Mike Chiesl: I regret throwing 'Survivor' challenge to oust Russell Hantz
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/19/2011
Mike Chiesl became the last Zapatera tribe member standing with the chance to rejoin the game after Survivor: Redemption Island champion "Boston Rob" Mariano and his band of "loyal soldiers" wiped out his entire alliance one by one and Mike's tribemates subsequently lost their Redemption Island duels.
But despitewinning three consecutive four-person battles, Mike's own chance to rejoin the game and compete for Survivor: Redemption Island's million-dollar prize came to an end when he lost Redemption Island's final duel to former Ometepe tribe member Andrea Boehlke during Sunday night's CBS broadcast of the reality competition's finale.
On Monday, the 31-year-old former U.S. Marine from Del Mar, CA talked to reporters about his Survivor: Redemption Island experience -- including how he said it felt to be cut from the game so close to the end, what his biggest strategic regret was, how he would have better convinced wildcard Matt Elrod to switch and join forces with Zapatera if given the opportunity again, and why he believed Survivor was a life-changing experience.
You were the last Zapatera member standing, so how difficult was it knowing that you were probably just a couple challenges away from a million dollars?
Mike Chiesl: It's a great, great question, and it's hard to look back and think and go through the "what-ifs." If I could have "outlasted" a little while longer and taken the challenge with Andrea, then I know going back into the game, I'm probably now going to rally votes.
I would have done my darndest, but you know, then it comes down to winning two Immunity [Challenges] and Rob is certainly very good at winning individual immunity, as well as [Ashley Underwood]. [Natalie Tenerelli] and [Phillip Sheppard] were basically a non-issue.
So, going back into the game, whether it was myself, [Grant Mattos], Matt or Andrea, we all had a really really good chance of the million dollars, and it's disappointing. It's not the outcome that I wanted, but I'm totally okay with it. So, it was what it was meant to be, and it was great. I'm glad I had the opportunity to play.
Having served in the military, you played a very honorable game and people were calling you a hero. Could you talk a little bit about how you were represented on the show and what you would like people to take out of your gameplay and the way you carried yourself?
Mike Chiesl: Well, I'm humbled to be called a "hero," even though I don't feel that it's deserved. The real heroes are the men and women serving us in the armed forces right now. There's never going to be another "The Greatest Generation" like there was coming out of World War II, but there's an incredibly great generation and it might be "The Greatest Generation Part 2" in the works right now as we speak.
Afghanistan is our nation's longest conflict -- longest war at this point -- and there's more wounded warriors returning from overseas than in all of Vietnam. So, you know, the men and women serving us now are the ones that we really need to appreciate, because, because of their sacrifice, we're allowed to play in a game like Survivor. So, I'm truly humbled and honored to be called a "hero." I don't feel that it's deserved.
Could you talk about how Zapatera threw the challenge to get Russell Hantz out and do you have any regrets in terms of how you and your tribe handled that situation?
Mike Chiesl: Throwing the challenge with Russell is the one thing that I would change playing the game. I really wanted to take Russell out, and I think our eagerness to get rid of Russell probably led into what's probably a part of our demise. You know, we needed to lose three challenges. [Stephanie Valencia], [Krista Klumpp] and Russell all had to go going into the merge.
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I mean, they came out and basically said -- Krista and Stephanie said they were going to be jumping for the other side. So, we needed to lose three and we ended up losing four in the end.Survivor's just -- sometimes you're just a hair away from having a totally different outcome.
Looking back, I don't know that it was best for us to throw that challenge -- I really, really would have loved to take out both Russell and Rob, and chuck grenades uphill all the way to the finish, but yeah. Other than that, it was difficult losing there at the end with how hard all of us worked to try to get to that point.
But it is what it is and it's a game. The experience that I can recount, and what I have learned, and how it has transformed and shaped me and helped me in my own personal journey, and my faith, and my relationship with God has been an absolute blessing.
So, it's something that I wouldn't trade for the world, but I love to play and I love to win. I'm a competitor at heart. It would have been a very different game had we not thrown that challenge.
Do you think there was anything else you could have done to try to convince Matt to join your Zapatera alliance once he rejoined the game and was confused about which side to ally with?
