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Exclusive: Michael "Frosti" Zernow talks about 'Survivor: China'


By Christopher Rocchio, 11/16/2007 

As the youngest castaway in Survivor history, Michael "Frosti" Zernow felt he had something to prove.

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While the 20-year-old parkour athlete/student from Chicago, IL, became the ninth castaway eliminated from Survivor: China during last night's broadcast of the long-running CBS reality competition series, he still feels like he played a good game.

On Friday, Frosti talked to Reality TV World about why he's glad the Survivor rules were bent to allow him into the game; if he really was Courtney Yates' "Survivor boyfriend" and if she was the one he feels back-stabbed him; why his agility as a "midget monkey" helped him learn about the Hidden Immunity Idols; and how he was tipped off that he was on the chopping block.


Reality TV World:   How did you end up being cast for Survivor: China? 

Frosti:  Basically I'm probably the coolest guy anyone's ever met, and I think they just sort of sensed that and realized they needed me on the show (laughing)...

No... Basically I've always thought Survivor's a really cool show and it's something that I felt like I would want to do and thought I could do pretty well -- but because of the [21-year-old] age requirement, I didn't think that I could apply.  But I guess somebody had seen some of my videos of me doing parkour, and thought that it would be worth to have me audition.

So I auditioned and sent in a tape, and did the whole process.  They decided that they would bend the rules this one time.

Reality TV World:  What was your reaction when you learned they were making an exception to the age requirement for you?

Frosti:  It did make me feel like I really had to prove that it was worth it that they would do this.  I mean it's not like anyone died because they put me on the show, but it's not something they do all the time and I felt really honored that they would do it for me.  So I felt like I needed to prove myself and I think I did play a good game.

Reality TV World:   Based on your previous answer, it sounds like you had you watched Survivor before going on the show.

Frosti:  I mean, I know Survivor's an amazing show.  I had seen a bunch of seasons.  I'm not going to say I watched every season [of] every episode like [fellow Survivor: China castaway Todd Herzog] did.  But I've definitely seen a bunch of seasons.

Survivor's such an amazing game.  And just from a pure... like studying it as a show but an amazing part of pop culture.  It's a really amazing process.  It's definitely a psychological game, a physical game... It's the ultimate game.  You're living in this, playing a game with real people, and it's just a really cool thing that came together.  It's a great use of the medium of television, as opposed to some of the stuff that's on TV now (laughing).

Reality TV World:   You seemed to have a really good relationship with Courtney, who described you as her "Survivor boyfriend."  What did you think when you heard that and why did you have such a good relationship with her?

Frosti:  Obviously I feel really cool that somebody like Courtney would be like, "Ah, this kid's cool.  I mean even though he has a funny name and is short and Asian.  He's still a cool guy."  You're in a position where it's really weird.  You're out in a jungle starving with cameras everywhere and mullets [a reference to Denise Martin] and gravediggers [a reference to James Clement] and getting close to someone, it's really nice. 

It feels really cool to have somebody out there that you don't have to think about the game with.  So when I was with Courtney, we were talking about books and hot dogs and music and NOT bouncing balls on drums and strategy and backstabbing and Tribal Council.  Being in China was amazing.  It's an incredible experience, and to spend the whole time just thinking about the game?  Not only would you go crazy, but you'd miss this incredible experience.

Reality TV World:   Did your relationship with Courtney ever get romantic?

Frosti:  I think with our disease-ridden bodies and un-Godly stenches, it probably would have been tough to get romantic.  But I don't even think that's what you want out there.  Nobody's really thinking about that... You're surrounded by these people that you can't trust.  You know these people because you see them everyday and you talk to them, but you don't know what they're really like.

To have somebody there that you feel like is being honestly genuine -- and Courtney's all about the brutal honesty -- it was just really nice.  It was really nice to feel comfortable with somebody.
 
Reality TV World:   What was it that Courtney whispered to you as you were leaving Tribal Council?

Frosti:  It was probably something along the lines of, "Oh my God!  I'm so sorry!  I can't believe I'm such a horrible person!"  But I don't know exactly (laughing). 

Reality TV World:   Have you guys remained in touch since the show ended?

Frosti:  Well I just got back from China yesterday (laughing), so I really haven't had the chance.  She's still out in the jungle starving.

