“Survivor” Champion Adam Klein – “This Is Going to Be an Epic, Iconic Encounter”

“Survivor: Winners at War” (CBS)

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Editor’s Note: The players were separated by gender and didn’t officially know the theme of the season when this interview took place.

Another Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted across from the giant “Boston” Rob and Sandra heads at the Island of the Idols.


Winner of “Millennials vs. Gen-X” (2016)

Name: Adam Klein

Age: 28

Hometown: Burlingame, California

Current Residence: Los Angeles, California

Occupation: Keynote Speaker and Host


Gordon Holmes: Hey, buddy!

Adam Klein: I tell ya, I’m happy to sit here and talk as long as you want. It is brutal down there. We’re down that way, it’s closed on every side that could give wind and open on the side that gives sun. We’re just baking in the heat.

Holmes: Tell ya what, this will probably be frowned on by production, but you’re welcome to hang out here and be my co-host.

Klein: That’d be great, but I don’t want them to know that I’m here.

Holmes: You want to spy shack it?

Klein: Yeah, can I do that for the other interviews?

Holmes: I’m sure CBS would be totally cool with that.

Klein: Just don’t tell them.


Holmes: What’s this hosting thing you’ve been doing? You live on an island? Your life is hopping from island to island?

Klein: I’m one of the ten hosts of “The Thirst Lounge.” It is a poker and lifestyle streaming channel based in the Virgin Islands.

Holmes: Sounds rough.

Klein: That’s where I’m living these days.

Holmes: You poor thing.

Klein: When I leave this island, I’ll go back to that one.

Holmes: I wasn’t aware you had a poker background.

Klein: I was hired more as an entertainer. I’m an aspiring poker player. I’m basically a break-even poker player at this point. That’s part of the fun of the show is you have some really good poker players, other people are just getting started.


Holmes: What other trouble have you been getting into?

Klein: After I won I went back and was working part time at the homeless shelter. I was dealing with the loss of my mother and the grief surrounding that. Living with my dad, but now he’s doing a lot better. I stayed there for a couple of years. About a year ago I moved back out, back into independent living. I moved to Los Angeles and became roommates with Jay Starrett from my season. He became my brother during the filming of the show and I started doing speaking. Motivation speaking…it clicked…it was something I enjoyed doing, something I’m good at. And, it’s given me another platform to make an impact.


Klein: Is that Sandra and Rob?

Holmes: It is.

Klein: No way…

Holmes: I’m imagine if you come out here and pull this off again, you could be the third head.

Klein: That is the dream. A giant sculpture of myself! Isn’t that something else? The ultimate dream.


Holmes: What do you think people think of when they think of your time in the game?

Klein: Tears.

Holmes: (Laughs) Tears. Exclusively?

Klein: A lot of tears. But, I don’t think a lot of people know what to make of my win. At the time, it bothered me, but now I see it as a massive advantage. I think people can’t decide if I won because of my social game or in spite of it. I think a lot of people think I was socially all over the place. There were times when I was all over the place, there were times when I was called an (expletive deleted). And then somehow I made it to the end and got all the votes. I also had a lot of strategic missteps. I played both of my idols incorrectly. I didn’t see Hannah (Shapiro) not voting out Dave (Wright) coming. I was on the wrong side of my very first vote when Mari (Takahashi) went home. So, people can’t figure out if I won because the jury respected my strategic game or they just liked me. And, I think it was because they liked me. I thought I had a great social game and I was able to connect authentically with the people who were out there.

Holmes: So, with that confusion about your strengths, how do you use that to your advantage?

Klein: I think if people think that I’m unlikely to get very many votes in the end, I think people will want to keep me around because they’ll think they can beat me.


Holmes: Some of these people are going to be meeting you for the first time. What kind of vibe are you hoping to put out there?

Klein: I want people to think that I’m so excited to be out here. The last time I played, I hid that I was this massive super fan. I didn’t reveal my encyclopedic knowledge of the game because it doesn’t help. But, the cat is out of the bag on that one. So, I want to use that to my advantage, I want people to think that I’m so excited to be meeting them, that I’m maybe a little star struck. They can sort of use me and manipulate me as a result of that. And this is going to take some work, but I want them to think of me as predictable and reliable. I think there’s a misconception that exists about me, there’s a lot of focus on the show about resume building, making big moves. And there are a lot of people who have ruined their game for the sake of making a big move. I don’t subscribe to that ideology of “Survivor” at all. I believe the game is about relationships and making smart decisions based on the relationships that you have. I won’t be doing anything for the sake of making a flashy move. I want everyone to know that about me, and that’s the truth. I’m going to be telling the truth about that. And, I can point to my last game and say I came into the merge with an alliance of six, the four that were left were the final four. I tried to get Dave out before that, but I played a kind of straight forward old-school game. I want them to know that the talk of trust clusters was just a smoke screen for what was really a strong alliance. I want people to see me as a strong ally. Someone like Yul, it’s going to be very important that I’m very rational. He’ll look at someone like Tony and think, “That guy can cut my throat at any second for any reason.”


