Exclusive: Amanda Kimmel talks about her 'Survivor: China' moves
By Christopher Rocchio, 12/19/2007
Amanda Kimmel trusted her gut and decided to stick to her long-standing Final 3 alliance with Todd Herzog and Courtney Yates.
It was a costly mistake, as the 23-year-old hiking guide and Miss Montana USA 2005 from Los Angeles, CA received only one final Tribal Council vote from Survivor: China's jury and finished third during Sunday night's finale of the long-running CBS reality series' fifteenth edition.
On Monday, Amanda talked to Reality TV World about how being mentally and emotionally drained hurt her during the final Tribal Council; why she ultimately decided to take Todd to the Final 3 instead of Denise Martin; why her butt was constantly blurred by editing throughout the season; and why she feels she was a better strategic player than China's "Sole Survivor."
Reality TV World: So you won the final Individual Immunity and were in a position to control who you were in the Final 3 with but still only received one jury vote and finished third. In hindsight, do you think you basically handed Todd the $1 million by not voting him out instead of Denise when you had the chance?
Amanda: You know, it was a toss-up on who to take to the Final 3. Like Denise, mother of three -- she didn't really deceive anyone in the game -- I would have looked like the bad guy compared to her. It was a gut decision at the time, and I thought I had a better chance against Todd.
I think ultimately what messed up my game was the final Tribal Council. I definitely think if I would have... If I would have been more prepared or more mentally stable (laughing), then I definitely would have a $1 million check right now.
Reality TV World: What do you mean by not being "mentally stable?" Do you think that was just the result of being out there for 39 days?
Amanda: Oh yeah. I was emotionally a mess by the end. They don't show it, but I had a little breakdown... I think it was the Final 5? From there, it just was downhill for me. I was completely a mess. So the fact I even made it through the last Tribal Council was kind of a shocker for me (laughing).
Reality TV World: Host Jeff Probst polled the jury as to who would have won in a Peih-Gee Law/Erik Huffman/Denise Final 3 -- but didn't ask about what would have happened if you'd been in the Final 3 with Denise instead of Todd. A lot of viewers think you'd have easily won that jury vote. Do you agree?
Amanda: I think it would have depended how the last Tribal Council went. I really don't know. It's hard to say what the jury's going to vote for. They could vote for strategy; they could vote for personal relationships; they could vote for whoever didn't deceive people the most. You know? You just don't know. It's a Catch 22.
Reality TV World: Do you regret that decision to keep Todd and vote out Denise?
Amanda: No. I'm proud of the game I played. If I would have lost the $1 million to anyone, I'm glad I lost to Todd. He played this game, and he was strategic. He worked his butt off. I think I played a better game than Todd ultimately, but I don't think I defended myself well. I think my performance at Tribal Councils really hurt my game. If I was going to lose to anyone I'm glad it was Todd.
Reality TV World: You called Todd your "biggest threat." Why didn't you decide to eliminate Todd? What led to your decision to instead boot Denise?
Amanda: At the end, I had a really tight alliance with Todd and Courtney, we were like a three alliance. Denise always knew that she was on the outside of the core alliance. She was in the core alliance, but she was on the outside. She knew that. So, the fact to get rid of Denise too is that... It was kind of unsaid -- but known -- she was the next to go. I heard well, and she knew it.
Reality TV World: Okay, so even though you saw Todd as a bigger threat at that point, you still decided to stick with the plan and vote for Denise?
Amanda: Yeah, just because at that point if I would have voted out Todd, I probably wouldn't have gotten his [jury] vote any ways either because I had an alliance with him from the beginning. So it's like, "What do you do?" I was between a rock and a hard place. You kind of have to go with your gut, so I chose to be loyal to Todd and Courtney.
Reality TV World: It seemed like you tried to wiggle out of your commitment once you got to Tribal Council -- but unless the producers were playing with the editing, it looked like you guaranteed Denise you wouldn't vote for her at that Tribal Council and then you voted for her any ways. What happened? What was your thinking in making that promise?
Amanda: This is what happened. I guaranteed Denise that we would watch each other's backs, and that was when there was still eight people left in the game. Denise knew that I was in a three [person] alliance with Todd and Courtney. She knew she was the fourth person in our alliance. I guess she assumed that I would take her to the Final 3, but it was more of her playing a guilt trip in a way...
