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The most recent two-hour installment of Survivor: David vs. Goliath, “Tribal Lines Are Blurred,” resulted in the double eliminations of Alec Merlino and Carl Boudreaux. Sitting on the right side of both votes? None other than the David tribe’s very own Gabby Pascuzzi.
Gabby, a technical writer and Survivor superfan outside of the game before becoming a full-on player in season 37 of the CBS reality franchise, was the leader behind ousting Carl, the hard-trucking and hard-drinking cowboy occasionally known as “the Godfather.” The move, the first true cross-tribal blindside of the merge, is the culmination of several weeks of buildup on Gabby’s part, as she explains in an extensive conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, the latest in our active player interview series.
Why did Gabby feel the need to target Carl, and how did she pull off the move alongside her trusted ally Christian Hubicki and three members of the rival Goliath tribe? Ahead, Gabby weighs in on all of that and more — yes, including the tears, which she addresses in artful fashion. Really, there’s a lot in here, so, without further ado …
How did the plan to vote out Carl come together?
The plan to vote out Carl really was like the poached eggs Christian described at Tribal. It was a plan that developed slowly, carefully, over a low simmer, while we hoped it wouldn’t crack.
Carl was the loudest proponent of “David strong.” That was a great mindset to have while we were down in numbers — we absolutely had to stick together and combine our powers and advantages to overcome the Goliaths and avoid being picked off. But for my personal end game, David strong did not make sense. I felt I was at the bottom of the Davids, so going to the final five with them just means I come in fifth place, or am a final three goat. Christian and I were always on the same wavelength. One day, before Alec was voted out, I said to Christian, “What do you think about Carl?” And he said, “I’ve been thinking the exact same thing.” That’s how in sync our brains were.
My blowup with Carl sparked more than just my conversation with Christian. Even Davie, who was tight with Carl, came up to me privately and apologized for Carl’s behavior. Carl eventually apologized too, and said, “We can’t fracture. We have to get the numbers back.” I knew if I flipped on him then, I would never be forgiven. Additionally, I didn’t want to make my move seem like an emotional move. If I voted Carl out right after having an altercation with him, I would not get any strategic credit and instead it would look like I voted for him out of anger. I needed to bide my time and let Carl dig his own grave a little more, so that the vote would be justifiable.
When Alec, Alison and Kara came and pitched to us getting rid of Carl, the irony was that Christian and I already had it in our heads, but had decided it was too soon to make the move. Props to Alec for trying every possible angle to stay in the game, but unfortunately his pitch to me didn’t work. It was hindered by the fact that he said, “Man, this would be a great move for Christian. Christian should do this for his game, because I’m a threat, and he’s a threat.” I was thinking, “Alec, you need both of our votes; why are you selling me on why this is a good move for Christian? This would be my move too.” After Alec pitched Christian, Christian came and talked to me. He had taken some of Alec’s points to heart, in particular the point about him being a threat shield. We talked it through and decided that if we did the Carl move now, Alec would get all the credit, and we would look foolish for saving Alec when everyone else wanted him gone. The Carl vote had to be on our time. And we decided that time would be two days later, at the next Tribal Council.
It’s a rare thing on Survivor for a plan to be locked in for that long and not change. But the next vote, once the stuff came out about Carl giving me a decoy name, that solidified in my mind that we were making the right choice. Of course, Alison needed to save herself, and Kara and Mike were aligned with her. Everyone had their own reasons why voting for Carl was good for their game, and it all came together at the perfect time.
Carl’s position as someone drunk with power, occasionally literally, was a fun surprise for the viewers this week. How did it manifest out there on the island? When did you start to sense that Carl was a force you needed to deal with?
