Exclusive: Elyse Umemoto talks about 'Survivor: South Pacific'
By Reality TV World staff, 10/20/2011
Elyse Umemoto's Survivor: South Pacific experience seemed to be off to a strong start. Not only was she a member of her Savaii tribe's dominant five-person alliance, but she had also become the so-called "hammock sweetheart" of "Ozzy" Oscar Lusth, the returning Survivor castaway who appeared to have emerged as the tribe's leader.
However everything fell apart for Elyse on Day 14 when her tribal allies decided her relationship with Ozzy had become a threat to their own gameplay and voted her out of their tribe in order to weaken Ozzy. Elyse then fared no better the following day when, due to the Redemption Island twist, she lost a duel challenge that would have allowed her to continue to attempt to eventually earn the right to return to the game -- resulting in her permanent elimination from the competition during Wednesday night's broadcast of Survivor: South Pacific's sixth episode.
On Thursday, the 27-year-old dance team manager and former Miss Washington from Las Vegas, NV talked to Reality TV World about her Survivor: South Pacific experience.
Reality TV World: You seemed completely blindsided when you were voted off. Was that really the case?
Elyse Umemoto: Yeah, that unfortunately was not a fun element of reality TV. That was me really being sucker-punched and blindsided, for real.
Reality TV World: So had you really not envisioned the possibility that the rest of the tribe had started to view Ozzy and yourself as a pair that needed to be broken up?
Elyse Umemoto: I think that I knew that was a possibility, but I thought that the order that we had with at least Ozzy and I and [Keith Tollefson] and [Whitney Duncan], I thought that would be enough to prevent anything from sort of breaking up our foursome group and I was wrong.
Reality TV World: You didn't mention Jim Rice there. Does that mean anything? Did you consider him the [fifth-ranked] person in your alliance?
Elyse Umemoto: Well, whenever Jim was around, it was always "final five." I'm sure it was like that with everybody. When one of us wasn't there it was like, "Oh the final four," and then when they were, "Oh the final five." But you know, Jim was kind of the man behind the curtain with orchestrating this blindside.
So, I can't -- I remember thinking that he -- some type of conversation had happened between Ozzy and I, an agreement. It felt like Jim needed to go. He was just a little too Jim-like. (Laughs)
I don't know how to describe him. There was stuff going on under the surface and you just couldn't put your finger on it.
Reality TV World: [John Cochran] called you Ozzy's "hammock sweetheart" and said you two would spend most of the mornings wrapped in your "love blanket." How would you describe your relationship with Ozzy -- was it just a friendship or was it more than that?
Elyse Umemoto: (Laughs) Cochran. You know, what it really was, was a friendship. We really were just buddies, even -- nothing even slightly romantic. His personality was the one that I kind of got along with the most anyway.
It sounds probably unbelievable, but aside from the fact that he's a returning player and that he knows the game the best, he was just the person that I got along with the best. You can't help but gravitate towards those kind of people. So, yeah. We were just friends. There was nothing more beyond that and that worked out really well.
Reality TV World: Did that change since the show ended? What's the status of your relationship now, have you kept in touch at all?
Elyse Umemoto: No, no relationship.
Reality TV World: Last week's episode showed you saying you had pretty much just been "following [Ozzy's] lead" in the game so far. Was that just the editing or was that accurate, and if so, were you planning to just basically ride Ozzy's coattails the entire game or were you planning some other strategy that you just didn't get a chance to execute before you got voted off?
Elyse Umemoto: Well, I think it was that Ozzy and I had the intention of pairing up and keeping that under the radar and not letting people know and just letting people believe that it was that group of us -- the group of four or five or whatever -- however many people it looked like it was. So, let's see.
Reality TV World: So did you see that changing at some point or were you planning on going all the way to the end with Ozzy?
Elyse Umemoto: I wasn't necessarily planning on like you said "riding his coattails." It was more like that he's played this game before. He's made it very far and he's been burned hard.
So, I know he knows what he's doing, so I didn't want to pit-pat along and just leach off of whatever successes he may have had or social advances that he had made, but more if he just said like, "Hey I think you should maybe spend more time with these people."
I would have done that or "I think that you should try to not talk to each other during the day," done. Something like that. But yeah, if I could change anything, it wouldn't be the relationship or the alliance. It would just be that I would make it invisible.
Reality TV World: Last week's episode also showed you saying you believed Ozzy would "take [you] far in the game." Was that really the case? Because the show has shown Ozzy talking about how your five-person alliance was really a 3-2 alliance, with Ozzy, Keith and Jim as the core and yourself and Whitney as the fourth and fifth members. Was your perspective different in that it was kind of a "you and Ozzy" core with the other three off on the side?
Elyse Umemoto: No, I think from my perspective, it really was the two -- Ozzy and I and Keith and Whitney -- and that when I said he would take me far in the game, that was something that we had talked about and something that had kind of come out of his mouth, that if you trust me, I can and will take you far in this game.
