‘Survivor’ Tony: ‘I’m Going to Play It Maybe Faster This Time. I’m Going to Turn It Up Two Notches’


Tony Vlachos (CBS)

QUICK NOTE: The good folks at XFINITY sent me deep into the Fijian wilderness to bring you an exclusive look at “Survivor: Game Changers.” While I was there I conducted interviews with “Survivor” host Jeff Probst and the entire 20-person cast. I also captured exclusive photos and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. So, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute updates.

Name: Tony Vlachos
Age: 42
Hometown: Jersey City, NJ
Previously Played On:
“Survivor: Cagayan” – Winner
Best Known For: Spy shacks, llama calls, and finding approximately 40 immunity idols.

Gordon Holmes: The llama whisperer!
Tony Vlachos: (Laughs) I’m the llama whisper.
Holmes: Are you going to branch out with any new animal noises, or are you sticking with llamas?
Vlachos: It’s got to be situational. If I see any animals out there that need to be spoken to, I think I can adapt.

Holmes: So, last time you had forty idols. How many are you hoping to find this time?
Vlachos: (Laughs) Oh man, I hope I can continue my idol hunting skills. That’s going to be one of my priorities. Obviously I’m a big threat, so I’m going to try to find as many as I can.

Holmes: What’ve you been up to since your big win?
Vlachos: You know, family things. I got home, I got my wife pregnant, so now I have two babies. And I’ve just been being a dad, man. It’s so stressful.
Holmes: That’s why you need that second million, to pay for that second kid.
Vlachos: Second $500,000.
Holmes: Oh, after taxes. So it’ll complete that first million.
Vlachos: That’s right. I’m here for the other half.
Holmes: Some “Survivor” winners just keep the whole million and pass on paying the taxes.
Vlachos: No, no. I’d go to jail.
Holmes: And they love cops in jail, right?
Vlachos: (Laughs) Yeah, I can’t do that. But I’ve been out of the “Survivor” loop for a while. But, when I got this call, you can’t say no.

Holmes: So, Probst has already told you that the theme of the season is “Game Changers.” How would you say you changed the game?
Vlachos: I don’t know. I’d say that the jurors I had changed the game. People that played aggressive in the past, the jurors didn’t vote for them. So, the players had to simmer it down for the jurors so they don’t get too bitter. I did do fun stuff like the spy shack. I did find an idol without a clue, but that’s been done before. I did bluff on the special idol. I made that story up completely. I swore on my family, I broke promises. I knew when I could distinguish real life and game life. If I stuck with my word like I would do in real life, I would have sunk with the ship. I knew enough to separate life from the game.
Holmes: I was thinking it was because you played such a…(expletive deleted) insane game…
Vlachos: (Laughs)
Holmes: …that how-can-you-stay-mad-at-this game. Like a scoundrel who admits he’s a scoundrel can become charming.
Vlachos: (Laughs)
Holmes: How can you stay mad at someone when you say, “Hey! You stabbed me in the back!” And he responds, “Yeah, I stabbed everyone in the back.”
Vlachos: I know! But that’s what I’m saying, I ruined people’s chances of winning. They have to be mad, right? I did play the game fast, I’m going to play it maybe faster this time. I’m going to turn it up two notches.
Holmes: How is that even possible?
Vlachos: We’ll see, I played at a six then, I’m going to play at an eight now.
Holmes: I was thinking maybe if you lit your hair on fire, but…
Vlachos: The sides grow like Bozo. (Laughs)
Holmes: (Laughs)
Vlachos: I’m coming reloaded, I’ve got some new tricks in my bag. Ask me about them later.

