‘Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X’ exclusive: Winner Adam Klein on his game, his story, and his future
Going into this season of “Survivor,” we already knew that we really liked the potential of Adam Klein as a player who could end up winning the game — he is smart, social, strategic, he understood the game, and we even thought that him saying that he wanted to work to help other people would help him come across as selfless within the tribe. Luckily, he was every bit the player that we thought he would be and then some. He won the season, and his victory ended up being the most emotional one we’ve ever seen on the show largely because of the story of his mother’s battle with cancer and the story he told both during the final Tribal Council and at the reunion show.
Check out our full interview with Adam below, where we talk extensively about both his story and his game overall. As a reminder, Adam and “Survivor” are still raising money through Stand Up to Cancer, and you can read more and donate by visiting the link here.
CarterMatt – I know you thought you won the game after being out there, but how does it feel now having it be official? Has it sunk in?
Adam Klein – I don’t know if I’ve really had the time to sit back and to take it all in. I’ve been talking almost non-stop to the point that my voice is hoarse since I won the game, whether it is on the red carpet or the after-party. I slept like 45 minutes, and I’ve been doing interviews ever since. It will probably take a long time for it to sink in and to come down from this, but it has been such a dream come true, and I am so grateful to be a part of this experience and the individuals who made up our cast. It is a really kindhearted, wonderful group of people.
Is that something that you had expected entering the game? It’s really interesting that there were so many people, whether it be a Will, a Jay, or a David, who were so happy even after being voted off? I feel like you would have been the same.
Had I went out with the rock, that would have been devastating. It’s the most devastating way to go — I was in tears just watching her go. For the people who were just voted out, they recognized that they tried their hardest, they played 100%, they did the best that they could. They left with no regrets, and at the same time, we really enjoyed each other’s company. We supported each other throughout the process and we still do.
Have you had a lot of time to spend with your family after all this? I know you haven’t had much time at all, but I can imagine that this has to be such a whirlwind. It was such an emotional experience, easily the most emotional finale ever, and it’s difficult even now to put it into words.
It’s unlike anything that people have experienced coming off the show having both won the game and having the worst nightmare of my life at the same time, coming together. I have had the full gamut of emotions that you could possibly have, from absolute terror to the time of my life to everything in between. It’s hard for me to put into words, too. It was hard to go on live national television last night and talk about my mom’s death. What I wanted to focus on more than that was her life, and celebrating her life, and encouraging other people to live like Susie and hopefully raise a bunch of money for lung cancer research, as well.
When we had that moment, and it was one of the most tear-jerking moments of the entire season, where you told Jay about your mother, how much of a relief was that? You’d been keeping this part of your heart away from everyone virtually the whole game.
It was such a weight off of my shoulders, and I really trusted him in the sense that he wouldn’t tell other people what was going on at home. He had similar issues in his family, and he loves his mom and his sister so much. We bonded over that. he gets me and I get him. We’re very, very different, but there is something about that relationship that just will make him a brother for life.
I know there’s no real easy transition into some more nuanced things about the game, but here we go. One of the things I actually did really like about watching you was that your game wasn’t perfect. You made some mistakes, but were able to bounce back after them. How are you able to have the self-awareness to know ‘okay, that didn’t work,’ and then try to correct on the fly?
There’s a few things that I want to touch on there. I absolutely made some mistakes along the way, and there were some recoveries that I made that helped me to win the game. I do think that in the edit that you saw, there was an effort to make the finish of the season more exciting. Most people, except for you (Adam was our pre-season winner pick, and we ranked him #1 entering the finale), didn’t see the end of this coming. Part of that was making my dip a little bit deeper, and make it look like I was being targeted when I wasn’t. I did make some mistakes, and I shared too much information with Taylor. When all that came out, I really don’t think it jeopardized my position in the game. We did see some confessionals from people like Zeke saying that they didn’t love working with me, but they never actually seriously considered voting me out. I was in a pretty good position for most of the merge.
I think with Taylor, most of my mistakes were in being too forthcoming. In the end, I think that’s one of the things that helped me. Taylor went out swinging; his best move was to try to throw me under the bus at Tribal Council to try to get me out. That was the best move for him, but everyone else saw that as ‘Taylor hates Adam.’ In reality, that was just his best move. He left the game thinking I didn’t betray him. I voted out Figgy, but I didn’t betray Taylor. I kept his secret, I was genuine in my offer to work with him, and he knew that when he left the game.