Holmes: You don’t know for sure what the theme of this whole fiasco is. But, if you had to guess…

Klein: Gordon, c’mon. This is season 40, it’s the all winners season of “Survivor.” I don’t know if they’re going to call it “Clash of the Champions” or “Clash of the Titans”…”Tournament of Champions.” Who knows? But, there is not a doubt in my mind that there are ten women out here who have also won “Survivor.” This is going to be an epic, iconic encounter. And, I have the best seat in the world.

Holmes: Interesting theory. If there are women, any guesses as to who we’ll see?

Klein: Do you want me to name everybody?

Holmes: You could go back under the sweaty tent.

Klein: (Laughs) No, no, no…OK…the men have a little bit of an advantage to figuring it out because there are less female winners to pick from. You have to figure out who is not here. I think Vecepia (Towery) is not here, I think Natalie White is probably not here. I think Amber probably isn’t here. Basically, I think it’s Sophie, Sandra, Denise, Danni Boatwright, Michele, Sarah Lacina, Tina (Wesson) I’m not 100% sure on. I heard conflicting information. Maybe Amber if not Tina?

Holmes: Who are you hearing this information from?

Klein: People talk, Gordon. (Laughs)

Holmes: Anyone you’re concerned about?

Klein: Wait, Parv is here. Kim is here. I would put most people in the category of people who want to work with me. I think I come into this game with a pretty good meta game. I think I’ve met a bunch of them. I have good relationships with Danni and Sandra who I think will work closely together. I want to be a third in that group. I think they have a lot of relationships, so I have to be careful. I have a relationship with Ethan that I think nobody knows about. I’m very close with Ben, I’m very close with Michele. This may be my dying words, but I trust her. I really trust her. But, I don’t want anyone to know how close we are. I have a lot in common with Yul, we both went to Stanford, we’re both from the Bay area. I remember seeing his watch parties when I was in high school. If Tina is here, we connected at a charity event in a really emotional way. I had lost my mom, she had lost her son. And Tina is someone who I really relate to. And Gordon, I’ve been playing this game since before I started playing “Millennials vs. Gen-X.” And I think I started playing it in my interview with you. You asked me which previous players I wanted to play with, and I envisioned  myself playing an all winners game of “Survivor.” I thought, who would I want to align with?

Holmes: And you can point them to our interview and say…

Klein: Yes, I said Denise Stapley. I want to be her Malcolm. Saying that line in that interview is going to help me in this game. When we merged, I put forward the name Vinaka because Earl Cole, who unfortunately wasn’t here put forward the name Vinaka for the “Survivor: Fiji” merge tribe. I wanted to pay tribute to him and then if we ever played “Survivor” together, we’d have a connection.

Holmes: You’re playing 4-D chess and everyone else is playing checkers.

Klein: (Laughs) Well, I hope so! I hope that people haven’t been putting in as much effort as I have to putting in subtle relationships.


Holmes: You’re in lockdown, so you’re not allowed to talk. But, people wink and nod and stuff. Are you doing any of that?

Klein: I’m doing very little winking and nodding. Because whether people want to admit it or not. This is not pre-game. Pre-game has already happened. Anything that happens now is out in the open. If anything, I’m looking at who’s not looking at each other.

Holmes: What have you picked up from your time out here?

Klein: Honestly? Nothing. And this is so different from last time. Last time, I had so many observations about who was sitting next to home. Who seemed like there were smiling. There was a group of guys that were already starting to form. Now, it’s worthless. I don’t believe that anyone in this group is showing their hand during lockdown. I think there is going to be a lot of hiding of relationships. So, most of my collection of information was before we got here. I did my homework. I went back and listened to “Survivor Oz” interviews from five or six years ago. I listened to winners talking much more candidly about their relationships. But even then, people had the idea of a winners season in their mind. Who has a relationship with who. Who feels a little bit burned. I got the sense that there was maybe a little bit of love lost between Rob and Ethan. Ethan talked about all of the other early winners in such complimentary ways. He didn’t have much to say about Rob. The same with Tina. She refused to comment when asked about Rob and Amber. This was many years ago, so who knows, things could have changed.  But, I want to know what are the divides and what are the strong connections. Todd (Herzog) is not out here, but Todd and Sandra are incredibly close. Anytime that I’ve talked to Todd, I’ve talked about how much I love Sandra and how much I’d want to play with her. Same thing with Sandra about Todd. If I know person A is close with person B, it’s way more effective to tell person A that I trust person B than it is to tell person A that I trust person A. Because anyone can tell you, “I trust you.” But most people won’t lie about the other people that they trust.

