Ken "Kenny" Hoang dishes about his time on 'Survivor: Gabon'
By John Bracchitta, 12/17/2008
Despite arriving on Survivor: Gabon as one of the competition's underdogs, Ken "Kenny" Hoang was almost able to parlay numerous bold gameplay tactics into a surprise victory for the 22-year-old professional video gamer from Westminster, CA.
However, after making it to the competition's final days and setting his sights on blindsiding Robert "Bob" Crowley, the show's eventual champion, Kenny's tactics finally hit a snag and resulted in his ouster from the CBS reality competition.
On Monday, Kenny spoke to Reality TV World about why he attempted his fateful blindside, what he felt he chances of winning the competition were prior to his elimination, and what really happened between him and Charlie Herschel.
Reality TV World: What was your understanding of your alliance with [Jessica "Sugar" Kiper] after she voted out [Crystal Cox]? I mean, did you just think Matty had replaced Crystal in your Final 3 alliance and not realize that she'd completely switched her alliance to Bob and Matty?
Kenny: Well I thought that she... ever since Day 10 she gave me her word -- and I also gave Crystal and her my word. (Unintelligible)
I had no [idea] that she wanted to take Bob to the end, because at that point I thought that no one wanted to take Bob to the end because I saw four Kota members on the jury.
Reality TV World: When you got back from the Tribal Council where Crystal was sent home, you also did a confessional interview in which you said you'd "lied" and made up the "revised deal" in which [Robert "Bob" Crowley] had promised to give you his idol if he thought you were going home. Bob had seemed to agree that actually was the revised deal when you'd mentioned it at Tribal Council, so can you explain what part of the story was the lie?
Kenny: What do you mean?
Reality TV World: Well you said that [there was a lie] in the deal and...
Kenny: Oh, oh. I understand. Okay, well the thing was when I made the deal with Bob, he said that he was going to give me the immunity necklace if he won it. But at Tribal Council he said that he changed the thing [to that] if he thought I was in danger he'd give it to me, and he didn't think I was in danger. That was the revised deal he made up.
Reality TV World: After Crystal was "blindsided" by Sugar, it didn't seem to take much for you to become "comfortable" with Sugar again. Why were you so quick to believe that she still was still willing to go to the Final 3 with you?
Kenny: Because I thought that, um. I knew that I had [formed an alliance] with [Susie Smith]. I knew that Susie and [Matty Whitmore] were pretty close. But I didn't think Sugar would want to take Bob to the Final 3. At that time he was such a huge threat, and anyone who would've taken Bob to the Final 3, he would win hands down.
I didn't know that Sugar wasn't playing to win, or [was] playing for third or, I don't know, playing for third place I guess.
Reality TV World: Before you went to that last Tribal Council in which you got voted out, you actually said how you were "relaxed" and just chilling out, and you actually told [Survivor: Gabon host Jeff Probst] that you felt safe and didn't think you'd be the one going home. Were you really that confident going into that Tribal Council?
Kenny: No, I knew halfway through that "Oh crap, it could've been me." The thing was, Bob kept on saying that, if he thought I was going home, he would give me the necklace, so I was like "hmm." But then again, I thought that maybe Bob was lying from the start, and he probably was lying from the start, about the whole deal. But then, when the questions started coming up more and more about how relaxed [I was] at that Tribal Council, I kinda knew [that it] was probably gonna be me [that night].
They probably made up their mind, and I couldn't change anything then. (Unintelligible) I kinda knew that I was going home.
Reality TV World: Before that Tribal Council, Matty bragged that he wouldn't "blindside" you and write your name down without telling you ahead of time. Did that ever happen? Did he ever tell you [he'd be writing your name down]?
Kenny: Oh, the funny thing is everybody says, when it came down to the Final 6 or Final 5, that [they didn't] want to go out being blindsided. And Matty kept on pushing this thing, like "Yeah, if you guys vote me off, please tell me," and I [asked him to do the same].
