Michele Fitzgerald of Survivor on why fire tokens did not equal votes
"We got plastered drunk, and we had a f---ing great time," she says of an unseen reward
“I’m out here to prove to myself that I deserved it the first time, to prove to everybody else that I deserved it the first time, and watch me do it again. It’s a little bit of redemption for me.” That’s what Michele Fitzgerald told EW a few days before Survivor: Winners at War began filming. She may not have won, but she found the redemption she was seeking.
Michele is now the only person in Survivor history to play multiple times and never be voted out or leave the game early after once again making it all the way to day 39. And while she may not have gotten the votes to win this time — she actually did not get any votes at all as Tony defeated her and Natalie for the crown— she proved her winning campaign in Kaoh Rong was no fluke by once again going the distance. Along the way, players kept giving her Fire Tokens after being voted out and sent her an advantage from the Edge of Extinction, proving the strength of her social game.
How does Michele feel now about her Survivor standing after outlasting some of the legends of the game? Is she surprised she did not get any votes at the end? How would she have done against Tony at fire? We asked her all that and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Well, Michele, you lasted all 39 days and outlasted your ex-boyfriend, I might add.
MICHELE FITZGERALD: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for saying that I outlasted my ex-boyfriend! That's super awesome.
You went out there to Fiji on a mission to prove that your first win was not a fluke. Do you feel you accomplished that mission?
Absolutely. You know what? I always had my family and my friends' support on my win, but there was so much noise around it, it really clouded, sometimes, my own vision. And I feel like I came out here and I did a really strong game, and I showed my true identity. And I do feel like I proved it to a lot of people. And in some weird way, it just gives me the validation that I needed. And I felt very satisfied.
I don't even know if you knew this until I tweeted it out during the episode, that you are now the only Survivor player ever to play multiple times, and never be voted out early, or voted out or leave the game early.
That's crazy. That is crazy. I've only been two seasons, 78 days. That's going to be my new intro this time.
We spoke before the game, and you talked about what happened last time. And you were one of these people — there were a few of you, that were really out to prove your place in this game this season, and it has to feel great to get to the end and prove that.
It feels so great. I honestly feel so privileged that I was able to get out there and fight for my own journey. But also, to be among two people who played so differently than me, and both of them I really believed in. I mean, if I were sitting on the jury, and I had to look at Natalie's game, which was amazing in her own right. And then I had to look at Tony's game, which was amazing, I would be so torn. So for me, not only was I so grateful to be there, I'm so grateful to be among people who I felt really powerfully embodied the Winner season in Survivor.
Everyone kept giving you Fire Tokens when they were voted out, so why didn’t that translate to votes at the final Tribal Council?
I actually think that's a really interesting point. Because for me, the Fire Tokens were this morale boost. I said, "This person is giving me a Fire Token, because they have faith in me, they believe in me. That's a vote." To me, that felt like a vote. And so, for me, I received the most Fire Tokens at the end of the Winner season, from... I'm not sure, I haven't done the math, but, from the people who were voted out. And so, it's interesting that that didn't correlate to votes. But ultimately, I do feel in a way, "Wow, that was my own type of validation." it did give me kind of the courage to keep going a lot of the time.
Were there any votes that you were surprised you did not get, or you were hoping for but didn't end up getting?
I knew that Adam, Nick, Wendell, and Danni were actually on the cusp of voting for me, and they voted for Tony. And I've talked to them about this post-game. They all, as soon as the votes were read, and they came to me and they told me that there was a situation that Natalie could have potentially won. So instead, they sided with Tony, just to make sure that the right person won the season. And to be honest with you, the majority of us have never had a chance to actually crown a winner of Survivor. We've always been the person with being voted for, And so, I think it's kind of an honor to vote for the person to win.
I think they were thinking they wouldn't have been voting for me to win, but knowing that I would have maybe come in second. And it would have just given them a little bit of validation, that I would have come in second. And I honestly just told them, "I'm so grateful that you voted for the person who you really ultimately wanted to win, because that is the person who deserves all the votes." I'd rather get no votes, and the right person win, than to get a single one, two or three votes. So I'm grateful with the way that it turned out, no regrets.
You almost had to go against Tony at fire. How do you think you would have done in that, Michele?
It's a great question. I probably would have beat him. It got a little wild, but I was pretty stressed out. I mean, my level of stress was 110. I tend to do well when my stress level is high, so you never know.
What's something that happened out there that didn't make it into an episode, that you wish we, as viewers, could have seen?
There are so many moments that I wished that they had shown. But I think this last episode, I mean, it's fresh in my mind. So I think that this probably why it's coming up, but when I won immunity, I also won reward and I won it with Denise and Sarah. And we got plastered drunk, and we had a f---ing great time. And I think, sometimes, at the end of the game, that kind of lightness is what we needed. So I wish that that was shown, because I just feel like it's so heavy at the end. So I wish that that was shown, but being out there with all these people, they're legends for a reason. They're freaking hilarious. And Boston Rob is out there, fishing, catching fish, and doing everything that you imagine him to. So God, it exceeded all the expectations. I can't even tell you how grateful I am.
How weird was it to have your final vote reading over a webcam?
It was so weird, having it over this cam. But I have to tell you, my first season, I felt really disconnected from my family. I enjoyed it with my cast, and it was so cast focused. I went out, and I talked to my cast, and they went back, and I felt depressed. My family really came very secondary. And so, for me, to be here with my family, and they're laughing with you, or they're crying with you, but feeling everything I'm feeling ... Honestly, I know it sounds really crazy, but I think there's the true blessing, that I'm able to be here with them now, and to be living this bizarre journey, in the way that they are. So I'm happy. I mean, honestly, I think it was the best thing ever.
What's in the water in New Jersey, Michele? An all Jersey final three!
You’re a Jersey boy! We're always going to come out fighting. Natalie, bravo. Out first. And she scratched her way to the final three. I was on the bottom, I scrapped my way there. Tony was the biggest target. He scrapped. All of us. And that's just really the overarching aim of Jersey people. We will always come out fighting and throwing elbows to get us where we need to be. And people underestimate us. They're like, "Yeah, it's just Jersey," but I'm from Jersey. So we're pretty dope.
We saw you last week warning Sarah that Tony was going to win if he got to the end, basically telling her, "You better do something about this." Should she have listened to you, Michele?
Absolutely. You know what's so interesting is that we now see Sarah realizing her journey, story, and all of these things. But unfortunately, what was lost in the edit is that really, Natalie's kind of a friend of hers. And it's just one of those things that happened to maybe not make the cut. But in general, me and Natalie came in and we told her, "This is what's going on. Tony going to win. And you really need a story. And so, why don't we help you shape his story?" And so, us talking through all of that, kind of led to her jury speech, and kind of led to her even approaching Ben with that vote. And ultimately, none of that really mattered, so it kind of got cut, but I think it's a shame that didn't really show the journey towards that.
Michele, you've done it twice now. You've made it to the end twice. Once you won, once you didn't. Are you up for a third trip at some point?
Are you kidding? I will never say no. If Jeff calls me, he doesn't even need to say a single word. I'll say yes, and I'll pack my bag, and be ready to go.
All right. Well, go get ready for Survivor: Webcam Edition, maybe Season 41.
Webcam edition? Really? The angles are always wrong, and the lighting is s---.
Watch an exclusive deleted scene above, and make sure to also read our full finale recap as well as finale interviews with winner Tony Vlachos , runner-up Natalie Anderson, Sarah Lacina, Ben Driebergen, Denise Stapley, and host Jeff Probst. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.