Reality TV World:   During last night's reward, you seemed to notice right away Erik Huffman's attempts to win over Amanda and Courtney.  Did you think he'd be successful and do you think his game play is being underestimated?

Frosti:  Yeah, I mean I brought up that fact to Todd.  It was one of the reasons why I thought [Erik] was a huge threat.  People see Erik, I mean he's not a huge physical threat anymore because he's lost so much weight, he's really weak.  They don't see him as a huge strategic threat because he's not making moves.  But he is very smart, and he knows the way that he's playing this game is all about finding somebody else to latch onto and let them make the moves while he just "smiles and be beautiful," like James said.

Before that was [Jaime Dugan], and Jaime was making all sorts of moves and Erik was right along there for the ride.  He was doing great, and all he had to do was help around camp, make sure that everyone's happy, and smile and sing songs and be beautiful.  But later on -- now that he's at [the merged Hae Da Fung camp] and Jaime's gone, he has to find a new place to sit.  So I thought he was sitting next to Amanda and Courtney.

Reality TV World:   Did the thought to not participate in last night's Immunity Challenge and eat instead ever cross your mind?

Frosti:  I talked about it with Todd before we had even known that it was going to be [part of] the challenge.  Both of us said we would never do it.  When I got the token [to decide if he wanted to compete in the challenge or eat], it wasn't even a question of whether or not I was going to play.

I came out there, given this amazing opportunity to participate in the greatest game on the planet that thousands and thousands of people would kill [for] to have my spot... It's this amazing position, and to say, "I think I'll eat cheeseburgers?"

Reality TV World:   So how surprised were you when Todd, James, Courtney and Denise decided not to participate in the Immunity Challenge to stuff their faces instead?

Frosti:  Well someone like James... James is in an incredible position.  It's not a physical challenge, so he's like, "Whatever.  I don't need to win it."  He's got two [Hidden] Immunity Idols and tons of allies.  He needs food, and he always talks about food, so I can see him doing it.  Courtney doesn't care about challenges.  So I could see her doing it.  Todd -- I was a little bit surprised -- but I can understand he's in a good position. 

But Denise, that really threw me off just because  Denise was so adamant about the fact that she didn't want to be left out of challenges, that she was always going to do her best and that she was so upset that she wasn't in the loop on things and not sure about her position in the tribe.  Then at the same time, she's eating cheeseburgers?  Half of one cheeseburger...

Reality TV World:   Why do you think Amanda Kimmel decided to participate in the challenge?  Do you think she was surprised to see the rest of her allies not do the same?

Frosti:  That was actually hilarious, because the moment [Todd, Courtney, Denise and James revealed they weren't participating], she was like, "Oh God Jeff no!  Let me flip please!"  They wouldn't let her, they made her participate...

I know in the past they've had challenges like this before, where everybody except one person has gone for it.  She didn't want... She wanted to do her best to make sure that someone she trusted was going to win Immunity.  I guess she didn't expect everyone else to uh...

Reality TV World:  Bail?

Frosti:  Yeah...

Reality TV World:   Did you feel added pressure to win the Immunity Challenge?  It looked like you did.

Frosti:  It was a really stressful situation.  One, I'm really bad at memory and Jeff is saying things and then you have to match [what Jeff is saying] to a picture on a table.  What they don't show is that in the Chinese zodiac, there's like half of them that have "R" names, and for every "R" name there was two of those.  So it was like really crazy.  There's people talking and there's people eating these delicious cheeseburgers and yelling at you. [Peih-Gee Law] was to my left saying all the different animals. 

I know that I'm on the chopping block -- no matter what they say -- and if I can win [Immunity], then I'll be one step closer obviously to winning the game.  It's even better getting me in the good graces of Todd, Amanda and Courtney and whatever because I'd be in a better position.  Then on the flip side if I'm screwed, Peih-Gee will probably win Immunity and then they're all going to hate me or whatever. 

It was really a tough situation, and it's something that was constantly going on for me because of the position I was in.

Reality TV World:   After that Immunity Challenge, it seemed like you and Erik were resigned to the fact that it would be one of you two who would be eliminated.  Why didn't you two try to team-up with Peih-Gee and persuade Courtney or Denise to vote for Todd, Amanda or James?

