Joe Mena was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable personalities on Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. He was a guy who entered the season talking a big game, and by and large he backed that up. The probation officer fought hard, schemed hard, and did everything that he could to stay alive — including finding some idols. He just couldn’t find a way to scramble enough to save his hide on the second episode Wednesday night.
We spoke with Joe today about his game, the fan reaction to his gameplay and also if he’d change anything for a return to the game.
CarterMatt – There haven’t been too many people who’ve come on Survivor from your line of work. Did you find it beneficial in some surprising ways?
Joe Mena – Absolutely. My self-awareness [was an asset] — I was pretty aware of what was going on and how I was being perceived. I think the big thing is in my job, I work with individuals. I’m able to identify weaknesses and strengths. My goal when I’m with my clients is to identify their weakness and build on that weakness to make them stronger.
On the island, I was able to do the opposite — identify strengths and make them weaker. I was able to pick up on things that others were not, including small conversations. What they didn’t show was my social game. They only showed one aspect of it, which was me getting under everyone’s skin and I really did have genuine conversations with everyone. The conversations I did have were valid, solid convos — not just ‘how many kids do you have?’ or finding out their names. I would always try to have the same conversation or topics daily with every individual to decipher what was true or what was not. I think it’s helpful to use these little things that I use in my day-to-day life — I’m trained in interviewing, engagement, and behavior therapy. Other people weren’t able to pick up on it because I would modify it in a way different than what a therapist would use or what a [typical probation officer] would use.
It was definitely a benefit — the tools that I use in my day-to-day life.
You’ve probably heard comparisons between you and Tony [Vlachos] for a while now, so I’m going to read you a quote from my exit interview with Roark — ‘I would say that Tony creates chaos by lying and throwing pretty crazy lies around, whereas Joe creates chaos by telling the truth.’ Do you think that’s accurate?
That’s completely accurate. In the game of Survivor where everybody’s lying and deceitful, it’s easy to detect bulls–t out there. Everybody’s kind of lying. So, when you try to cross-reference what I’m doing, people realize ‘whoa, Joe’s actually telling the truth.’ That’s when paranoia kicks in.
I’ve never heard that before, but everyone knows that I was honest and I was vocal. That is pretty accurate.
Last night was a crazy two episodes. I feel like had you been eliminated first, nobody would have been that shocked based on how they felt going into the episode; yet, after you got that makeshift alliance it felt like you were pretty secure. Going into that second Tribal Council were you surprised at all?
Even with the JP vote I wasn’t feeling secure at all. I was just thinking ‘maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.’ Once that alliance was solidified I just thought ‘okay, they used me one time — they’re going to have to use me two times. They have to use me twice … or maybe not.’ I kind of played into the security. I felt like there was an 80% chance I was going home, but a 20% chance I was not, so I rode on that 20%. They gave me a really good package deal. They were like ‘Joe, the advantage is going to be used, the idol is going to be flushed, and Ben is going to be going home.’ Those were the three things I wanted! That packages were just too good to be believed and I fell for it. Kudos to them.
Was Ben putting on a good acting performance out there as the double agent?
Absolutely. Ben was really cocky out there. He was probably the cockiest person that I met out there — and I don’t blame him. He had six [people] following him around. He was still cocky when he was playing double agent so his demeanor didn’t change. He did a good job.
I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time looking back at what happened out there. What’s the one move that you think spelled out doom for the Healers tribe?
The Healers were hit once the swap happened. It was a done deal and they wanted us gone. The Heroes were hurt — they had the title of Heroes, but we dominated every challenge. The edit made it seem like it was close, but it was not close at all. I think they were intimidated by us and they were going after us. I think our downfall was being as powerful and strong as we were and not really going to Tribal.
I was so excited about my first Tribal, you have no idea. When we lost Jeff said ‘hey Joe, how do you feel about your first Tribal,’ and I said ‘I’m excited.’ That’s when you play the game. If you can go to Tribal and survive there, that’s where you win the game. Our downfall was just being so strong.
There was that point after the swap where it was you and Desi plus Ashley and Devon. Did you ever consider throwing Desi under the bus rather than avoiding a rock draw?
No, because I had the idol, so I wasn’t concerned about that. My thing is that I don’t care about idols. I looked for them as a tool, so I probably would’ve just used the idol and let it go back in to play — then I would’ve went back and looked for it again.
Desi was loyal to me after I made that move [with the idol the first time] and I feel like I would’ve played the idol again. I didn’t feel l had the need to go to rocks. I think Ashley and Devon were dumb enough to try and go to rocks, but me and Desi would’ve worked it out just like we worked out the Alan situation. Desi is extremely smart. She was able to pick up all the holes in Alan’s story and that’s what really made him a target. We would’ve sniffed everything out.
That brings me back to something else about the idol then. I know that there are some people who are really conservative and would just do everything they could to not play it. Yet, you were fine to just use it [on yourself and other people] and then go look for more. What made you so confident you could find more, especially since some people stay out for hours looking for them?
I don’t know people search for hours. I didn’t have that ability or luxury. The most that I looked for an idol at one time was five minutes. Sometimes, I maybe only had two or three minutes, if that. Nobody was playing harder than me and I know that. Alan was playing on that [Levu beach] for twelve days and never found a clue. It took me two days, probably a total of a half an hour each day to find a clue. At the Healers I found that clue in two days. I found a clue to the point where production didn’t even know I had the clue. I was confident nobody would outplay me and that’s why I was comfortable playing it — there was no way in hell people were going to be able to look for an idol when I was causing so much paranoia and chaos around it. I could probably survey the island for it in five minutes, while it would take someone else around 20-30 minutes to do it.
Maybe I was just overconfident, but idols are a tool. You can win the game because of idols, but you have to use them! I didn’t want to be like James and go home with a couple of idols in my pocket.
What’s been the reaction to people who’ve watched you this season? Do they root for you, understand you, or think of you as a villain? What do they say?
People love me! Even the people who hate me have to love me — hate is love and love is hate. That’s how I perceive it. If you know about me, you know how I play; if you invest enough time to hate me, that means you’re invested. Thank you for investing in me! I love it. Most people really love my gameplay just in terms of me being aggressive. I’m out there having a blast. I think you can see I’m out there playing. I made so many mistakes but I’m out there playing.
There are so many people who apply for Survivor and I think there are some people this season who were just like ‘let me lay low until a merge’ and they didn’t make it to a merge. If you have an opportunity of a lifetime like Survivor, go out and make the best of it. When I got voted out I was like ‘screw it — I gave 120% and that’s all I can do.’
Most people just love and respect my game because I gave it my all, even the contestants I played with.
So you’d want to play again, right?
Yeah, I told Josh [Wigler] pre-game that I would never play this again because I thought I was going to win. I lost so now I need to play again. I’m a loser and I don’t want to be a loser.
So if you do come back, what do you change?
Nothing at all. Call me ignorant, call me naive, but I’m not changing one thing. If I’m changing one thing I guarantee you I wouldn’t make it 30 days. I showed my cards out there. I don’t think my social game was horrible, to be honest with you. I purposefully got under people’s skin if I wanted to. I was loyal, I was truthful, I played aggressive and I was all about my tribe. What’s there to change? Maybe not play with 17 other fools that were giving out secrets, but besides that I played the best to my ability with what I had out there.