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Exclusive: Erik Cardona discusses his 'Survivor: Samoa' blindside


By Christopher Rocchio, 11/06/2009 

Erik Cardona claims he almost played his Hidden Immunity Idol -- however it would have been out of bravado and not because he thought he was in trouble.

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Regardless of the reason, he should have done it -- as the 28-year-old bartender from Ontario, CA was blindsided and became the ninth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Samoa during last night's broadcast of the CBS reality series.

On Friday, Erik talked to Reality TV World about why Russell Hantz playing his Hidden Immunity Idol almost prompted him to play his; how continuing to bleed Galu purple even after the merge might have hurt him; and why he can't understand why his former tribemates would listen to anything Foa Foa would have had to say.


Reality TV World: At any point during last night's Tribal Council did you think about using the Hidden Immunity Idol?

Erik: Yes, but for a totally different reason than one might think.

When Russell pulled his out, there was a lot of speculation that he was kind of -- I don't know exactly where it came from -- but there was this insinuation that somehow Russell and I were parallel, different and opposites, but parallel. I had such little respect for his game at that point, that it bothered me and disgusted me to be thought of as the same type of competitor.

I didn't know all of the crazy moves that he was doing, and had I known I really would have been disgusted. But I knew enough about him and I smelled that crazy on him enough that I didn't respect his gameplay and I really didn't appreciate being put in the same sentence as him.

So when he played his idol, I felt stoked because I knew it was a total flush. But there was part of me -- the bravado, the competitiveness -- that wanted to take the idol out and say, "Oh, you're going to play your idol Russell? Well guess what? I'm going to play mine too. Yeah, that's right. I know you think you're big and bad and tough and smart. But you know what? I've got one too buddy. Not only do I have one, but I don't need one to beat you."

That's what I wanted to say, that was my first impulse. But I was like, "Calm it down, keep it in your pocket, you'll need it down the road." Little did I know that maybe going with my instinct there would have actually kept me in the game because I had no idea my name would be put on the parchment.

Reality TV World: Okay, so even though Tribal seemed to be a little tense you never thought about pulling the idol to save yourself? It was more of a -- like you said -- bravado type thing?

Erik: I knew that Tribal was going to be tense with Foa Foa. I was not surprised at all to see Foa Foa's votes -- but Foa Foa's votes don't get me out of the game. So I didn't mind a little heated tension between them. I didn't care if they wrote my name down because I was banking on the fact that I had a loyal, tight team in Galu. And also after what I had done in the last three weeks, I thought it spoke for itself.

Reality TV World: Before Tribal you said you were "uncomfortable" about how easily your plan seemed to be working and that you would play the idol if you felt the need to. Did that uncomfortableness wane once you got to Tribal? 

Erik: No. It was more I was uncomfortable because you don't know if something's going down if it's totally in the dark -- if it's something that I'm completely blindsided by, I have no knowledge of. It's almost like an irrational fear. It's rational because you know there's a pressing issue maybe, possibly. 

But you can't go around defending that -- defend the invisible. It's like being afraid of the dark. You don't know what's going to attack you, but you're uncomfortable because you're in a dark alley. There's no way to actually do anything about that.

So even though yeah, I was comfortable with how everything was coming to fruition with the guy alliance with [Shannon "Shambo" Waters], the 8 to 4 numbers [Galu had over Foa Foa] -- all that stuff was very good.  But if it seems to good to be true, it usually is. But there's no defense for the unknown.

Reality TV World: Although you said you weren't being cocky, your Tribal comments definitely came off as arrogant. What was your reasoning behind putting down the former Foa Foa members as much as you did -- especially even after the merge?  Was there some sort of strategy involved there?

Erik: Absolutely. It was 100% a facade. It was staying consistent with the method that was kind of started two or three or four episodes ago: You cannot win this game. I'm going to pound that and say that over and over and over again until you guys start to believe it.