Holmes: What do you think of this cast?
Vlachos: There are a lot of heavy hitters. I’m not underestimating anybody. I see a lot of challenge beasts. I see a lot of man buns running around. I see a good cast, man. I see some strategic threats. I see Sarah, the girl I played against in Cagayan. The cast is gonna play hard.
Holmes: What’s your relationship like with Sarah?
Vlachos: I think she’s the only one I’m going to gravitate to. That’s the only one I know. And it’s all situational. As soon as someone opens their mouth I’m going to know if I want to work with them or not.
Holmes: Is there any concern working with Sarah after the whole swearing on the badge incident?
Vlachos: You know, when I first saw Sarah I thought, “Oh man, she’s going to gun for me right away.” But if you think about it, she gave me a vote to win a million dollars. It wasn’t like bitter Tasha. I know bitter Tasha would be out to get me. So, I know there’s no bad blood there. So, we’ll try to reunite that Cops R Us alliance.

Holmes: Is there anyone you’re going to target early?
Vlachos: It’s all situational, but Sandra…she’s here for a triple crown. You can’t say it’s a fluke with her winning twice. Maybe the first time it was a fluke, but the second time? You’ve got skills. Those skills were good pre season 25. Now it’s a whole new era. I mean, look at us; game changers, right? It’s a faster game now. You’re not flying under the radar and winning. And besides, how long has it been?
Holmes: Seven years?
Vlachos: Yeah, she’s been the queen of “Survivor.” And there hasn’t been a king of “Survivor.” I’m out here, I have one win and no blemishes. If I win I get the throne. The King of “Survivor!” King TV!

Holmes: Alright, I’m here to get you prepped for this show. So, I’ve got a game called “The Best Defense.” I came up with a few reasons to vote you out, and I want you to defend yourself against them.
Vlachos: You got it.
Holmes: Tony is a wild man. You saw him in Cagayan. He turned the game upside down and still won. We can’t risk it, we’ve got to get rid of him.
Vlachos: We all know that I’m not going to do nothing come merge time because I can’t win any challenges. We all know that there are four people from Kaoh Rong. We’ve got Debbie, we’ve got Caleb, we’ve got Tai, we’ve got Aubry. Those are four strong. You get rid of me and you’re going to leave these four strong. There’s three winners, you’ve got JT, Sandra, and me. You don’t want Sandra to win twice. If anything, she should be the first target, not me. You have two people you don’t know anything about from season 33. You know that they did something enough to change the game and bring them back. I shouldn’t be a target first.

Holmes: Tony won $500,000 after taxes. He’s had his shot. He’s gotta go.
Vlachos: Oh man, that’s what they should be saying! (Laughs) All of those losers need to stick together. That’s what they’re supposed to say. Tony will get his chance, but right now we have to take care of bigger threats which is the challenge guys. They’re going to run away with the game. They’re going to stick together and start voting everybody out. You can get rid of me anytime after the merge. I can’t win challenges, that’s proven.

Holmes: I watched that dude vote out his allies left and right.
Vlachos: (Laughs)
Holmes: I don’t want to be one of his allies who ends up on the jury.
Vlachos: Let me be your number. I won’t be calling the shots like last time. You tell me who to vote for and I will. It’s going to be tough.
Holmes: I believe in you.
Vlachos: (Laughs) Thank you. You know, if I can’t lie to you, then I gotta lie about you.
Holmes: (Laughs)
Vlachos: That’s the truth!
Holmes: That’s a t-shirt slogan.

Holmes: You mentioned the two people from season 33, they’re unknown quantities. How do you handle that?
Vlachos: Personally? They should be target number one. We all know everybody’s game. We know who we’re dealing with. These people we know nothing about. We don’t know if they’re loyal, we don’t know if they’re Tony on steroids. They should go first. See ya. We lose a challenge, they’re the sacrificial lamb.

Holmes: With these returnee seasons, there’s always talk of preseason alliances. Have you been talking to anyone?
Vlachos: Absolutely not. Once I heard I was a contestant, I deleted my Twitter, I stopped talking to everybody, I stopped doing podcasts. I do not want anybody to reach out to me and nobody has. That’s not how you play the game.
Holmes: Have you heard any rumors of people working together?
Vlachos: I haven’t heard any rumors, but you go on social media and you see Tai going to Caleb’s wedding. You see Aubry going to “Survivor” functions. Most of the people have some history. But again, I think it would behoove them to stay away from that pregame stuff.

