‘Survivor’ Castaway Zeke: ‘I’d Rather Go Out Swinging Than Go to the End and Lose’

"Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X" (CBS)

“Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X” (CBS)

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Gordon Holmes: You were a pleasure to watch!
Zeke Smith: Aw thanks, man. I wanted to be entertaining.
Holmes: You weren’t just entertaining. As I’m watching I’m thinking, “This is how I would want to do it.”
Smith: (Laughs) That means a lot. Thanks!

Holmes: How confident were you that you had Will’s vote?
Smith: I actually thought I had the odds about 60/40 that Will was going to stick with me because it made sense for Will to stick with me. I needed Will much more than he needed me. Both Jay and I were great shields for him. And, Will just went to rocks for me. You’d think that would create some kind of solidarity. You think you’d want to take a break from the shifting social dynamics and just vote for people for a while. But, I knew it was likely that he would flip.

Holmes: What is it about this season that everyone seems to be swinging for the fences. You don’t have any Rancher Ricks who are going to let the bigger players use them as a vote.
Smith: The greatest thing about this season is that the cast is filled with fans. I think maybe with the exception of Ken, everybody has watched maybe 20+ seasons of the show. So, everyone comes in understanding the game and knowing, as Probst loves to say, you’ve got to make big moves to win. Nobody wants to float by.

Holmes: Why was the decision to turn on David made so early? It seems like there were some easy votes like Jay that could’ve whittled the numbers down first.
Smith: Jay and I were close. I thought Jay would be a good meat shield to keep around. Dave and I thought about the game very similarly. We were always on the same page with the next strategic move. And then I think looking ahead, we saw that we’d have to come for one another. Then it became a race to the bottom. I’ve got to get him before he gets me. And I was concerned because he had an idol and I didn’t. I thought it would take a couple of votes to flush the idol before I could get him out. So for me, I had to have a large enough coalition to flush the idol.

Holmes: There have been some great personal moments this season. One of them was when Bret came out to you during the reward. When something like that happens in the game, is your first instinct to question if it’s being done to win your favor?
Smith: For me it felt really genuine. The Zeke and Bret drinking buddies…we’d established at the merge. I tried to establish relationships with people based on what we had in common. I didn’t have a lot in common with Bret except that we both like to drink.
Holmes: All three of us have that in common.
Smith: (Laughs) We should all go drinking in Hell’s Kitchen some night.
Holmes: Deal.
Smith: I thought we were buddies and it came so organically. And, I was just really touched. It’s a big deal to come out on national television. Especially for someone who’s a cop. He’s a big macho guy. I was so proud of Bret and so privileged to be in that moment with him. And to continue to be his friend as he’s gone through this process and anticipated this episode coming out…I’m just so proud of him. And as if he wasn’t enough of a hero, on Sunday’s he’s receiving a reward from the Boston Mayor’s office for saving a guy’s life.
Holmes: Oh, wow.
Smith: Yeah, so Bret’s the real deal.

Holmes: You’re watching at home and you hear Will say that nobody can beat you. That’s gotta be nice.
Smith: I made a promise to myself to go out every day and play to win. So, that if I got to the end, there’d be no doubt I was the winner. I’d rather go out swinging than go to the end and lose. I think there’s no better way to leave the game than to be voted out because nobody can beat you. I think, maybe I don’t beat Dave depending on who the third person is. But, I put myself in a position where I think I’d win against anyone I was up against.