That day, apparently what they told me, they were like "Don't worry, you're not going home, I respect the game enough to tell you that you're not gonna be blindsided."
In the end I guess they played me. They lied and I got blindsided, so... I told him when I was gonna write down his name because we had that Final 5 trust thing. But it happened to me, I got blindsided.
(Kenny's phone starts ringing)
Could you hold on for a bit?
Reality TV World: Sure.
(Kenny talks on his phone, then hangs up)
Kenny: Sorry, that was Matty, he was saying something.
Reality TV World: Oh, okay -- well the next question was about him. He had also said that the plan was to tell Susie she was going to be the one going home so it wouldn't be a surprise. Did that ever happen?
Kenny: The weird thing was how they edited it. They edited it saying that it was going to be me and Matty and Sugar in the end. But the thing was I think Matty, Sugar and Bob devised a plan, telling Susie that she was gonna go home and that I was safe. Then at the last minute, like 15 minutes before Tribal Council, they switched up everything [and said] "Don't worry Susie, you're gonna be safe, just put down Kenny's name."
At the time they did that, they did that for a reason so it didn't give me any time to strategize and do anything before Tribal Council.
So, no. Fifteen minutes before Tribal Council they went to Susie and said something, so I actually knew it was either gonna be me or her that night.
Reality TV World: You really hopped on Bob going back on his word to you, but there were times during the game where you also went back on your own word to people. Why did you feel it was OK for you to do that but not OK for Bob to do the same thing to you?
Kenny: The thing is, in the game of Survivor I only trusted a few people, and if I really trust you I give you my word and if I mean it I'm going to stick to my word. [While I was out there], I only gave my word to [Danny G.C. Brown], Crystal and Sugar, and I in no way intended to blindside them or take them out. I was gonna take them to the end with me.
When I asked Bob, that's why I said "Are you genuinely saying or are you just lying to me again?" He said "I'm a man of my word, I'm genuinely saying that, I'm not gonna play you as a fool." And that's what he said.
At that time I [thought] he could still be lying to me, and the funny thing about that is that I never made the deal with him in the first place, he was the one who offered me the immunity necklace and I was like "Okay if you're gonna offer it, I might as well take it."
You know, I didn't really care, he was playing the game, that's great. When he came to the final Tribal Council, all I wanted to give him was... (Pauses) He kept on saying how he played the game with integrity, and how he played an honest game. But this isSurvivor, everybody has lied, and no one has played an honest game saying they haven't lied once in the game, and he kept on saying that he played [and honest game] and didn't lie at all and played with integrity.
I just wanted him to admit that he was playing a game and he did lie, and he did back down on a deal and that's fine because that's the game.
Reality TV World: So it wasn't as much that he went back on his word as much as that he wouldn't admit to it?
Kenny: Yeah I just wanted him to admit that he -- he kept on saying that he would've kept his deal -- I wanted him to admit that he wasn't even gonna give me the idol in the first place.
He kept on saying that he would have, but he wouldn't have. The funny thing is, I knew he wouldn't have because after he won the [immunity necklace] he kept on making side deals within that deal like "Well, uh, I may not have to give it to you tonight" or "What if I gave it to you next time?" I knew at that point when we had established a deal and he kept on putting add-ons that I [was] like "Okay, he's clearly not going to give it to me."
Reality TV World: If you had to reverse shoes with Bob, and you were contemplating giving the idol to him, but you knew that he was going to try and eliminate you -- as he found out [was your plan], would you still think it was reasonable to give up the idol?
Kenny: If I was in his shoes?
Reality TV World: Yeah, if the roles were reversed and, like how he found out that you were going to try and eliminate him, if it was reversed would you...
