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Exclusive: Charlie Herschel talks about his time on 'Survivor: Gabon'


By John Bracchitta, 11/14/2008 

Charlie Herschel, a 29-year-old lawyer from New York, NY, had no idea he was going home. After making it through the first eight episodes of Survivor: Gabon with only brief moments of drama as a member of the season's previously dominant "onion alliance," Charlie thought he was in pretty good shape heading into the competition's stretch run.

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However, after 27 days in Gabon, one ally's Day 24 decision to betrayal another and his remaining alliance's failure to secure a new tie-breaking fifth vote needed to control the game's first post-merge Tribal Council resulted in Charlie becoming the tenth castaway to be eliminated from the show.

On Friday, Charlie talked to Reality TV World about how his "onion alliance" made its decisions, which castaway allegedly made a homophobic comment about him, and why he was happy to be eliminated from the show in a blindside.

Reality TV World: In your exit interview you said that you preferred to leave Survivor in a blindside. Why is that?

Charlie: There are two reasons. First: When you're blindsided you don't spend the day paranoid that you're the one to go and I'm sure that anxiety can be a lot to deal with.

Second of all, I'm a huge fan of the show so I know that blindsides are enjoyable for the audience, and to be part of something that I've enjoyed as an audience member for the last eight years is awesome. I know some people are embarrassed to go into a blindside, but not me.

Reality TV World: You also said that you "100%" did not see your elimination coming. Were you expecting [Jessica "Sugar" Kiper] to vote for [Crystal Cox] or did you know she'd decided to stay with Fang but believed they'd be targeting [Corinne Kaplan], [Randy Bailey], or [Robert "Bob" Crowley] instead?

Charlie: I thought maybe there was a slight chance that she would vote for Crystal but I was not banking on that. I was banking on the fact that if she were going to vote for someone in my alliance -- which I thought she would do -- it would be someone who she didn't like, who she despised, which would be Randy. She "couldn't even sleep one more night in the hut with him," she kept declaring.

She hated Randy, and so did [Susie Smith], Corinne and Crystal. Everyone did. So I thought it would be a slam dunk vote. And I had become very close with everyone and I just never thought that they would target me.  
 
Reality TV World: Okay, so it was Sugar constantly talking about how much she hated Randy that led you to think you were safe.

Charlie: Along with everybody else hating Randy.

Reality TV World: Why do you think Sugar chose to stay with the Fang -- do you think it's because she and Ace had felt like outsiders during Kota's original "large onion" alliance or...

Charlie: (interrupting) ... Partly that she never knew Randy until she met him and she started hating him. She didn't really love Corrine, in fact I don't think she really liked Corrine. So that's two of the people. I think we got along, and then she hadn't seen Bob in, like, weeks. So I think you gain familiarity and trust in people you spend more time with and she had most recently been aligned with those people at Fang.

She really trusted [Matty Whitmore], I think she's the type of player that likes to align herself with the alpha-male and she saw that in Matty. I wasn't surprised that she went with them.

Reality TV World: On last week's episode, no one seemed to entertain the possibility of Sugar realigning with you and the rest of her original Kota members once the merge came but this week you guys seemed to be thinking otherwise once the merge happened.  Was that change based only on [Marcus Lehman's] departure?

Charlie: That actually has to do with editing. I knew immediately -- even if Marcus wasn't voted off -- our game would be much easier to have more people who wanted to ally with us the better. So I sat Corrine down and said "We need [Sugar] to like us," and similarly I sat Randy down and said "You need to get Matty to like us" because we may need these people. We don't know what's coming at us and we're gonna have to be aligned with these people potentially if Marcus leaves. And even if Marcus definitely leaves, Susie could flip and then we might need Sugar.

So the week before we started working Sugar and tired to get her on our side, but it was too late in the game. It's too hard to make alliances after weeks of being out there.

Reality TV World: Were you aware that you had angered [Ken "Kenny" Hoang] by stealing his Immunity clue during the feast?  Was that a calculated move?

Charlie: I wasn't aware that I angered Kenny. I knew that when Randy, Susie and [Dan Kay] joined Kota on Day 10 they let me know that Ken, behind my back, had called me "homo" and "fag." So I knew it wasn't gonna be smooth sailing with Kenny but I didn't realize that I had rubbed him in such a wrong way that he really despised me in the way he did. I only really got to know him for about three hours, and in that whole three hours I might have exchanged maybe 10 sentences with him.

I didn't get to know Kenny that well, so I'm surprised that he had such animosity based on so little.