Holmes: You’re on lockdown now, you’re not allowed to talk. But people smile, people wink, people sit next to other people. Have you caught anybody doing any of that?
Vlachos: It’s not our first rodeo, they know they don’t want to get caught sitting next to each other. Everybody knows the deal.

Holmes: You mentioned that there are four Koah Rongers here. What do you do with that?
Vlachos: It’s all situational, I don’t know who will be on my team. Everybody watched the same show I watched. They watched Aubry, they watched Debbie, they watched Caleb and Tai being real close. I know they’re going to gravitate real close. Just like Sarah and I care going to gravitate real close. As fans of the show, we know who’s going to work together. And when you see who’s talking to who, you’re going to work together. I won’t worry about it till we get on the beach and I can see how people are interacting with each other. I’m going to go in there with a clean canvas and on day 39 when I’m sitting in front of the jury, I’m going to unveil my masterpiece.
Holmes: You are a human t-shirt slogan machine.
Vlachos: I like that one.
Holmes: Mr. Soundbite.

Holmes: Any guesses as to what twists we might see?
Vlachos: I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns, because if there are pre-game alliances, they’re going to run away with the show. One of my fortes is to expect the unexpected, other people are going to panic. But, that’s where I come in and that’s where I shine.

Holmes: Alright, let’s play Awesome or Awful. I’ll give you a twist you tell me if it’s awesome or awful. Hidden immunity idols?
Vlachos: Awesome.
Holmes: Tyler Perry idols?
Vlachos: Awesomer! (Laughs)
Holmes: Redemption Island?
Vlachos: Awful.
Holmes: Exile Island?
Vlachos: Awful.
Holmes: The Medallion of Power?
Vlachos: Awful.
Holmes: Extra vote?
Vlachos: Awesome.
Holmes: Steal a vote?
Vlachos: Awesome.
Holmes: Eliminate a juror?
Vlachos: Awful. That’s (expletive deleted) awful. I hated that.

Holmes: As a former winner, is there any concern about tarnishing your legacy?
Vlachos: A lot of people ask why I’m coming back when I’ve got this legacy, the only reason I came back is because I won. Had I lost, I’d never play this game again. It’s not worth it to go out there for 30 (expletive deleted) days and come back with $50,000/$40,000. To put yourself through that, I wouldn’t do it.
Holmes: Are you talking about the stress of the game? The physical toll of the elements?
Vlachos: Everything! Leaving your family behind for 50 days. Destroying your body, mentally, physically, emotionally.
Holmes: I think the most misunderstood part of this game is how rough constant paranoia is on you.
Vlachos: Yeah! I don’t sleep. I stay up all night. I watch everything. I go over every scenario. And the second you’re not paranoid, you lose.

Holmes: Alright, I’m going to hand you three cards at random. You tell me who you’re going to vote out first, who you’re going to work with but eventually eliminate, and who you’re going to take to the end. (Note: Michaela and Zeke were not a part of this exercise because nobody knew who they were at this point.)

Round One: Sandra, Aubry, and Jeff
Vlachos: This is funny because Sandra, I want to get rid of her. But, when I have these three, I’ve got to work with her because she’s another winner. But, it’s conflicting to what I want! Aubry, she’s going to have a good case, so I don’t want her in the end, so she goes first. Jeff, I would work with, but I’m going to take Sandra to the end because I don’t think anyone is going to give her a triple crown. And if I’m taking her to the end, I’m sure she’s using that fly-under-the-radar strategy that she used ten seasons ago and that’s not going to cut it nowadays. What’s crazy is I wanted her out first.
Holmes: That’s the point of this exercise, you don’t always get what you want. Sometimes the situation is going to force you to change your plans.
Vlachos: I like it!

Round Two: Hali, JT, and Brad
Vlachos: (Laughs) Oh man…I’ll take Hali to the end. I remember her game and she’s under the radar. She won’t have a strong argument with a good resume at the end. JT…I won’t take to the end because he’s a likable person and he’s a challenge beast. I’ll work with him. And voting Brad out because I don’t know a lot about him.

