Survivor: Kaoh Rong -- Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty revealed Michele Fitzgerald as the winner of its $1 million grand prize during the live portion of Wednesday night's finale broadcast on CBS.
Michele, a 24-year-old bartender from Freehold, NJ, defeated runner-up Aubry Bracco, a 29-year-old social media marketer from Cambridge, MA, and third-place finisher Tai Trang, a 51-year-old gardener from San Francisco, CA, in Season 32's final jury voting results, which Survivor host Jeff Probst revealed during the live reunion show.
Jeff revealed six of the seven jury votes -- two for Aubry and four for Michele to win. Although she didn't make the Final 3, Cydney Gillon, a 23-year-old body builder from Douglasville, GA, was a prominent figure in Survivor's two-hour finale and finished in fourth place.
During an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Michele talked about her Survivor: Kaoh Rong experience and victory. Below is the first half of what she had to say.
Reality TV World: When Tai voted for Cydney, and Cydney lost the fire-making challenge to Aubry, you told Tai he had made a million-dollar mistake because you weren't convinced you could beat Aubry. Based on how the Final Tribal Council played out and knowing you had to really prove yourself to the jury, were you surprised that you ultimately won the game?
Michele Fitzgerald: Once I was in front of the jury and I'm looking at them, I'm like, "Oh, you know, you're my friend, you're my friend, you're my friend, and I think that you all respect me and respect my game."
I knew they weren't going to -- I knew [Scot Pollard] and [Kyle Jason] weren't going to carry me through the dirt or anything like that. So, once I was looking at them and hearing some of the things they were saying, I started to really gain some momentum, and I realized I had a lot more allies on that side than I had thought initially. It was a good feeling for sure!
But yeah, I mean, look at Aubry's game. She played a beautiful, wonderful game. And Tai as well. And it's intimidating sitting next to somebody like that, and you have to hope that the relationships you built and the bond and friendships you have with people are strong enough to -- and those few moves that you make at the end are enough to -- get you those votes.
Reality TV World: Who was the other person besides Joe Del Campo who voted for Aubry? And Jeff didn't read one of the votes aloud, so I'm assuming that one was for you as well right?
Reality TV World: Was there anyone you were surprised to receive a vote from?
Michele Fitzgerald: I was a little bit unsure where [Debbie Wanner]'s vote was going to land because they did have that relationship, her and Aubry. But I feel like she was a little bit burned by Aubry, maybe, and she had made a speech at the end -- which wasn't shown -- in which she said that she thought I was really positive out there and she was a little bit inspired by the way that I played, and things like that.
So I thought that was a good indication, but hearing what she said about Aubry that was also positive, she really didn't have anything negative to say about anybody -- with the exception of Tai obviously. But yeah, I was a little bit surprised by her vote. But everybody else, I kind of knew might be headed my way.
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Reality TV World: At the Final Tribal, the first half of Julia Sokolowski's speech when addressing you was aggressive and unflattering. What was going through your mind in that moment? Were you expecting her to be bitter about her vote-off or did her behavior catch you off-guard?
Michele Fitzgerald: When she first started and was making that speech, I thought, "Oh my God. Where is she going with this? (Laughs) What's happening?!" And my hope for voting Julia out was that she would understand and respect me enough and love me enough [to not let] that ruin our friendship or relationship.
So when she first came in really, really hot and kind of digging at me, I was like, "Oh no, have I lost this person as my friend?!" That was my first, initial reaction. And then she kind of picked it up and turned it into a way that was, you know, maybe a little bit more positive for me.
But yeah, at first I was a little bit shocked by it, and I was upset to say the least. But then, you know, she was kind of setting it up in a way that started off really slow and then gained momentum, whereas Tai started off really hot and then kind of lost momentum. So, I think that her motives were right at the end of the day, so.
Reality TV World: So once Julia flipped the switch and complimented your move to get her out, were you sure you had her vote?
Michele Fitzgerald: Yeah, I did. Once she flipped it, I was like, "[Sigh] okay. Thank God. There's Julia!" And she was smiling at me and I was smiling back at her. We have a genuine friendship, me and Julia. It's a really, really good relationship.