Carl is very low-key and laid-back, so his power position is not outwardly obvious. That’s why I called him the Godfather, because he’s quiet and runs things behind the scenes. But then you start to realize, “Where are these names coming from?” and more often than not, it was Carl. This started all the way back on the David tribe, when Carl and Pat dictated that we needed to vote out Nick because he wasn’t doing work around camp. I was never a part of a conversation where that decision was made, nor do I think Christian or Davie were, so it felt like we were handed down the name from up high. I saw it again at the merge, when he immediately started poisoning the water for the Elizabeth vote. I thought, you’re already throwing out one of the Davids because she annoys you? He had already soured the Goliaths on Elizabeth before any of the Davids had a chance to talk.
I love Carl, but Carl is an emotional player. One of my favorite phrases is, “When you point your finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” So I believe when Carl calls me emotional, it’s because he is emotional. The difference between me and Carl is that my emotions are outward, whereas he bottles his up and lets them out in private. So he saw me as weak because I couldn’t hold it in, and I saw him as hard to work with because he was stubborn.
The other problem was that if you had a conversation with a Goliath, Carl was suspicious. Christian and I had a close relationship with Alison from Tiva, Davie had a close relationship with Kara from Vuku and Nick had a close relationship with Mike from Jabeni. But if any of us would talk to our Goliath counterpart, Carl would say, “Look how close they are, I don’t trust that.” That’s why he was so worried about me and Alison. But I don’t even think he realized he was doing the exact same thing with Kara, and later, Angelina. So that’s why I say to Christian in the episode, “I’m not allowed to talk to other people but he is?” When I walked up on him talking to Kara and Angelina I felt stupid, because I had been told not to tell the Goliaths anything. Plus, although Carl was worried my trust in Alison was misplaced, he trusted Kara the same way. Everyone on the Davids had these cross-tribal connections, which we should have been using to our advantage, but Carl saw the outsiders like Alison as a threat.
Perhaps the more pressing reason to eliminate Carl than his Godfather persona, which I knew would be his eventual demise, was my personal lack of strategic chemistry with him. Personally, we got along great. We slept next to each other in the shelter, I always made sure he had a blanket over him, and he cracked me up. But strategically, we didn’t click. I would want to talk through the possible scenarios, like a rock draw at the final ten, or looking forward to the next vote, and he would say I was overthinking things. He is very straightforward and I’m very cerebral, so we didn’t vibe like that.
What was your position within David overall? For instance, it didn’t look like you were included in the plan to vote out John a couple of episodes ago. This week, we saw Angelina drawn into the plan to take out Alison, while you were fed a decoy boot. How did you feel about your place within the group, and if possible, the specific members who are still around: Nick and Davie, as well as Christian, who has been portrayed as your closest ally?
After Elizabeth left, I was the last remaining female David member, and I felt like the male Davids — mostly Carl — didn’t take me seriously as a player. They left me out of the John vote. They needed me to still vote for Angelina for the split vote to work. I understood that, but they still could have given me a heads up and I would have done my part to split the vote. Their story afterward was that they ran out of time to tell me, or they didn’t want to risk messing anything up. I don’t remember. Even though I was blindsided, I put on a happy face, and purposely puffed up Davie, Christian and Nick after Tribal, calling them geniuses and saying that I was so grateful they were so good at this game and had my back.
After that blindside, I acted cool, but inside I felt like I was getting left behind in the game. Christian not telling me hurt me the most, but I understood because his name was on the chopping block and he didn’t want to risk messing it up. And he did still want to protect me — he revealed to me that earlier that day, he had been pulling all these shenanigans like rolling around wet in the sand on a dare, upping his charm level tenfold, because he wanted to make sure the target was him and not me. He knew that Davie had the idol; I didn’t. My alliance had my back, which I appreciated, but that whole John vote was a wake-up call for me.
We did bond when we all shared our … okay, their advantages, which was one of my favorite moments of the whole game. But my not having an advantage just made me even more cognizant of the fact that out of the five of us, the jury would respect my game the least. Even though we were making decisions together on what to do with the advantages, there’s just something special in the jury’s eyes about being the person who actually finds and plays the advantage. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck on the bottom forever, but I had to work with the Davids to get further in the game and have trust in them.
