Exclusive: Joel Anderson dishes about 'Survivor: Micronesia' ouster
By Christopher Rocchio, 03/07/2008
Joel Anderson was in a good spot in the game until there was a tribal swap.
With his four-person alliance split between the two new tribes, Joel immediately found a target on his back due to his strength and subsequently became the fifth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites during last night's broadcast of the long-running CBS reality show's sixteenth season.
On Friday, the 32-year-old firefighter from Avondale, AZ talked to Reality TV World about why his four-person alliance had been cruising along until the swap, which he feels led to his downfall; what his one mistake in the game was; and why he's unsure if Malakal's decision to boot him will come back to haunt them.
Reality TV World: After you were eliminated you said you were confused about your tribe's decision to boot you instead of Chet Welch. Why was that so hard for you to understand seeing as how you did the same thing while eliminating Mike Bortone and Mary Sartain?
Joel: Well I don't see the same thing that I did with Mary and Mikey as the same, just because of the strategy that was behind getting rid of those people. I wasn't trying to vote out the strong people -- I was voting out people that weren't in my alliance. Anybody that wasn't in my alliance fell into the same category, whatever their physical makeup was.
My alliance was [Alexis Jones, Natalie Bolton and Erik Reichenbach]. If you were outside of that, than it really didn't matter to me if you thought you were a physical strength or not. Maybe that was the same thought process that the new tribe that I was on -- Malakal, the new makeup of the Malakal tribe -- had.
But I was confused just because of the conversations I had with people. I wasn't confused with the strategy behind it. I think it made the most sense for them to vote me out at that time. I didn't have a problem with that, I was confused just because... It's a game of deception and I got deceived.
Reality TV World: Even though you said it was because Mikey and Mary weren't part of your alliance -- not because they were strong -- weren't you still concerned you were setting some sort of dangerous precedent by targeting the other strong members of your tribe?
Joel: I mean I can see that now, but that thought process didn't really cross my mind. I was very, very comfortable with the original Airai tribe. I think the other three people that were in my alliance -- our alliance together -- I think we were comfortable too.
Our plan was based on logic and based on numbers. It wasn't based on emotion, it wasn't based on who we thought was strong or was weak. We all agreed that whether we win challenges or lose challenges, this is the plan we're going to go with. Then we got all switched up.
The other thing about our Airai tribe was that we were very disbanded -- there were different factions of that tribe. There were a couple people who were feeding that. "We're stronger and you're weaker, and you don't belong here," and stuff like that. I don't think that you're going to ever win a challenge unless there's unity within your tribe. My biggest concern was trying to get some unity. I think the rest of that original Airai tribe felt the same way.
Once we had what we felt was a unified tribe -- all on the same page and planning on working together finally -- than we got shuffled.
Reality TV World: Just to back up, your alliance with Alexis, Natalie and Jason -- was that born out of the original seven-person Airai alliance?
Joel: No. I wasn't really aware of a seven-person alliance. After I had already made a decision to align with Alexis -- when I approached her and I talked to her -- she had already talked to Natalie. That kind of made me raise an eyebrow because I'm going, "Okay, here's two girls who have already decided to work together without putting themselves with a big, strong alpha male. They're pretty confident in themselves." That to me was more threatening than any singular person anywhere. Here's two women that are saying, "We can go all the way by ourselves." I'm saying, "I want to join up with that group and bring in a fourth so we have the numbers."
Then you've for three on one side and three on the other. You've got [Tracy Hughes-Wolf], Chet and [Kathleen Sleckman] on one side; you've got Mikey, [Jason Siska] and Mary on the other side. If we can play them against each other, then we can't lose.
Reality TV World: You seemed to be so overly concerned about Mikey calling the shots that you orchestrated his and Mary's elimination. Did you ever think that would make the others see you as a strategist and thus place a target on your back -- which seems to be pretty much exactly what happened?
Joel: I don't see that as what happened. You're talking about two different tribes. You have the original Airai tribe -- where no, I didn't orchestrate any votes there. I went to people with ideas and said, "What do you think?" And I said, "By the end of the night -- by the time the sun goes down -- tell me what you think and we'll talk about it."
So they would go off all day long, talk with whoever they wanted to talk to, and come back to me at the end of the night and they'd either say, "No, I don't like that idea," or "You know what? That sounds good. Let's do that." That's about the extent of my manipulation in that Airai tribe.
You go to the new Malakal tribe, and that's a completely different tribe, completely different dynamics, four brand new people that have no idea -- other than when we show up -- who was gone.