Kenny: Well if I had given him my word, than I'd keep it. The thing is, he didn't know... The thing is if you're willing to be giving up immunity, then you're willing to be going home. What did he expect? He was the biggest player at the time and he had a huge target on his back and he was going to give up immunity? If [he was] going to give up immunity, then why wouldn't people vote for him.
Reality TV World: After she turned on you and Crystal, Sugar also ended up turning on Matty in order to keep Bob in the game. Did you have any idea how strong her relationship with Bob was?
Kenny: From what I heard, I heard that pre-Ponderosa that Bob and Sugar had some kind of pre-alliance or something like that. Like I guess they grew attached to each other, or something like that. And the whole [situation regarding] the death of Sugar's father and Bob being kinda like a father affected a lot of it.
I didn't know how... Well, I kinda knew they were tight but I didn't think Sugar actually wanted to give anybody the $1 million. If you're playing Survivor, I thought, everybody plays for themselves and they were playing to win. I didn't know she was playing so emotionally. It kinda, like, screwed a lot of things up.
Reality TV World: What do you think was the key thing that caused Sugar to suddenly turn on you and Crystal, was it Crystal going off on Matty or your attempt to talk Bob out of his idol and then double-cross him?
Kenny: I don't think any of that had to do [with it]. The thing was, when I went on that Reward Challenge with Bob and Crystal, Matty was with Sugar the whole day, and he kept on planting all these things in her head, probably saying "He's an evil guy, I can't believe you would believe that guy," and apparently she bought it. She was like "Oh man, I'm with the evil guys," and it's funny because when I was playing Survivor I was playing to win, I was getting people out who were in my way to get to the finals.
But I, in no way, disrespected anybody out there. I talked to everybody, I got along with everybody, and there was no way that I would go out of my way to humiliate someone, like [she did with] [Randy Bailey]. So for her to say "I want the good guys to win" and then backstab me and Crystal, that's being a hypocrite because I was playing the game, and she was playing the game with emotion, and I don't know, it didn't make any sense to me.
When I went on Survivor I knew I had to take all the emotion out, because you can't let emotions effect you out there. That's what I told casting and that's probably why I was cast for this season. I just thought this whole "good vs. evil" thing was just nonsense because... it's "Eden" and they made a theme of "good vs. evil" to take someone who was good and someone who was evil, but I don't think there was any good or evil people on that show. It's Survivor, you have your own strategy, and everyone has to lie, everyone has to backstab.
Sugar has backstabbed more people than I have on the show, and for her to be saying that I wasn't one of the good guys is kind of [hypocritical].
Reality TV World: Do you think Sugar would still have ended up flipping on Crystal and yourself at that point if you hadn't gone after Bob?
Kenny: Um, she would've, because Matty would've got to her. When I was in an alliance with Sugar I would pull her off to the side and [I'd actually say] "Don't worry, I've got your back 110%. I promised your sister..." -- well I did promise her sister [when she visited during the "loved ones" visit] that I'd take care of her. She'd say "Well, okay. Are you okay with getting rid of Crystal?"
I'd be like "Well, I'd rather keep Crystal than Matty," and she be vouching for Matty [and saying] "I like Matty a lot, I wanna take him to the Final 3. Let's take out Crystal instead." I was [hearing] her, and that's what she wanted to do. So, she trusted me more than she trusted Crystal, but I trusted Crystal more than anyone out there and I didn't want her to take out Crystal and I kept on saying "No, Crystal's a good person (unintelligible)," blah, blah, blah stuff like that.
But I think she would have [eliminated] Crystal at any point in the game, and she did.
Reality TV World: I know you admitted [on the reunion show that] you got overconfident [in the show's later rounds], but did you ever think your plan to try and get the idol from Bob and blindside him was kind of a risky move to make, especially after your last plan [to flush out the fake idol] with Corinne [had also just failed]?
Kenny: Um, well I took a huge risk. I was just seeing if he was lying to me, and it was better to see if he was going to do it or not... the earlier the better. I didn't think anybody would play with emotions. I've seen Survivor, I've seen [Survivor: Cook Islands] and I've never seen anyone like Sugar, sitting there and crying so much and saying how she wants the good people to win.
