didn’t make it to air is that Kellyn and I were basically called out for running things at Malolo the whole time, and you just don’t really see that. In some instances, I think the edit gave her some credit, and in a lot of ways with the Brendan and Stephanie votes, it kind of looks like I was the ringleader. But it was 100 percent a 50-50 between the two of us making the decisions.
If you could go back and change one thing you did that maybe would have changed your outcome, what would it be?
The hard part is I think I looked a lot less strategic in the edit, so my answer to that would be: if I could have had one more day. I had a really good base set of relationships that I had built. But I guess edit-wise, you want to hear something like I could have been more congenial to people on the beach or something like that. But if I had just made it out of Naviti that night, I think it would have been a whole different game. It looked like I was a great person to bring to the end because nobody was going to vote for me, and I don’t think at that point the opinion of everybody that was left was that I wouldn’t get any votes.