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There’s no exhilaration without risk, and there’s no Survivor: David vs. Goliath without Christian Hubicki — not yet, at least.
A key figure through two episodes, Christian stands at the center of some of the current Survivor season’s most dramatic moments thus far. His ability to solve a slide puzzle in no more than five seconds earned his David tribe a crucial early victory. He was on the beach with his fellow castaways, watching in horror as shelter-building Pat Cusack was medically evacuated from the game. Christian weathered the storms that led up to Pat’s exit, as well as the brutal heat that dominated the sixth day of the game. While he did not come up with the plan to eliminate the first person voted out, Christian was an eager participant in eliminating Jessica Peet, operating as a crucial connector through his “Mason–Dixon” alliance with Nick Wilson, and serving as the chief narrator of the season’s first “hashtag blindside.”
In an effort to contextualize the first two episodes of the season, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Christian over e-mail to talk through the first vote of the season, the brutal weather of the first six days, his opening slide puzzle performance, and more. Visualize Christian’s frenetic gesticulation in the answers ahead accordingly.
What was the calculus on debating voting for Jessica versus Lyrsa? How did you arrive at the ultimate decision?
My core motivation in that vote was to smash the current power structures in the tribe, and I perceived Jess as the central connection. For those six days, time after time, I was just being told who I was supposed to vote for by the powers that be. On day two, Carl told me to vote Nick, which wasn’t my preference, but I didn’t have rock-solid plans yet to switch it. On day four or five, I was told Lyrsa was the new target because she apparently casually mentioned Jess as a decoy option. So while I feel I had endeared myself to the tribe and showed value to be kept around, I wasn’t being included in the decision-making.
To me, this meant if we keep losing immunity and don’t have a tribe swap soon, I will be trapped in a corner as a helpless target. I couldn’t allow this current state of the tribe to solidify. I knew getting rid of Lyrsa would do nothing to change this dynamic, so once I got away from camp, I was desperately looking for a different target people could get behind. At the time, I didn’t know there was any appetite for voting Jess, but she was a top two target for me. I had almost no reason to eliminate Lyrsa specifically.
Jess was high on my target list because she had built an impressive amount of political clout in the tribe very early, particularly for someone her age; some of us knew she was actually 19, not 22. Jess was clear friends with Bi, very tight with Carl, I could see some ties to Davie, and I couldn’t discern how much pull she had with Gabby. Further, in spite of being sick at times and not having demonstrated herself as a major challenge asset, Jess’ name never credibly came up as a target. That’s a red flag that she’s either calling the shots or is being protected by someone who does. Lastly, I never got believable indications that she wanted to work with me. After one of the few brief strategic conversations we had, I said something to the effect of, “You know, I am glad that you approached me to talk about this, because I would really like to talk with you more.” I remember my overture wasn’t met with enthusiasm. So when I voted, saying, “I really wanted to work with you,” that was true, and I was talking about Jess.
So, on the beach before Tribal, when Elizabeth, Lyrsa and Gabby pulled me aside talking about targeting Jess, I was elated. Suddenly, I could see daylight in the political game. I understood this from Elizabeth and Lyrsa, but not Gabby. So we stepped aside and she explained that she now believes Jess and Bi were targeting her. In that scene in the sand, Gabby is telling me she is worried that she’s just being paranoid about Jess and Bi, and seemingly threatening to reverse course back to voting Lyrsa. I’m so nervous because I’m trying to subtly steer her toward committing to a Jess vote, so I could run off and tell Nick. Once the word was out, the chicken had flown the coop.
Further, I can’t leave this piece without giving so much credit to Elizabeth, who made the exact right pitch to the exact person at the right time. If Gabby hadn’t been spooked by Jess and Bi right when Elizabeth pitched Jess as a target, none of this might have happened. If Nick hadn’t decided he could trust me for such a last-minute switch, we might not have had the votes. It was an improbable snowballing; such an unlikely series of events at the last possible moment to facilitate the blindside. It’s like we had all been independently putting the machinery in place for this move without knowing, and Elizabeth thought to turn the crank — a crank I didn’t realize was there.
Describe the atmosphere at camp in the hours before Tribal. How did it measure up to what you expected from a pre-Tribal afternoon?
At first when we got back, camp was awkwardly silent. Nobody talked, and we just sat in the shelter for a subjective eternity, wondering who was going to be the first to leave. I remember Jess even suggesting we just stay in the shelter until Tribal, [which] was a no-go for me, as I knew something had to change [that night]. I ultimately decided to break the standoff and walk to the water well alone, hopefully breaking the spell to allow everyone to splinter off and plot. Not long after, it was chaos.
Compared to watching at home, there was way less pre-Tribal time than I would have expected. You really do have a finite number of conversations in order to gather information, plant seeds, and make a plan happen. Here, the short timeline worked to my advantage, because there wasn’t enough time for the plan to be discovered before Tribal. In general, if you are watching at home wondering, “Why didn’t so-and-so just talk to whats-his-face before Tribal?,” the answer might be, they just didn’t have the opportunity.
