Exclusive: Ousted castaway John Fincher discusses 'Survivor: Samoa'
By Christopher Rocchio, 12/04/2009
John Fincher sensed there was a problem with the impending Tribal Council vote when things seemed to be going too smoothly.
He was right to be concerned, as the 25-year-old rocket scientist from Los Angeles, CA was blindsided and became the twelfth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Samoa during last night's broadcast of the CBS reality competition.
On Friday, John talked to Reality TV World about why he was uneasy about the Tribal Council that saw his ouster; how he thinks his fellow former Galu tribemates would have been better served to tell him his head was on the chopping block; why he knew Russell Hantz was the devil but decided to work with him anyway; and who he seems to suggest won't be in the competition much longer.
Reality TV World: You looked surprised as the votes were being read during last night's Tribal Council. At what point did you start to feel uneasy and think you could actually be going home?
John: I think you always have to be prepared to go home. Obviously you always have your bags packed because you never know what's going to happen.
But when I talked to [Brett Clouser, David Ball and Monica Padilla] and they said they were voting for [Mick Trimming] and I talked to Foa Foa and they said they were voting for Dave, I thought, "Interesting because nothing has changed today." It seemed to me that was the plan and that was set in stone two days before that. I hadn't seen Dave running around like a chicken with his head cut off, so I was like, "Interesting. We've got a problem here."
This is the first Tribal Council I went into not being in the know, and that's an uncomfortable position to be in. Once you get those pieces of information, it's like, "What does it mean?" It means one of two things: 1) you're going home (laughs), or 2) someone's about to execute a hit on someone that they think you would stop so they didn't tell you.
So maybe a hit's going to go down on someone like [Jaison Robinson] or someone like [Shannon "Shambo" Waters] or something like that and they thought that I would stop it and withheld the information from me. So obviously you're hoping for the latter, but in this case unfortunately it was the former.
So there certainly was a level of surprise when it hits you. The second [Jeff Probst] read my name -- all I needed was to see my name once and I was like, "Uh-oh. Here we go." (laughing)
Reality TV World: You just mentioned a conversation with Dave, Monica and Brett. How did those conversations go? Did you ever get the impression that they were being dishonest with you?
John: Yeah. The thing that's really funny about this game is people say, "I can't trust this person or I can't trust that person." It's seemingly so obvious -- and maybe incorrectly so for me -- that you couldn't trust anyone. I think a lot of these people really trusted people. I think it was sort of wrong to do that.
It's funny talking to people when everything's said and done. Dave is saying, "Oh, Brett's the man! I would have taken him to the finals and he would have brought me." Then you talk to Brett and Brett's like, "I wasn't going to bring Dave to the finals."
Then you talk to [Laura Morett] and she's like, "I was going to bring this person or that person," when the whole time Monica thought she was going to go to the finals with Laura. Then you talk to people like [Kelly Sharbaugh] that say, "I would have brought Brett to the finals and Brett would have beaten me." You're like, "What!? You would have taken him to the finals so that he could beat you!?" (laughing) Who are these people?
So that was a trap that I didn't fall into, and I thought it would be more apparent to other people but I guess maybe it wasn't as apparent as it was to me.
Reality TV World: You continued to bash Galu's "substandard" decisions in your Final Words and seemed to believe they were responsible for your ouster even though their three votes weren't enough to vote you off. Did you suspect that Russell was the one behind the decision to boot you?
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John: Yeah, you absolutely know that Foa Foa's involved. It was a funny quote, [Survivor: Tocantins runner-up Stephen Fishbach] liked that quote. (laughing)
When I said that, it was in the greater context, and the context was Galu right now... Dave Ball is obviously struggling to sink or swim and he's struggling to stay alive. So Russell comes up to him and says, "I'm in control of this game. John's going to go home, here's how it's going to go down. Let's do it."
But the best part is for Brett, Monica and Dave, their best served if Mick goes home, not me. It's actually better for them if Mick goes home then it is if I go home.
The thinking one step further is they're actually in a position to send Mick home, and here's how you do it -- you vote for Mick with me and it's a four-to-four tie between Mick and me, and now Shambo is in the catbird seat and she's going to vote for Mick instead of me and Mick's going to go home.
I actually think it never crossed their mind as an option to do that. If it had -- as seemingly ineffective as they were in their strategy and their decision-making -- I'd like to think they would have gone, "It's better to have John than to vote him off and try to give assurances to someone like Jaison to flip." I'm honestly already gunning for Foa Foa right now and it's just a matter of them not being able to figure out how to do it.