Holmes: Was there any talk that Adam’s choice not to use his reward steal was a strategic move rather than an emotionally motivated one?
Smith: None of us knew that Adam’s mother was dying. And if we did know he wouldn’t have had to play the advantage because of course we would’ve taken him. Nobody would have competed in the challenge. We’d have said, “Adam wins.” But, he made the strategic choice not to tell anyone. I think part of the frustration you’re seeing with Adam is he tells everyone that he’s going to use it for the loved ones visit. And it’s kind of a threat. If you don’t take me, I’m going to steal your loved ones visit from you. And the loved ones visit is very important, it was upsetting. So, after five or six days of him telling everyone that, he told us he wasn’t going to. I do think that was a smart decision for him.
Holmes: It seems like that advantage is more trouble than it’s worth. It’ll upset someone without enough gain. What would you have done with it?
Smith: I think I would have taken a note from the Gabon merge and thrown it into the water.
Holmes: Anytime you can take notes from Randy Bailey, you’ve gotta do it.
Smith: Exactly. (Laughs)

Holmes: Is Hannah the worst liar in the world?
Smith: Oh gosh…Hannah…yeah. Not a lot of poker face there. We’re both members of the Upright Citizens’ Brigade and every night we’d spend two or three hours on the beach talking strategy. I’ll never understand why she flipped from 6-4 to 5-5. I guess she just liked Ken better than she liked me. She has really good thoughts on the game, she has good reads. I think where she errs is in her execution. If Hannah could lie to me like I lied to Chris, I’d have gone home.

Holmes: Do you think the attitude toward Ken switched a bit after what happened between him and Will last night? It was the first time he lost his cool.
Smith: No, that was consistent with the Ken we knew. Ken’s a bit of an anomaly because everyone left in the game is a big “Survivor” fan. They’re playing a strategically advanced game. But, Ken’s not. He isn’t operating from the same logical paradigm as everyone else. There are a lot of questions about Ken and how he’s been playing.

Holmes: Word association time. Let’s start with Mari.
Smith: Rad.
Holmes: Chris?
Smith: Ginger bear.
Holmes: Michaela?
Smith: Bad ass.
Holmes: David?
Smith: Master.
Holmes: CeCe?
Smith: Spartan.
Holmes: Michelle?
Smith: Spiritual?
Holmes: Adam?
Smith: So strong.
Holmes: Figgy?
Smith: Firey.
Holmes: Sunday?
Smith: Darling.
Holmes: Jay?
Smith: Warrior.
Holmes: Jessica?
Smith: Those eyes.
Holmes: Hannah?
Smith: My friend.
Holmes: Taylor?
Smith: Viking.
Holmes: Will?
Smith: Smelly.
Holmes: And Bret?
Smith: My drinking buddy.

Holmes: There aren’t really any jerks on this season. There are a lot of people to root for and the other people aren’t offensive. This really stood out during the Tribal where you and Bret got a little personal with David and it was shut down pretty quickly. Was that intentional that people wanted to keep it civil or is that just how the cast is?
Smith: I think it’s a little bit of both. The players do make the game. And that comment from Bret and I was really stupid. It was an intense Tribal and everyone was thrown when David asked the members of my alliance to raise their hands. It was like, “Whoa.” We’d never come for each other. It was intense, it was stupid. We joked a lot about crying and being sad. It’s like during Bret’s loved ones visit where we said, “You losah.” We just had a playful ribbing of each other. But without that context and in the heat of Tribal it became much more malicious than anyone had intended. When we realized that we were getting riled up everyone dialed it back. We played with a tremendous amount of respect for each other. I think it’s because we all love the game and respect that it’s just a game.

Holmes: Say the Will vote goes in your favor, how do you see the rest of the game going?
Smith: Well, that’s assuming we dodge Adam’s penis idol and Hannah goes home. Then we would have had the numbers to get Dave. I think my job would be to continue to create chaos and encourage the fluidity of alliances. Because if people start to get an accurate picture of the game, then I’m in trouble. I think my advantage was I had more information and had a bigger picture of how people were interconnected. If I can keep people confused, people will cling to me. I’m a lighthouse on a foggy night. I think I’d have to win a couple of immunities. So, I don’t know if I had a clear path to the end.

Holmes: Would the loved ones visit have turned differently if your father had known you had voted out an Oklahoma Sooner?
Smith: (Laughs) Yeah, I don’t know if he would have called me his hero. He’d be a little upset at me for voting out a national champion.

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