I think what that meant to me was not boastful in saying, "Hey I can dominate and get all you people out of the way. I can get us to be in." It was more, "Follow my lead, stay laid back, just -- not even don't rock the boat but just -- accept the things that he's learned and the mistakes he's learned from playing in previous games and use those and learn from them in this one." I didn't really get a chance to do that.
Reality TV World: It seemed like the key event that led to your vote-off was when [Dawn Meehan] and Whitney told everyone what [Stacey Powell] had told them during her duel and Ozzy said that Coach should turn on [Albert Destrade] even though they were in an alliance together -- that seemed to be the main thing that Jim used to convince Keith that they needed to weaken Ozzy and vote you off. Did you or Ozzy have any concerns that comment might have been a mistake after the conversation ended, or did you two have absolutely no idea how significant it ended up becoming?
Elyse Umemoto: No, at the time, we didn't realize it at all -- the significance of that comment. Who's to know how anybody's going to interpret something and how that something -- if that really was it.
Something like that could just snowball into, "Okay, well we need to formulate a master plan to get Ozzy out," and I was the closest person sitting next to him that weakens him if I'm gone. So, yeah, we certainly didn't know. Otherwise, I think we would have taken some kind of pre-emptive action.
Reality TV World: Based upon the comment that you made about Jim earlier, it seemed like you guys had some little suspicion about Jim and that something wasn't right.
Elyse Umemoto: (Laughs) Putting it lightly...
Reality TV World: It seemed that Jim's interpretation of Ozzy's comment was that if Ozzy felt Coach should get rid of the strongest guy in his alliance before the tribes merged, then that meant Ozzy was probably planning to do the same thing to Jim or Keith.
Elyse Umemoto: I knew that Ozzy had said, or at least made it clear to me, that he was aware that Jim was at some point in the game going to go after him. Because Jim wanted to, if not be the leader on our tribe, Jim obviously wanted to go all the way and wasn't afraid to be a little funny about it.
He wasn't afraid to have side deals with everybody. Oh, Jim. (Laughs) I had to sit back and think about that for a minute. Ozzy was aware that that would happen, and I think that's the stuff that unfolded last night. Jim went after Ozzy by the means of getting rid of me.
Reality TV World: Last week's episode showed Cochran complaining that other than catching fish, Ozzy was pretty lazy and didn't do much around camp and had basically "faded into [a] middle-aged Ozzy" that was no longer "superhuman" and was now just an "arrogant, fisher boy jungle boy who feels he can do no wrong." What was your reaction to that comment?
Elyse Umemoto: Ugh, (laughs) I think that Cochran's got a big mouth. (Laughs) I think that -- I understand what he's saying about Ozzy lying around camp, but if I were swimming underwater spear-fishing aquarium-sized fish for two-and-a-half hours in the sun, I'd be a little bit tired too.
I think that it's funny that Cochran had such a bold thing to say. I also think that Cochran has been very under-rated. I think Cochran is capable of quite a bit. I don't know. I guess we'll just have to see! I think Cochran is more than we've bargained for.
Reality TV World: Cochran also didn't seem to have too many flattering things to say about you and said you were just attached to Ozzy and didn't do much around camp. Do you feel that was accurate, or do you feel you did your fair share of chores around camp?
Elyse Umemoto: (Laughs) No, I think he's full of crap! I showed him how to open a coconut. I cannot tell you how many coconuts I sliced open and -- not spoon fed him -- but fed him from the machete, the meat from his coconut. He hadn't been motivated to do anything. He had to be asked to go get fire wood. He had to be asked to go fill up the water and had to be asked to do so many things.
He was just so helpless and he was getting on people's nerves, which is also a reason why he was getting put on the chopping block for so long. He was just like dead weight, and I definitely was not just sitting around and lounging. If it was a comparison, I certainly contributed more than Cochran -- not in the wise-crack arena but where it counted -- food, water, shelter, fire. I definitely won that contest.
Reality TV World: I've been told we're running out of time, but when I talked to [Mark "Papa Bear" Caruso] a couple of weeks ago, he told me you were "a different type of person... a two-faced type [of] person."
Elyse Umemoto: Ooohhh.
Reality TV World: What are your thoughts about that? Do you have any idea what he was referring to?
Elyse Umemoto: A two-faced kind of person?
Reality TV World: Yes.
Elyse Umemoto: No, I don't know. I voted him off, I guess that can be two-faced.
Reality TV World: How were you cast onSurvivor? How did you end up on the show?
Elyse Umemoto: Someone from the production side of things when I did the reality show for Miss America had kind of brought it my way and said, "This might be something that you should give a shot too. You gave Miss America a chance," and all of a sudden, I'm flying and sending in videos and landing on a plane in the South Pacific.