I could figure out how to do it. If you were to tell me, "Hey guess what? The four Foa Foas are going to vote for you." I could have figured it out. But unfortunately for me your fate is not in your own hands because other people have to figure that out, other people have to come to you with that information and give you the opportunity to figure it out. In this case it didn't happen.
Reality TV World: What was your goal with confronting Russell about how you knew he had found the Hidden Immunity Idol -- how were you expecting that to play out?
John: Interesting word-- you're the second or third person to use the word "confronting" or some variation of "confrontation." There was certainly no feeling of confrontation in that dialogue whatsoever. Russell and I had been talking since Day 19 at the merge and we had conversations about things -- and there's a hundred conversations with him I had that you haven't seen. So he and I talked about stuff.
He comes at me with, "Hey, do you have the idol?" I go, "No dude. You have the idol." You can see him gauging -- like is this a bluff? What does he really know? He's trying to gather information. "Well where was the idol? What did the clues say?" I said, "I know you have it. Everyone knows you already have it. I already told them."
The last thing I wanted is people thinking I have the idol because then they'd have to blindside me. So I put my hands up and say "Hey!" -- after I looked for it and couldn't find it I knew Russell had it -- I said, "Hey, I don't have this thing. Here's the clue. You want to look at the clue, here it is. Here's where it says it was, it's not there anymore."
Reality TV World: So just to be clear, did you tell Dave, Monica and Brett that you knew Russell had the idol?
Reality TV World: Did you ever give any thought to the potential downside of letting Russell know you knew he had the idol -- specifically that it might cause him to see you as a threat?
John: Yeah, Russell is very good at giving a personal justification for why it's good for him to vote someone off. In this case, it's certainly, "John doesn't have the idol so he has to go now." But there's many other components to the reason why I was voted off, and the main large, overarching theme of it is I was the biggest strategic threat to Russell and he knew it. He recognized it. You see it.
When he walks up to Mick and he says, "If you could have your pick right now who would it be." He's like, "John is the only one that can demolish this little run that Foa Foa's been on." And I would have done it. Mick's right. Mick and I get along great -- we're friends to this day -- but unfortunately because of the teams we got put on he was best served to gun for me and I was best served to gun for him.
Reality TV World: You just said you told Dave, Monica and Brett about Russell having the idol. Did you guys ever consider teaming up -- maybe pulling in Shambo or someone from old Foa Foa -- and trying to flush it out?
John: At that point, everything for me was considered. I would like to say that I considered multiple options, and I was considering that.
There's a time to get Russell, and the time was not when I went home. The concept of flushing things out is an interesting one because I'm comfortable playing in the game when someone else has the idol. I'm comfortable operating with certain variables and unknowns like that, whereas other people are markedly less comfortable.
You see a conversation when Dave and Laura come up to me and say the night Laura went home, "Alright, we need to figure out who to vote for. Russell is the biggest threat, he has the idol -- so we're going to vote for him and flush out the idol." I'm like, "Can you be this stupid?" If you vote for him to -- and in air quotes here because you can't see me because I'm on the phone -- "flush out the idol," what's really going to happen is if you vote for him he's going to play the idol and you will go home. (laughing)
So there's a time to get Russell, and the time to get Russell would have been the next vote. If I get Mick and continue to have conversations like I had with Russell where we're sitting there lying to each other's faces going, "You and me buddy the whole way" [while] we know we have to get the other guy out, I would have driven a wedge between Jaison... It would have been the straw that broke the camel's back in getting Jaison to totally convert over to my team.
He and I had a great relationship -- we're both smart, we have a lot in common, we're both young professionals, we're both just smart people. We really connected. If that would have happened, Jaison could have voted for Russell because he realized the inherent threat of having Russell in the game.
At that time, it would have been the first time a Foa Foa had voted for a Foa Foa -- and that's the time when you get someone. But a lot of people don't understand the timing of things. There are certain times when certain people can't go home. It goes back to when Kelly went home. Why not vote for someone else? There's a possibility that Russell has the idol, Dave says, "Oh, we can't consider that now."
Well, you have to consider it. So if there's a possibility that he has the idol -- which clearly there is because he has it -- if there's even a possibility, the timing isn't correct to put a hit on Russell. Vote for someone else, he either plays the idol or he doesn't play the idol, and then you can vote for him later when there isn't a greater numerical advantage.
But that level of complexity in the thought processing and decision making just wasn't there from the rest of the Galu members, and it's unfortunate and frustrating.
