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Exclusive: Susie Smith talks about her 'Survivor: Gabon' experience


By John Bracchitta, 12/15/2008 

Few thought that Susie Smith had any chance of real success in Survivor: Gabon.

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However, defying the expectations of most, if not all, of her fellow castaways, the 47-year-old hairdresser and assistant teacher from Charles City, IA was able to fly under the radar for much of the competition before parlaying a win in the final Immunity Challenge into finishing as the runner-up in Survivor: Gabon.

On Monday, Susie spoke to Reality TV World about how she had reacted the castaways' initial dismissal of her as a serious competitor, what strategy she was utilizing when she told Corinne Kaplan that she had been planning to vote for her at Tribal Council, and why even she was surprised that she made her way into the competition's Final 3.

Reality TV World: Congratulations on your strong performance.

Susie: Oh, well thank you. I just had my son come in and say "Good morning mom!," and then he gave me a hug and said "I'm so proud of you." So I've accomplished my goal.

Reality TV World: Oh sweet, that's awesome! Well, I just have some questions about the show, [Robert "Bob" Crowley] and [Jessica "Sugar" Kiper] really seemed to be kind of bad sports about your win at the final Immunity Challenge.  Were you surprised by their reactions?

Susie: Oh, you know... I actually felt bad myself because I knew Bob wanted to win it [so badly] and he was trying to win immunity. I actually apologized to him after I won it. As soon as I won it I hugged him and I said "Bob I'm so sorry. I knew you wanted to win this bad, but I needed to win this otherwise I wasn't going to be in the finals."

So it [was] a little bittersweet. You just feel a quick thing and then it's over, and I knew that they were playing a game and I knew that Sugar was very bonded with Bob, I knew that. It wasn't any different they knew it was obviously that I was close with [Matty Whitmore] too. It's just a game.

Reality TV World: Do you think either one of them really respected the power you had at that point?  I mean you were the only one guaranteed to be making the Final 3 and neither one of them seemed to be very worried about telling you off and upsetting you.

Susie: Isn't that funny? I just thought to myself [as I watched] how they were interviewed on the show and were playing. Sugar had such a lack of faith in me. [unintelligible], she didn't like that everyone else was underestimating me, she wouldn't tell me, but she felt the same way. I just laughed about it, I expected it. A lot of people didn't expect for me to make it to the finals.

Reality TV World: There was a clip of you, after that final Immunity Challenge, saying that you  were open voting Sugar off and taking Bob to the Final 3 instead.  Can you explain why you would have wanted Bob in the Final 3 instead of Sugar? 

Susie: Because I absolutely adore Bob. He's a great guy, I was never afraid to go up against Bob. That wasn't an issue for me. If that was the case we coulda voted Bob off earlier and then taken [Randy Bailey] with us as we were playing.

But for me it wasn't a matter of (pauses) The personalities played a huge role out there in how you see people. For me, I wasn't afraid to go up against Bob. It was great. Sugar, I knew she had the hidden Immunity Idol and at one time I had talked to Matty [about blindsiding her]. He didn't want to because he felt like he owed her because she had saved him and because of all these different things that had happened.

But I [was] okay when it was Bob, Sugar and I. Sugar was just as deserving, she played her game too. I never felt that too threatened about taking anybody. the votes are going to be the votes, and the people are gonna vote the way they wanna. 

Reality TV World: Were you surprised that Sugar forced the tie?

Susie: That surprised me because I had talked to her and I really thought that she was gonna vote Bob, because she said that. But I think what happened was, once when we were talking about it I said (pauses). Well I was talking to Matty and I said "Matty are you sure?" and Matty [was like] "Oh yeah, 50 million percent I know Sugar is going to vote for Bob," and I said "Okay."

