Exclusive: Malcolm Freberg talks the wild 'Survivor' Tribal Council and what J.T. Thomas was doing
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/23/2017
Malcolm Freberg was ousted from Survivor: Game Changers after a two-tribe Tribal Council twist on Wednesday night's episode on CBS.
After losing the season's fourth Immunity Challenge, the new Nuku and Mana tribes were forced to attend Tribal Council on Night 11 together. In a 6-5 vote with Malcolm's Nuku tribe having the majority, Sierra Dawn Thomas was technically voted out of the game with six votes.
However, thanks to information James "J.T." Thomas leaked to Brad Culpepper on the opposing tribe, Tai Trang played a hidden Immunity Idol for Sierra and therefore sent Malcolm, a 29-year-old from Hermosa Beach, CA, home with five votes.
During an exclusive interview with Malcolm on Thursday, the former Survivor: Caramoan -- Fans vs. Favorites and Survivor: Philippines castaway talked to Reality TV World about his "premature end" in Game Changers. Below is the first half of what he had to say.
Reality TV World: Your tribe clearly went into Tribal Council with the plan of voting Sierra out, but we saw you talking with J.T. and others beforehand about maybe going after Tai or Sandra instead. So why was the decision Sierra?
Malcolm Freberg: Well once we heard what the twist was -- we loved it! As far as our tribe goes, we were fine. We were all about this twist! We think it's great. But we were sitting there trying to defend ourselves in the best way possible while taking out a threat on [Mana]'s tribe. Now people ask me, "Well why didn't you think about going for Brad?"
Well, we needed J.T. on our side and we knew that J.T. and Brad were close. So if we had gone after Brad, J.T. might have turned on us. He eventually did, but we'll get to that later. But we had to vote out somebody whom J.T. was going to be okay with.
And he kind of mentioned Tai, but Tai has a knack for finding idols obviously. So we wanted Sierra and thought she would never, ever find an idol. And J.T. was okay with that, so it was a combination of factors. But really, at the time, it was an easy decision to vote for Sierra.
Reality TV World: So who was ultimately responsible for the decision to not to take out Brad instead of Sierra?
Malcolm Freberg: Before we went to Tribal, you know, it's not like we don't talk about these things day in and day out before the event of Tribal takes place. And we knew that Brad and J.T. were close, so Brad never even really came up because you need to be recruiting people who can supply you with connections later in the game.
And keeping J.T. happy is possibly leveraging his relationship with Brad. It really didn't seem like a hard decision, especially for me, because me and J.T. were much tighter than they even showed last night on the show. We were best friends since the moment we first swapped. So I loved the idea of keeping Brad around because he was my in to the other tribe, J.T.
Reality TV World: At Tribal Council, Hali seemed ready and willing to work with your tribe since she felt on the outs of Mana and told you guys to vote Brad. Knowing Brad was Hali's target, why didn't your tribe take her up on that plan? Was it because of, like you said, not wanting to get in the way of J.T. and Brad's friendship?
Malcolm Freberg: Well, the [friendship] is part of it, but on top of that, you have to remember that we think we had this thing on lock going in to Tribal Council. We had six people; we were confident with the Sierra decision. I still think with the information we had, it was the right call.
We felt great going into Tribal Council because we had the numbers and all that. But we don't know what happened with that [Caleb Reynolds] vote. We didn't know what Hali's relationship with that tribe was like at all.
So our thoughts going into it -- we had discussions -- like, "Let's just try to keep Hali away from us as much as possible," because we want to reconnect with her later. We were trying to keep her safe. If she votes with us, that's going to make her a huge target the next time that tribe goes to Tribal Council.
So when we don't think we need her, we were like, "Why not just let her vote with them and use it as sort of a sign of allegiance to her new tribe?" Hali was close with a few of us -- me and Sandra especially -- and then trust when we get back together later, she'll still come back to us. So we were just trying to protect Hali there.
Reality TV World: Was that definitely a group decision or more of one in which maybe you or Sandra pulled the strings?
Malcolm Freberg: We talk about stuff so much. It really does get blurry how these things go. But I do remember this: The minute we got back to camp from that [Immunity] Challenge and learned we'd be going to Tribal with another tribe, all of us were happy. We think this is a blessing, like we're going to put one of them on blast!
And then Sandra was the first one to say it, as [the episode] showed -- but I also remember saying it at one point -- that we should get rid of Sierra. And then we talked about it for a really long time. This was definitely a group decision.
