‘Survivor: Kaoh Rong’ exclusive: Winner Michele Fitzgerald on her big victory — and how she did it

Michele -

Michele Fitzgerald was not always a player on the forefront of many minds early on in “Survivor: Kaoh Rong,” but she was one of those players who got stronger and stronger as time went on. There was a reason that Tai and then Aubry wanted her out of the game near the end; they recognized that she was a social threat, and had many friends on the jury.

Well, her winning the final four immunity helped to seal her spot at the end, and she helped herself further by getting rid of Neal. Today, we had a chance to speak with her further about some of her moves, why she had Scot and Jason on her side at the end of the game, and also how she’d played differently if she did return.

CarterMatt – How many votes did you think you were getting last night?

Michele Fitzgerald – It’s been a rollercoaster. I came off the season really believing that I had the votes, and as they year progressed doubt started to creep in, and yesterday watching the show I really started to think that it could go either way. Watching the season, Aubry played an amazing, inspiring game. I really didn’t know. I didn’t realize that I had won until the last vote was read. It was crazy.

Is it finally a relief to have it out in the open?

Oh my god [yeah]. Also, other people’s game’s picked up really early, and I was waiting for my story. Then with the past few episodes I was finally like ‘see guys, I really am playing. Look!’ It was a long wait. (Laughs.) But last night was super-amazing, and I was super-happy to have my¬†friends and family here.

One moment that I think a lot of us in the viewing community really took notice of you as a potential winner for was the whole ‘I don’t need to be carried, bro’ confessional when you were talking about Nick. Were you glad that made it in?

Oh man, I was frustrated with Nick that day and I had a lot of choice words for him. But I think the ‘I don’t need to be carried, bro’ soundbite was just too good for the editors to pass up! (Laughs.) I’ve heard a lot of it; I’ve seen a lot of gifs and whatnot.

But I was in a frustrated place with Nick; our communication was not on the same page, and we were both really frustrated with each other. That’s where that came from.

Fairly early on in the game, you were close with Anna and Julia. Was there ever a point you envisioned that to be your final three?

Yeah! Right off the bat I was like ‘this is it.’ I found two people who I trusted wholeheartedly. We were openly saying that we were willing to go to rocks for each other if the boys weren’t flexible; I’m sure that it wouldn’t have come to that.

But, I was like ‘I found two people in this game who are going to stick by me and be¬†completely loyal. We’re going to ride this and stick by this. We balance each other really well.’ Then, what happened? We all got ripped apart to three different tribes. It was definitely devastating! But, you know, we made a pinky promise, which is definitely binding (laughs), that we were going to go to the end with each other.

Do you think it was an advantage for you to never go to tribal council before the merge? I’ve heard some say it’s good to be battle-tested, but in another way it ensures your safety.

It is a catch-22 not going to tribal for 22 days. Catch-22, there you go! In one respect, you obviously don’t want to be going to tribal. You don’t even want the possibility of going home, especially since I screwed up a crucial reward challenge and I didn’t want to go at that point.

It was good and bad, bad in the sense of me not being able to show my game. I think that I really had my finger on the pulse and I really had control in a lot of situations. I think I would have been able to maneuver my way, even if I had been going to tribal. I’m kind of sad that I didn’t get that momentum earlier, but you can’t complain about not going to tribal.

Was after the swap the part of the game you thought you were in the most danger, or was it really late in the game?

They really played up that Nick thought I was at the bottom, and to some extent it was true because after losing that reward, I was at the bottom. But I had talked to Cydney, and me and Cydney had created a relationship that didn’t get shown at Chan Loh. We were super-tight, and and we were already thinking about turning on Jason and Nick even before the merge. I felt okay with my situation on Chan Loh, but I really felt I was in trouble, obviously, in the end [of the game]. It was back-against-the-wall, do-or-die, ‘you’re not getting out of this.’ ‘There was no way you don’t make it to finals if you don’t win.’

How were you able to make so many jury members feel good about you before they left the game, and not have them feel bitter or angry about you?

With Nick, he voted on strategy, and obviously Joe and Aubry [were close]. With everyone else, they went based on loyalty, openness, and flexibility when it came to working with them. I think Scot and Jason were pretty frustrated that Aubry was not flexible in the sense of working with them. Her ability to create those meaningful relationships is something that I value and it was amazing and awesome to watch; on the flip side, she didn’t give the time of day to people on the other side. She was never open with them, and she never created those bonds whereas me playing that middle position, I have good relationships with them and I gave them a chance to talk it through with me, to pitch themselves. Sometimes, people just need a voice and that you’re listening. They need [to hear you say] ‘I’m listening, and if that’s right for my game, then we’ll go that way.’ If you’re not listening, they’re going to begrudge you for that. I had a really strong connection with a lot of people out there, rather than just a few.

Do you think it would have been a closer vote had Cydney stayed over Aubry?

I feel like it could’ve went either way. It would depend on how Scot and Jason felt about Cydney. They could believe that ‘Cydney burned us, so we’re going to be really bitter towards her’; or, they could say ‘okay, you one-upped us and played a better game. We see that we probably would’ve cut you at some point, so props on you for seeing that and getting out and maneuvering yourself into a better position.’ So it really depends on where Scot and Jason’s heads were at.

I think it probably would’ve worked out the same way, but you never really know. I would love to have her next to me just because we were such a tight alliance for so long, which really never got shown until the end. It was great to be against Aubry and Tai, who were so deserving as well.

Were you surprised at all that Neal was so cranky towards you after voting you out at the jury? It was like he became a bitter juror without even be on the jury anymore!

In Neal’s defense, he got medically evacuated, and that sucks, and knowing Neal, he probably wanted to make some big, boisterous, and sassy final tribal council speech putting Aubry on a pedestal. I stripped him of that. He wanted to make his mark, and I took that away from him. I think in the moment that was really hard for him, and he took it out on me.

But, I think it did further prove that I made the right decision and it looked great on me. It looked kinda bad on him, and that’s kinda how it went down.

Now that you’ve won, is there any desire to do this again?

I would definitely do it again, but I’d play it a lot differently. I think in this game I played it under-the-radar and kind of shielded a lot of myself. You saw the sass come out at certain points when my back was against the wall, with Tai or with Nick or whoever. I think if I played again I would play with that fierceness the whole way through, and I wouldn’t dumb myself down. I wouldn’t be coming in as a Beauty tribe member, I would be coming in as a winner with a target on my back and I’d play that way the whole time, rather than playing myself down.

It would be a different game for sure, but I’d definitely go back and do it again. Adventure of a lifetime.

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