Reality TV World: Okay, so you think that penultimate Tribal Council speech she gave was to lay a guilt trip on the jury? Do you think it worked?
Amanda: Definitely. I think she definitely hurt my game and I didn't have enough energy to defend myself really at the end. That's what it came down to. In the end, you have to fight to make people know the real story -- what's really going on -- and I just didn't have it in me. I wish everyday that you could redo that, but you just can't. You just do the best you can at the time and that's all.
Reality TV World: Courtney admitted she wasn't a really big fan of the show, but it seemed like you let her convince you that -- although Survivor juries have traditionally rewarded "the schemer" -- your jury would somehow hold Todd's actions against him and therefore make him a good Final 3 partner. Is that what happened?
Amanda: Well I had talked to her about it because I was kind of going back and forth in my head. I was like, "Maybe I could use someone else's perspective. Maybe it will make it more clear for my decision." So I definitely pulled aside Courtney because I know she'd vote with me either way, and I think she gave me her honest opinion about what she thought. I was thinking the same thing, but sometimes you just need -- you're thinking so much and you're just so tired -- you just need someone else's perspective...
Reality TV World: Was it that conversation with Courtney that convinced you Denise's "sob story" was unbeatable? Because looking over the show's previous winner's list, none of them were "sob story" winners -- normally the final jury tends to snub any "sob story" folks that make it to the end.
Amanda: I think that Denise doesn't always have a sob story, but she was a strong player through the whole thing. I definitely think that Denise would have been someone to reckon with in the Final 3. It was pretty much she had good points and bad points. Todd had good points and bad points. It was honestly a gut decision I had to make at the time.
My decision was going to change at Tribal Council, and I was going to make it a tie [with both Todd and Denise receiving two votes]. But then I just decided to stick with the plan.
Reality TV World: What's your reaction to the idea that two of the jury members seemed to think Courtney was a more deserving winner than you?
Amanda: She made it to the end. I don't have anything personal -- personally -- against Courtney. I think she was bitter and I think she was really rude and I don't necessarily... we don't necessarily get along that well. But she played this game. Anyone sitting in the Final 3 deserves to be there. I definitely think she deserved her spot. I think I could have done a better job, but what are you going to do.
Reality TV World: Did you ever consider Denise's proposed deal during that final Immunity Challenge? It seemed like it would have been a good way for you to justify voting for Todd or Courtney at the Final 4 Tribal Council.
Amanda: No, I didn't even consider it. I was there to compete, and I was actually kind of taken aback because Denise had been a competitor up to that point, and then for her to tell me, "Let's throw this and take each other to the Final 3." You know, I knew she was pulling all her moves, and that was a very stupid move on my part. But I wanted to fight to the end, and I did...
Reality TV World: Do you think Todd's comments and facial reaction in-front of the jury worked and made you look bad at the Final 4 Tribal Council? Do you know if it specifically impacted any of the jurors?
Amanda: I definitely think Todd did that intentionally. You know Todd, he's playing the game. Todd came into this game, he didn't care who he had to lie, deceive, cheat, or steal from to make it to the end. He was willing to make personal relationships and then put them on the jury. That was his game, that's how he wanted to play. I wasn't shocked by it. I didn't have any energy to do anything about it either. All in all, I think it's more my fault. I definitely could have protected myself and I just didn't do it. So that was my mistake.
Reality TV World: Did you agree with Todd's comment at the final Tribal Council that he "did the dirty work for the nice girl" in reference to you?
Amanda: No, I definitely don't agree with that at all. I did a lot of dirty work myself, like voting James out... Part of [Todd's] strategy was to come-off as the strategist, like no one else was a part of the strategy at all. It was more the other way around. I had more control of this game than Todd had. I think he wanted to make it seem like I had no strategy at all.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised at the jury's decision to reward Todd for playing the "schemer" and back-stabbing people? Did you sense that Todd was succeeding in winning the jury over during the final Tribal Council?
Amanda: I definitely was aware that he was coming across as the strategist. I had to do my best to convince the jury that I had more strategy, that just didn't happen.
