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Exclusive: Brett Clouser discusses his 'Survivor: Samoa' experience


By Christopher Rocchio, 12/22/2009 

Brett Clouser knows he was one Immunity Challenge victory away from claiming Survivor: Samoa's title.

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However the 23-year-old T-shirt designer from Salem, OR who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA instead became the seventeenth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Samoa during Sunday night's finale broadcast of the CBS reality series.

On Monday, Brett talked to Reality TV World about his Final 3 deal with Russell Hantz; why he chose to vote for Natalie White over Mick Trimming; whether his strategy played a role in why viewers saw very little of him during the first 12 episodes; and why he feels it would have been hard for the jury to deny him their votes.


Reality TV World: Considering you were such a sure thing to win the $1 million if you made it to the final Tribal Council, did you ever really think Russell was considering taking you over Mick or Natalie?

Brett: No. A very, very slight part of me thought he would take me. I knew he chose the strategic gameplay and anything he confronted me with I was calling BS.

I had multiple conversations with him and I know all he was doing was a security blanket for himself and in the event that he does win or one of his people does win, I was like, "These people are smarter than that and they're probably not going to take me to the end."

But you never know. People do some crazy stuff in the game.

Reality TV World: You told Russell that it would be a "really close" jury vote between you and him if he took you to the end. Did you really believe that or was it just an attempt to get him to take you regardless of if you won Immunity?

Brett: Obviously that was my ploy to convince to him that if I were to go up against him, there would be an even-keeled match. Actually, I think if he would have taken me to the finals people would have respected him and it would have put him in a different light. I think that definitely changed the dynamics.

Do I think it would have meant him winning? Obviously we're not in the situation for me to determine that, but I did have extremely tight relationships with over half of the jury so I think that would have ultimately clinched my spot.

Reality TV World: Did anyone ever both asking you who you were voting for at that Final 5 Tribal Council?  It seemed pretty strange that after talking about voting Natalie off if you won immunity, Mick and [Jaison Robinson] both suddenly fell for Russell's plan to convince them to vote for each other and didn't at least approach you about voting for Natalie or Russell.

Brett: I knew -- when it came down to it -- I had time with Russell, I had time with Jaison, I had time with Mick. I knew going into that who was voting for who. I knew Jaison was being set-up to essentially be voted out. I knew the other ones had made the decision independent of him. Given my situation, I chose not to communicate that information. When it's three people against two, you can understand that as much as one would like to turn the tables, the numbers are not in your favor.

Reality TV World: Okay, so you considered talking to Jaison and trying to make something happen but ultimately decided against it because the numbers weren't in your favor?

Brett: Yeah, exactly. I had a lot not in my favor. (laughing) Five jury votes coming down to the end -- that's the only thing I had really going for me.

Reality TV World: Had you won a fourth consecutive Individual Immunity, who do you think would have been in the Final 3 with you? Would you have honored that deal with Russell?

Brett: Yeah. I told him, we had a conversation on the beach, I said, "Look Russell, I knew very well going into this that you were choosing to create an insurance policy for yourself without the real intention of bringing me to the finals. But I will let you know that if I did win I would bring you. Yes there's a threat of me losing to you."

But in my mind I was confident of what I would have been able to do -- the connections I would have been able to make and the arguments I would have been able to create for myself -- and I would have totally chosen Russell. As for the final spot, it was kind of open-ended. I'm not sure who it is that I would have chosen to take to the finals.

Reality TV World: Although you said Russell would have posed a threat, did you think you still would have basically been guaranteed the $1 million?

Brett: Yeah. I played a game -- and I'm sure you had some conversations with some former Survivor contestants on our season -- I developed solid relationships, and that was my strategy. It was a heavy social-based game. Russell didn't really play into that too much, Natalie played into that -- obviously that showed. Ultimately what is most important is social dynamics in the game that we played and in our current season.

I felt confident that no matter who I would go up against that I had a very strong shot at winning.

Reality TV World: What do you think, if anything, could have cost you the $1 million had you made the final Tribal Council?

Brett: Something I might have been discounted for?

Reality TV World: Yeah, how could you have blown such a sure thing?

Brett: Obviously, it's in the delivery. The reason Natalie won is the delivery, the way she was able to communicate herself. If I were a totally insert-foot-in-mouth, had a lack of sensitivity towards the jury members, not understand the way they think, and not make responses that cater to the individuals that are asking me questions as well as them as a whole, I think the way to which I responded to the questions could have easily detracted votes from them.

Reality TV World: Could you explain your final Tribal Council question to Mick? What were you looking to accomplish with it was there more to it that just got edited out?

Brett: At the very basic level it's like, "Hey man, you want to go on a bro date?" It's like, "This guy's just a jokester." I am a jokester, and I think that was one of the few moments where you caught a glimpse of my personality. I feel I'm a bit ridiculous at times.