Reality TV World: Seeing as how Chet and Tracy agreed with the plan last week to eliminate Mikey to save Chet's neck, did you ever consider they'd do the same to you during last night's episode when Chet was clearly once again being targeted?
Joel: Yeah. You know, if I made a mistake in the game, that was it. Like I said, when I was with the Airai tribe, we tried to play a very logical game by the numbers. Not emotional, not letting our anger get the best of us or how we felt about anybody personally. That wasn't the game that everybody was playing, but that was the game I felt was the best.
The swap -- the shuffle -- just totally threw me off. My world was spun upside down. I went from a very comfortable situation to the most uncomfortable I was there the entire time.
If I had to do it over -- if I made one mistake in the game or anything I would change -- it would be I think logically, I should have gone to Tracy and Chet and said, "Hey look. The two of you, Erik and myself never vote against each other. And then worst case scenario, we have a four-to-four tie." If they were to go for that.
But I have no regrets of any other move I made other than not going to [Chet and Tracy after the swap] and saying, "Hey you know what? I can't stand Chet. He's the weakest person we have. But you know what? It doesn't matter because it's a numbers game. It's a strategy game and it's a vote game. We've got three chickens over here that we can eat. We can keep losing. It doesn't matter. We will never vote against each other." That would have been my best move.
Reality TV World: Last night featured pretty much the same type of tribal swap that just about every other Survivorseason has had before. Had you thought about the possibility that a swap might be coming soon before you decided to get rid of Mikey?
Joel: That's a fumble on us as an entire tribe. We've all watched the show and we know that something gets done before the merge. We just never discussed it. I don't know if we just were so focused on the survival aspects or so focused on that we didn't have any food or we had been losing challenges, but we never discussed it as a tribe. "Hey, what if they shuffle us? Or like in China where they say pick two people. What are we going to do? What's our plan?" We never discussed it as a tribe and that was our fault.
Reality TV World: You seemed really focused on the long-term picture and didn't really seem to be taking the game one step at a time. Is that accurate?
Reality TV World: Was that part of your strategy heading into the game?
Joel: Yeah. I would go and sleep on the boat every night because the elements out there didn't bother me. Having been a firefighter and being a firefighter now -- taking that experience with me -- I kind of learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. That didn't bother me.
But I would just go and run numbers -- as the sun was going down or as the sun was rising -- thinking about different ways that people could go, who could align with who, what could be going on behind my back. Everything that was happening the days previous, I'd just start going through all that in my mind and thinking, "Okay, if this happens then what?" Really playing the whole game like a mental chess game -- playing it out in my mind from beginning to finish. Obviously there were hiccups along the way that I didn't incorporate into that thought process.
That was definitely it. I had a long-term plan. I was not there to get publicity. I was there to go all the way and take the money home.
Reality TV World: How much communication really took place between you and Chet during last night's Reward Challenge? As a viewer, it certainly looked like you were just dragging him around the course.
Reality TV World: It was funny, but was there really a lack of communication like Chet and Tracy accused?
Joel: (still laughing) No, and I really hope we can get our hands on some of that audio tape. It'd be great, because I was very... You could see me getting agitated at Tribal Council because what Tracy was saying was just completely untrue. First of all, she wasn't on the playing field -- she was off on the side.
But every move I made I yelled out as loud as I could to Chet. We're approaching a fence, and I'm looking at it saying, "We've got to go under this," and I would say, "Under!" We're getting to the next one and we've got to go over and I'd say, "Over!" I was flabbergasted -- speechless -- because what else could I do? Stop and make sure he knows what over and under means? Then, "Okay, we're both on the same page. We understand under this one? Okay, let's go under." I mean that was a very fast-paced challenge.
Reality TV World: Do you think the blame falls on Chet for your tribe's failure to put last night's Immunity Challenge puzzle together? They commented how it was your fault since you kept interjecting as they were working.
Joel: Everybody interjects their opinion on just about every challenge we have. If mine was what caused it to be lost, than that would be interesting to me that that would be the case. I know what [fellow Malakal member Cirie Fields] was saying. If she was so focused on what I was telling [Chet], maybe she needed to focus more on putting the puzzle together. But I don't think that anybody should be distracted by the fact that everybody wants to win -- the assumption is everybody wants to win -- and the assumption is that we all want to put our best foot forward and get this problem solved.
I don't think it was Chet's fault. I don't think it was any one person's fault. There was a number of people... When we went into that puzzle part, we had a pretty dramatic lead -- a significantly dramatic lead -- in putting that puzzle together. You know, puzzles aren't easy. You can say that it just didn't make sense to them or whatever you want to say. But there may have been strategy going on there too. Who knows?
