‘Survivor: Kaoh Rong’ exclusive: Joe Del Campo on strategy, Aubry, and potential ‘million-dollar meal’

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Going into this season of “Survivor,” we were probably more excited to see Joe Del Campo play the game than almost any other first-time player we’ve seen in some time. People over 70 in this game are so rare, and even if you take his age out of it, he’s got such a robust story as a former FBI agent that made him a captivating figure.

After interviewing him today, we were even more bummed that he didn’t get more screen time this season. There are some interviews that we could really do for hours, and this is one of them. We do these over 10-15 minutes, but it really blew by in this case to hear him talk about strategy, his in-game relationships, and how he can measure this experience against other things that have happened in his life.

CarterMatt – How’s everything going, and what’s been this experience of waiting this full year in order to see the show play back on TV?

Joe Del Campo – The bummer part is waiting the year and they slipped the other ‘Survivor’ in there, ‘Cambodia,’ you know … whatever you wanna call it. It’s been interesting, because of the anticipation and the edit each week. What’s it gonna be? Are they going to show you or not show you? And it’s gone well. It’s as well as could be expected.

You mention the edit. Was it a bummer to you that you weren’t featured as much on the show before these past few weeks, where I’d really say you became more of a breakout character?

As you know, we don’t have any control over that. They’re trying to tell a story with what would interest the viewers that is dramatic, with alliances forming and all that. From the get-go, from day 1 or 2, Aubry and I were hooking up as well as Debbie, and I played a background role in that. Usually the older guy, if you rise up, normally that person goes. We knew that and felt that we were pretty strong together like some other couples have in the past. So, I was in the background. Some of the super-fans may say that I was a goat, but it was a team effort. A lot of times it was me being off-screen, and a lot of times it was her being with the women or the semi and quasi-alliances that were moving and grooving.

I felt I was a part of it, but knew that I had to take a certain role as a sort of elder statesman kind of behind in the shadows, and not willing to risk that just to be on camera or to do alliances or being with her while she was doing things. We elected that she would be a field lieutenant to go out and do what she did in an incredible way. She did a great job.

One of my favorite moments for you this season was that interrogation scene you had with Peter. Were there other moments where you felt like your training paid off in the game in a big way?

Yes, but they were the non-game-related conversations I had with almost everyone, other than the pre-jury people I didn’t get a chance to talk with. The conversations that had nothing to do with the game, which were videotaped but not shown because they were not strategy. Talking with the younger people; Cydney’s 22 years old, Aubry was 29 at the time, Michele was 25 at the time. Tai was a little older, 51 at the time. Julia, I didn’t have much conversation with Julia, she kind of stayed with the guys over there at that stage. I felt as though I was able to elicit information, let’s call it ‘interview’ them, make them feel comfortable. Cydney referred to me in one of the deleted scenes from yesterday as the grandfather. She actually showed emotion, and she’s like spot-on and laser-focused. I was touched by that, when I just saw that earlier today.

It wasn’t dramatic like what I did with Peter, where he wouldn’t answer and he immediately gave it away. His whole focus changed, and he was guilty as sin, and he wouldn’t answer and I said ‘we’re done.’

I’m sure you heard the comparisons between you and Rudy, but one thing that’s different is that other than Tai, there were even more younger people around late in the game. How did you find ways to relate to them? Was it by being the ‘grandfather’ as Cydney suggested?

I think I have an innateness about talking with people. I’m able to converse whether you’re a check-out person at a supermarket, a CEO, or a Congressman, and I’m not kidding because it’s been my real life. I treat everyone with respect and I treat everyone the same. I don’t care where you are in life, and I want to be treated as I treat other people. That’s how I did the game.

As far as the age difference, you can imagine there was a 52-year age difference between me and Julia. 52 years! The last challenge, all three girls’ ages didn’t add up to how old I am! (Laughs.) I found a comfort in that I really like younger people. They still have a full life in front of them, they’re full of enjoyment and enthusiasm. I don’t ever wanna lose that. I still have this Peter Pan thing about ‘what do I want to be when I grow up.’ Well, it’s been twenty years since I retired from the FBI this month! But, I’m still looking for the next adventure. It doesn’t have to be big, but what’s the next thing going to be? Is it going to be a sunset, or is it going to be going up to North Carolina where we have a little cabin and just looking out across the mountains, having a little cocktail and saying ‘this is fantastic’? Just being able to enjoy the simpler things in life.

