Exclusive: Erik Reichenbach dishes on biggest 'Survivor' blunder ever
By Christopher Rocchio, 05/09/2008
Erik Reichenbach stands accused of being the "dumbest Survivor ever," and he can't argue.
The 22-year-old student from Hell, MI gave his Individual Immunity to another castaway in an attempt at redemption and was promptly blindsided, becoming the sixteenth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites during last night's penultimate episode of the CBS reality series' sixteenth season.
On Friday, Erik talked to Reality TV World about what led him to give the Individual Immunity necklace to Natalie Bolton; how competing against the Favorites "clouded" his strategy; why he thinks Natalie and Parvati Shallow's relationship is worth watching in the finale; what life lesson his blunder taught him; and how his plan of being a passive player ultimately betrayed him.
Reality TV World: Would you agree that what you did makes you the dumbest Survivor ever?
Erik: I totally agree with that. That was really friggin dumb. I totally agree with that.
Reality TV World: At what moment did you decide that you were going to give Individual Immunity to Natalie? Was it something you decided before Tribal Council or as it was going on?
Erik: I definitely decided during the Tribal. I was thinking about it all the way up until, and then I decided during that Tribal.
Reality TV World: So what triggered the decision? Was it a specific comment?
Erik: It was a combination of things. First of all, it was what [the women] had all been doing earlier that day -- the talking. Then leading up to Tribal when everyone was pretty much saying the same things. It wasn't any one thing that stuck out.
Reality TV World: After you made the move what was going through your head as you saw the jury members laughing and looking shocked? Did you realize then that you had probably just secured your own jury seat?
Erik: To be honest, when I was making that decision I didn't want to look at anyone else for anything. I wanted to be able to make it myself -- to make the decision myself. So I wasn't looking at anybody, which was probably something stupid.
Reality TV World: You said it yourself -- "I should have known better." So why didn't you know better?
Erik: When Natalie first brought it up earlier in the day right after we got back [from the Individual Immunity Challenge], she told me the idea and I said, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life." I walked away from her. But by the end of the day, she had me giving it up.
Natalie's very persuasive. There's no question. She was working her magic and I just fell for it. I was totally tricked.
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Reality TV World: Even after you were blindsided you continued to gush about competing with the Favorites in your exit interview. Do you think that being star struck by the Favorites is ultimately messed up your strategy?
Erik: I think it did. I really do think it did. I took [the Favorites'] word -- obviously when you saw that I didn't send Natalie to Exile -- I took their word over hers. They were pretty much saying the same thing as Natalie and I believed them over her. They clouded my judgement. Earlier in the game it definitely clouded my judgement.
Reality TV World: After you were eliminated, you also noted you'd been played by some "sexy women." How big a factor do you think that was in what happened?
Erik: It was really a comment just about them in general -- and they're attractive. It was just a general statement. I didn't attribute it much to strategy.
Reality TV World: During your conversations with Natalie and Cirie Fields before Tribal Council, did you ever get the sense that you were being set up?
Erik: Yeah. I definitely had that thought. I took some time out to just kind of think things over and think how crazy this sounds. I was remembering what had happened with some different stuff, and I thought that it would have been beneficial to both Cirie and Natalie to help me with this.
I thought that it would advance them further because I would be allied with them, and I also knew that Parvati and [Amanda Kimmel] are pretty tight. They would never vote for each other -- they actually told everybody this, that they would never vote for each other.
I just thought it would be beneficial to [Natalie and Cirie] to keep me around in some kind of alliance because I thought that Cirie wouldn't go to the end because she's very likable and Natalie as well.
Reality TV World: So do you think Cirie and Natalie's decision will ultimately hurt them?
Erik: I definitely think it will. But they obviously weren't looking that far. They were looking at the girls alliance, and not realizing that within the girls alliance Parvati and Amanda were even closer.
Reality TV World: I'm assuming once you joined the jury you were the butt of numerous jokes by the other jury members. Is that correct?
Erik: [James Clement] thanked me for taking the "Dumbest Survivor Ever" crown away from him. [Ozzy Lusth and Jason Siska] said I was pretty stupid. But what's funny is they were kind of more beat-up over making blunders than I was.
Reality TV World: How long did it take you to get over what happened?
Erik: I've been thinking about it ever since then, but it's my philosophy that you're better off laughing about it than crying about it. It's all said and done now. I can't really go back and change anything. At the time I totally fell for it, so that's the name of the game.
Reality TV World: Was it even more difficult to watch it unfold again last night and see how you perfectly fell for the women's plan?
Erik: (laughing) It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion... and I'm in the train.
Reality TV World: Throughout last night's episode, you expressed the importance of winning Individual Immunity on more than one occasion. So why was it that once you won it you allowed yourself to be swayed to give it up?
