By Dalton Ross
October 24, 2019 at 10:47 AM EDT
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The first Canadian born contestant to play Survivor had to take off, eh? Former NHL star Tom Laidlaw was the victim of a tribe swap and the bad numbers that came along with it. After being outnumbered 5-3 on his new tribe, Tom was deemed the most likely to stay true to his original Lairo alliance so was promptly voted out by his new Lairo tribemates after they lost the immunity challenge

Why does Tom think he was ousted? Did he feel any pride or pressure playing as the first Canuck ever? And how does Survivor compare to the NHL? We asked Tom about all that and more, including Karishma’s claims that she was bullied by her original tribe. Read on for his responses.

Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why are you talking to me? Did your new tribemates just fear you would ditch them for your original alliance?
TOM LAIDLAW: I wasn’t totally sure why they got rid of me at all until I watched the show last night. And in some strange way, I was kind of proud of the reason they got rid of me because I really went out there wanting to play the game a certain way. I wanted to form an alliance and be loyal to that alliance knowing at some point as the game goes along you’ve got to take care of yourself. So I formed an alliance actually with Aaron, Missy, Elizabeth, and Elaine. And the tribe swap did not work out too well for me and it ended up those four went over to the other tribe. So when they voted me out, I think they felt like that I was going to remain loyal to my alliance.

I think at one point Jeff even asked me there if I would ever blink and I said: “No, that’s just not going to happen.” So I see why they did it. I understand it. My theory all along was that we wanted to win challenges, which wasn’t happening, and that therefore the fingers should point to Karishma in my mind, but she didn’t go. But like I said, I love playing the way I played. I was proud of the way it played and if I got voted off for the way I played then that’s just the way the game plays.

So your thinking was that you wanted at the merge to probably hook back up with that original alliance if you were all still there?
Yeah, but after watching the show, I wonder if they would have felt the same way I did. Everybody played the game hard right off the start. It was game-play right as soon as we got on the island. They didn’t have to have loyalty to me. That’s the way I wanted to play the game. I don’t know if that’s the same way they wanted to play. I think particularly with Elaine, it would’ve worked, and probably Elizabeth too. And Aaron and I got pretty close too, but he’s playing the game hard. That’s the one thing that probably surprised me the most, the amount I enjoyed the actual game-play. Like Elaine and I put together the blindside to get Ronnie out at the start. So I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed that part of the game.

Did you get a sense you were in trouble when you got to Tribal Council, or did you think Karishma was going home?
In my mind, it should have been Karishma, but I wasn’t confident that I wasn’t going to be heading home. I felt like it was one of the three of us. Was I a threat? Did I have a big personality that people would want out? I didn’t know what their thought process was. So I felt that it was one of the three of us for sure. In fact, I remember sitting there as we were voting and while we’re waiting, and for the first time in the game, I grabbed my bag to get ready to go. I really wanted to say to myself, “Okay, what do you want to stay here if it’s you as you walk away?” So I didn’t think it would be me, but I didn’t think it wasn’t gonna be me either.

You spent 11 seasons in the NHL playing for the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings. How does Survivor compare from both a physical standpoint and an overall competition standpoint?
I turned 61 when I was out there, but my health and my conditioning is a really big part of my life. So I felt like I was really prepared for that. In fact, I went out of my way to put on a little extra weight going out on the show, figuring, okay, I’m going there to win, which was going to be out there for 39 days. So I really felt like physically I was fine. The game of Survivor is a different game than where you’re going man on man in the NHL. You’re banging in the body so there’s the risk of injury and pain all that stuff. That helped me going on Survivor, my experience from dealing with pain and fatigue and all those kinds of things. I felt fine physically.

The mental part, again, I feel fine, but when you do get done with the game you do realize the pressure you’ve been under, because you were really playing the game 24-7. People are getting up in the middle of the night, it’s raining, they sit by the fire and they talk strategy. You don’t want to just be sitting by the camp all day, you want to participate, you’ll get firewood and walk with people and talk about stuff and get to know people — especially after the tribe swap, getting to know the new Lairo tribe. So you’re constantly going, and you’re constantly mentally on guard, right? Like, “What are people saying?” And trying to figure out what’s happening. It is just a different level of toughness. But it was good. It was a real challenge. And that’s what I’m looking for. It was a blast.