I don't know, I just needed somebody to trust out there, I trusted Crystal, and then I trusted G.C. and he quit on me and I needed to bring somebody else in and it was Sugar. She's just crazy, I don't know. She just doesn't have a lot of logic besides backstabbing her closest allies and taking in someone who wanted her out from Day 1 until the end.
Reality TV World: Going back to that Tribal Council where you were trying to flush out Corinne's fake idol, why were you so quick to believe that the idol was real? We all saw [Marcus throw the idol] out into the ocean.
Kenny: Oh, okay. The whole thing with that fake idol was that I thought it was real before Tribal Council, when Corinne made up that whole story and then Crystal came back and was like "Yeah, it looked real to me."
When I saw it, or I didn't even see it, but what I noticed was you know the individual Immunity Necklace?
Reality TV World: Yeah.
Kenny: One of the heads from the idol thing were missing from there. Bob cut one of the heads off and made a little idol out of it with the beads from the torches and a string he got from Exile. And I was like "Wait a minute, that looks like it was justSurvivor-made [things]," and you know, it was real metal. It was Survivor-made. And you know when something is handmade, and when something is taken from Survivor [stuff], and he just took it off of Survivor [stuff] and put it together.
I was like "Wait a minute, there's no way he could've made that, it looks legit." But when I saw one of the heads missing I new it was fake. But when I went up to Corinne and Bob and made another deal with them, and besides Corinne said that if I put down Matty that night that she'd give me her jury vote with Bob too and could probably get [Marcus Lehman] and [Charlie Herschel] to give me their jury votes so that if I could make it to the Final 3 that I would win it hands down.
It was about that time that Sugar kept saying that we gotta get rid of Crystal and not to pick Matty, because there's a chance that it might come down to a fire challenge [between he and Crystal] and that Matty might win, and then I can go to the Final 3 with those two.
So I told Crystal to put down Corinne and then I put down Matty['s name hoping] for the jury votes. But at that time... they made it seem like I backed out on my alliance playing Corinne and Bob, and saying "Oh my God I'm gonna back out of this alliance." But I knew exactly that Corinne was going to go home that night.
Reality TV World: I was actually going to ask you about that third vote for Matty, because it wasn't even necessary if you really think about it.
Kenny: Yeah, I knew my vote didn't matter at all. I just did that to get the jury votes and I thought that Sugar and Crystal were going to be with me no matter what, and they were. When I got back to camp, Sugar was like "Don't worry about it, blah, blah blah," and then all of the sudden when we got back from [the Reward Challenge] I felt [something strange] from Sugar, and it seemed like Matty got to her.
I kept on saying "Are you still with us?" and she was like "Yeah, yeah," and you know, she's an actress and she was good at it. I trusted her [and] I believed her, and I wouldn't think that she would throw Crystal under the bus before Matty because I thought "Hey, if anything, Sugar has a chance against me and Crystal in the end. She has no chance against Matty." So I figured she wouldn't have done that
Reality TV World: Even if it had been real, why did you think you'd be able to convince Corinne to play the idol? I mean the only way she'd been in a scenario in which she'd receive enough votes to have to play it was if Crystal and yourself were planning to vote for her, which you'd said you weren't.
Kenny: Um, she came to us and she's like "What happens if I don't play it tonight, and I'll save it for us later," and I knew as she was saying that, that she wasn't gonna play it that night. [So I said] "You know, if you don't play it tonight, there's a chance you might be going home," and she was like "Oh, okay I'll play it then."
That's when I [knew] it was definitely a fake but [if it gets me] a jury vote if I put down Matty then I'll go along with it.
Reality TV World: Based on the show, it looked like trying the flush out the fake idol had distracted your plan a little. Do you think if you'd just gone through with the plan to team with Bob and Corinne and vote off Matty without involving the fake idol that it would have turned out better?