Take me through that moment in the reward challenge where everyone was done, you came from behind, and then you won. I know it didn’t end up working out well for you, but in that moment it had to feel great.

Of course they had all finished, and CBS had to shorten it up because I think it took two or three minutes for me to get back up the trail and get back down. I think Cydney was even sitting or something like that. So, I had no idea where we were, but I knew it wasn’t over because they’re all sitting around and I had my bag. So the old Clydesdale comes out of the jungle and there are the thoroughbreds just sitting there, waiting for the Clydesdale to come out (laughs) and then I start tossing the bags. Of course, I’m hoping they will go in. I had pretty good luck with the ring toss, and had Tai let me do the first three rings on the last reward challenge [it could’ve worked out], but he wanted to do it.

When that last bag was flying through the air, it was like slow motion (laughs) through my mind, and it went in. It was like ‘d–n,’ I mean Jeff was really thrilled, he jumped up in the air.

I wanted Aubry to do the pick; they cut that down, but that conversation went on for a little bit. She didn’t want to do it, but I wanted her to pick because I wanted to see which one she was going to pick. Again, a strategy thing on my part. So we all went off, and of course pledged allegiance to one another there. Not to say that was fixed in concrete, because on a whim things change. It can be done at tribal council or back at the beach, when you talk to this person or that person and say ‘you know what, maybe so-and-so has gotta go because they may be too strong.’ So, it was said, but it was not etched in stone.

Were you ever interested in cutting Aubry before the end?

That was my problem about being loyal to a fault. There was actually a deleted scene of that; I mean, I gave my word. I don’t know what it would have taken for me to go against her, it would have really been an insurrection. She had so much faith in me, even though I saw some of the scenes, like we had on TV, that she was contemplating cutting me loose, saying that ‘we’re done’ or like ‘the Brains are finished.’

I think it would have been very difficult for me to [vote her out]. Peter did not realize that I did not vote for him until he saw it on television. He thought it was me for that whole past year! He was so angry at me (laughs), but I said ‘hey, I shook your hand on the water and said I wasn’t going to vote you out.’ Again, not a good strategy when you play ‘Survivor’ because you gotta have more flexibility, but I did what I did.

Let’s talk about the beef Joe. Have you now officially sworn off the beef forever?

Well I don’t eat a lot of meat, and Linda’s a vegetarian so we eat a lot of veggies and stuff like that. But you know, a good hamburger once in a while is great.

But that beef was so good, and it was on a skewer. Each one of those was like a foot, so I had three feet of those d–n things in my intestines. So that was my problem (laughs), so it was a lot of meat! All protein. If I had had just one … you know, I call it the ‘million-dollar meal.’ Not that I would have won, but I would have put myself in the position to have one.

But everything is good now? You’re doing all right?

Yeah I’m fully recovered, though I did have shoulder surgery unrelated to the game. That’s just wear and tear from all the weightlifting and the crazy stuff that I do. Otherwise I’m looking forward to just have old-timers in the future and CBS says ‘hey, we saved this hammock so we’re going to bring him back and set him off somewhere in the world.’ I would do it in a heartbeat again. It was a great experience.

Look at you! Just answered my next question. Let’s close with this, since I think it was really interesting to watch on the show. When Jeff told you that you were leaving the game, you understood in a way that we don’t see from other people in that situation. Sometimes we see people beg to stay or completely break down. Did that stem from your life experience, and the understanding that while this is a great experience and wonderful entertainment, it’s not the end-all, be-all in life?

That’s a great question. When I was on there I was 71-plus years, and I’ve been through good and bad and tragedies. If I was to measure it, being yanked off the beach, I was saying to myself ‘Joe, you made it 34 days, you gave it a shot, Mother Nature turned against you because you ate and you did what you did.’ Measured against the fact that in the past I’ve lost a wife and a child, a son, it’s not even in the same breath. Those things in the past are so much more meaningful and have had more of an impact than me being yanked off that beach, which I didn’t want. I wanted to go the end, but I couldn’t. But you have to leave that. Not that I didn’t feel beat, but I gave it my best shot. It’s not like I got voted off; my body said ‘you did what you did, and it’s happening.’ I was able to deal with that.

You can see some more of our “Survivor” coverage from this week, including our most-recent episode review, over at this link. Be sure to check it out! Also, sign up over here to secure some other TV news on all we cover, sent right over to you courtesy of our official CarterMatt Newsletter.  (Photo: CBS.)

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