Erik: At the time, one of my major motivations was if I got to the end with girls next to me before I decided to change anything -- before I decided to play anything -- I felt like if there were girls next to me than they would get votes over me. Simply because there are more girls on the jury.
Reality TV World: Were you ever aware of the alliance that Parvati had formed with Natalie and Alexis Jones before the merge?
Erik: Actually no. That's one of the things that I attribute most of my failure to. I had no idea what Parvati was ever doing.
Reality TV World: Had you known about that, would you still have been so willing to trust Natalie?
Erik: Definitely not. Definitely not. Natalie was actually very close to Parvati and I had no idea they were that close. I never learned that until after the show.
Reality TV World: You seemed to understand you were gaining some importance in the tribe's decision making process since you had been winning Individual Immunity. Do you think that made you force the issue a little bit, just by coming up with so many different plans involving different people?
Erik: The interesting thing about that is that it wasn't even me doing that. It wasn't even me approaching them, they all approached me.
If you kind of look back at it, I played a very under-the-radar type of game. I pretty much was following [Joel Anderson] for the first part of the game, and then I followed Ozzy for a great deal of the game. I was pretty passive in my strategy.
Then all of a sudden I was in a position of power and I had to play aggressively. I had to play offensively. I hadn't done that the entire game. (laughing) I was no good at it. I just started to make big blunders, big mistake and I was terrible at it.
Reality TV World: Was being a passive player part of your strategy heading into the game?
Erik: To begin with it was. I wanted to be seen as a non-threat. I wanted to be seen as a low-level "I'm not going to kill you" guy. But towards the end of it I needed to be that.
Reality TV World: Why were you so focused on securing jury votes by needing to "redeem" yourself? As a long-time fan that'd seen unpopular players still manage to win their seasons, don't you think some of the jury members would have respected your game had you basically won-out when it came to Individual Immunity?
Erik: I did. I did think of that. I thought for sure that at least some of the other people who were really good at challenges -- like say James or Ozzy or Jason, basically the guys -- would see that. But I still thought because of the numbers, the girls wouldn't care. The girls would say, "No! Let's put that aside. You didn't even play the game. You didn't even have an alliance all the way to the end! You just kind of floated on immunities."
Reality TV World: Even when you made the decision, you seemed pretty unsure that it was Parvati who you wanted to send to Exile. I assume in hindsight you would have sent Natalie.
Reality TV World: What if she had recovered the idol? Are you confident you two would have worked together?
Erik: Yeah. I think so. I think the trust would have stayed there. The only thing that would put a doubt in my mind is knowing now that Natalie and Parv were so close. You'll see this in the next episode, how close they are. It's pretty weird.
Reality TV World: Did you ever entertain the idea of giving up the Reward Challengevictory trip and going to Exile Island and finding the re-hidden idol yourself -- do the rules allow that as an option?
Erik: That was allowed. [Survivor host Jeff Probst] said you can do that if you want.
I didn't consider it, which was also very dumb of me because I could have given it away had I found it. But being out there and wanting to experience everything to the fullest, I took [the Reward] over Exile.
Reality TV World: Obviously you ended up getting eliminated, but did you enjoy the Reward?
Erik: Definitely. That was amazing. That was the best Reward out there I'm pretty sure.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Micronesia? Had you previously applied to the show before?
Erik: I applied for China, that was my first time because I had just turned 21. They said, "We love your video" and they called me back really quick. But they said, "We're all filled up on China, you should try again for next season." I got my video better and I fine-tuned my application and they liked what they saw.
Reality TV World: Given you were on the Fans tribe, I'm assuming you've watched every season.
Erik: Yep. Since I was probably 14.
Reality TV World: What was your strategy heading into the game and do you think it worked?
Erik: My strategy was not to piss anybody off and just look unthreatening, which I think worked pretty well -- up until I needed to be threatening and I needed to act threatening and be aggressive.
Reality TV World: Which castaway would you personally like to see win? Anybody you don't want to see win?
Erik: I don't know because all the girls are pretty equal right now... And on my crap list.
Reality TV World: When you were approached with the plan to blindside Amanda last week, were you ever hesitant to go along with it or did you immediately agree?
Erik: I was not hesitant with it because I felt like me, Natalie and Alexis had the same alliance that we had very early on with Joel -- before he was voted out. I thought we could go further with the numbers because we had three of us.
Reality TV World: After you were eliminated, Jeff dubbed what happened to you a "life lesson." Has it been? Have you found yourself being a little more skeptical of whatever situations that might have come up since you returned home?
Erik: (laughing) It's definitely a life lesson. It's DEFINITELY a life lesson. If I'm gonna learn from the past when I see it, that's another question. But it's definitely a statement of look before you leap.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you?
Erik: I'm pretty much working in Hell scooping ice cream until I graduate in December. Just hanging out and looking at my options.
Reality TV World: Where and what do you go to school for?