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It’s hard to know what’s worse: losing Survivor villain Bradley Kleihege before the Ghost Island merger, or dirt and sand.
The latest episode of season 36 ended with a bombshell vote, as two members of the original Naviti tribe united with two players from the original Malolo to blindside Bradley — a baffling move on virtually every front, and one that requires some serious elaboration from someone in the know. Thankfully, Bradley’s available to clear the air, speaking here with The Hollywood Reporter about how his blindside came together, as far as he understands it.
Was Bradley ousted simply because he was an insufferable presence around camp? Was there a deeper strategic reason for Domenick and Chelsea to turn their backs on their original tribe mate? How awkward was it for Bradley to see the other members of the pre-merger crew, considering his role in leading the anti-Malolo charge? Read on for his answers to all of those questions and more.
Bradley, this is upsetting. Are you OK?
I’m OK. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wake up devastated every morning since it happened. (Laughs.) But in the grand scheme of life? I’m OK.
How was it watching the episode again? You had some friends over last night…
I did. I watched with Stephanie [Johnson] and Michael, and Stephanie’s two kids. Those poor two kids. They’ve met all of us pre-mergers now, and every week, they start crying and they look at Stephanie: “Mom, why are all of our friends getting voted out?” (Laughs.) Again, last night, they had no idea I was going home. They watched it, and as the votes start coming in, her older son looks at me with these big eyes and water starts pouring out: “Why does this keep happening?” And I’m like, “You and me both.”
Explain to me what happened, as best as you can — because right now, it doesn’t make sense.
The biggest thing to understand — and I’m 100 percent trying to look at this as a fan and not someone who’s trying to save face; I love my edit and I think it was really entertaining — but I was not perceived as a final Tribal Council goat. I was perceived as a threat to win the game. Domenick will tell you that. That’s what Jeff told me right after I was voted out. That’s what he said at Tribal: “Tonight’s the night you got the person out who probably would have won the game. Now that you got him out, maybe you’ll win the game.” What we don’t understand from a viewer standpoint is I didn’t trust Chelsea. She threw my name out there on day two. Luckily, it was to Kellyn, who ran and told me. I knew I couldn’t trust her. I thought I could at least trust Dom through that vote. I wasn’t crazy about being with those four people [in the third iteration of Naviti]. It was an unlucky swap for me. I was feeling hesitant, but I still didn’t feel like there was any compelling reason to get rid of me before the merge. I thought as soon as the merge hit, I would have to get rid of Chelsea or it would be me. But Dom thought I was voting out the people with kids, because they would be jury threats. First Brendan, then Stephanie, and he was worried I would do the same to him. In reality, Dom is one of my absolute favorite people from the cast. There’s almost nobody I had as much fun talking with out there and listening to their stories. That guy has the funniest stories in the entire world. I would have flipped on him at some point, but not for a good long while.
It would be helpful to get your take on the Naviti dynamics as you were looking down the barrel of the merger. What was the landscape from your perspective?
From my perspective, very quickly on day two, it was Wendell, Dom, Morgan, me and Kellyn. We swapped, and it was never battle-tested. Then Kellyn and I were 100 percent running the original Naviti at Malolo. The two of us would decide who we wanted to get rid of, and then we would go to the rest of the group individually, and then as a five we would wait until the others said what we wanted to have happen, and then we would encourage that. Everybody kept thinking it was their own decision. That’s why you have footage of Des and Chelsea suggesting how we should vote. It wasn’t their idea. They thought it was their idea, but they had also tossed out 10 other ideas we shot out of the water. Really, we had quite the grip on it. The other thing you don’t see is that Dom, while he’s on Naviti 2.0 and Kellyn and I are over at Malolo, is telling everybody: “One of them has to go. They’re too smart.” He didn’t want the two of us together. So, it was me with Kellyn, and I was very close with Sebastian as well. Me, Kellyn and Sebastian slept on the edge of the bed every night. That’s what we called ourselves: “The Edge of the Bed.” It was our alliance name. When we got with Jenna, we were the “Jungle Floor Four,” because the four of us would sleep in the bushes, because it was so freezing cold in the shelter since it was out in the wind. That was the dynamic. When I got to Naviti after the second swap, I was devastated to still be with Chelsea. She was someone I didn’t want to play with. I really didn’t trust her.
Tell me more about your game relationship with Chelsea, because we clearly have not seen a lot of her on the show.
Let me start by saying that outside of the game, Chelsea is a delightful person. She’s quite nice because she’s so normal and is very easy to hang out with outside of the game. Inside the game? She drove me crazy. She was not real, she was not interesting, she really just sat there. She was completely irrelevant, and that’s exactly what you’re seeing on TV. She was just fake. I played 19 days of the game with her, and not until day 17 did I feel like I had a real conversation with Chelsea about life, and it was about camping of all things. It was every day. Going out there, I wanted to have personal conversations with every single person, and I wanted to talk with everybody every single day, just to make sure I was checking in and making sure I was building personal bonds with them. That’s what I did, every day. It didn’t matter what it was about; I was going to have a conversation with Chelsea and try to get to know her. Survivor is relatively boring, without a whole lot to do, so of course I’m going to try to talk to her… but I could never get anything out of her. Coupled with knowing she threw my name out on day two? It was like, “Really?”
