Originally posted Friday, December 14, 2018 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
“Survivor” is so compelling because it creates paradoxes. Sometimes, you can be a mean person and back stab and lie and cheat and win the game because you outsmarted everyone. Sometimes, you can be sociable and thoughtful and (quietly) back stab folks in a way that nobody feels bad about it - and win.
But it also means that players are now savvy enough to hone in on people they see as threats and take them out because they are 1) challenge beasts 2) over-strategizers or 3) too nice and smart at the same time.
Christian Hubicki, a former post-doctoral student at Georgia Tech who recently became a Florida State University robotic professor, was no. 3 all the way. He was fundamentally likable, a super bright strategist who had a knack for getting along with everybody with a smile and a hug. The producers loved him. His castmates loved him. TV viewers loved him.
He had to go.
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The other six contestants knew he would be a shoo-in to win if he made it to the final three. Only Atlantan Davie Rickenbacker was really on his side this past week and even he might have turned on Christian at some point.
Christian this past Wednesday finished a respectable 7th place out of 20 contestants and will sit on the jury that will decide next Wednesday who will take home the 37th $1 million “Survivor” prize. As he exited, he looked a bit bedraggled with a beard that desperately needed trimming. But he left with no bitterness, expressing joy about the experience and making it to the penultimate episode.
I spoke with him Thursday. Here are excerpts:
As a super fan, he knew some unwritten rules going in: “There’s a basic playbook. You don’t tell someone they’re going home right before tribal council. Not to bag on Angelina but that’s what she did. That’s perplexing. You also don’t take charge when building your shelter. It tends to turn people off. You also have to know how idols are hidden.”
On Atlantan Davie, who remains in the game and saved Christian twice: “He’s there to play and have a good time and try to win. If I have any regrets from the season strategically, I should have trusted Davie more. I knew in the back of my head that Davie would cut me at some point. And I would not have blamed him for it. When my relationship with Nick went south, I impressed that upon Davie as well. I can’t trust him either!” (Given Davie’s loyalty, at this point, he is rooting for Davie to win.)
On surviving although he was a target every week once the merge happened: “I did everything I could to keep myself around. Every week meant one less immunity idol to find, one last challenge to win.”
Too many challenges where he had to balance on a beam: “Any challenge where I had stand on a perch, which was the first, second, fifth and last immunity challenge. They were really into that this year. That was tough. If I had known, I would have lived on a balance beam for six months!” (He did practice his balance at lab meetings by standing on one foot for long lengths of time, something he is sure nobody noticed.)
The “ball” challenge and Jeff Probst’s commentary: “He’s trolling us. He made much more obvious double entendres that didn’t even make the final cut. I enjoyed it. It helps me more than it helped other people. I like talking during challenges. It takes my mind off the pain.”
On his epic challenge win against Alec that dragged on for six-plus hours: “When I’m talking, I feel no pain. As an academic, my job is to jibber and jabber. I like to think I was entertaining to most of the people except Alec... I didn’t hear a thing he was saying. I thought he was fine. But watching it on TV, I realized, wow, he was actually being worn down.”
The most unusual thing he learned: “I didn’t know I could grow a gorilla beard. Seeing that was weird.”
Did exhaustion and lack of nutrition catch up to him? “I really felt it in that final episode. That’s when the fatigue set in. I hadn’t gone on a reward for a good seven days since the “wraps and letters” win before Alec was voted out. Even the revenge rice [Angelina’s specialty] wasn’t enough to get me back on track. That was the hardest part of the game: the loss of mental focus.”
Mike White, who wrote “School of Rock,” engineered Christian’s departure: “I walked away impressed by Mike. I didn’t know he was plotting against me. He was the one person who had the most information and was most likely to screw me over. He did a good job luring me over the last week as an alliance partner. Meanwhile, he was working aggressively to get me out. Good for him. He’s playing to win.” [He provided EW scribe Dalton Ross with even more detail on how Mike played “the long con” by having late-night rendezvous discussions with Christian as a way to make Christian think they were tight to the end.]
Will Mike’s celebrity hurt him among the jurors? Not for Christian personally. “I’m a person who loves and respects the game. The interesting thing about ‘Survivor’ is everyone comes into it on an even playing field. If Bill Gates came out and played an amazing game, how could I not call him the winner? To me the game is not about the money. It’s how you navigate this beautiful social experiment.”
So could he win? Yes! “Mike said to me a couple of days before I left. ‘You know - I think I could take a dump in the middle of camp and survive the vote. People for some reason don’t see me as a threat.’ That’s a graphic metaphor but he stays in the background.”
On good ol’ boy Nick: “Nick is very clever. I commend him on the fake idol shenanigans. Good for him. He’s a great example of someone who’s clever and strategic but because of his overall demeanor, he can get away with it without being a target. The holy grail is to make a lot of moves but people don’t see you as a threat.”
On being seen as a threat himself: “In retrospect, I see that I was. It was a surprise in the game. When I was out there, it was a total shock. Someone liked me! I saw myself being most like David Wright from season 33. He almost went home first, then he got close to the end. I saw myself as a likely threat early and late. But I was targeted at the merge. You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s crazy! And any path to the end will be insane. Whatever I needed to get from vote to vote, some path to get to the end. Don’t worry about the jury: just get there!
On getting 15 votes and still surviving until the 13th tribal: “I dodged a lot of bullets. I felt accomplished at that point.”
On how well he got along with the other tribemates: “I certainly under-estimated my effect on the other tribe members. I get along fine when doing my post doc at Georgia Tech hanging out with fellow scientists. But how will I get along with Carl the truck driver or Elizabeth, the expediter in the kitchen or the Mayor of Slamtown? I thought I might annoy people and get voted out early or pull every charm trick in the book to get me in the middle of the pack. When I got to the merge, I didn’t realize people saw me as some sort of social beast. I miscalculated.”
On self-proclaimed super negotiator Angelina: She made an enormous mistake telling Elizabeth about going home publicly. I hate to penalize people for one mistake but it really put her on the bottom. She’s also surviving a lot of votes. Now she seems to be in a decision-making role. Good for her. But how much of that is agency and intention and how much is happenstance. ‘Oh gosh. She made such a big mistake, nobody is taking her seriously.’ I don’t know.”
On Kara, who has been nearly invisible this game strategically: “She’s the person I have strategized the least. I don’t know why. I like Kara so much. She’s a classy, awesome person. She’s stealthy. She’s likable in a way that if you have a conversation with her, it doesn’t stick with you... I wouldn’t say Kara is so well liked she will win in the end. But if she can point to her game and what she did and why, that’s the kind of thing I would care about as a juror.”
On Alison: “She’s very confident in her strategic game. She’s now being targeted. [Christian voted for her this week, along with Davie.] She’s taken on the mantle as a threat in the game and is probably viewing herself that way. The question is whether she’ll do something that will get her to the end.”
Would he go back for another round of the show? “It’s something I would take seriously.”
And what did he take from the experience? “It was almost transcendently neat to be out there plotting with people, working with people. You’d never otherwise get to be a confidante with a Hollywood millionaire and vote together. It’s so cool. [He’s referencing Mike White.] I always wanted to create that experience.”
“Survivor: David vs. Goliath” season finale, Wednesday, December 19, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. (or just past that.) It runs straight into the live reunion show where the winner is officially crowned.