You were the very first Canadian to appear on the show. Did you feel any extra pressure or pride or anything over that fact?
I didn’t think about it as much until I finally got out there and it dawned on me that yeah. Canadians are proud people, and I grew up in Canada and I grew up playing hockey in Canada and you’re raised a certain way. And I really felt like I really wanted to play the game that same way that I was raised. There’s a joke that if you ever got to a four-way stop with four cars in Canada, nobody ever moved. Because Canadians are so polite and nice to each other. They go, “No, you go, you go.” So I kept wanting to play that loyal, respectful kind of game.

But you’re also taught in Canada, especially as you grow up as a hockey player, that you play to win. And if that means you have to — it sounds kind of crude — but if you have to break somebody’s arm, to do it. That’s what you do. So you play a respectful game where you respect the coaches, teammates, referees and all that stuff. But you play to win. And that’s the way I wanted to play out this. So I think that the Canadian upbringing really came out when I played the game.

Karishma said she was bullied on the original Lairo tribe. Do you agree with that or not?
No, I don’t at all. We voted Vince out when we were pretty sure he had the idol in his pocket, but we intentionally went after Karishma to make Vince believe that that’s who we are going to vote out. He believed they were going to vote me out. I did not know that at the time, but we wanted to convince him that it wasn’t going to be him and that worked. So we had to kind of be tough on Karishma at that point. But you know, I think, Karishma — and I don’t blame her for this at all — I think her play was that she wanted to have that perception that she was kinda on the outs. It was poor Karishma all the time, even when she cut her hand.

She made that into a bigger issue than I thought I would be. And I felt bad for her, don’t get me wrong, I took that she cut her hand, but I think it became a bigger issue and that she wanted it to become a bigger issue. It seemed like her agenda was to make it into the poor Karishma show. She played the way she wanted to play, but she would sit at camp and just not participate in anything we were doing. And then she complained that she wasn’t part of the group. So that was her game strategy. I’m assuming that that’s the way she wanted to be perceived so I don’t think she was bullied at all. I think everybody in our tribe, we really got along fine. I mean, obviously, there’s the gameplay, there’s stuff going on behind the scenes. But I really thought that everybody pulled together around camp trying to build camp and even challenges, although we didn’t do well. I think everybody was really trying to pull together.

Who was your ride or die out there? I’m assuming it was Elaine.
Yes, she was. We came together right away. I grew up on a farm and she’s got a farm, so there’s that connection there. And she used to have dogs. But it wasn’t just me that she was connected with. She had a connection with the girls. I felt like I was also getting close to Aaron and Dean in particular. But yeah, we really hit it off. It started there when Ronnie and Aaron wanted to vote her out. It was important to me at that point to show her that I’m going to fight for you. I’m not gonna let that happen. That’s how we did it. We let Aaron and Ronnie believe that we’re trying to get Vince out and then we got Ronnie taken out. That was important for me. I wanted her to see that I’m gonna battle with her and that I was her alliance and the rest of them would come along.

So when and how did you finally find out that Boston Rob and Sandra were out there? Did they tell you after you were eliminated?
Yeah, exactly. You know, I was so determined after watching the show all the time that this is the way I wanted to play. So I was always saying to myself, what would I have done if I had gotten to go [to Island of the Idols], because I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Obviously, I’d have taken the advice they gave me, but I didn’t want to change my game either. It was important to me going in and knowing this is the way I’m going to play and that people are gonna try to play mind games with you and get you to do stuff you don’t want to do and vote a certain way. And it was really important to me that no, I’m going to play the game the way I want to play. And if you go down swinging, that’s what happens. So it would have been interesting to see how I would have handled that whole situation.

You seem happy with how you played. So if you could go back and change anything about your game, would you?
I would have looked for idols more. I was more of the opinion than when they said there was the Island of the Idols and that people were going to this other island, that was the only place that there were idols. I did look a little bit, but if I was to do it again… Like, I remember Ben the Marine that won. I really liked his game because he just wouldn’t quit looking for idols. That’s the one where I wish I wouldn’t have convinced myself so much that that was the only place that idols were.

What surprised you most watching the show back this season?
Well, of course, every time your name comes up with people who you think you formed an alliance with. Like, Chelsea and I got along fine, but when I saw that she threw my name up there, that hurt my feelings. I didn’t know that was happening. I think Missy was playing a stronger game that I realized she was. The Tribal Council where Chelsea was voted off, that was a coming out party for Missy a little bit. She got a lot more vocal in front of everybody, but as I watch this show, she should probably did a lot more behind the scenes than I realized she was doing. She played a hard game.

Check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also make sure to read our weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst as well as our full episode recap. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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