When Michael pulled out that idol [at the fourth Tribal Council], I really thought I was going home. What you didn’t see is that I started crying. I was a blubbering mess. Kellyn switched the vote. We were voting for Michael, and she switched it to Brendan. When Michael said his idol could be played for two, we didn’t believe him, but we figured if it did play for two, he would play one for himself and one for one of the girls. That’s why it switched to Brendan. I was completely incapacitated at that point, because I was so sure Chelsea was going to flip. There was never a second where I thought Sebastian was going to flip. He was my final-two alliance. We were going to the end, just because he wasn’t playing the game, and he’s super fun to be around. So Chelsea and I were never on the same page. It was a relationship of necessity.
The past two episodes have led us to believe Domenick was targeting Libby. Are they closer than we’re being led to believe?
No, I don’t think so.
Then it was just a matter of taking the opportunity to come after you?
Yeah, I think it was. The way Dom has explained it to me, and we’ve talked about it more times than it’s needed to be talked about, is that it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. He didn’t want to get to the merge with me and Kellyn both there. At that point, and what you didn’t see as much, is that it was me, Kellyn and Michael. We also had Sebastian, Jenna and Des. Kellyn thought she has Chelsea for at least a little while. Going into that situation, we felt we were going to be in a power position, and that position did not include Dom.
Michael was part of your plans? Was your rivalry overblown, then?
It was not overblown at the time. Michael and I did not get along at all in the beginning. It was so weird how strange the dynamic was at Malolo when we first got there. The original Malolos wouldn’t sleep in the shelter with us. They wouldn’t talk to us. The four of them went to the beach after the swap and cried. Me of all people, who isn’t the most empathetic person in the entire world, went down there and said, “Guys, we haven’t even lost yet! I just want to get to know you! Let’s work together! Kellyn and I are very good at puzzles, so chances are good we might not even have to go to Tribal Council! Let’s not be devastated with two days to go before we have an immunity challenge!” As a viewer, it looks like we shut them down and wouldn’t talk strategy. We worked the four of them, day and night, trying to get one of them to flip with us. They just wouldn’t. They wanted to stick together, the four of them. As soon as Brendan went home, the remaining three ran as fast as they could to me and Kellyn and wanted to flip on each other. They were a day late and a dollar short. Sorry, guys. But through that, both Kellyn and I really liked Michael. We got along with him very well. Shortly after Brendan went home, that’s when we started bonding with Michael. We realized that he was somebody we would want to play the game with. He’s great at it. He would be a fantastic ally to have. I’m really bummed I didn’t make it another day, because I think all of the alliances would have shifted. As a fan, I never went in wanting to run a majority alliance, wanting to Pagong the people on the bottom. You imagine yourself as a fan wanting to play from the Michael standpoint, being an underdog. I was definitely ready to make some moves. I was bummed that the hand I was dealt, while great — I was in the majority — didn’t make the gameplay super exciting.
What would have happened if you had survived another day, if all had gone according to plan on your way to the end of the line?
The game plan was to take Jenna and Sebastian to the end. I thought I could beat them. I knew I was going to have a very uphill battle beating anybody that was strategic and had a compelling story, or was slightly more personable. I’ll say it looks like everyone hated me on the show, but we were closer than we appeared. Even Stephanie, we talked strategy and about life, and we were close before I voted her out. Now we’re super close, because we ran around Australia for three weeks. I was definitely going to play with Michael and Kellyn. They were going to be my two closest strategic allies. From there, I had Sebastian, Jenna and Des. I was very close with Wendell, too. He was my day-one alliance. Immediately, it was me, Wendell and Morgan. And I had Dom as well to bring into it. What you didn’t see is that I was the middle person in bringing Dom and Wendell together on day one. They chopped me out of that, but that’s OK.
In the preseason, one of the things you said was no matter where you placed, you wanted to make sure this season was as good as it could possibly be.
Do you take solace knowing you were the villain of the pre-merger? It’s been a long time since I have rooted against someone as hard as I rooted against you, in a really fun way. Have you enjoyed your time on the show?
I have loved every single second of it. Oh, my goodness. It was so crazy last week with that ridiculous confessional about how I’m even better than I thought.… I don’t remember saying that! Sitting there and watching it for the first time, I was like, “Oh, my god. I am so fucking funny on TV.” (Laughs.) I have loved every single second of it. I played a little too hard and too fast, but at the same time, I did exactly what I set out to do. I wanted to be the villain. I always loved the villains on the show, since I was a kid. In that aspect, I think I added a lot to the season. I’ve been taken aback at the outpouring of support and the magnitude of the amount of people that have been talking about me. It’s been really, really cool. I’ve been very surprised.
• Week 1: Gonzalez and Jacob’s exits, explained
• Week 2: The return of James Clement’s idol
• Week 3: Michael’s “double idol” gamble
• Week 4: Ending Stephanie’s dreams
• Week 5: Probst on James’ elimination
• Week 6: The return of three iconic artifacts
Weekly exit interviews:
• 20th place: Stephanie Gonzalez
• 19th place: Jacob Derwin
• 18th place: Morgan Ricke
• 17th place: Brendan Shapiro
• 16th place: Stephanie Johnson
• 15th place: James Lim
• 14th place: Bradley Kleihege
Preseason player profiles:
• Angela Perkins
• Bradley Kleihege
• Brendan Shapiro
• Chelsea Townsend
• Chris Noble
• Desiree Afuye
• Domenick Abbate
• Donathan Hurley
• Jacob Derwin
• James Lim
• Jenna Bowman
• Kellyn Bechtold
• Laurel Johnson
• Libby Vincek
• Michael Yerger
• Morgan Ricke
• Sebastian Noel
• Stephanie Gonzalez
• Stephanie Johnson
• Wendell Holland
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