Reality TV World: So was there any calculation to grab the clue or were you acting on instinct?

Charlie: Actually what happened has he saw the clue first, but I didn't know that. He told Matty "Look there's the clue. Shhh shhhh." I didn't see him say that, then later I saw the clue myself and I pointed to that and said "What's that? That's a clue."

Then he picked it out, and in my mind I'm thinking "Well I saw it, I should be able to see this clue just as much as Kenny should" and never thought that Kenny deserved privacy with this clue that he didn't even see first.

Had I known that Kenny had seen the clue before I had, perhaps I would have considered giving him more privacy with the clue. But he didn't make that clear to me, and he didn't make that clear to anyone.

Reality TV World: When I talked with [Ace Gordon] a couple of weeks ago, he'd disagreed with the idea that Kenny had become a strong strategic player.  Do you agree or disagree with that and how apparent was Kenny's sudden rise to power among the other castaways?

Charlie: I agree with Ace. I think that last night was  a complete display of that. He had a personal grudge against me and decided to lie to his alliance [and] put his credibility on the line because of a personal vendetta against me. I'm not sure if that's a strategic move. I don't see that as a "mastermind" move.

Had it been for a strategic reason, then I would applaud that. When he convinced Sugar to vote out Ace? I commend him for that. But otherwise I think he's made a lot of [errors] in this game. He's been on the lucky side of many twists, whenever he's been down in numbers in his tribe there's been some sort of twist to put him into a power position.

He's made some good moves, and he's made some bad moves. I would never call him a mastermind.

Reality TV World: In last night's show, Kenny used a claim that he thought you'd become "the brains" behind your alliance after Marcus' ouster to convince his allies to vote for you but then revealed he felt it was just a lie that he had made up.  Do you agree that was a lie and if so, who do you think had become your alliance's new brain?

Charlie: I think I was the peacemaker of the tribe in the bigger picture of the alliance. Randy and Corrine were very hot-headed. Randy especially just got into fights and disputes all the time and I kinda fell into the position of [saying] "Okay, we might not wanna be mean to this person because of this, that or the other reason." So I -- a lot of times -- dealt with that.

Also, I had the closest connection with Bob so I was able to sort of tell Bob what to do because he sleeps [a lot] and have to kinda wake him up, give him a PowerPoint presentation on exactly what he has to do, and feed him word for word what he has to do. So in that way I felt I was definitely in control.

But on the other hand, every decision we made on how to proceed was made in a group. We all agreed to it [and] participated in all of the strategizing. So I don't think I was the brains behind the operation.

But Kenny's lie, and even though he didn't really believe it and said "I don't believe it," had to be somewhat believable to the other people to buy.

Reality TV World: In last week's episode, Randy had suggested that Marcus was in danger of being eliminated after that last switch. But this week, both yourself and Corrine seemed completely shocked to see him gone. Were you guys really that confident that Susie wouldn't decide that she could do better than the sixth slot in a six-person alliance and flip?

Charlie: No, I knew Marcus wasn't gonna show up. The minute I saw Marcus walk away from the challenge that they lost that was designed to be an individual Immunity Challenge that we were unable to throw, there was just no way that I could see him getting his way out of that.

I know Survivor and I know the strategy. Susie, Kenny and Crystal did 100% the right thing and I think they would have been morons had they not voted out the biggest threat, the most likable person, the strongest person in the game at that juncture. And when Marcus didn't walk up that day I think we were just sad, and we had hope that maybe they would be idiots and not vote Marcus out -- maybe Corinne was hanging onto that hope a little more than I was -- but we preceded it.

Reality TV World: Do you think it was a smart strategic move for yourself and Corinne to so openly object and criticize the other tribe's decision to vote Marcus out?  In addition to needlessly ruffling their feathers, you also completely confirmed your alliance.

Charlie: Yeah I think that when Corrine said "I'm pissed" I think she'd agree, and I'd agree, that that wasn't a smart move. Then [Survivor: Gabon host Jeff Probst] asked me what I thought and I said that I felt sad for Marcus but I understood where they were coming from, he was a huge threat and we would've done the same thing.

Of course they don't show that except for "I'm sad for Marcus," but what can you do? I played it cool and no one knew where I stood at that moment. The truth of the matter was I never spent one night with Kenny or Crystal and so of course I was not gonna be close with them. It was not news to them that I was not aligned with them, or with them in the game.
 