Frosti:  We had talked to Denise and James, and the second we had spoken to all these different people -- more than anything we let Peih-Gee do all the dirty work just because everybody hated her already, which kind of sucks for her, but that was how she was playing -- so I already knew that James and Denise were not going to switch. 

Then Courtney I figured was kind of up in the air.  So I was always staying close to Courtney because she seemed like the most likely to -- other than the fact that we were close -- also because she seemed like the one to lend the most information, to possibly switch to vote outside the [original Fei Long] tribe boundaries.

But at the place we were in, I couldn't get anyone to come to work with Peih-Gee and Erik and myself.  I mean Peih-Gee came up to me before Tribal Council and basically was like, "Erik and I are going to vote for you because we can't get anyone else to vote with us."

Reality TV World:  Wow, so you knew going into Tribal Council that you were in trouble.

Frosti:  Obviously I knew I was going to get two votes for sure.  That was a bad sign.  I mean Courtney and I had told each other that we would tell the other one if something was going to happen.  But obviously she didn't send me that message (laughing).

Reality TV World:   That leads well into my next question.  Following your elimination, you commented how you, "expected some people to kind of backstab, but... didn't expect it right now."  Specifically who did you feel backstabbed you?  Was it Courtney?

Frosti:  I mean everybody pretty much back-stabbed me.  Todd and I had pretty much been talking about who we were going to vote for, and he told me he was going to vote for Erik.  Obviously that didn't happen.  But I just sort of assumed someone like Todd and Amanda would back-stab me.  Courtney I was a little bit more surprised by.

Reality TV World:   What was your initial reaction when you learned Fei Long made the decision to bring you onto their tribe from Zhan Hu?

Frosti:  Well I mean it was sort of like a compliment.  They thought I was a strong member of the team -- and watching the show -- it was pretty cool to see that they all really wanted me right away.  That's nice, but at the same time, it really did throw a hitch in my plans.  It made things really hard for me, but that's how Survivor works.  I was prepared to adapt to whatever came along.

Reality TV World:   Were you aware about Zhan Hu's plans to throw the Immunity Challenge after the swap?  I'm just asking because when we talked with Sherea Lloyd and Jamie, they both said the idea had been discussed before you and Sherea left for the other tribe.

Frosti:  Yeah, we had talked about it.  As soon as I found out I was going to be switching to the other team, I knew that I was going to have to change my strategy and change my game play.  At that point, I had to start thinking about the possibility of me becoming close to the [Fei Long] members. 

I was starting to think about who I would be come close to and then I was telling the old Zhan Hu members that, "Hey, you guys are in control of the two strongest players [James and Aaron Reisberger, who were swapped from Fei Long to Zhan Hu].  What you do with them is up to you, because you're definitely in control [at Zhan Hu]." 

So I knew that there was a possibility that they would throw it.  They didn't actually decide to do it until right before the challenge [EDITOR'S NOTE: Jaime previously confirmed when Reality TV World spoke to her]. 

So I didn't know it was going to happen.  The way that they threw it, it definitely made the game a lot harder for me because it cast a very negative light on Sherea and myself.  But hey, that's the way these things work.

Reality TV World:   When we spoke to Jaime, she commented how after the swap you wouldn't make eye contact with her or Peih-Gee, causing them to worry that you had switched allegiances to Fei Long.  Was that the case and if so, why did you decide to switch your allegiances from Zhan Hu to Fei Long?

Frosti:  I needed to gain, sort of, trust from the Fei Long members, because there was no way I was going to stay around [after the swap].  When [Fei Long] lost that challenge, it was who did they trust more?  They trusted me more than they trusted Sherea, even though they told me that they wanted to vote me out. 

So I had to do my best to gain the trust, and I didn't want to lose whatever I had going with the old Zhan Hu members.  But at the same time, the situation I was in, I had to go with what was most relevant at that point and that was to gain the trust of the Fei Long members so I wouldn't be voted out right then.  There was nothing I could do about that...

Reality TV World:   What was running through your head when you saw Amanda and Todd pulling shingles off the pagoda at the Fei Long camp?

Frosti:  My rule for whatever was going on around me was that anytime there's two people doing something -- two or more people -- that's a good place to be.

Reality TV World:  That's a good rule.

Frosti:  If they're talking about something, if they're doing something -- even if they're just bonding -- it's good to be there to become a part of that.  You're getting closer to gain trust.