Then when I talked to Sugar and I said "Sugar, are you sure you're going to vote for Matty, because if you don't it'll be a tie and they'll have to do a fire challenge." She told me later [that] that's why she did what she did. She [told [me] "When you said that Susie, I was expecting to vote for Bob, but when you told me that, I decided I would like [to force] the challenge."

I was a little bit [like] "Is it my fault?" I don't know. I was just a hair disappointed. That was the only time I felt that way through the whole game, like "Ooh, [this is] a real, true betrayal," because even though you know you're lying [to these people], when you trust people in increments. In this moment I really, really trusted Sugar and she did that and I was just kind of shocked. But she did what she was out there to do.

Reality TV World: Were you surprised to get three jury votes?

Susie: No, because I felt like, with [Crystal Cox], [Ken "Kenny" Hoang] and Matty... I liked that we were really good friends, and I felt like I never disrespected them and never tried to hurt them or anything like that.

As well as, I was like that with all of them. Other than Corinne, probably telling her I was going to vote for her probably hurt her, but my intentions were never to hurt anybody.  I felt pretty comfortable and pretty confident that I was going to get Crystal, Kenny, and Matty's votes.

Reality TV World: Do you think Randy really based his vote for Bob on the fact that you chided him about carrying on about the cookie thing?

Susie: I don't know. That's something Randy's gonna have to own on his own. I was kind of shocked too.

When we got done with the votes and all that, he kind of taps me on the shoulder and told me that... and he was trying to be really serious and [was trying] to convince me, or convince himself, [and said] "You know I really meant that. That's why I voted that way."

I said "Randy, you don't owe me an explanation." I'm not gonna hold anything against him.

Reality TV World: Where you surprised how bitter the jury was?  I mean the show filmed last summer, but some of the people we've talked to now have [still] been holding some [pretty big grudges].

Susie: That is interesting to me. I don't get that. I really don't. They should all know what they signed up for, I certainly did.

I don't think I ever -- well maybe Randy mouthing off to me and disrespecting me the way he did -- I can't find myself to be disrespectful back at him. It's a game, I don't understand the point of holding grudges. Especially with Corinne and Sugar, c'mon you guys. Or Sugar and Randy, it's childish, I can't believe that they're acting that way.

I don't understand it.

Reality TV World: Several folks seemed to give you a hard time about how much talking you did, but based on the early interviews we had done, it had seemed like Bob had been just as bad with some of his stories.  Do you think that was the case, and if so, why do you think they seemed to hold it against you so much more?

Susie: I'm not sure. I mean, I remember making a statement at some point during camp, I said "I don't understand. I know I talk a lot, but so do you guys." Sugar talks non-stop. Crystal, now I'll tell you, Crystal was one of the people that didn't talk very much, you know what I mean? She talked, [but] she got her point across and if she was gonna say something she said it. but actually she didn't talk a lot.

Bob? He was longwinded, he'd talk all the time. [Marcus Lehman] wasn't a big talker. Corinne was a HUGE talker, my God!

So I don't know why they pinned that on me so much, but whatever. That's okay, I am a chatty person. I talk a lot. (laughs) 

Reality TV World: How did you end up joining up with that plan to vote off Crystal?  Who approached you? We saw Sugar telling Matty to vote for Crystal, but we didn't see how Bob and yourself ended up being part of that.

Susie: I was in Exile and I had just gotten back and I didn't know anything, so I just had to go with whatever. I was like [to Sugar] "What are we doing?" and I remember being in the hut and asking her. I remember Bob thought I was gonna vote for Kenny, and I said "Bob, who are you voting for? What do you want me to do?" and he said "Well I'm gonna vote for Kenny," and I was like "Ok."

Then I went into the hut and I was talking to Matty and Sugar, and I was like "Bob is gonna vote for Kenny," and then Sugar was like "No, we're gonna vote for Crystal, but Crystal thinks we're gonna vote for Kenny."

Reality TV World: Okay, so you were just going along with it?

Susie: Of course! I was under the radar. I played "indian," not "chief."
 