Reality TV World: Do you think Malakal's decision to eliminate you will come back to hurt them, seeing as how they decided to keep a weaker member instead?
Joel: You know that depends. It really depends. If they can handle not winning challenges, then it's not a big deal. And some people can. Some people out there can handle it.
The way it is right now, the new Airai tribe just won steaks and vegetables and sausage. The new Malakal tribe still has three chickens that are laying eggs. Both tribes have more than they had when they stepped foot on the island. So losing a few more challenges isn't the end of the world because there's still food there to eat and water there to boil and wood to burn.
So it just depends on what strategy ends up coming out on top. The weaker people -- the physically weaker people -- could unite and vote out the physically stronger people. Or the physically stronger people could pull one of those weak people and say, "Hey, I want to align with you and take you to the end. Nobody will ever think that we're aligned." It's all about trust, deception and what you want to believe that day.
Reality TV World: Did you have any idea you might be eliminated heading into Tribal Council or were you completely blind-sided?
Joel: I had an inkling, but I would not be so arrogant as to say I knew it was coming. No, I was definitely caught off guard. Like I said, the light bulb really went off about half-way through Tribal Council. I went, "Oh... I see what's going on here."
Reality TV World: Do you think you underestimated Tracy and Chet's ability to play the game?
Joel: No. (laughing) Plain and simple: No.
Reality TV World: During the second episode you commented that "Tracy, Chet, and Kathy will be out of here as soon as possible." Do you regret deviating from that plan?
Joel: No, I don't regret -- like I said -- I don't regret any of the moves I made. I think right when you get there, you make some split decisions and then you sit for a couple of days. I think it's underestimated the significance of the social aspect of the game. You're around those other people 24 hours a day. Little things can really start to wear on you. Things that they do or things that they say or just personalities. You start to see the direction that certain people go and what their strategies are. You're initial strategy that you had 45 minutes after setting foot on the island might change after 24 hours.
Reality TV World: Even though you were the one who helped orchestrate Mary's elimination, you voted to boot Tracy during that Tribal Council. I'm assuming that was some strategy on your part? If so, what was the reason behind it?
Joel: Like I said, the very first day -- after we set foot on the island, we spent the night there -- the next morning we woke up, and Alexis and I went and got some water for the tribe. We talked there, and that's where I found out that she had already talked to Natalie. Alexis and I decided to make an alliance with each other, along with Natalie, and then about a day later we made our alliance with Erik.
We started strategizing and looking at the dynamic of the group and what was happening and how Mary and Mikey were kind of getting a little bit closer than pretty much the entire tribe was comfortable with. Regardless of how early it was in the game, my feeling is that if you start to seduce a man and get him to think with the wrong head, he'll cut his mom's throat. You've got to end that early.
So the rest of the tribe agreed with me. We were all on the same page on that decision. Then I realized through talking with Alexis that Mikey thought he had an alliance with her. So I told Alexis to vote a certain way and make a marking on her vote -- and she did, you can see that in the Tribal Council. She marked her vote so I knew which one was hers. I threw in a vote for Tracy for [Alexis] and Natalie, so that when we got back to camp, Alexis and Natalie could tell Mikey that they voted for Tracy and he could decide who he wanted to believe.
Reality TV World: Can you talk about what lead up to Kathy, Chet, and Tracy building their own shelter? It seemed to further fracture a tribe that was already having problems.
Joel: Yeah, that was an interesting deal. That was one of our priorities when we first got there was shelter, and building a shelter. I made it pretty clear that I could care less whether or not we had a shelter. If what you want to do is build one, then we'll build one. And it makes the most sense to build one. So we got to work and spent (laughing)... I mean you can see it in the show. We spent a lot of time ultimately doing a whole lot of nothing. We ended up with very little.
But in that process, again, personalities came out and people kind of started going, "Okay, I don't like you." I think [Chet, Tracy and Kathy] being a little bit older -- and a little bit physically weaker -- bonded together, and said, "We're going to stick together and we're going to build our own shelter and do this on our own." Which was a bad move.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Micronesia? Had you previously applied to the show before?
Joel: I went to an open casting call in Arizona and I hadn't previously applied just because of the situations and circumstances of my life that really didn't make it favorable for me to do it. My wife and I have always been fans -- and her family especially are big fans. When we got a good foundation underneath us with a good job with me working for Phoenix Fire Department and the opportunity of an open casting call in my city, it couldn't be passed up.
Reality TV World: So that's what you're currently doing now? Working for the Phoenix Fire Department?