Did that perception of ‘Taylor hates Adam’ help you? We kept hearing ‘oh, David’s a threat,’ or ‘we have to get rid of Jay,’ but nobody was talking about you as the #1 threat. Yet, here you are with a unanimous vote!
I was very intentional about putting as much praise on people like Jay and David as much as possible, knowing that I wanted to go very deep with them into the game, and that there were these threats that we’d been building up for much of the game — these sure-fire people who would win at the final Tribal Council. I wanted there to be obvious reasons to get rid of them.
Time and time again, I had the intention of saying things like ‘David is such a huge threat,’ but for a while, it didn’t make any sense to get rid of him so that in the endgame, he would be a threat before me. Also, he needed me to get to that endgame, so he wasn’t going to turn on me before the final five. I knew that I could trust him and that he didn’t have other allies, because other people were gunning for him. It just wasn’t the right time for me always to gun for him.
I did things at times deliberately for me to seem like less of a threat, especially to the people I wanted to go to the end with like Hannah and Ken. With Hannah, I would defer to her a lot in private to make her think that she was the power-player in our relationship and that she would win in the end. But, publicly I was telling a different story.
We’re at the final four, and we’re all waiting to see what in the world Ken is going to do. What was your feeling of confidence like? Did you feel good that Ken was going to get rid of David?
I was pretty upset that it even came to this, and I wanted to take it out of Ken’s hands completely — that’s why I wanted to vote out David at the final five. I didn’t know if we can count on Ken to turn on Dave. That is asking a lot of someone who was incredibly loyal for most of the game. I knew that Hannah thought that she could beat me, and I thought that I could beat her, so we saw ourselves in the same place in the game, and we knew that Dave could beat us. So she came to me the morning that Bret was voted out saying ‘we need to vote out David,’ and kind of going against her own plan in a way. That took me totally by surprise, and it was obviously a mistake to tell her about the idol — but I never saw that coming.
When we got down to the final four, everything relied on Ken voting out David. It’s why I didn’t really try within myself to win the challenge. All that mattered was that Dave didn’t win immunity. Even if I had won immunity, if Ken didn’t vote out Dave there would be a fire-making challenge between Dave and Hannah, and Dave would win and I would lose to Dave in the final two.
I had a long conversation with Ken the night after Bret was voted out, and I actually told him about my mom, which didn’t make the cut of the show, and it probably seemed like a surprising thing to do at that point given that anyone is looking for a reason to get rid of someone at that point. Yet, Ken is a very genuine, kindhearted person who wants to take other good people to the end. I wanted him to feel okay emotionally about bringing me to the end. He had made a promise to me and to David to go to the final three. All things being equal, the only thing that was left was who was the bigger threat, and who could take the game away from him and his daughter. He decided that this would be Dave.
I think we have time for a couple of more questions, so let’s start with the unanimous vote. Were you surprised by that? I thought you had it, but that there was a chance someone could do what Vytas did in ‘Blood vs. Water’ and vote to give someone second place.
I think that one of the things that didn’t make the cut of the show — no fault to the show, since they made it an exciting finish and very fun to watch — I had very strong relationships out there. One that totally fell off the edit was my relationship with Jessica. She was my closest ally out there, but they didn’t show that on the show. I had these great one-on-one relationships that I’d been building throughout time, and a lot of viewers thought that I had pretty terrible relationships, and that just wasn’t the case.
I felt very confident that I would win the game, and I did think there was a decent chance I’d received all of the votes.
Finally, let’s talk the future. Is there a feeling now that you’ve done everything, and going back would potentially hurt this legacy? Or, do you just love the game so much that you’d go back [just for the thrill of playing it again]?
I’m just as big of a fan now as I was when I was nine years old, and it’s just as big of a dream to go on ‘Survivor’ now. I got everything that I wanted out of that experience. Like I said, I checked every single box. I’m not afraid to ruin my legacy or whatever. If I get voted out first if I go back, then I get voted out first. It would be an honor and a privilege to go back and play again.
Thanks again to Adam for his time, and for being so open to talk about everything concerning his game. Be sure to leave us a comment int he box below and tell us what you liked about Adam’s game this season. For more of our “Survivor” interviews following the finale, head over to the link here. (Photo: CBS.)
Want more TV news? Then sign up for the CarterMatt Newsletter!