‘Survivor’ Castaway Neal: ‘I Really Think I Could Have Won That Thing’


'Survivor: Kaôh Rōng' (CBS)

Quick Note: We’re going to be bringing you all kinds of “Survivor” fun this season including episode recaps, exit interviews, and Power Rankings with Shirin Oskooi. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute news and info.

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Some players say, “I’m gonna win ‘Survivor!’” Others say, “My goal is to make it to the merge.” There are even those who say, “Whoa…I sure hope I’m not the first one out.”

Nobody says, “I hope the medical team is forced to pull me from the game.”

The worst.

I spoke to this season’s second medical evacuation the morning after his downer of an episode aired. We chatted about the heartbreaking moment he knew his game was over, the fate of his idol, and future ice cream opportunities…

Neal Gottlieb: If you could continue the tradition of your Power Rankings and ask every question with a cheesy ice cream pun, I’d really appreciate that.
Gordon Holmes: Oh man, give me a minute to think.
Gottlieb: (Laughs)
Holmes: Although, I am the kind of person that when life gives me lemons, I make lemon sorbet. I have a million-dollar idea. Neal’s Volcanic Eruption Ice Cream. You get some kind of gooey core in there. This is a winner.
Gottlieb: It’s just oozing caramel non-stop is what Dalton Ross recommended.
Holmes: Who?
Gottlieb: Is Mount St. Neal going to get a spot in the Power Rankings this week?
Holmes: Mount St. Neal is a formidable threat. It took out someone who has an idol.
Gottlieb: (Laughs) It blindsided me.

Holmes: How long did it take you to come to terms with one of the suckiest eliminations I’ve ever seen?
Gottlieb: You make it sound like it’s past tense. It was April 17th of last year and I still think about it every single day. How does that happen? How did my fate in the game come down to something that started as a little pimple. I’m at terms with it, but at the same time there’s always going to be that though that I thought I could have won that thing. I wasn’t going home that night, I had the idol, I was one of the strongest physical players, one of the strongest puzzlers they’ve ever had on the show. So, it wasn’t like, “Oh well, I would’ve gone home next week.”
Holmes: Normally an exit interview with someone who’s been evacuated is hearing about this harrowing experience of them being brought back to health. You walked off on your own power.
Gottlieb: I was in the hospital for two nights, then I was in a nice hotel for four or five more nights. The first morning at the hotel I went to the gym against the handler’s orders and ran four miles on a treadmill. I was fine. I needed to do something. I couldn’t go from running around the island, finding idols, getting firewood, being the clam king and then sit in a hotel room and watch cable TV.
Holmes: When did you know that this infection might be serious enough to take you out of the game?
Gottlieb: The infection popped up on the afternoon on day fifteen. I think after the reward challenge we lost. It was a little pimple, but it really hurt. I asked the doctor to come out. They did lance it and nothing really came out. It kept swelling and growing, going deeper and wider. Probably about day seventeen I had a pretty good idea that it was going to be my downfall. There is the precedent of giants of the game coming out of the game with a knee infection.

Holmes: You’ll get this a hundred times today, but what was the deal with the idol? Were you given the opportunity to hand if off?
Gottlieb: I was given the opportunity.  It was addressed with production of what I could do with the idol. I asked them that. They came when Aubry and I were having our lovely chat by the beach where I let her know that I had the idol. She was freaking out because the Brains were being targeted. But, she also made it clear that if she had to, she would slit my throat. In that moment, in my state of mind, that wasn’t very funny. That was a contributing factor. And also having a pretty good hunch that they were targeting her and that by me going out, that kept her alive in the game. There was the idea that I’m giving her life and I’m going to get a family heirloom. So, if I could go back, there’s a good chance I would handle it differently. I started to regret it about fifteen minutes after. But, it’s just like my fate in the game; it’s what happened and I can’t change it.

Holmes: It looked like the Beauties were going to side with the Brawn. Is that what it looked like to you as well?
Gottlieb: Yeah. It did seem the way. We talked with Nick and Michele, I wasn’t convinced that they were going to come along. Debbie was being very aggressive with them. You could tell by their body language, the words they chose. They said they were going to go along with us, but I wasn’t entirely convinced.

Holmes: Were you planning on using that idol at all that night?
Gottlieb: That was still up in the air. My understanding was that because of the idol they weren’t going to target me because with the four Brains sticking together they would’ve had a tie if they split the vote four and three. They thought they knew that I had an idol. It’s funny how my bulge was spoken about on national TV. And for the record, the bulge that Jason was jealous of, that was never the idol. The idol was never in that pocket. And Nick actually confronted me about the same bulge. I opened up my pocket and pulled everything out. You just gather things when you’re out there. I was probably not going to play the idol. I was probably going to roll the dice and see what happened. I suspected that I wasn’t going home. One of the reasons it’s still such a bummer is I really think I could have won that thing. It was going to be down to ten and I was a strong player in challenges, I had an idol, and those big alliance never work out.

Holmes: If you could’ve written your ending, who would you have taken to the finals?
Gottlieb: Aubry. We had a great relationship and I felt like I could beat her. On day two when she was having her freak out, she used words I was going to use against her at the final Tribal which were, “Neal, just tell me what to do.” There was a good story there. As far as the other one, that wasn’t decided. Debbie or Joe…in an alliance of four it’s rare that they all get to the end. But there were a lot of other people I would’ve felt comfortable against.

Holmes: Did you know that Tai and Jason had the other idols?
Gottlieb: The morning of day nineteen, I went and looked for an idol. I thought there might be a fourth idol to make the chances of the super idol more likely. And without a clue, I actually found the Beauty idol box. I knew that that idol was in play. Nick was playing like he thought that Caleb went out of the game with it. But, that seemed unlikely. I suspected Jason had one. I was about to look through Jason’s bag, which it ends up, that’s where he was keeping the idol, but he came back and I never got around to it.

Holmes: Word association time. Let’s start with Peter.
Gottlieb: He’s actually a good guy. He came off as doctor douche on the show. But he was good to me. He attended to my many wounds.
Holmes: Scot?
Gottlieb: One of the more intelligent players out there. Not much of a cheerleader.
Holmes: Julia?
Gottlieb: Young, impressionable, part of the herd. Very intelligent.
Holmes: Debbie?
Gottlieb: Insane, but strangely lovable.
Holmes: Cydney?
Gottlieb: Hard to break through. Builds walls.
Holmes: Nick?
Gottlieb: Beautiful, perfect, incredibly egotistic. And fun, really fun.
Holmes: Joe?
Gottlieb: Grumpy, smoky Joe.
Holmes: Tai?
Gottlieb: There’s the light side and the dark side to him. He plays them off of each other very well. The yin and the yang.
Holmes: Michele?
Gottlieb: Jersey girl, young, sweet.
Holmes: Elisabeth?
Gottlieb: Ridiculously intelligent, too ambitious.
Holmes: Jason?
Gottlieb: An assassin…a teddy bear. Confident to no end.
Holmes: Aubry?
Gottlieb: The manatee tamer. I know her so well. She’s quirky as (expletive deleted). In many ways she’s invincible. You look at her on day two then look at her on day three…it’s night and day. She’s incredible. She’s a force. And she’s a great human being.

Holmes: Tai has a dark side?! All I see is an adorable chicken defender.
Gottlieb: That’s the thing, you think he’s this lovely guy who cares about this chicken, whose name is Mark, by the way. That’s also the name of his boyfriend. People see it as he’s there petting a chicken, but he’s figuring things out. He’s ready to slit people’s throats. He’s playing. He’s not just on vacation.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

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