The thing was they were the enemy. They were the opposition. You cannot give your enemy an ounce -- not ever, ever, ever give them an ounce. Even if they're lying half-dead underneath your shoe, if you let up for a second they could turn around and bite you in the Achilles heel and you're done.  That's just how it goes. I don't care if it's 8 to 4 -- they needed to be squashed.

All of my confidence and all of my cockiness, it wasn't within my own tribe. I was very humble in my tribe. But I was extremely cocky and over-the-top on their tribe because I believed that that was the right course of action to take them out. Not only to tell them that they can't win, but to also tell my own tribe, "Hey, we are going after these guys.  Don't lose track of this. Everybody tighten up. Galu first, Foa Foa second." If you give a team like Foa Foa an inch, they're going to take a mile. And I didn't want to give them anything.

Reality TV World: Did you ever give any thought to the fact that being so arrogant and cocky to Foa Foa may have cost you their jury votes even if you had managed to vote them all off and make it to the end?

Erik: No because I'm a pretty pragmatic person and I feel like you can't start worrying about the jury votes until you're in a position where they're actually going to vote on you. At that point, I would do my best to sell my speech.

Reality TV World: Was it surprising that everyone voted to eliminate you except Shambo? What do you attribute that to?

Erik: Fear. Arrogance. I think it started off with [Laura Morett] thinking that, "Hey, we can just burn Erik. It's not a big deal. We're still up in numbers 7 to 4 and I'm not even going to think twice about it."

Then I think when she went off to tell people, people panicked and people go, "Well, it's not my name. Okay, that's cool. It's somebody else's name. And wait a minute, if I don't vote Erik, then I'm in the minority. Oh shoot, I don't want that." It's just paranoia.

But yeah, it was really insulting to see too because -- come on guys -- somebody had to of stood up for me, right? Somebody should have said something. I get not wanting to buck the majority, but at the same time certain people are worth it. I didn't want [Yasmin Giles] to go home, I thought that was a poor decision.

But at the time, I was like, "I can't cross the majority for you Yas because unfortunately your Survivor resume at that point, you didn't do enough to make a compelling argument against it." I was the alternative side of that.

If there was one person in my tribe at this point to stand up for -- as far as their Survivor resumes and went against the majority -- it should have been me.  But they all folded, and they allowed me to be ousted.

It sucked. (laughing)

Reality TV World: Specifically with Brett Clouser, David Ball and John Fincher, you guys seemed to have an alliance. Did it hurt you more because they seemed to betray you and go along with the plan so easily, and did you really have an alliance with those three guys or was it more that you simply aligned out of necessity to outnumber Galu's women?

Erik: It was an alliance, and I was appreciative of it, I was supportive of it and I was loyal to it. Even when John said we're voting [Monica Padilla] I said, "I don't know if that's the best idea, but her laurels don't necessarily deserve her staying and I'm going to stay loyal to you John and I'm going to stay loyal to the guys." But unfortunately, Brett and Dave jumped ship. 

So yeah, it was an alliance. But I don't know how much of an alliance you can call it because the second that we needed to stay tight as an alliance they bailed on it -- they went in the opposite direction -- and that stung worse than whatever happened.

I didn't know when it happened at the time but I found out watching it, but I have to tip my hat to [Natalie White] because she went out there with some bait and she got Laura to bite it. Kudos to her.

I'm not even really upset with Laura because I feel like she got greedy and I feel like she got arrogant -- that she thought that she could kill two birds with one stone: flush out [Russell's] idol and also take out a strong competitor on her tribe. Kudos to you. I think it was the wrong decision, but still, I get that.

What I don't get is the guys WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO DEFEND ME -- we did the whole pinky swear and the blood brother crap -- and they turned their backs on me.

If you need an more proof of that, look at the interaction between me and Brett after I got voted off I go to give him a high-five like, "I don't know what just happened but your still my best friend right now and I'm cheering for you," only to find him leave me hanging and turn his back on me because he's too embarrassed to look me in the eye.