But ultimately what I wanted to ask Mick was, "Mick, you played a similar game to Natalie, a similar game to myself. Russell is playing a more over-the-top strategic game. You're claiming that you're playing the game with character, integrity and inter-relational." So what I wanted to extract from him is just to see, "Hey, did you invest yourself into these people on a human level -- like Natalie had." Depending on how he responded was how I was going to determine my vote. So I kind of used that as my test for him -- my interactions with him and what I had spoken to him about that were a part of our conversations, and what I wanted to hear is what it is he took away from the interactions with me.

So it was not necessarily like a personal question, it was more just validating or understanding how he interpreted the dynamics between himself and myself.

Reality TV World: I'm assuming you still ended up casting your jury vote for Natalie, correct?

Brett: Yeah, I voted for Natalie.

Reality TV World: So did Mick's answer to your question have any impact on your vote, or were you pretty much leaning towards Natalie from the beginning?

Brett: No, myself and I think all but one or two people went into the final Tribal Council as a big question mark -- especially for me, I just got voted off the day before. I was dealing with just the effects that come with leaving that type of game and the emotional drawbacks with it.

Going into that Tribal Council I had no idea who I was going to vote for. I had obviously my speculation ahead of time, but I really was hoping for someone to create compelling arguments for themselves and obviously compelling arguments against themselves.

Reality TV World: Looking at it as objectively as you can, do you think the jury votes were based more on a belief that Natalie deserved to win or that Russell didn't deserve to win?

Brett: By creating a question in regards to deserving would reiterate some sort of merit-based system. I think both -- on different levels -- deserve to win. I think on a level you could argue that Mick deserved to win. You could rationalize even people that got voted out up to this point.

I think Russell -- if you have a conversation with him -- felt like he deserved to win more than anyone else, and I think because he felt he deserved to win more than anyone else that really was his downfall. I remember during the Tribal Council a few weeks ago, [host Jeff Probst] is like, "Brett what do you think about Russell wearing the Hidden Immunity idol around his neck?" I said, "In this game you have to be humble, and you have to keep that social context." I think for him -- analyzing his strategy -- he didn't really necessarily do that. At the end of the day, you've got to have people write your name down to vote for you. As brilliant as his strategy may be perceived by some, he wasn't able to get votes.

Reality TV World: You've talked about delivery being important during the final Tribal Council, so do you think that played a role in why Mick didn't seem to get a single vote?

Brett: Yeah. It makes sense. People were totally open. I know most people had good standing with Mick. Mick, love the guy, he's got a good heart. But Natalie comes from a background where her job is to be relational with people and to personalize her interactions with people to sell products. So fortunately for that girl, I think her work experience directly affected the way she was able to deliver herself.

I don't think Mick -- being a doctor -- doesn't necessarily have that same context as she has and had a little bit more difficulty in relating to the jury members and communicating his points.

Reality TV World: Jeff asked you during the Tribal Council when Jaison was eliminated if you had been "sandbagging it" and saving your energy for a final push at the end of the competition -- which seemed like a fair assessment based on the way the season played out. What's your take on that?

Brett: It's funny. Different components of the game call for different strategies. Earlier on in the game, I did well in terms of the social game and my interactions with people. Then as time progressed, I knew there was going to be a time -- even if it was going to be with three other Galus at the very end -- I knew there was going to be a point in which I'm going to have to win some challenges.

You look at last season, you've got [Survivor: Tocantins winner James "JT" Thomas Jr.] and the season before you have [Survivor: Gabon winner Bob Crowley] -- these personalities, those guys made it to the finals because they were able to perform in the challenges. Otherwise they're going to be clipped because people know that there going to be the ones to get the votes in the end. I knew that exactly was going to be the case for me no matter who I was standing with at the end.

So yeah, on a TV level it looks like I kind of sat around and twiddled my thumbs and then out of nowhere I just cranked out some challenges when in fact if I didn't have to win a challenge, I wasn't necessarily going to win a challenge. I didn't want to perform great when I had no reason to. If I knew I wasn't going to get voted off or there was really no point, because doing so puts a really big target on your back. You look at [Laura Morett] and the way she played -- very strong and very aggressive -- was that type of personality that performed early on, and I think ultimately made her more of a threat more so than myself.

Reality TV World: So is that why you think viewers saw so little of you during the first 12 episodes of the season? Were you surprised by your lack of screen time?

Brett: You're always surprised. Honestly, there's a lot that goes into creating the show. Being in the experience as opposed to being in other people's experiences, you don't necessarily understand or comprehend how everything is set up.

But going into the game I had told Jeff that, "The one thing I can't take back is what I say." I operated with a very heavy filter. I thought what I would say to people, how those people would essentially use what I said to them for good or bad, and really kind of played these things over and over and over in my mind before I said things. Because of that, you're not going to see me on TV bickering with somebody about the fire or jibber-jabbering a lot, which is what typically you'll see on the TV screen.

Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Samoa? Was it your first time applying to the show?

Brett: Yeah, it was my first time applying for the show. I went through the standard interview process, and it was totally a blast to have that opportunity. It was just a tremendous lifetime experience.

(Photo credit CBS)


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