Reality TV World: Last night, there was a reward trip conversation where you noted that "the three power players" -- Ace, Dan and Marcus -- had been voted out at the last three Tribal Councils.  Ace and Marcus' actions seem to have been pretty well chronicled on the show, but Dan really didn't come across as a "power player" during the TV broadcasts, why did you consider him to be a "power player"?
 
Charlie:
I think I was talking physically in the game. I think there were a lot of weak... or maybe not weak but, like, six women in a row, and then Boom, Boom, Boom... "he-men" [got eliminated]. 

Reality TV World: Before that last bit of tribal reshuffling, it seemed like Randy had somehow managed to replace Bob in your core Kota 4 alliance with Marcus and Corinne -- is that accurate?

Charlie: No, that's inaccurate. We told Randy that he was gonna be the fourth in our alliance, but [that's] the strategy you have to use to make the people feel loyal to you. Bob was seriously loyal and he didn't need assurance that he was four or three. He was gonna stay with us no matter what.

So our strategy was that we'll deal with Randy-versus-Bob when we get down to it. But for now... we needed Randy, so we needed to feed him whatever he'd believe to keep him.

Reality TV World: A lot has been made of your relationship with Marcus. What did you see in him that made you want to ally up with him so quickly once arriving on the island?

Charlie: Marcus was very smart, so I knew that if he went off and talked to someone about strategy that he would always have our alliance in mind and be logical in the things he said.

If I were to align with someone like Sugar I just wouldn't trust what she said. Like, if she blows in the wind and she blows over to the wrong side, that affects me [and] everyone in her alliance. That's why Ace got outed I think. he just couldn't trust her.

Marcus is a very, very, very smart person.
 
Reality TV World: After he was voted out on last week's show, Marcus used his exit words to criticize "sneaky" gameplay.  And then when we talked to him last week, he tried to justify those comments by claiming the gameplay that he, you and the rest of your allies had been doing hadn't been the same and making some "high road" comments that came across as pretty hypocritical to many of our readers.  I know he's obviously become a close friend of yours, so what's your own take of the original Fang folks' gameplay -- do you agree with Marcus comments?

Charlie: I'm not exactly sure what Marcus said, but this is my take. I think that they did the absolute correct thing to do. You're playing Survivor, there's no "high road" and "low road." But if you're taking a strategic position, you can take it in a non-mean spirited way. When you vote someone out that you don't like you don't have to give them the finger, or laugh and say "Sayonara Kota God." That's just being mean.

These people were just mean. They were mean spirited and there's no point in that. It's just cancerous and hopefully that's what Marcus was referring to. I don't think a strategy is a "high road" or a "low road." I think everyone would agree upon what a good strategy is, but I think he's just talking about he spirit in which you execute your strategies.

Reality TV World: During our interview with him, Marcus also claimed that the Kota 6 was apparently some type of "free love"-type alliance where no one had made any firm alliances beyond just getting to the Final 6 --  which seemed pretty hard to believe given both your comments about your alliance with Marcus and last night's opening Corinne comments about how her core alliance with Marcus and yourself.    Do you agree with his claim there were no additional alliances?

Charlie: No I do not agree with that claim. There were certainly additional alliances within the six. The day before the merge switch-up there where seven people in our tribe because Dan was still there. It's impossible to have an alliance of seven where everyone feels like they're on top of the alliance. It's impossible.

We tried the best we could to thin of different ways to make Susie and make Dan feel like they were on the top of it, but there's only so much you can do.
 
Reality TV World: When we talked to Dan a few weeks ago, he said he had a lot of the conversations he had with you guys was to calm Marcus' insecurities about the tribal swap and trying to make Marcus feel “comfortable” -- which is kinda the opposite of how it was presented on the show.   Did you see any of that and do you agree with that statement?

Charlie: With whether Dan was trying to soothe us?

Reality TV World: To soothe Marcus....

Charlie: Well Dan, at every moment, would express his undying devotion to the Kota tribe from the second we met him, and it was kinda like you didn't believe it, Especially when you saw him go off and hug Matty and say "Final 2!" with Matty, which they don't show in the show.

But I just didn't believe Dan trying to calm us down. It was a mess, both of us were paranoid and Marcus was trying to calm down, Dan was trying to calm Marcus down, I was just trying to tell Marcus to shut up, and Randy was trying to tell Dan to shut up. It was... it was kinda chaotic.

Reality TV World: How were you cast on Survivor?

Charlie: I just applied. I sent in a video and did the traditional casting.

(Photo credit CBS)


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