By Dalton Ross
December 18, 2019 at 11:05 PM EST
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday’s season finale of Survivor: Island of the Idols.

You need a good social game to win Survivor, and Tommy Sheehan had a very good social game. That became abundantly clear when he was crowned the winner of Survivor: Island of the Idols. While Tommy may have lacked some of the big moves that have defined recent champions, he was able to forge personal connections with the jury while also being in a power position to help control the majority of the votes. That leadership and affability led him all the way to the $1 million prize over Dean and Noura.

We caught up with Tommy after he was announced as the winner to get the scoop on his path to success, find out how nervous he was about the vote, ask how he would have done against Janet or Lauren at the end, and see if he would have liked to have played Survivor: Winners at War.

Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, congratulations, millionaire!
TOMMY SHEEHAN: It can’t get better than this. I lived out my dream, I came out on top, and I walked away with some amazing family and friends, so it’s unbelievable. And thank you for having me because I’m a huge fan of you guys, so this is awesome. A true super-fan moment.

Well, I should be thanking you because you just broke my epic streak of futility when it comes to predicting winners in this game. After 23 seasons of embarrassment, I’m back with a winner with my prediction of you!
Maybe we had a connection. Maybe me and you were the true alliance. Thank you for picking me. That’s awesome!

How confident were you going into final Tribal?
To be honest, I knew if I was sitting next to Lauren I’d have to be very offensive, and I would have to attack, attack, attack. Walking in with Dean, and Noura — their thing was they played a fourth quarter. But I played all four, so I walked in defensively because I thought I had the win. Obviously you don’t want to get overconfident, but I was playing defense, I was more apologizing. I was owning my game. I was trying to just say to them, “Hey, everything I said to you is true. But I just couldn’t sit next to you.” So my job was to show them that all our real connections weren’t fake but were real and I truly did love them all.

Ever get nervous at final Tribal when Dean started showing off his bling?
I really did think Dean was way more of a goat then he was, and as he started talking, Dean’s a salesman. He works for Google and his job is to sell ads, so he gets this persona behind him and has this swag. I was listening to him and I was getting drawn in, so I constantly was thinking, “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” And then it clicked in my head that he has all this “bling” that he says, but it just hit me in the head to say “souvenir.”

And I think that’s what saved my game because I made the entire jury laugh, and right then and there I knew he had this great moment, but they kind of cut out when I did the souvenir to him. They just didn’t show it. And right after that, I knew: All right, I’m good. Because I had the social game. I was just more scared of the immunity wins and stuff like that because I didn’t play that game. I played old-school. But after I said “souvenir,” I knew I had the game in the bag.

Did you suspect that Dean had found that idol you gave him the clues for on Island of the Idols?
To be honest, once we knew Janet had to leave the game, I kind of just told everybody. I told Lauren. I told everyone, because we were so bored and the idol was not going to impact anything because you can’t play it at four, so let’s all look for it. Dean kind of hinted to me before like, “Yo, I got something I’m going to show you at final Tribal.” He just laughed at me. They didn’t really show it, but me and Dean were really best friends out there. So we played back and forth and made fun of each other left and right. I kind of had an idea that he had something, but he wanted the big reveal at that final Tribal.

What happens if Janet or Lauren slips into that final three? How do you do against either of those two at the end?
So here’s the deal: These kind of questions are hard because you can say “what if?” for everyone, but they didn’t make it there. So my job is to make sure they didn’t make it there, so that’s why I had the winning argument. However, if Janet was sitting there I would have been like, “Guys, just vote for her. She’s that amazing.” And then Lauren versus me, that would be like a Dom versus Wendell. We played a Dom-Wendell game. So I think it would have been really, really close, and that battle would have been amazing to watch, but I wasn’t willing to go there with her. Lauren versus me, I think that’s anyone’s game.

You won Survivor. The ultimate dream. Obviously, it’s been a tough season in other regards with things that went on out there with the unwanted touching and everything surrounding that. Has all that made this experience of winning harder to enjoy in any way, or are you able separate those two things?
I’m friends with everybody. I’ve talked to Kellee at length. I’ve talked to everybody at length. But like Jeff said, we turned it into a positive and was able to have these deep conversations with my students, and it was great for me as a teacher to have these teaching moments and what I could have done better, or what people could have done better, or where our world is shifting. It was a great teaching moment for our students, so I look at the positive in everything. So it could be a dark cloud, but I think we have to look at it as a learning moment and Teaching Time with Tommy.

What was your best move in the game?
My best move was making every single person believe I was their number one. Every single thing, I was kind of calling it. I know they didn’t edit it that way because they didn’t want to make it that obvious, but every single person would just look at me. Just my building relationships from the Kellee vote to the Missy vote. The Missy one was four Lairo girls and one Vokai boy and I still got out of that, so all of those moves all the way down was my move. I really had a hold on that game.

If they had asked you to play in that Winners of War season that just started filming a few weeks after you were done, would you have done it, or did you need a break?
I would do it. They wouldn’t even need to give me a day. If they said, “Hey, it starts right after final Tribal. You have to walk right off to the welcome mats,” I would have been there in a heartbeat. So I hope I get another chance to try and show that maybe I can play a different game also, because I think I played a pretty good game and I would love to get out there again.

Watch an exclusive deleted scene at the top of the post. Also make sure to read our episode recap, and finale interviews with Dean KowalskiNoura Salman, Lauren Beck, Janet Carbin, and Kellee Kim, and scoop on next season from Jeff Probst. And for more Survivor intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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