Kenny: I would've gotten maybe fourth at best. But when I came into this game I said it's either all or nothing, you know? Either I want to make it to the finals and win or I'll go out in fifth and not win. And I knew that if I had Bob and Corinne in my alliance, if I flopped on my alliance and backed out [on Sugar and Crystal] then they wouldn't have voted for me at the final [Tribal Council]. Corinne would've won hands down. Corinne or Bob if I had went to the other alliance with Bob.
So the only way for me to win was to stick to Crystal and Sugar. To even have a chance at winning I had to stick with Crystal, Sugar, and possibly Susie to the end. And after I did that vote with Corinne I knew that if I went against Matty I'd have no chance at beating him so I did that because (unintelligible) I was the one who was taking out everybody and they were feeling pretty bitter, so I knew I had to do something to gain their jury votes.
Reality TV World: When we spoke to Charlie, he said that you had really "despised" him, and that some of your Kota tribemates had told him that you had made some disparaging remarks about him. Is that true?
Kenny: Oh that is not true at all, I can actually even tell you the story of what I heard. What I heard was during our first days at Fang everyone was getting to know each other and at night we were talking about cuddling, like "Oh I can't wait to cuddle with hot girls," things like that. And [someone] was like "Why don't you cuddle with Charlie?"
I was like "No, you know, I'd rather cuddle with hot girls instead," and then I was like "Wait, is Charlie gay?" I really didn't know if he was gay or not. Randy was like "Of course he's gay," and everyone else [agreed with him], and then I was like "Oh, well then I'll cuddle with the hot girls for sure."
Randy [then] said something [about how] Charlie's his first gay friend... and Randy's using the F-word. And then once we got switched from tribal alliances, Randy was on the other side, and he despised me, Crystal and G.C. so he just talked. I mean, that was his strategy, make them hate us even more, so (unintelligible), and I understand that. But he just said all these things, he had to say something bad about me of course, and he had to say something bad about G.C. and Crystal. That's why when we saw each other, like when Corinne saw Crystal she didn't like Crystal at all, and there are so many stories and hearsay behind everything.
I've never said anything, the F-word to Charlie or anything like that. I have gay friends, I don't discriminate against anybody. I like diversity. I voted "no" on [California's Proposition 8 gay marriage ballot question]. I was hoping to be really good friends with Charlie out there, but I wasn't on the same side with him. When we merged we had very little time to talk and I feel like he kinda did distance himself from me [as] if he thought I was like a homophobe or something like that.
Even at that Tribal Council I made sure... it came up at Tribal Council so we could talk about it. I just came out of the blue and said "I've been hearing some hearsay from people, and they think that I'm a homophobe." I told Charlie [that never said that about him]. I told him that, and I knew that he was gonna go home that night, but that's why when I went up to [vote] I kept saying "I'm not a homophobe, that's not the reason why I voted you out. There are other reasons, you're a big threat, the whole thing with the [Immunity Idol] at the beach, things like that."
I wanted him to understand why he went home, not because I don't like him because of his sexuality.
Reality TV World: How much weight did you end up losing while on the show?
Kenny: When I came back I was like 85-90 pounds, and I was 115 when I got on the show. So I lost... a lot, considering that my body doesn't consist of much body fat. My body was eating my own muscle while I was out there. It was pretty tough. Actually, being on Fang was really tough because we were starving in the beginning.
Reality TV World: How were you cast on the show? Had you applied previously?
Kenny: No, this was my first time applying. But the thing is, I did the regular auditions, I sent in the video, I hoped for a call back and then I [got one]. I went for an interview and then I got rejected, and then four months later they called me back saying "You're the only person that we're calling back, and you're back in the mix."
From there on I had all these interviews and I did great in [them] and they had me on the show.
(Photo credit CBS)
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