Round Three: Tai, Malcolm, and Caleb
Vlachos: I’m going to take Tai to the end. I want a proven loser in the end. I’ll take him. And these two beasts…I’ll work with Caleb because I think he’s more soft in nature and a little more passive. And Malcolm, I’ll vote out first because he’s too strong-minded. He wants to call the shots.

Round Four: Sierra, Ciera, and Ozzy
Vlachos: I’ll take Sierra to the end because she’s very passive and won’t have a strong resume. I’ll work with Ciera because she does what’s best for her. And I’ll vote out Ozzy. I can’t let him get too deep because he’s a challenge beast and he’ll run away with it.

Round Five: Cirie, Debbie, and Troyzan.
Vlachos: I’ll get rid of Cirie first because she’s sneaky. I can’t trust her and I’m sure she can’t trust me. I’ll work with Debbie. She’s so eccentric and I think if I feed into whatever she thinks is right, we’ll get along fine. I can adapt to that. And Troyzan, I’ll take him to the end. He’s a sweetheart, but he won’t have a good resume.

Round Six: Andrea and Sarah
Holmes: Alright, only two cards left. Work with one and boot the other.
Vlachos: I’ll work with Sarah. I’ll try to start up Cops R Us again. And I’ll boot Andrea. And I don’t know why. I don’t know her.

Holmes: Alright, you said you had a few tricks in your bag and you wanted to save them for last. Let’s hear it.
Vlachos: I’ll give you some teasers. There’s going to be spying, but it’s going to be underground.
Holmes: Underground? (Laughs)
Vlachos: I’m taking it underground. Somebody is going to be idoled out without there being an idol played, and there’s going to be “Survivor” clones.
Holmes: (Laughs) I’m sorry. Teasers alone won’t do. You have to explain this.
Vlachos: There’s going to be a spy bunker. When everyone is sleeping I’m going to prepare… wherever the trail is, wherever they congregate, which is probably the water well, I’m going to start digging. Then I’ll put all of this debris on me. It’ll be my bunker for when it’s time to spy.
Holmes: And how do you idol someone out with an idol?
Vlachos: OK, I’m going to need an idol first for this one. Let’s say I’m going after target A, I’ll say, “Target A, I’ve got something important to tell you. Meet me by the water well.” When Target A goes to the well I’ll say to everyone, “Target A wants to tell me something. I’ll be right back and tell you what they said.” Now everybody knows that Target A is inviting me to the rendezvous. I’ll talk to them for five minutes or so about whatever, then I’ll start hauling ass back to camp. When I get back, I’ll say, “Target A has the idol, he just told me! Look in his bag!” By this point I will have already planted my idol in their bag.
Holmes: And since that’s technically your idol, they can’t keep it or dispose of it.
Vlachos: Yeah, that’s my idol. They can’t touch it. But I got to make it look real. It’s Hollywood acting. So, I’m idoling him out without playing the idol.

Holmes: You’re insane. I love it. Tell me about the “Survivor” clones.
Vlachos: On Cagayan, I got two rocks from the beach. One represented my wife, one represented my daughter. They knew I kissed them and those rocks were very sacred to me. This time I’m going to have three rocks because I have a son. So, I’m going to introduce the rocks to everyone and everyone will see me cherishing these rocks. What I’m going to do is, to get somebody comfortable, I’m going to find clones of these rocks. And to make somebody comfortable I’m going to say, “You’re not going home. And to make sure, you can hold onto my family. These are sacred to me. I want them back tomorrow.” And they’ll go out with the clones in their pocket.
Holmes: (Laughs)
Vlachos: And that’s not a one-trick pony. I can do that over and over. The problem is if I get to day 39 they can (expletive deleted) stone me.

Don’t miss the two-hour season premiere of “Survivor: Game Changers,” Wednesday March 8, 2017 at 8 p.m. ET.

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

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