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Michael Yerger was one of the youngest players to ever compete on Survivor. But the other players never knew it. Michael lied about his age, but with all his maturity, it was not a tough sell. Michael was on the wrong side of the numbers almost from the very beginning, and not all the idols or fake idols in the world — and there sure are a lot of them this season — could save him.
The teenager was finally voted out of Survivor: Ghost Island after a twist that separated the remaining players into two temporary tribes. Once he failed to win immunity, Michael knew he was in trouble, and while his lie to Kellyn that he had an idol actually got some traction, it wasn’t enough to save him, as he was eliminated in a revote after tying with Laurel on the first vote (because Kellyn used her extra vote advantage and put both of them on the woman who saved her last week). That was confusing, but the result is that it was the end for Michael.
How did he almost put it off? Did anyone ever ask to see it? And how bummed is he that if he had voted for Laurel instead of Wendell that he would still be in the game? We asked Michael all that and more — like what was the reaction from his castmates when they found out he was really 18? — when he called into EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105). Here are some highlights from that chat. (Also make sure to read our exit interview with Jenna Bowman.)
EW RADIO: First off, how the heck did you get Kellyn to buy that lie that you had an immunity idol without ever even showing it to her?
MICHAEL YERGER: I think it was just because I had found half the idol with Donathan. I knew exactly what type of idol it was. I knew what season it was from. I knew the backstory. I had all that information as ammunition, so when I’m sitting with her on the beach I’ve got this full-fledged story about the idol I just found, so honestly I just think she didn’t even question it. Which is kind of dumb after the idol move I made with James’ [idol from Survivor: China]. You would think, fool me once don’t get fooled again. But I think I sold it pretty hard. They didn’t really show me tell this story of the idol, but she bought it and I was honestly surprised that she was kind of gullible in that moment.
I was really shocked [that she believed me]. But I understand her wanting to be safe to a certain extent. She knows I’m a big idol guy. I love looking for them. And obviously I want to make big moves with them and I needed one. I think it wasn’t too far out of the question. Especially since that idol had not been found — that one that regenerated on the beach — so there was so much mystery there. And then obviously my lie about the backstory of the super idol from Kaoh Rong, it all just made sense in her head where she didn’t even have to question it.
Did Kellyn ever ask to see it?
She never did. During Tribal, Dom kind of challenged me to do so. I was kind of laughing at myself last night and you see me like, “Well, nothing I can do now!” Dom was definitely on me.
Jeff Probst seemed to really help you in that moment by saying there’s no reason you should show anyone.
He definitely did! I was like, “My dude! Thank you, Jeff!” Because I was definitely in a hard spot there with my hands tied. And that’s why it was so frustrating looking at Donathan because he definitely could have helped me and essentially saved me and Jenna with the power of that idol. Because just imagine if I had that in hand to go show them and just say, “Listen guys, not going home tonight.” If I took it to Dom to take out Kellyn and said “We’re not going anywhere,” obviously it would have been a done deal. But obviously Donathan was a little selfish in that moment and that’s a little frustrating to me. Especially since I had found half that idol with him and he had told me we were going to make a big move with it. It sucks to see that idol pancaked.
If Donathan had let you borrow it, is there any chance you keep it and use it at Tribal Council?
If he would have handed me the idol, I would not have taken it and played it for myself. I would have done exactly what I had told him I was going to do. I would have taken it, bluffed it to Dom, had the plan to get rid of Kellyn or Laurel — whatever he would have swung with better. And then I would have given it back to Donathan. I don’t think I would have taken that next step to actually take an idol. I wouldn’t respect that move, honestly. But, that being said, I really wish there was room to leverage the idol in some way because it was just wasted.
After Donathan said no and just shut me down… and his excuse was awful. Nobody knew he had the idol, nobody would have questioned he had one, especially if I’m running around with it. The target would have been on me even more. So I don’t understand his thought process at all for that, and his excuse that it’s hidden in my bag already? “Okay, go take it out.” I didn’t understand it. I almost wanted to go take it out and fight for my life because I was not having it. I knew where things were going. I was able to stir up some trouble at Tribal so I’m proud of that, but it’s also tough to see I’m one vote away from getting Laurel out.
Yeah, how bummed were you knowing that had you voted for Laurel instead of Wendell that you would have made it out of there?
So frustrating. I knew nothing about Kellyn’s extra vote. Obviously, me and Kellyn didn’t know how close Laurel was with Wendell especially, but obviously Dom too. So that was a surprise to us. My conversations with Laurel were on the same page for the most part. She was great at doing the pity-me oh, us Malolo are on the bottom. She had me fooled in that regard. I definitely thought she was going to throw a Hail Mary with me and I thought I had Kellyn with this lie about the idol so I was confident the three of us were going to put them on Wendell. And if he plays his idol, fine, I’m going home anyway. And if not, it would be a great blindside.
So I went in pretty confident with that plan because I knew Kellyn had believed that, but obviously she was thinking about my idol and all the mystery there. And she didn’t want to get nipped in the bud, so I totally get her move. It’s just frustrating getting that close.
What was the reaction of people once you told them after the game you were only 18?
Obviously, I didn’t get to give the big reveal. And again, even if I did sit at FTC, I don’t know what I would have done with the age. I really would have had to have read the jury and tried to figure out what would make the most sense for me. But out of the game, I wanted to go to Ponderosa and have a good time. I didn’t want it to put a social gap between the players I had just enjoyed this incredible experience with, so I was in no rush to tell anybody.
I did tell Libby because I wanted to show her respect relationally, because obviously that would be a little bit weird hiding that from her. Definitely told Libby, and I told Jenna during the family meeting when we were with my mom and her dad. So I was kind of letting it out slowly to gauge the reaction and tell the people I was closest to. And then after the game when the word spread out to all the other players, it was the funniest responses. And I’m still getting a kick out of it. So many people will say stuff like, “I need to see a birth certificate!” and stuff like that. It’s very nice to know they also believed in my maturity and were shocked and proud of me for being young. But it didn’t really play a huge part in the game like I thought it might.
Did they let you have a drink at Ponderosa?
They did. But Fiji tequila is not the same as American tequila — I’ll say that much.
Well, clearly that’s the Ponderosa video we need to see. We were talking to Jenna and she mentioned how she found an idol, but you were the one who figured out it was a fake one planted by Wendell.
That’s a big part of the game I wish they had shown because that was me being the little detective out there. But again, it really played no part in the game whatsoever. When Wendell went out to Yanuya on that second tribe swap, Dom had given him the purple idol note from Naviti beach. And obviously Wendell had already found Erik’s necklace [at Yanuya], so for the life of me I don’t know why he would use a purple note with a fake idol on the green colored beach of Yanuya. So that to me was the first red flag.
But when we merged and Jenna came up to me on the beach and said, “Hey, Michael, me and Laurel found an idol together. I found it though. It’s mine. And now we have a tool to help us get further in the game.” Obviously I had my F–ing Stick at that point, but I didn’t want to say anything to anybody. So she told me about that and I was excited for a minute and kept digging deeper and was like, “Okay, what season is it from?” And she’s like, “I don’t know. It’s a skull and crossbones with a leather strap and some beads,” and I was like, “Hmmm, I don’t know what that’s from. Did it have a note with a backstory?” She says, “Yeah, it had a note, but there was no specific story to it.” It looked great though. The dude did a great job on it.”