Reality TV World: You just talked about your relationship with Russell -- you basically said you both knew you were lying to each other -- so it sounds like you were obviously aware of the moves he was making in the game but still decided to trust him, right?
John: Absolutely. From Day 1, it's like, "This guy is the devil." I know I'm doing business with the devil, but unfortunately I find myself in a situation where I kind of have to work with him a little bit because I correctly identified who was calling the shots on their team. I was like, "I have to keep my name off the chopping block at least for a little bit because this is my time to go."
The immediate post-merge blindside is when you get the big physical threat -- the [Brendan Synnott and Tyson Apostol types] -- insert the name of whoever you want here. So I did a lot of work to create a situation in which people thought a Laura and Monica combination -- because they had a very strong bond -- was a threat. I wasn't threatened by them. (laughing)
It's funny, you see at Ponderosa Laura going, "Why me!?" It's just that lack of understanding of the game. When I'm saying things to people, I'm not spilling my guts and I'm not speaking my mind. I'm saying things to accomplish a goal. Every conversation you have out there is to accomplish a goal and to execute on strategy. For me it was, for other people like Laura it certainly wasn't.
But I wanted to bring people to the merge that I could create bigger targets on and create bigger target other than myself.
Reality TV World: In hindsight, do you regret your decision to vote with Shambo and the former Foa Foa members to get rid of Laura instead of taking your chances on the tiebreaker? Weren't you concerned about alienating yourself from the other former Galu members -- which is basically what seemed to happen?
John: Absolutely. That is probably one of the toughest decision that I had to make -- it is the toughest decision I had to make in the entire time I was out there.
On the surface, it looks like there's a Galu alliance versus a Foa Foa alliance and then there's the wildcard Shambo. A lot of people think Shambo has totally flipped [to Foa Foa]. But that's not what it was. I had a really good relationship with Shambo. I had a really good relationship with Jaison. I had a working relationship with a lot of other people.
So the concept of me drawing rocks to ax one of the Foa Foa when really -- it could not have been Mick because Mick had the Immunity necklace. It couldn't have been [Natalie White] because she was part of the initial tie. It was either going to be Russell or Jaison.
So I really like Jaison and now that [Erik Cardona] -- my best alliance is gone from the game in Erik -- I need someone like Jaison around because I need help. That leaves a one-in-seven chance that it's going to be Russell. So I was knowing it was going to be Galu anyway and if I could pick anyone from Galu to go home that's the biggest threat to me it's Laura. So see you later.
Reality TV World: Even though he's lasted 30 days, viewers have seen very little of Brett. Was he really that insignificant a factor out there or is the editing just making it look that way?
John: Brett is insignificant right now. He's very, very under the radar -- he's focusing on creating relationships with people. But unfortunately, the thing for Brett is he's not smart enough and he doesn't have a lot of experience. You know, he's very young and it helps to be older. Just in life, in your job -- it certainly helps to have life experience in Survivor.
He's watching these people that he has these great relationships with like Kelly, like Laura, like Erik -- and he's watching them get axed. It doesn't matter if you have relationships with people that are on the jury because they can't help you. Yeah, they can help you at the end and vote for you -- but you've got to start making some moves sometimes and at some point.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Laura, she told us that Galu had planned to eliminate Shambo at the double-elimination Tribal Council until it was canceled due to Russell Swan's medical evacuation? Is that true -- because I know Erik, Brett, Dave and yourself seemed to have an alliance with Shambo and were gunning for Laura or Monica. In your eyes, would it been one of them that went instead of Shambo?
John: Certainly. I can say with confidence that Laura is inaccurate with what she said and it would have been Monica.
There's a great scene right after we elect Shambo as our new leader and Monica says, "How can you elect Shambo as our new leader when she was going to go home yesterday? Wait a second?! Was I going to be the one going home!?" (laughing) It's like, "There you go Monica. That's exactly the case."
So unfortunately -- it's a streak of incredibly bad luck for me -- I had a threat, someone that I didn't want there, all teed up to go home and then Russell collapses. So it's a bummer.
Reality TV World: You mentioned how Erik was your biggest ally, so what motivated your decision to turn on Erik?
John: I couldn't stop it. I found out that the hit was going to be on Erik about one-and-a-half minutes before lockdown, and I couldn't stop it. If he would have told me that he had [a Hidden Immunity Idol], I would have told him to play it. But I couldn't stop it. I didn't have enough time to stop it.