Reality TV World: You didn't learn the results of the jury's vote until last night, but heading into the reunion, how many jury votes did you honestly think you might have and whose votes were they?
Amanda: I honestly thought I had at least two. I didn't think I won. I was pretty sure that I didn't, just because how the last Tribal Council went. Todd had a really strong last part of this game. He played strong at that final Tribal. He fought for that $1 million. I at least thought I'd have two [votes]. I really thought Denise might vote for me. She kind of made me sound really bad to the jury and I thought she might feel bad about it and vote for me. But she didn't. Whatever happens, happens.
Reality TV World: So you mentioned you thought you had two votes, was Erik the other vote you thought you had?
Amanda: I kind of thought Erik would vote for me. We had a good connection and I kind of thought he'd vote for me.
Reality TV World: That leads well into my next question. Why was it that Erik was never able to convince you to form an alliance with him and Peih-Gee to blind-side Todd prior to the Final 6 Tribal Council? Did you ever consider aligning with him and Peih-Gee at that point?
Amanda: I had thought about it... Actually no, I didn't really consider it. Just because Peih-Gee's the fighter. I was pretty much set on who I wanted to go to the end with.
Reality TV World: So there was absolutely nothing Peih-Gee and Erik could have done to make you align with them?
Amanda: No, not really. No...
Reality TV World: Were you surprised when you saw that episode and Todd suggested you be the next one to go if Peih-Gee won Immunity? It seemed like he didn't consider his alliance with you to be as strong as you did with him.
Amanda: No, it didn't surprise me at all. I knew Todd was after me the whole time. That's part of the reason why I took him on the [final] Reward, because I didn't want him at camp with [Denise and Courtney], making plans without me. So part of me taking him for the pizza was me not trusting him and me not wanting him around people where he can make alliances that I'm not involved in.
Reality TV World: How did you end up being cast for Survivor: China?
Amanda: I actually applied when I was 20 -- but you have to be 21 to be on the show -- so I had to wait a year. I've been a fan, and I just applied and got a call back and went through the process.
Reality TV World: You just said you're a fan, had you watched a lot of the show before?
Amanda: Yeah, almost every season.
Reality TV World: During the show, they billed you as a "hiking guide," but according to your CBS bio, you're living in LA now. How much actual "hiking guide" work have you done? What were you doing before you went on the show?
Amanda: I lived in Montana before I went on the show. I moved to L.A. probably a month before I went on Survivor: China... I found out a week-and-a-half before I left that I was going, so you kind of have to just figure things out as they come.
Reality TV World: What was up with the constant editing blur the show's editors seemed to have on you? You were blurred more than Richard Hatch -- the guy who regularly walked around completely naked during Season 1. Were you aware of your apparent shorts problem while you were out there?
Amanda: No! Nothing was the problem! My parents call me "fuzz butt." (laughing) I have no idea what was wrong. Even James said, "I looked at your butt all along, and I didn't know what was wrong." They made it seem like I had some huge ugly tattoo on my butt or something.
I have the slightest idea of what was going on. I think it was because the whole [CBS' Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show with] Janet Jackson [when her boob was exposed]. They really have to be careful about what they show on TV.
Reality TV World: During last night's finale broadcast both you and Todd acknowledged you formed an alliance on Day 1. What was it about Todd that made you want to align with him?
Amanda: I knew right away that I wanted to align with Todd... I saw his hunger. He's a huge fan of the show. He's going to lie, cheat and steal to the end. With that kind of a player, it's smarter to align yourself with them than be against them...
Amanda: No we never discussed it. I was actually surprised he told me because he's such a control freak. He's all about being the strategist of this game and all of this, and I was actually really shocked he told me. I didn't think he would. I think he told me because he wanted me to trust him, and he thought if he told me that I would trust him more. I think it was part of his strategy to tell me about it. But it just shocked me...
Reality TV World: You called retrieving the Hidden Immunity Idol in-front of everybody as "the worst way in history of getting an Immunity Idol." Why weren't you and Todd more careful about retrieving the idol?
Amanda: I wanted to wait, and we were just looking. We were pretty sure that was it -- we didn't know if it was above [the pagoda] or below it. We didn't know if the emblem was the Immunity Idol. We didn't know. So Todd's plan is to pull it down in-front of everyone, and [Michael "Frosti" Zernow] saw. It was just horrible! let's at least wait until it gets dark or something (laughing). Todd couldn't wait, he's like a little kid in a candy store. He just wanted it.