Reality TV World: Before Crystal got voted out, what was your endgame plan going to be?  I mean were you planning to go to the Final 5 with Crystal, Matty, Kenny, and Sugar? 

Susie: Yeah. Our goal was to try and take Bob off first, and in between at one point I told Matty that we really need to take Sugar off because she has the Immunity Idol, and we really should've taken her out sooner but... You know, that's just the way things turn out.

Reality TV World: Were you surprised at how obvious the other Kota members were about the fact that they considered you to be the sixth member of their six person alliance?

Susie: I wasn't surprised about it, I knew that I was at the bottom. I tried to tell Bob that, I go "Bob, Marcus told me he doesn't want to take you to the finals," and Bob was content with that and like "Oh hey Susie, can it get any better? We're in the Top 6."

I said "Bob, we should want better! I don't want to be the Kota 6. I don't wanna be the Bottom 6 or the Bottom 5 or Bottom 4. our goal is the farthest we can.

But he seemed to be content with it and so, yeah, I told him "I know I'm at the bottom." I mean, even Randy was above Bob. It was interesting.

Reality TV World: You were voted the least important member of original Fang tribe, did you agree with that assessment?  Did you try to use that to your advantage to try and fly under the radar?

Susie: Yeah I did. It was a little bit of a sting, but the truth was when we had to vote on that you had to vote on physicality, on personality, and how you were around camp. I voted [based on] only around camp [contributions], I didn't take physicality into account. I just thought, honestly, that I was a really hard worker -- I mean I worked like a workhorse out there -- so I thought I [was] gonna vote for everybody that way.

So then everyone else voted. Matty voted all on physicality, and when he did that he looks over at me and goes "I'm sorry Susie," and I'm like "Don't be sorry, you voted the way you wanted to."

So I wasn't surprised that I was at the bottom. Crystal voted physically. Randy, surprisingly, said you me "I'm surprised you finished in last Susie because I put you in fourth." [Dan Kay] said the same thing, so I don't know if they were lying to me or not, but you don't have to explain it to me. I'm at the bottom, we all voted differently. Let's move on.

Reality TV World: What were you thinking when you came right out and told Corinne that you had been planning on voting for her and then proceeded to criticize her physical strength in Tribal Council? Had you thought you were going home and just getting everything out on the table?

Susie: When I told Corinne that I was gonna vote her out I knew that she was gonna run to Marcus and [Charlie Herschel] and she was gonna go talk to them. And she did, and Marcus came and took me aside to me, [and said] "Susie, you really hurt Corinne by telling her you were gonna vote for her." So that forced them to talk to me, so that was my little wedge in there [to go] "What do you guys want me to do? Who are you gonna vote for?"

So at that point they trusted me enough and they thought that I was complete Kota, and really, I was constantly never secure with the Kota 6. I knew I was at the bottom, but at that point I needed them to trust me, and I needed to that.

So that's why I told Corinne that, and she at some point said to me "You gotta believe in yourself a little bit more. You just can't let people walk all over you," blah, blah. Then I say that at Tribal Council about being physically stronger, and my upper [body] strength.

When we got back to camp, I said to her "That's why I said that, because you said I should go ahead and be myself and do something." So then I do it and I get black-balled for it. [Survivor host Jeff Probst] was all over that. "Susie you've insulted Corinne. Corinne how do you feel about that, you were insulted by Susie?"

I was like "Oh my God." But whatever, that's the way it goes.

Reality TV World: How were you cast on the show?  Had you applied previously?

Susie: I applied, I think, four times or five times if I remember. I just did the application, and went with it, the way that you're supposed to do it and follow the rules. It was amazing that I got the call, it was a big surprise.

Click here to read Bob's interview and check back with Reality TV World on Tuesday and Wednesday for additional interviews with Survivor: Gabon castaways Sugar, Matty and Kenny.





(Photo credit CBS)


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