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Survivor's Adam Klein on Why Carolyn Is the Favorite to Win Season 44

The winner of Millennials vs. Gen X sees the makings of an underestimated champion.
  • Adam Klein (Photo: CBS)
    Adam Klein (Photo: CBS)

    Every week, we're following up the latest Survivor episode with some post-game analysis by a different Survivor alum. This week's episode couldn't help but feel like a letdown, as there was no formal Tribal Council because Matthew ultimately couldn't endure his dislocated shoulder any more and was pulled from the game. Still, there is plenty to discuss this week, including Carolyn's eye-opening reward lunch with alpha bros Danny and Brandon, who weren't shy about making plans for an alliance of Big Strong Guys right in front of her. Carolyn's righteous indignation over being so slighted looked like it was going to lead to she and Yam Yam ousting Josh (a potential Big Strong Guys recruit) before Jeff probst arrived and canceled Tribal Council on account of Matthew's exit.

    To discuss all these developments and more, we reached out to two-time Survivor player and the winner of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, Adam Klein.

    What do you make of Carolyn, and how far do you think she can go in this game?

    I mean, right now I think Carolyn's the favorite to win the whole thing. If I had to pick winner equities for the whole cast, I feel like she is in a very good spot, not only because if the final vote were right now she certainly has a lot to say about why she deserves to win. But I also think that nobody's going to really buy that going into the merge. I don't think that anyone is really looking at her as a threat. The fact that we've already heard them discussing Yam Yam as threatening makes it seem easy to believe, if that's what they believe, that Caroline is sort of just along for the ride. And obviously she's had a much bigger presence in the decisions that have been made on that tribe than people realize. So it'll be interesting to see if she continues to be underestimated and continues to be seen as somebody that could be disposable later on. But I think a lot of people are going to go down for thinking that before she gets eliminated, if she ever does.

    It does seem like a lot of what she's doing is masked by her personality, which seems outwardly so erratic and goofy, and she fits the profile of a non-serious non-contender on Survivor.

    I think the people that have the best chance to win any season of Survivor change depending on the recent history of the show. So if somebody is about to go out now to film Season 45 or 46, and they've just seen Gabler win, who was seen as not a threat the entire time, and now it's looking like somebody like Carolyn could also win, or Yam Yam, or somebody who's not a traditional threat, and they're doing really well. And a lot of that is because these are people who are not traditionally seen as somebody we have to focus on immediately to get rid of as a threat. But that will probably swing the other way, like if you're going out there now, maybe people are going to pay more attention to those kinds of people and say "We can't let that happen again." It's just interesting how that evolves depending on what has happened recently.

    Speaking about the "Sanctuary" reward and how Carolyn reacted to Brandon and Danny and the way they were talking about her: how did you react when you noticed people on your seasons were underestimating you?

    Certainly I felt that happening on Millennials vs. Gen X. I remember Chris [Hammons] coming up to me and saying, "You and I could go all the way to the end together," and I'm thinking "This is amazing." I realized that it's only happening because Chris believes — and is probably right about the fact — that if we go to the end together, he's going to just smoosh me at final tribal council, but it's a good place to be early on. It's not where you want to be by the end of the game. But it's not a bad thing when you're getting into the merge portion of the game, to have people looking at you going, "This is somebody that I can beat."

    I think the same thing happened at Winners at War, and I think if I had played a different kind of game where I had allowed myself to be dragged along a little bit more, I think there is a good chance that I could have made it to the final three and got clobbered. But the goal for me both times I've played, and I think for anybody going out there, should always be to maximize your chances of winning the game, even if that means that you might have a higher chance of losing the game in the process. You don't go out there to come in second or third place; you've got to go for it. So one time it worked out for me, and the other time it didn't, but I would rather win once and lose earlier once than go to the end twice and lose at the end.

    We got a couple scenes of players bonding this week. We got Yam Yam and Josh sharing their coming-out stories with each other; we got Carson and Kane bonding over their nerd status. When it comes to making alliances on the show, how important is it to make a personal connection versus just strictly having shared strategic interests?

    It's massive, absolutely massive, and I think that it is more difficult than ever to make that happen on these really fast-paced seasons that are only 26 days long. You end up seeing conversations like the one that Kane and Carson had, where they're bonding [over] being nerds, they were on what seemed to be probably a pretty short walk. I have lived on that island, I know there's not that far to go. So that was a quick conversation, and having a quick conversation about "Oh we both watch Marvel or Lord of the Rings or Pokémon" might seem like bonding, but I don't know that it's enough. To me, that feels like maybe a little bit of a red herring, to make it seem like those two are really close.