Reality TV World: Did you agree with Todd's plan of sharing the idol with James?
Amanda: It was me and Todd's thinking together. We formulated a plan and we didn't know if James would find the other Immunity Idol on the [Zhan Hu] island. We didn't know if he had it already, or if it was in the same spot or what. So we had to give him ours and he ended up with two. But it wasn't just Todd's idea. We had talked about it.
Reality TV World: Was the expectation for James to eventually give you and Todd one or both of the idols back? Did you ever approach James and ask for the idols back?
Amanda: We wanted one of them back when he found both of them. Of course, he wanted both of them because he knew that he was the next to go if he didn't have some kind of incentive to keep him. So James pretty much hung onto them using the incentive, "I'm going to help anybody who needs help in our alliance to the end." He wouldn't give them up.
Reality TV World: You already touched upon this a bit, but do you feel you and Todd were on equal footing when it came to strategizing for your alliance?
Amanda: Definitely. I think Todd came across to the jury as more of a strategist than I did. But I think when people watched the show, I think they were surprised at how much I was actually involved. How much was actually my ideas. I used Todd as kind of a mouthpiece to formulate my ideas. Todd was all over the place. If I didn't keep Todd even keel on the plan, he would have gone in 50 different directions!
Reality TV World: Yeah, I remember at one point in the competition you said Todd's always-changing strategy was making you "nervous."
Amanda: He was all over the place! Todd wanted to make an alliance with everyone on the island! It was kind of like my word against his at the final Tribal Council.
Reality TV World: We heard from Frosti you re-thought your initial decision in hindsight, but did you initially feel betrayed when Courtney, Denise and James all decided to eat instead of participate in that Immunity Challenge?
Amanda: I definitely kind of felt betrayed... It's like, "Let's fight for this you guys! We're here! We're going to get burgers in a while, so let's work for this. Let's do this." I'm a competitor. I couldn't sit out and just be okay with it and eat cheeseburgers. I wanted to eat, but I also wanted a chance to have a say in who went home. I definitely should have brought that up at the final Tribal, but I didn't think about it until afterwards of course.
Amanda: It was actually a sporadic idea I had that day. I knew he had to be out no matter what, and we couldn't wait much longer. That was kind of a move that had to be made that day.
Reality TV World: When Peih-Gee started to pester you about James having the Hidden Immunity Idols, you told her she "just need to not do anything and just trust me. Act like you are going home... and just keep it like that." Did it ever cross your mind that she would tell James about your plan to blind-side him?
Amanda: I knew at that point that Peih-Gee would do anything she wanted to do to stay longer. I think she thought in going with us, she'd have a better chance of making it further in the game. I think she was definitely excited. I don't think she was going to mess-up her chances of maybe going home, you know?
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when your plan to blind-side James worked?
Amanda: It changed the game dramatically. It was a move that had to be made, and I was a nervous wreck at Tribal. But I was just praying to God that it would work out, and it did. Thank God (laughing)! But you're nervous. I saw him look in his bag and reach down for the idols three or four times. So it was a little nerve-wracking, but ultimately he didn't play it, so it worked out.
Reality TV World: A lot of viewers are having a hard time understanding how you could have been so decisive in the plan to turn on James and then seem to have been so paralyzed with an inability to -- despite taking about it for days and having several opportunities -- turn on Todd. Can you explain the disconnect?
Amanda: I was kind of emotionally a mess towards the end of the game. I was tired of hurting people. It absolutely hurt my game. I don't know. I had a hard time separating the social experiment of the game and the game itself. I was just emotionally a mess at the end. I didn't know if I could do it.
Reality TV World: So how much weight did you lose while participating in Survivor: China?
Amanda: I lost about 25 pounds... I was pretty exhausted towards the end. I was okay physically -- surprisingly -- I was more emotionally exhausted.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you Amanda? Denise mentioned something about a fashion line?
Amanda: I'm working on a men's jeans line right now. I'm kind of open to opportunities. This is a great time in my life to just kind of think about what I want to do and just go with it. So, I'm definitely working on my jean line right now.