Exclusive: Ben Driebergen talks 'Survivor' idols, advantages and twists -- "Everything is fair" in the game!
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/27/2017
Ben Driebergen was crowned the $1 million winner of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers during CBS' three-hour finale event.
Ben, a 34-year-old former U.S. Marine from Boise, ID, was shown winning Season 35 of Survivor with four jury votes, (probably with five because one vote was not unveiled by Survivor host Jeff Probst during the live reunion show).
Ben, dubbed "Public Enemy No. 1" towards the end of the game, defeated the runner-up Chrissy Hofbeck, a 46-year-old actuary from Bernardsville, NJ who currently resides in Lebanon Township, NJ, and the third-place finisher Ryan Ulrich, a 23-year-old bellhop from North Arlington, NJ, in the season's final jury voting results.
Devon Pinto, a 24-year-old surf instructor from Carlsbad, CA who currently resides in Solana Beach, CA, finished in fourth place, while Mike "Dr. Mike" Zahalsky, a 43-year-old urologist from Parkland, FL, claimed fifth.
During a recent exclusive interview with Reality TV World, Ben talked about his Survivor experience and victory. Below is the concluding portion of what he had to say.
Reality TV World: When I talked to Chrissy, she said you weren't actually up all night looking for your final hidden Immunity Idol of the season, that you found it in the morning within "12 seconds." Is that actually the case? How long did you spend looking for idols towards the end of the game?
Ben Driebergen: No, no. The thing is, I would get up every morning and look, right? And so, I wake up before the sunrise back home and everything like that, and it just kind of worked out the same way there.
So when I woke up, it would be dark and I would stoke the fire, go to the bathroom, and then I'd just start waiting for the sun to start peeking and I'd just go look for idols.
And so, the third idol, Mike and Ryan were literally, like probably 10 minutes behind me after I found it. And I saw them go down to the boat, and I actually hid in a bush and watched them and listened to their conversation. They were like, "Do you think he has it?" And they're like, "No, no." So yeah, I don't know.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised finding the last hidden Immunity Idol in the game had a lesser level of difficulty than the other ones?
Ben Driebergen: Right. So Survivor, you know, has a set rule of how many idols [there are] and how you play them in a certain amount of time... I think they wanted to try to avoid that, and so they had a set rule. But the frequency of which our idols were played was the reason why there were so many idols.
And so you take a look at Millennials vs. Gen X, there was an idol at Final 5, right? So knowing that, I knew if I played an idol at seven, six and five, there would be more idols, just being a fan of the game.
And I didn't know for sure, but in recent seasons, that's how that worked. And I think there weren't any more idols than any other season except for the frequency they were played. That's the only reason why there were so many, but there were never more than two in the game at once, I believe.
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Reality TV World: Do you think hidden Immunity Idols have gotten a little bit out of hand though? Even though you benefited from them, it almost seems the game has gotten to the point where strategy doesn't matter as much and it's more about luck. At this point, if an idol is hidden, viewers have come to expect it will be found every time.
Ben Driebergen: Oh yeah, so, well, I don't think we gave them enough time to create an elaborate map or clue or clay pot, you know what I'm saying? And in all reality, these people walk by these clues and spots all the time.
These were common spots. I mean, my first idol, [Joe Mena] went to the bathroom there. (Laughs) It was right where Joe went, and the second one was right at the water well. And the third one was at the boat.
Mike walked down there 10 minutes after me. So if I literally just slept in 10 more minutes, I would not have had that third idol, and I just looked before everyone else. That's it. I got up and put the time in to look before everyone else, you know?
Reality TV World: What are your thoughts on the new secret-advantage, fire-starting twist this season? It allowed you to enter the Final 3, but do you think it was fair in general?
Ben Driebergen: Yes, absolutely I think it's fair. It's Survivor; everything is fair in Survivor! You take someone who controls the game and makes the moves, and they get to a Final 4 or a Final 5, and then it's always a strong player that's taken out at a 3-2 or 3-1 at the Final 4, right?
Just because it happens all the time, so this way, they created a new way to play the game, and that's the thing -- you have to play the game in new ways every season. Survivor changes, and so it's 100 percent fair. Yeah, you know, Devon knew he was making fire and he practiced! So if it was going to be unfair to anyone, I guess it was going to be unfair to me.
Reality TV World: If Devon had won the fire-starting challenge and you were sent to the jury, whom do you think you would have voted for to win out of Chrissy, Ryan and Devon?
Ben Driebergen: I mean, definitely Chrissy having won four immunities is huge, huge, huge. But if Devon beat me at fire, it would've been who could articulate and owned their game between Devon and Ryan. Because that would've been a huge blowup at Tribal Council, and I think whoever would've came out on top of that would've been looking pretty good.
Reality TV World: I think a big turning point in your social game was when you got into an argument with Chrissy after she felt blindsided by a vote and hurt because you two had been allies and friends. Although you won the game, do you have any regret about how you handled that situation? Maybe if you had approached her more gently, you wouldn't have been such an outcast for the rest of the game.
Ben Driebergen: No, you know, Chrissy, when we came back to camp, alright, if she was not involved in anything, she would not broach it like a personal conversation. She would approach you like a boss/employee type of situation, right? And that rubbed people the wrong way. And so, I did not treat Chrissy any differently. It's just they showed me and the reaction.
Reality TV World: What happened when you managed to find the hidden Immunity Idol that was under the camp shelter? Viewers never saw footage of you digging and actually grabbing it.
Ben Driebergen: So what happened was I went back to camp and I laid down and everyone's around. I'm sitting there digging underneath the shelter and I find it, but it's tied to the logs with twine and knots, and so, I was sitting there pulling on it and trying to get it out, and it's not coming off.
And so that's when you see me put my hat down, and then I just yank it and rip it off the log right in front of everyone and then put it in my hat and then put it in my boot. So yeah, no one knew I did it right in front of everybody.
Reality TV World: Do you have any big plans for your $1 million prize money?
Ben Driebergen: We're going to pay off our debt and we're going to save it. We're going to figure out how to make it work for us, and I'm still going to work and I'm young enough where I have a job, so that's what I'm going to do. And we're going to figure out how to invest it and make this money work for us.
To read the first half of Reality TV World's exclusive Survivor interview with Ben, click here.
And to read our post-game interviews with the rest of the season's Final 5 castaways, click here to view our Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers page.