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Adam Klein came on to Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X to honor his dying mother, and that journey concluded Wednesday night with the most emotional victory in Survivor history. The homeless shelter manager from San Francisco was awarded a million dollars by the jury over Ken and Hannah in a landslide decision and then called into EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) to talk all about it.
Was it always his plan to reveal his mother’s stage 4 lung cancer right before the voting? How does he think he would have done against David and/or Jay? And what did it feel like to share his win with his mother before she passed away? We asked him all that and more. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your plan going into final Tribal in terms of revealing the info about your mother’s illness, because I’m sure you thought about whether to do that. You had a chance to do it with Jay’s Tribal Council question and didn’t, but then you did get into it at the very end with David’s last question.
ADAM KLEIN: Yeah, I read your recap so I knew you’d be asking me this question. [Laughs] I honestly did not plan on talking about my mom’s cancer at the final Tribal Council. With Jay getting up there, it brought it out of me, and then with Dave’s question, it just felt like the only answer that I have. He asked about personal growth and transformation and it wasn’t really about that for me. It was about what the growth was for my family and the story of my family. I had really mixed feelings about it because I knew there would be interviews about it and crazy Internet trolls who would be like, “Oh he’s doing this for sympathy.” And I knew I would win without it. I didn’t need to drop this bomb in order to win the game.
I’m a human being. This is a true story. This is my real life, so when people are like, “He’s just doing it for sympathy” — this is actually what I am living through in the moment and you have to put yourself in my position in that time and what I was going through. And I haven’t been able to share it with these people, and I do love these people. They have become my friends and my family over the last 39 days and I wanted to share it with them. So in the end, I just felt like it was the right moment and the right way to share it and close that loop on that. It just felt right.
What was it like sitting up there on stage at the finale and reliving it all, but in front of a live audience, no less.
I knew I was going to have to get on stage and talk about my mom’s death on live national television. It was terrifying. This is not something that people normally have to do. But this was a part of my story on the show because it was a part of my real life. It wasn’t a decision that the editors made to shove that story down the viewers’ throats. No, this was literally what I was going through. I’m honestly just sort of glad that that part of the live show is over. But I’m really hoping I was able to inspire people to live life the way my mom always did, which was full of love and laughter and life. She lived it 100 percent and she inspires me to do the same every single day. And then hopefully we can raise a whole bunch of money for lung cancer research as well. [ED NOTE: You can donate right here.]
The fact that you got to make it home and share the fact that you won with her just before she passed away is so special and must have at least given you some comfort at such an otherwise terrible time.
Like you all said, it was very cinematic. I had absolutely no idea what I was coming home to. And the thing is, she was strong throughout the entire season because they had made the decision to stop treatment. My mom did not want to pull me from the game. That was not an option in her mind. But they made the decision that if I was voted out, even if I were on the jury, that I would come home immediately.
I said on the show many times that I wanted to watch the episodes with her. We didn’t get to experience it that way together, the way I anticipated it, but she got to live it in her own way because she knew I was still in the game every step of the way. Otherwise, I would have been home. So she got stronger and stronger throughout the time I was still in there because she knew that I was getting closer and closer to that final dream. I absolutely believed that she held on and she only really started to decline the night that final Tribal Council happened. And by that point, I was already on my way home. And I believe that she waited for me.
You also said she was making videos for you. That’s a beautiful testament to your relationship and so special for you to have those and have something as close to watching the episodes together as you could.
She recorded them as the season was filming and I watched them as they were actually airing so it was like I got to watch them alongside her. And I just wish there were more and we had more moments and more time.
You’re a huge fan of this game so let’s get back to the game stuff. How frustrating was it when Hannah started targeting people like Sunday and Bret instead of the much bigger threat in David?
The one that really, really troubled me was the one we saw in this finale, which was when she voted out Bret. I thought that was a terrible decision that put us in real, real danger of Dave sweeping the entire game. We had built him up much — on purpose, partly — at Tribal Council, saying how amazing he is, so he would be this huge threat. So he had to go at final five or final four. So what we did in allowing him to get to final four was make Ken betray him, basically, while if we had done it at final five we could have done it without Ken. And I wasn’t sure Ken would be able to do it. Ultimately, he was and that was great for me. But I was really worried about that.