Mike Chiesl: Yeah, I wish I had pushed the deal harder. Matt and I, when we would talk, we would meet in private. I know he wanted to stay off Rob's radar as much as possible for someone that would flip to the Zapatera tribe, but the elephant was already in the room.
The play was already being made, so I wish I had grabbed Matt and just pushed the issue harder and just reiterated where we all stood and what we saw as the Zapatera tribe coming. Matt, God bless him, because he made the decision that he made and it's totally fine and it's totally okay, because we got to spend a lot of time winning duels on Redemption Island together and that's one of the best things that I take from the experience.
But yeah, it would have been great to rally Matt. Even if Andrea didn't come, we could have locked [the vote] up 6-6, and it would have been really interesting if we had to throw stones to see who goes home. So, it would have been fun to see how it actually -- I was really looking forward to that Tribal Council, because Rob played a masterful game.
He was just one step ahead of us. We didn't see it coming -- him voting for Matt. I would have loved to tell [Ralph Kiser] to play the [hidden Immunity Idol] for Matt and wipe out their votes. Had we done that, it would have been an Ometepe going home and Matt would have been a Zapatera for life. He probably would have even gotten the tattoo.
So, Ralph, God bless him, he played the idol for me, but it wasn't really to save me. Granted I was in his alliance, but it was more to wipeout the Ometepe votes in the hope that our five votes -- if we didn't bring in Matt -- would be enough to get one of them out and balance the scale. We were just one vote off.
It was a brilliant move on his part to vote for Matt. As much as I hated it, it was a brilliant move, and I wish had gone to Matt and made up a little bit of a story and told him, "Hey Matt, they're going to vote for you at the next Tribal," because Matt didn't see it either.
I think Matt's plan was to throw on an initial vote with Ometepe, gaining back their trust, and then jump over to Zapatera and start taking out Ometepe. That was the plan, it was just damn, in Survivor, you come up short. Sometimes, it's just that close and so here [Matt and I] are talking to you finishing sixth and seventh. (Laughs)
You said Redemption Island had been a life-changing experience for you. How so?
Mike Chiesl: Well, I think Matt said it best when he felt God carried him through... God's presence is everywhere. The outcome of Survivormight not be big on his radar. He's got a lot of things in the works, so it's hard to tell what exactly his will and his purpose is. But I will tell you that Redemption Island was great for me.
It helped transform me as an individual, because any time you're taken out of your personal bubble that you call life away from the traffic, the cell phones, the emails, the bills, and you get put into almost exile and stripped of all your material belongings and stripped of even food and shelter and safety, in some regards, you get to do a lot of great introspection about what's your purpose in life, what are you truly doing, and I was able to work on my relationship with God.
It was really great to study the Bible there on Redemption Island with Matt, and it was just a treat to have that opportunity to be there outside of the game, almost, where we're not busy trying to "outwit" one another, but we're just "outlasting" and "outplaying."
So, it helped me work on my faith and it was a blessing to have Matt there with me. We could ask these questions to each other and answer them, but it was really, really good for me. It was something that I didn't expect.
I thoughtSurvivor was going to be an experience that would change me because I would have to lie, cheat, and manipulate my way to a million dollars, but the outcome was totally different and exclusive from that. It was very, very good for me. It's a game that I'm passionate about, and I found a love for it.
There was a lot of bitterness directed at Rob, but in the end, you voted for him. Why was that? Was it because you had a lack of alternatives or were you just impressed by his gameplay?
Mike Chiesl: First off, I definitely don't carry any bitterness towards Rob, but I admire his competitive spirit and would have loved nothing more than to take out Russell Hantz and Rob Mariano and throw grenades uphill in my pursuit to becoming the "Sole Survivor."
So, I see it more as a challenge thing, so he played next to a flawless game, and he was always one step ahead of us. We certainly had our opportunities, but we came up a little bit short a number of times and he was one step ahead.
It was truly a masterful performance, so I commend him for the outstanding game he played, but me being me, I want to take on the biggest competitor there is and be victorious. I've played competitive sports and the Marine Corps is highly competitive, so I like to get out there and compete and mix it up. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the glory.