We certainly didn’t expect to be doing a Caleb Reynolds exit interview at this point in Survivor: Game Changers. While he may have left on day 9 in his first season, he was evacuated and on the verge of losing his life. This time around, he was voted out of the new Mana tribe after a swap left him on the outside of the numbers. Specifically, what made this so painful was seeing his longtime friend Tai Trang be one of the deciding votes against him.
Earlier today, we spoke with Caleb about Tai, the percentage of the game that is luck, and also why he feels like Brad Culpepper in particular was so invested in trying to get him out of the game.
CarterMatt – With some distance from the game, was it easier to digest your exit this time around? What’s it been like in comparison to how you left the first time?
Caleb Reynolds – It’s similar. You go out in a way you don’t want to leave. You don’t ever want to get voted out. I gave it my all and I did my best. It sucks that the tribe swap happened so early. I felt I was digging in and planting seeds where I needed to plant them. I felt like I was building friendships that would benefit me in the long run. The tribe swapped, and I was the biggest threat in the picture. So they did what they had to do.
How much of your elimination do you attribute to just bad luck? Was there anything more you could’ve done?
No. I literally did everything. I looked for idols — I couldn’t find one. Then I tried to get Tai to switch and put down Debbie so that we could have a 3-3 vote, but they didn’t show that. I did my best to convince Tai to help me get a number, but Tai came back and said that ‘Brad’s got literally everyone against you.’ Debbie wanted me to go home, Hali wanted me to go home, Sierra wanted me to go home, Hali wanted me to go home, and Brad wanted me to go home. When you can’t find idols and you have that many people who want you to go home, unless you are a master manipulator, you’re going to go home.
Last time I went out giving it my all, and this time I did the same thing all over again. I tried to play my game socially, and get to their hearts … I played to the best of my abilities and left everything on the island. It’s that when we drew buffs I picked the wrong one, and I got stuck with an odd number and I couldn’t get myself out of it.
I don’t know many Survivor: Game Changers players are familiar with you from Big Brother, but over there one of your big things was how loyal you were. Did that over come up, or did you ever stress that?
I thought that maybe they would see the loyalty. I thought they would see all the attributes that I have. I told everybody that I was the most loyal person on the island, I told everybody that I needed to tell — I straight-up told Brad and everybody at Tribal Council that ‘if it means I’m with you guys until the end of this game and I turn on all of my old Mana [tribemates], I’ll do that. I’ll give you guys my life in this game.’ Loyalty is hard to find in a game like that. If they would’ve watched me on Big Brother or my last time on this game, they would’ve seen that. If I tell you that you have my vote, you have my vote. Just like I told Tai before we even left that I wouldn’t ever write his name down unless I had to. I don’t care who tells me ‘if you don’t write down Tai’s name, you’re going next’ — I’m sorry! That’s just not me. To a certain extent. If I’ve got eight people telling me that I’m on the wrong side of the numbers and if I don’t write down his name I’m going next, by all means I’d tell Tai that they’re making him do this. I wouldn’t lie to his face.
If they would’ve watched me on my other seasons, they would’ve known that I was very loyal. They just didn’t care. Brad Culpepper just saw me as another alpha male and he didn’t like it. Period. He convinced everybody that I was bad for their game somehow. He got Tai to believe the same thing.
Back during the first episode we saw Jeff Probst introduce a new twist with the tiebreaker vote. Do you think that this could’ve played a role in Tai not wanting to do a 3-3 split?
Possibly. That could be, but Tai was never in jeopardy. That’s the thing. I don’t believe that on a tie [it would’ve went past] sudden death. Tai’s name was never mentioned by anyone. It’s either that they all gang up to send me home, or they all gang up to send home [someone else]. It was one of the two.
No one else was going to switch their vote. I was going to try to get Hali, and Tai tried to get Debbie. We were going to try and get Sierra home. Hali said ‘yeah, that sounds like a good plan,’ but it wasn’t a good plan for her because she was already told she was staying. She just said ‘okay’ to [shut us up]. Debbie just straight-up said ‘no’ and that she wanted me to go.
Let’s go back to before the tribe swap happened. With Tony gone, what was your position in the tribe?
For one, they needed me. When you’re a necessity in a tribe, that’s when you feel the safest. When you’re not a necessity, they can say ‘we don’t need you anymore.’ That’s one thing that I always was in Mana was needed.
Let’s put it this way — say I went home first, and they kept Ciera there and they went and did that snake challenge. You can ask ten people, and ten out of ten people would say that the snake would never have gone over that wall. You can ask anyone. That’s why you need people like me. You send home strong players, things like that will happen. The object of Survivor is to keep your tribe together as long as you can so that you have numbers for your individual game. At the end of the day, when you got people saying ‘I don’t care how strong they are, send them home,’ okay, all right … Send all of the strong people home, and never win a challenge. You’ll always be picked off one by one by one. That’s not the object of the game. You want to make it as far as you can as a group.
With the Mana tribe, I was one of the key components to winning challenges. I wasn’t the bigger target in Mana — I had two winners, other people who’ve made it to the final four. In all of the Mana tribe, I was probably the smallest target out of everyone there. There were other targets bigger than me. If Tony’s standing next to me, am I going home before Tony? Of course not. If Sandra’s standing next to me, are you sending me home before Sandra? Of course not. If I got Malcolm next to me, would you send me home? Of course not. I was in such a better position because I had so many targets shielding me. The tribe swap happened, and you had me in there with people like Brad Culpepper, Debbie, Tai, Sierra … hello! It’s simple. I’m very likable, I’m very outgoing, and I’m very good in challenge. They got scared. Brad Culpepper, he goes ‘oh my gosh, I’m not the only alpha male here. They need me. If they keep Caleb, they don’t need me anymore.’ So he goes to Tai and said ‘Caleb is bad for your game.’ He convinces Tai that I’m no good for him. He then goes around and tells everyone. Everyone believes it. I don’t believe that it was everyone’s ideas — I believe it was Brad’s.
[What he should have done] was join up with me. He could’ve been like ‘let’s me, you, and two other people have a secret alliance. Let’s send so-and-so home, and we’ll join up with other alpha males at the merge.’ That’s what could’ve happened, but he got afraid. They stuck with the person that they’d been with since day one, and I was an outsider. They kicked me to the curb.
One last thing Caleb — let’s say you get asked to play Big Brother for a second time and Survivor for a third time, but you can only do one. Which would you choose?
I’d do Survivor again — even three or four more times before doing Big Brother again. It’s only due to the days. When you do Big Brother, goodness gracious you’re gone for almost 100 days. You only come on top on Big Brother if you win. If you get second or third place, you really don’t win anything and you’re like ‘man, I was gone from my family for 98 days and I only come home with this amount of money.’ It’s just not worth it.
With Survivor, you starve for a little while, but you’re only gone for a month and a couple weeks. It’s a whole different world. You’re gone for the whole summer on Big Brother, and when you got a wife and all these people at home. I don’t want to leave my family for three months. I have a different mindset than when I first played.
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