    But that's not the kind of deep emotional bonding that is going to create a lasting alliance. And maybe they're having that conversation elsewhere, and we're just not seeing it. Little things about "Oh, you like this team, and I also like this team," like I don't know, those things are a little surface level and not truly bonding. I think the real bonding scenes are probably the ones that you wouldn't see on the show, where we're talking about things that maybe won't matter as much to the audience, such as your loved ones at home or your relationship at home, what your plans are for getting married or for your kids or some things that might take longer than they have time to show in the episode.

    I imagine it's harder to throw someone overboard if you've created that personal bond rather than just somebody who you've been strategically aligned with.

    What was the scene with Hai and Romeo [in Season 42], a beautiful scene where they talked about similar things [as Yam Yam and Josh], but Hai and Romeo, did they ever vote together? I'm pretty sure they were immediately at odds.

    They were at odds before that conversation, and they were at odds after that conversation.

    So, you know, these moments can be really beautiful to watch, but whether they really impact the votes, not necessarily. It really depends on so much that we don't see.

    It feels like we've come a very long way from Sue Hawk getting offended that Kelly Wigglesworth was going to vote against her. It just feels like today's players now have much more of an attitude like "We can be cool, we can bond, but we can then turn around and try and vote each other out."

    Another thing that I have been feeling a lot throughout this season is that because there have been so many wrinkles thrown in to these votes, whether it be people losing votes, giving up votes to play shot in the dark, gaining different advantages, idols and fake idols — basically every vote so far this season has not been purely determined by social and political strategy.

    Of course, it has been influenced by those things, but every single vote has been influenced heavily in some way by the absence or presence of advantages and missing votes. So when you think about why Helen went out of the game, it was the only thing that could have happened. Sarah doesn't have a vote, and so what is Carson gonna do, vote and make a tie? That's never going to happen. As long as Yam Yam was with Carolyn, that was never going to happen. So he did the only thing that you could do. Now, you could argue that Helen could have done the same thing, so obviously there is still some wiggle room there, but for the most part, these votes have been playing themselves. And that's not that fun to watch, if I'm being honest.

    It's certainly not as fun as watching people play with their hearts or their full set of emotions.

    And to be able to have choices! Carson didn't have a choice [in the Helen vote]. His hand, I believe, was totally forced by the lack of his alliance having [all their votes]. So again, that vote sort of played itself, it was always gonna happen that way. I think when you look at the season of Australian Survivor that just aired, you see that when you really let the players play free of too much interference, some really incredible things can happen. I feel like the show is getting a little too far away from that.

    You can't say for sure how Tribal would have gone for Tika, but it sure seems like Josh may have lucked out once again by circumstance. Which is a part of the game; I imagine nobody can win a game of Survivor without some bit of luck. What would you say was your biggest moment of good fortune that helped you win in "Millennials vs. Gen X"?

    Probably my swap tribe. Swaps are massive, they can make or break your game, and so many good players have gone out because of unfortunate swap scenarios. So to even end up in a position where you have options where you're not just totally screwed from the start. I remember going into the swap, I was like "As long as I don't swap with Taylor and Figgy, I'm good with everybody else on my tribe." And then of course I swapped with only Taylor and Figgy from my tribe. And I'm like, "Oh my God, this is my worst nightmare," but it turned out they didn't really know that I was coming after them very hard, so I had options. I could go with them or I could go with the Gen-Xers, and I think that having that choice really set me up for the rest of the game.

    I do think that even though luck has always been a very important part of Survivor, it feels like in this season especially, maybe more than ever, that it's becoming increasingly important. It's even becoming important in terms of who does and doesn't get advantages. The first time they went to the summit, they were forced to put their hand in a bag. And I genuinely believe that the producers want to design a game that allows players to play. I think we have the same idea of "let the players play" that the producers do. But the difference is how they think it's best to go about that, and that's where I think a lot of fans disagree.

    We talked about Carolyn before, but what other players have stood out to you?

    Since Matthew was the one who went out, I feel like I should say something about him. I do casting coaching now with people, so I work with people who desperately want to get on Survivor, have been dreaming about it for years and would do anything to get out there. So to see somebody out there like that — I feel like I know so many people like Matthew who wanted it so bad and prepared so many years and have done everything to get out there — for him to leave, he must have been in absolutely excruciating pain. And obviously, he shouldn't have been climbing that rock. I lived on that beach for a long time, I never once had the thought that, oh maybe I should go climb that thing. It looks about as dangerous as it was when he did it. So that was obviously a big mistake. I just feel very badly for him that he was in that much pain, because it could not have been easy to give up that opportunity for somebody who wanted it that bad. It must have been really, really painful.

    Well, here's to another Second Chances season.

    Yeah, that would be great.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM ET on CBS. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Adam Klein, Jeff Probst