In addition to Carl, Alec went home this week. Thus ends any and all hopes of Strike Force! Was that ever a real alliance possibility, in your mind?
Ah, the Strike Force … or as I like to call it, “The Alliance That Never Was.” I was always suspicious of the Strike Force, because as appreciative as I was that these Goliaths had approached us, they also said they wanted to take out two Davids before they made a move on their own. Christian and I vocalized our discomfort with that, but that was the decision. So when the second David they chose to go after was Christian, that killed all faith I ever had in the Strike Force. I believe that you are not in an alliance until you vote together, and two Tribal Councils not voting together was too long for me to believe it was a real alliance.
The first half of this week’s episode included an epic endurance challenge, and a heck of a performance from you within it. Can you talk us through your experience with that, and any funny stories from the hours that passed?
Before I went on Survivor, there were a few challenges I had in mind that I could win. That challenge was one of them. I’m not the most athletic person, but I have strong willpower and endurance. As much as Alec was saying he wasn’t stepping down, I was telling him the same. On any other season, it’s very likely that I could have won that challenge with my time of two and a half hours. But that’s the beauty of Survivor. You never know what you’re up against, and in this case, I was up against two guys who lasted so long that Tribal actually got pushed to the next day. I was so proud of Christian for fulfilling the theme’s prophecy and slaying the most athletic Goliath, but more than that, I was proud of him for overcoming his propensity to be a people-pleaser and pull out the win for himself.
The challenge was surreal, and was weirdly a bonding experience for all of us, probably because we were forced to hang out for six hours and couldn’t talk about strategy. A lot of cool stuff happened, like seeing a bunch of goats on one of the cliffs on the island, but Christian’s stories were definitely the highlight. At one point, he started telling a story about a robot and it got … anatomical. I was still in the challenge, so I said to him, “Christian, I love you man, but I need you to shut up.” He wanted to annoy Alec with the talking, but not me, so he stopped.
Once I dropped, it was open season for Christian to yammer. And Christian is a verbose guy. We played several games of 20 questions. Christian is a Survivor superfan, so he would pester Jeff about previous seasons, his favorite players, challenges he wanted brought back, or whatever. Eventually the whole sit-out bench engaged in the Jeff interrogation too, asking him questions ranging from whether they’ll bring the Survivor auction back, to what Jeff’s workout routine was. Jeff was such a good sport and it speaks volumes for what a great host he is — as much as we were suffering in the sun, so was he, on his feet for almost six hours! I’m not sure what was harder for him, standing in the sun for that long, or having to listen to Christian.
Another challenge highlight this week: Angelina’s negotiation for more rice. How do you remember all of that playing out?
Angelina’s negotiation at the immunity challenge was the climax of a long, drawn out hubbub about the rice. She had brought it up many times prior at camp and called tribe meetings to decide how we would negotiate. A lot of us recognized that we did need more rice, but no one really wanted to take the lead and expend the brainpower to itemize our entire camp and rice supply. I remember Angelina asked me once to help her count out the remaining rice and I just really didn’t want to do it, so I said, “I’m bad at math, can you ask Christian?” I think they sat there for maybe an hour doing fractions and figuring out how much rice we had left per person, per day. When she volunteered to give up immunity, we were all very grateful. For me? It made me laugh a little. She was supposed to be the decoy name, remember? So why would she sit out if she was in danger? It confirmed that she had replaced my place on the “historic Davids,” because it was obvious how safe she felt. I think the tribe was also hyperaware of the fact that nothing in Survivor is done purely selflessly, especially if you bring it up at Tribal Council in front of the jury.
We have seen you crying in most episodes this seasons, and some fans have speculated whether the tears are fake and strategic, or if they are genuine. The floor is yours, Gabby. How would you break it down?