It's a really strong friendship. And I told her -- we were sitting in the water one day -- and I was like, "If you get to the end, I will vote you to win $1 million." And she said, "Michele, you too," and I hoped she meant it! Because I sure as hell meant it. And so, I was glad that she kind of flipped the script and complimented me in the end.
Reality TV World: I don't recall there being an issue between yourself and Neal Gottlieb during the game, so when you removed him for the jury and he said something to you along the lines of not being the badass b-tch you think you are, where did that come from? Did you have any idea Neal was that hostile towards you or had such little respect for you?
Michele Fitzgerald: Me and Neal, we were on Chan Loh together and we never really had a relationship. I mean, I tried to create a friendship with him and he just kind of pushed me away. And I was just like, "Okay, I see who he thinks that I am. He thinks that I'm really not that intelligent and he doesn't want to play with me at all."
When I had lost the Reward Challenge, he was immediately throwing me under the bus. He was the biggest advocate for "no Michele." And then when Brains were on the outs, he kind of came and was like, "We want to work with you and Nick."
And so, it was kind of this weird relationship where he didn't really want to work with me until he had to. And then he got medically evacuated, and that's a really crappy way to go out. And then I stripped him from the last voice that he had in this game.
I assume that has to be hard, and for that to happen [thanks to] somebody that maybe he didn't really like from the start, I think he kind of took it out on me. On the flipside, what he said kind of just solidified the fact -- all the things I had kind of spoken about in terms of why wanted to remove him in the first place.
Reality TV World: So did Neal offend you with his statement or did you just brush it off?
Michele Fitzgerald: No, I didn't really feel offended. I was just kind of smiling and laughing, because at the end of the day, everything that I had said -- I was like, "He'll probably be a huge advocate for somebody, and in return, try to pit people against me."
And that's exactly what he did! He left trying to make me look bad. And really, all it did was say, "Okay, see, Michele made a good decision." So, no I wasn't bitter about it at all, and we're friends now! So, it's cool. Me and Neal are very cool.
Reality TV World: Do you think taking Neal out of the jury was your million-dollar winning decision? In other words, do you think his vote would've made any difference or he really had the power to persuade the jury to vote for Aubry instead of you?
Michele Fitzgerald: Aubry played an amazing game, so it's hard to say. He was on the jury in Ponderosa with every single person from the start, so if needed to convince people, he had weeks to do it out there. And I think you can't really convince Scot or Jason of anything. They are going to make their own decision -- same with Cydney.
So, maybe he could have had a little sway over possibly Debbie, but I really don't know. I do know, well I think, that if Neal came up and was really, really adamant on Aubry and he was really going to slam me hard, what that would do for my morale, is I think it would make it a little bit harder for me to recover from that and be able to have such a fluid voice at Tribal Council.
And I think it really would have set me back. So, even if it didn't really shift the jury's votes, it probably would have screwed me up a lot. And I just needed to feel confident in all of my answers and what people were saying to me as possible. So, it worked out.
Reality TV World: Was it as much of struggle to decide Neal would be your pick as it appeared on the show? And how close were you to selecting a different jury member to remove? Scot seemed to be on the chopping block in your mind for instance, but maybe you were just trying to make Aubry feel good at that point.
Michele Fitzgerald: Scot was definitely never on the chopping block in my mind. (Laughs) I was trying to, you know, I think it tells a lot about who people are trying to protect. Aubry was really, really trying to protect Neal, and that told me, "Okay, she really wants him at the end there to fight for her."
And so, I was more talking with everybody just to see their opinions and what they had to say about it, to see whom they were shielding and whom they were throwing under the bus. It gave me a better idea of where they thought the votes were going to land.
And so, I pretty much knew where my vote was going to go, but it gave me a lot of insight into who they thought was voting for them -- who [Aubry] thought was voting for Tai and who Tai thought was voting for Aubry. And it cleared things up for me, so I felt more prepared going into finals.
Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion of Michele's exclusive Survivor interview.