As for the Sunday one, sometimes in this game, you have to take a step back, and I had just taken control the episode before when we got rid of Will and the episode before that when I helped to take out Zeke. So I was starting to get up there as one of the top threats in the game. So I realized, if I put my foot down and say, “No, we have to do it my way,” maybe it would have gone my way that vote, but the very next vote I’m the biggest target in the game. So sometimes in the game — even it’s not the best person to go strategically — as long as it’s not totally damaging to your game, you step back, you let your alliance member step up so they think they’re going to beat you in the end, so you’re not the biggest threat in the game.
Do you think Jay would have beat you at the end?
Jay and Dave both had to go. And to me, the perfect final four was me, Hannah, Ken, and Bret, because Bret was the type of person that I thought I actually would have a very good shot against in the vote but was scary enough to Hannah and Ken that they would have voted him out over me. So, to me, that was the perfect final four. It didn’t work out exactly that way, but we still were able to beat Dave in that challenge and take him out when we needed to. But I definitely feel like if I go to the end with Jay or Dave, they beat me, and that’s why they had to go. Jay was willing to go to the end with me, and that’s great for him because he wins! And I genuinely believe that he wanted to go to the end with me because it made sense for him. But for me, it didn’t.
The relationship between you and Jay was probably the most-fascinating one in the season. You loved and hated each other, simultaneously in different ways. What have you guys been like out of the game?
Jay will always be a brother to me. And we are so different in so many ways. But there is this special bond that still exists to this day. And I hate him, but I love him ten times as much. And he’s like a brother to me and always will be.
How do you do in a fire-making tiebreaker challenge against David? Any chance you beat him?
I actually on that day went around, grabbed a flint, I snuck away to try to work on making fire. I was able to do it pretty easily with the knife, but not as easily with the machete. I wasn’t sure what tools we were going to get, but I was incredibly nervous to go up against Dave in a fire-making contest because this guy lived in the fire. He literally at one point put hot ashes in his pants pockets to stay warm in the middle of the night! He slept in the fire! So this guy was gong to be really, really, really hard to beat in a fire-making contest.
You mentioned you were confident you had won to the point where you told your mom. Did you think you would get a clean sweep like that?
You guys saw obviously an edited version of Tribal Council, and the show obviously wants to make it exciting and look like anything can happen, but it was pretty clear in those moments to anyone who was there where the votes were going. And I felt that just by looking at the jury throughout the Tribal Council. I looked at them constantly and I was constantly trying to figure out who are they rolling their eyes at? Who are they not really liking out here? And those are the people that I want to go to the end with. So when Dave was voted out of the game, I felt very confident that I had a winning argument at final Tribal Council. And by the time I left I was even more confident. And by the time I had gone home, enough of the jury members told me they had voted for me so I was sure I had won.
So the second Dave was gone you were pretty sure you had won the game?
Yeah, but the crazy part is I really believed all three of us walked into final Tribal Council thinking we were about to win the game.
We know you are donating $100,000 of your winnings to Stand up To Cancer. Are you treating yourself to anything?
Honestly, I am so not a consumer. I really just don’t spend a whole lot of money, but something my family has always loved to do is traveling so I will definitely use some of my winnings for that. But for the most part, that money is going to get locked away and allow me to continue to live the kind of life I want to live. I work for a homeless shelter non-profit now and I don’t make as money as I would working for a for-profit company probably, so $900,000 is going to allow me to continue to do that kind of work and not have to worry about myself financially.
Yeah, well, Uncle Sam might have to say something about that $900,000 figure.
Yeah, especially living in California with 12.3 percent state income tax.
You can listen to audio of all the Survivor finale interviews below! Also make sure to also read Dalton’s full Survivor finale recap as well as Jeff Probst sharing intel on the next season of Survivor: Game Changers. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/298036971" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]