Sandra was the one who said it first, I agreed. I think J.T. was leaning more towards Tai, but in case he had an idol, we weren't going to take that chance. And it was a long, long discussion. It was one of the longer discussions. And this was a weird one too, because usually you can't have a tribe discussion like that. Usually you're voting off someone on your own tribe.
Before you get there, your entire tribe can figure this out and it's sort of an open forum... This was a really weird Tribal Council and I don't think it's ever happened before... We were voting somebody off -- or trying to -- on another tribe and we're all trying to get on the same page. I think it was the first time in history an entire tribe just sat down and talked about it for a few hours.
Reality TV World: During Tribal, Nuku's plan was to take out Sierra, but J.T. kept running over to talk to Brad. When J.T. returned at one point, he was trying to change your tribe's vote. So why not listen to him? What were you thinking then?
Malcolm Freberg: When J.T. started panicking and telling us to change our vote, change the vote, change the vote, we didn't understand why because he refused to tell us that he told [Brad] about Sierra. If he just us that, everything would've been different, and I wouldn't be talking to you today.
But when J.T. was freaking out at the end of that Tribal Council before we voted, we knew something was wrong, but he didn't want to tell us what he had done to create a problem. So when he was telling us to change -- I remember distinctly him telling us, "We need to change the vote [from Sierra], we need to change the vote" -- and all these names were being thrown around.
But we were just like, "Stick to the plan. There's no way Sierra found an idol and no one is going to risk their life to play it for her." We were 100 percent sure it's her. We didn't know J.T. had handed them basically a "get out of jail free" card.
Reality TV World: When J.T. asked you at Tribal if he should go talk to Brad, we didn't see you give him a response. What did you initially think J.T. was going to tell Brad or ask him? Did you think you were in on that?
Malcolm Freberg: I think he was just letting me know because, again, we were really tight and we were both sitting interestingly right in the middle of that Tribal Council. But he said, "I'm going to go talk to Brad." And I was like, "Why?"
And he goes, "I want to tell him that he's going to be safe." And again, I'm thinking, "I want to play with Brad later in the game and [J.T.] is my in to the other tribe." So I didn't really fight him on it, but I had no idea he was going to tell him everything.
I did wonder whether J.T. was doing what he says he's doing, like if he just went over there and said, "Hey, Brad, you're safe," well then that doesn't create a problem for us. In fact, it makes me look better because me and J.T. are buddies and I can tell Brad he's safe, we'll be cool later on. But if I knew J.T. was going to tell him as much as he did, I probably would've tackled him.
Reality TV World: Did J.T. tell the rest of your tribe the same thing, that he just went over to tell Brad he was safe? Because I'm sure everyone was asking him about the exchange.
Malcolm Freberg: Yes, that was our extent of the knowledge of what he told Brad, that he just told Brad he's safe. And the reason we were kind of trying to coddle J.T. was because we might need him later on. So yeah, that's all we knew.
Reality TV World: So it sounds like even though you were really close to J.T., you definitely doubted whether he was going to stay loyal to you and your tribe.
Malcolm Freberg: Of course. He had all of his friends over there and he had only been with us for a few days and he's massively outnumbered. And yes, of course you have to doubt that he's going to be loyal.
I knew that me and him were tight. We had been talking great game stuff and I knew he wouldn't try to betray me. He wasn't trying to betray me last night, even.
But we treated him with kid gloves because he had never been to Tribal Council with J.T. and he already had a history of making questionable decisions in that situation, so yeah, you have to play nice with somebody in a situation like that.
Reality TV World: Since you knew J.T. was close with Brad, but you were very close with J.T., was there a part of you that considered joining J.T. in a flip against Nuku and voting out someone in your own tribe, like Sandra perhaps? Because viewers saw you guys discussing targets prior to Tribal.
Malcolm Freberg: No, it never even crossed my mind. It didn't even cross my mind that J.T. would try to pull a stunt like he did. This was almost, like, a vote after the merge when two tribes come together to vote one person off. But the thing is, you have to go back to camp and be with your tribe.
If you flip, you're sitting there with a lot of people you just flipped on. You're toast if you do that. So in my mind, there was never a question of flipping. I didn't think J.T. would actually do what he did.
I couldn't see an outcome that was favorable for him. Even if he got what he wanted and Sandra went home, he still would have to come back to a tribe with me and Varner and Aubry and Michaela, who are all going to be furious with him. So I didn't think it made sense at all for me to flip.
Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion of our exclusive Survivor interview with Malcolm Freberg.