What do you remember about sitting through your first Tribal Council, both in terms of laying eyes on the place for the first time, as well as how the night played out? Were you confident throughout, or were you nervous about the plan?
When you walk into Tribal Council for the first time, you’re kind of overwhelmed by everything. I have this look of bewilderment, which is me trying to take inventory of everything around me. You are just engulfed by this structure that looks like an arena, and you’re right in the middle of it. You sit down, and Jeff immediately launches into questions. The pace of his interrogation is just like you see on TV, and it’s really impressive. He is handling all of us in real time, on the fly.
Being at Tribal Council was so tense for me because I wasn’t certain that we pulled it off, but I knew I was all-in regardless. This was either going to be a big coup or blow up in my face. I knew this was going to be a one-vote margin, and I wasn’t fully sure Nick and I had locked down our votes together; the long challenge left little time before sundown. Remember, we had never put together a vote before, let alone one with so little margin for error with so little time. When I was called on by Jeff, I would try to answer questions with grand-sounding statements about the philosophy of Survivor strategy. I felt this was a good way to keep Jeff from interrogating me into giving up specific information about the vote. So for most of Tribal Council, I’m trying to work out these little speeches in my head, so I can deploy them when the time comes.
How tough were the weather conditions in these first few days? On a practical game level, did you find weather and survival conditions had a big impact on strategy?
The weather was relentless. That first night, we got dumped on and we had no roof. It’s hard to describe to people the sensation of never feeling dry, but I’ll try. The next time you’re at the beach and you get out of the ocean, when you have that primal urge to grab a towel to dry off: don’t. Just stand there and feel the chill of the breeze and discomfort of your soggy clothes. Now imagine doing that for days. What got me through was the adrenaline of the game. There’s so much to think about, and if you can break those days up into a bunch of small but important conversations, then it becomes bearable.
Practically speaking, the strategic flow of the game is intrinsically tied to the weather. When it’s sunny, you can walk all over the place and pull people aside for quick chats. That allows for more fluidity so the target can change. When it’s storming, the game largely freezes in place. Thankfully, we finally got some sun on day six, which allowed for the craziness you saw. Here’s a provocative hypothesis to leave you with: If we got hit with another storm before Tribal, Jess likely would have survived the night.
Dialing it back to your first moment of the season: solving the slide puzzle in five seconds. What was the balance between viewing it as an exhilarating moment of victory versus a moment in which you revealed your strength as a competitor? A roller coaster in its own right?
That slide puzzle moment was years in the making. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve fantasized about solving a slide puzzle on Survivor in some kind of moment of glory. This made it especially odd when I felt I couldn’t internally celebrate it in the immediate aftermath. I had to focus on what to do next, which was integrating into the tribe. Also, I couldn’t help but dwell on the little things I felt could have been objectively improved. That cross-faded scene of me recounting that slide puzzle is a pretty good re-creation of my internal monologue after big stressful moments in life. I know it sounds ridiculous that I would want to improve upon what was, pretty objectively, a good performance, but it keeps driving me to do better.
I knew that revealing having written slider puzzle algorithms was going to get a reaction — I just didn’t know how big of a reaction. I actually initially answered Jeff’s question differently, saying I chose the puzzle with fewer pieces so it would be easier. But that bloodhound Jeff Probst called me out! He specifically highlighted my performance, so I knew I needed a new answer. My thinking was, “OK, there’s only a maximum of about two slide puzzles per season, so how big of a threat does it make me if I say that this is my extremely specific skillset?” Plus, I wanted a way to make the Goliaths feel that I wasn’t rubbing salt in their wounds, and I felt it was just me saying, “Look, how lucky was I that my dorky hobby paid off?”
In terms of coming off as a threat, I wasn’t overly worried. It’s the first 10 minutes of the game, so I can’t get too far ahead of myself. I felt people would be foolish to target a perceived “puzzle threat” so early, if at all. What was important to me was accomplishing two things at the start of the game: one, demonstrate myself as some kind of team asset in challenges, and two, present myself as this open, friendly, and fun “robot guy.” I felt if people understood who I was, then I would be less scary and more approachable. In the moment, it’s unclear if I was successful.
On a side note, I should point out that before the challenge, part of my tribe tried to convince me that I’d be just fine throwing those 20-pound bags instead of the puzzle. I’m still not sure what the logic was in that, but I laugh at the thought of me desperately tossing potato sacks at the end of that challenge.
How did the David tribe rebound in the immediate aftermath of losing Pat? What were your initial thoughts about the state of the situation?
Losing Pat was such a morale blow. He had a presence that just felt like a leader, and now he was gone. It felt so random, and so unfair that such a thing could happen. Pat had been trying to get on the show since 2001, and he finally got his shot. Also, he really did lead in building that shelter, which was really solidly constructed. It was well-roofed, it was elevated, it was sturdy, and just big enough for 10 people. So while we’re huddling up in the shelter to keep dry, we know we are living inside Pat’s Survivor legacy.
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