He's ashamed, and I'm like, "Oh my god." That's when I realized, "You stabbed me in the back!" (laughing) That's what hurt the worst.

Reality TV World: Why did you feel the need to approach Natalie, Mick Trimming and Jaison Robinson and Natalie about voting to eliminate Monica? Hadn't John already assured you that they would be voting for her?

Erik: John had said that he was going to get their votes. I went up to them and I was trying to be diplomatic and I was trying to talk to them in a non -- not so much threatening -- but I wanted to give them a heads up like, "Look, I understand you guys situation and it sucks but you know what? There is a chance for you guys to stay here tomorrow."

The reason I wanted to talk to them is because I knew John was going to talk to them about Monica, but I needed to make sure that they did not tell Russell that they were going to vote Monica.  Because if they told Russell that the plan was going to be to vote Monica, then Russell's not going to play his idol. So it was imperative that I told them not to tell Russell what was going on. I told them if they do that, it will allow us to flush the idol and in compensation we'll allow all four of you guys to stay here. So that was the reason that I was talking to them.

But the person who actually pounded Monica into their heads was John. Of course, it gets turned. I was disagreeing with him and then it turns out that Erik was looking to get rid of Monica -- he's poisonous, he's the villain, you've got to get rid of him. They're all wrong. It was totally wrong. But that's what happens when you make a decision in five minutes.

Reality TV World: Do you think the target was put on you instead of John because of the way you approached Mick, Jaison and Natalie -- especially with Jaison, who thought you were condescending in your attitude towards them?

Erik: Jaison is a very sensitive guy. I didn't really pick up on that [until] Tribal when they asked me about Jaison and I go, "This guy is hard working, he's intelligent, he's athletic, he's articulate. But he lays around camp and does nothing all day. He's got potential, I don't understand it. I don't understand how all that potential doesn't add up."

He gets so offended and goes way over the top. So I think the moment I opened my mouth he had so much to say to me to begin with it didn't matter. I could have given them all back massages and he would have been like, "I hate that guy."

But yes and no. I think Mick got the picture and Natalie. But at the same time, again, nothing that Foa Foa said about contributing to the demise of anybody on Galu should have held any water. It's bullshit to me that this idea -- although good job on you Natalie, I'll tip my hat to you -- but it's bullshit that anybody from Galu would go, "Yeah, that's a good idea."

I mean Natalie's telling Laura -- she's convincing Laura by saying, "If you get rid of him, y'all still have numbers 7 to 4." And Laura goes, "Yeah, you have a good point." NO! You don't have a good point! Nobody from Foa Foa has a good point!

Any point that comes from Foa Foa is like a snake selling a poison-covered candy apple.  "Bite this." "There's probably poison in it!!" "Why do you know?" "Because they're wearing yellow buffs!!" What's wrong with you!? Why are you listening to them!?

I could have taken it if it was masterminded and it was in the Galu camp and they were like, "I've got to get rid of Erik." Either because you don't like me, you're not friends with me -- anything. Give me any excuse! But don't tell me that you listened to Foa Foa and then ran with it!

Reality TV World: Were you ever aware of the plan to eliminate Laura before she won immunity and would you have been on board with it?

Erik: Absolutely because John wanted her gone. She was aligned with Monica pretty tight and Monica was the most worthless player I've very seen or been around, and in my opinion, in Survivor history.

Reality TV World: Was it just Laura's close relationship with Monica that apparently made her such a big target for everyone else or was there more to it -- was a tight alliance of two really a huge threat when there were still 12 people in the game?

Erik: I thought [Monica] was worthless as far as her contributions to camp, her contributions to gameplay and stuff like that -- but anybody that has a vote is worth something in that sense of the term. But I was worried about Laura. Hell, I could have gone to the finals with Laura. I could have kept Laura around.

I would have minded there being six of us once Foa Foa was all gone and Laura being one of those six people. I was cool with Laura. I thought she was intelligent. She was a little bit arrogant and she got a little bit pompous. I didn't like the way she treated Shambo and I do think she got really greedy when she had the opportunity to burn me. But I still could have worked with her because she was competitive and I can respect that. I had no respect for Monica.