[Todd and Amanda] happened to be doing something where I was like, "Guys, guys... Let me handle this.  I'm your little midget monkey!"  I climbed up [onto the pagoda] and you know, accidents happen and sometimes they're amazing and sometimes they really help you and this was great for me.  It was huge that I got to be a part of that and get in on that little secret.

Reality TV World:   When it happened, you seemed to think that knowing they had the Hidden Immunity Idol would further your own standing in the game.  Do you think that was the case?

Frosti:  It's always good to have information.  Having information is your most valuable asset -- knowing what's going on -- because it allows you to make smarter moves.  And then beyond that, it also gave me another opportunity to prove to the Fei Long people -- specifically Amanda and Todd -- that I was going to tell anyone.  I didn't let the secret out; I kept it to myself.  It overall didn't hurt me, it only helped me.

Reality TV World:   Did you know about the existence of a Hidden Immunity Idol before you actually saw it?

Frosti:  Well I wasn't sure there was anything, but you had to kind of think that there might be something at all times.  So I knew there were notes being passed out after every Reward Challenge, I didn't know what they were for or what they said.  Obviously Jaime [who received two clues to the whereabouts of the Hidden Immunity Idols] never told me until after she merged [at which point he already knew about them].

But I mean the first day I was at camp, I found some random, oval coin in the mud at our camp when I was digging a hole, and I stuck that in my pocket. I was like, "I don't know... Could be anything?"

Reality TV World:   Todd's been shown complaining about how James hasn't offered to return the Hidden Immunity Idol that he'd given to James.  Why hasn't Todd just asked James to give it back to him?

Frosti:  I think Todd's pretty scared of James.  Not physically... I mean obviously [James] is physically imposing.  But [James] is in a really good position.  He could definitely switch sides and he remained loyal [to the original Fei Long members] when he could have easily switched. He's definitely in a strong position to take control of this game.

Reality TV World:   What's was the rest of the tribe's reaction to the fact that James hasn't offered to give it back to Todd.  Do you think it's hurt his standing in the tribe?

Frosti:  It definitely makes [James] vulnerable to people wanting to back-stab him or blind-side him.  But he's in a great position, and anyone that's doing really well is a threat.  That's dangerous.  That's what happened to me.  I was doing well, I was getting close [to Courtney]... That was my downfall.

Reality TV World:   You knew the real Hidden Immunity Idols had an inscription. Did you talk to Jaime about it?

Frosti:  Well Jaime didn't know that I knew about the idols, so I tried to... She told me that she had what probably was an idol -- but maybe wasn't -- and so I asked her if there was anything written on it that would describe it as an idol.  I was trying to get her to... I basically didn't want her to look like an idiot.  But before she played it, she told me that she was most-likely sure it wasn't real.  She was using it as a tool to hopefully help her game, and when she played it, it was either going to help her a lot, or it was going to make [Jean-Robert Bellande] piss himself.  Either way it was great (laughing)...

Reality TV World:   What was it like during those early days at Zhan Hu when the tribe was having a tough time winning and seemed to be constantly bickering? 

Frosti:  Well it's not easy losing all the time, and the only good thing was that I was part of a solid alliance.  So we were basically getting off people that we didn't want around and it was basically just easy gliding after all the controversial people were gone (laughing).

Reality TV World:  When we talked to Jean-Robert last week, he thought it was foolish for Zhan Hu to eliminate all of it's strongest members first, like Steve "Chicken" Morris, Ashley Massaro and Dave Cruser...

Frosti:  Well what they don't know is that, like Chicken, he was probably pretty strong, but he was also slow and he was falling down and hurting himself.  And Ashley was really sick, so she wasn't doing ANYTHING...

Reality TV World:   While you may have not been one of the more physically imposing Survivor: China castaways, you were still deemed as a physical threat.  Why do you think that was the case?

Frosti:  I had a different kind of physical strength.  It wasn't necessarily brut strength, but it was more along the lines of speed, agility, endurance, and I started to show that more in these later challenges.  It started to scare people, because I didn't look like James.  But I could still do well.

[At this point, a CBS publicist said there was only enough time for one more question]

Reality TV World:   So what's next for you Frosti?  Back to parkour?

Frosti:  I'm still doing parkour.  My team -- The Tribe -- we teach classes, we have workshops, we started performing and doing jobs.

(Photo credit CBS)


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