First of all, let me say I did not cry in episodes three, five, eight, nine or eleven… and yes, I think I deserve a gold medal for that! In all seriousness, I want to debunk the notion that my tears are fake. As flattered as I am by all the fans who think that I have such magnificent acting chops, I assure you that I did high school theater and am not a great actor, and also, I believe being able to cry that convincingly on demand would actually make me a psychopath.
Instead, I want to propose another way to frame my tears: they can be both genuine and strategic. I knew going into the game that I am a person who cries easily — when I’m sad, angry or even happy. I even joked about it in my preseason self-comparison to Dawn, and in my interview with you for First One Out. I think in Survivor, you have to figure out how to work with your own natural personality quirks. So if I know I’m going to cry because I can’t control my body’s natural reaction, what can I do? I can use it as a way to connect with people. Vulnerability is a powerful bonding mechanism. Would Christian have wanted to protect me on Tiva had I not been vulnerable with him in telling him I’m worried about my place on the tribe? He could have easily thrown me under the bus to the Goliaths if I was just a number to him and we didn’t have that human connection. Additionally, pathos is a powerful rhetorical device. Would Alison have considered flipping on Dan had I not said, “I’m scared, and I need you to help me”? That emotional plea was purposeful. I knew Alison was an extremely empathetic person and would feel bonded to me if I opened up, which was confirmed in her confessional where she said as a doctor she feels the need to protect people.
Sometimes, the tears don’t serve a real purpose and I just have to remind the fans that I’m human. When I cried at the Elizabeth Tribal, people speculated I was some kind of mastermind with crocodile tears, since I knew she was going home. Sorry to disappoint, but those tears were born out of real frustration. Those tears weren’t fake, or me trying to cover up the Strike Force. It was a real human moment wanting to defend someone that I cared about. You can love or hate me for it, but I think people in my real life appreciate that I am an empathetic friend who will always stand up for them. Let me also clarify that I never cried or complained about the elements, how the game was too hard or whatever ridiculous thing I’ve seen people claim I am “whining” about. I love Survivor, would never quit, found the rain exhilarating (though challenging) and for people to say that I am mentally weak is flat out wrong.
Lastly, I want to ask the people who are so incensed by my crying why it bothers them so much. If you’ve been told in your life that it’s weak to cry, I have compassion for you and hope you can find a healthy way to express your emotions that works for you. Emotions are powerful and wonderful and make us human. I hope that people who have walls up can someday find the strength to be vulnerable, as I think you’ll find it brings love, joy and deep relationships into your life.
Let’s start wrapping up by going back to Carl’s final Tribal Council. What do you remember about the night, something that didn’t make the final cut?
For me, I was sure Carl was going home. I wanted to add a little bit of theatrics to Tribal, to show the jury and the people who had just lied to me that I knew what was going on. So when the first vote for Alison was revealed, and I knew Carl had been telling me the name was Angelina, I looked back at him shocked, like “oh my gosh, I can’t believe you lied to me.” And then when the first vote for Carl was revealed, I looked back at him again and said, “Gotcha.” It’s probably not great jury management and I maybe let the thrill of pulling off a blindside get to me, but I knew Carl would be a good sport about it — and he was, saying “good job” to all of us as he left. The “ding” (or “bing”) that Alison, Kara and I all said in unison was totally unplanned, which is hilarious! I think we all just wanted to revel a little bit in the blindside, and Carl’s “bing” had been so iconic. It was almost an homage to him in a weird way, but at the same time we were teasing him. We play Survivor to have fun too, after all!
Walking away from the vote against Carl, how were you feeling about the state of the game and your place within it?
Voting out Carl, I felt like tribal lines had completely been obliterated. I was hoping that the Davids wouldn’t see it as a betrayal of the Davids, but as a necessity to get out Carl, who was causing disharmony amongst us. Plus, how could I be blamed for betraying the Davids when they had already replaced me with Angelina? I was hoping that from then on, everyone would just play with whoever they had to in order to get threats out from the game. Whether that meant working with the same people I had just voted with, my original David alliance members, or even people I hadn’t worked with yet — that was all up in the air.
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