Reality TV World: Did any of the other Galu members know you had the Hidden Immunity Idol?

Erik: Nope.  I wanted to keep it invisible so I could play it later down the road.

I could have given to Shambo at some point because I knew that she was going to be an easy target had we gotten to the Final 5 like we said last episode [with Brett, John and Dave]. It would have been great to have her stand up and play it as if she had found it and used it on her own. The reward from that would have been tenfold.

Reality TV World: That sounds a bit like some of your post-merge strategy.  What was your strategy heading into the merge? Based on what you've previously said, I'm assuming you never considered forming an alliance with the former Foa Foa members, right? 

Erik: Once the merge happened I thought there was a little bit of fat to be trimmed here because in the situation that we were in, the four guys we had with Shambo could be defeated if all three of the girls [Laura, Monica and Kelly Sharbaugh] jump ship.

We needed to take out one or two of them and make sure that doesn't happen. But I still thought that was kind of a long shot, especially because it makes no sense to go over to Foa Foa because even though you have a seven-person alliance, you're on the lower end of that Foa Foa totem pole.

So I mean the game had turned out exactly how we wanted. That's the frustrating part about watching this. We weren't really concerned about all of [Laura, Monica and Kelly] flipping -- maybe one or two who really thought that they were an outsider, and I think Monica was one of the people that had a potential to do that. So I wasn't really too concerned about that.

But as far as my gameplay from that point on, we just wanted to get all the Foa Foa and then battle it out between us six. The thing with Foa Foa was I told them, "We're going to work with you. I respect you as competitors. I respect you in this game. I don't like you because you're the enemy. It has nothing to do with the fact other than you're wearing yellow. It's not personal, that's just the way it is. If you can stick around and you can win Immunity, than hey, you've got just as good a shot at winning this."

To be quite honest, the one person I thought had the potential to step up his game and maybe win enough Immunities to get to the point where he could make an impact was Mick. I thought -- if the cards were dealt this way -- I could see myself working with Mick way down the road. I did not ever want to jeopardize what we had going on at Galu. Even though that was a possibility, it was way on the back burner because purple [came] first.

Reality TV World: You commented several times during last night's episode that Shambo is "crazy." Are you surprised that she's lasted as long as she has and do you think her longevity was just the product of Galu being so successful?

Erik: No, I think that I made a quote last week that I'll have Shambo deep in my pocket. Some people kind of took that as, "Oh, that's kind of a dick thing to say." But really, it was a mutually benefiting situation because as long as she was in my pocket, Shambo was protected.

I had her back all the time -- every time that her name came up, every time they wanted to vote her out -- there was some way that I was able to direct attention elsewhere.

First of all she was invaluable to me because she was so loyal and she was so productive. But in addition to that, as kooky and crazy and annoying as that can get out there, I knew that she wasn't malicious. I knew that she was a good person and I knew that she believed in loyalty and that she believed in teamwork. Even though she was crazy and made a lot of mistakes, she was still trying her hardest. So I can respect that. I protected her by keeping her in my pocket, that was the safest place in the game for her.

So it made sense that she was still around while I was there. It made sense that I was still around while she was there, because her loyalty was invaluable for me to stay in the game as well. Now they pull this one on her and there that classic quote where you see [Dave telling her they're voting for Erik] and she goes, "Who's Erik?" (laughing) I almost died.

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

Erik: It was my first time applying for the show because I was the victim of a small-town mentality in that it was the perfect opportunity for me and I think I was made for this show -- but I'm a needle in a haystack... You never apply because you think you're one in a million. What makes you so special?

But if you're built for something, you're built for something and it becomes apparent even if they look at a million people -- and I think that was my situation. I still say that everything that I've done in life and everything that I do, if you put it in a computer and in spit out exactly what I was supposed to do in life it would be a contestant on this damn game.

(Photo credit CBS)


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