Holmes: This is fascinating.

Klein: Thank you.

Holmes: I’m really impressed.

Klein: Please don’t pick me to win.

Holmes: Hey! I picked a winner once!

Klein: (Laughs) Who did you pick?

Holmes: Wendell.

Klein: Everybody picked Wendell.

Holmes: Yeah, but I picked him when he was one of twenty people in a jungle. I didn’t have video packages and a million interviews to help me decide.

Klein: Your track record is not so great.

Holmes: Yeah, but only if you consider one win and like twenty-some losses to be not great.

Klein: (Laughs)

Holmes: I blame Malcolm.

Klein: Oh no.

Holmes: We were out here for “Game Changers,” probably 20 yards away from where we are now, and he was all, “Pick me. We’re going to break your bad luck streak together.”

Klein: I’m not here to break any curses, I just want to win.


Klein: Are we doing Align or Malign?

Holmes: We are. Here are your nine buddies. Give me the four you’d work with and the five you would avoid.

Klein: I was looking forward to this. My first align is Ethan. Ethan and I have a connection that hopefully nobody else knows about.

Holmes: You mentioned this. How do you know each other?

Klein: We have the same manager.  But beyond that, I really respect him. I think he’s an incredible person. I want to be like him in many ways. And, we have a lot in common. He lost his father at an early age. I haven’t had cancer, but it’s been in my periphery. He’s worked in non-profit his whole career. I love what he does with Grassroots Soccer. Ethan is definitely an align. In a similar way, Yul is an align. I think he’s predictable, I think he’s smart, I think he’s rational. And, I think that we have a lot in common. I think we’d work well together. I’m going to say Ben. Ben is somebody that I just get along with really well. We went to an event together, a poker event in Reno, and there was a moment where it was just the two of us hanging out, and we got really emotional together. I think he’s been through a lot and we’ve built a connection that’s a little bit deeper than this game. And I’m going to say Tyson. Tyson is an align for me because we have also connected via the poker community. That may be something that people aren’t fully aware of. I think Tyson always wants a plan B. I think he’s going to align with some of the big threats in the game so it doesn’t turn into another “Game Changers” or “All-Stars” where the nobodies make it to the end. But, Tyson wants someone in his back pocket for when the war begins. I think I can be that person for Tyson.

Holmes: Alright, malign the rest.

Klein: My first malign is Jeremy. I think Jeremy is an incredible person. He is a massive threat. And I think he’s a threat to me personally because he’s very close to a lot of the people that I am close to. But, we don’t have much of a relationship. Jeremy also likes to be the center of a web of relationships. He has his Stephen Fishbach, his Joe (Anglim), he wants to be the person that they come to so the other person is voted out first. So, I’m worried that Jeremy will see me as a threat to his other relationships. That’s going to make him difficult vote out. I’m maligning him, but I wouldn’t want him to know that. I wouldn’t dare come after him right off of the bat. I really like Nick, but he’s a malign. It has nothing to do with Nick himself, but if people see Nick and I get together, and you throw in Ben or Michele…some of these newer, lower-tier winners…it will scare them into trusting each other. And when I talk about them I mean the big threats; the Tonys, the Robs, the Jeremys. If they see a group of nobodys, and I put myself in the group, it will force them to act. We will lose that war. Unfortunately, there may have to be some sacrifices made to make myself less threatening as a potential group. I think Nick would be someone that would be easier to vote out than most people. I will put Tony in the malign category because Tony knows what didn’t work for him last time. The threats couldn’t get it together. He’s going to have every incentive in the world to make sure the big dogs stick together. Tony doesn’t see me as a big dog. Rob…is a malign…you’re making me malign so many people.

Holmes: This game is a harsh mistress.

Klein: One of the things that I’d consider in my arsenal with Tyson, is I’d ask him how he feels about people seeing him and Rob as a group. I’m guessing he doesn’t want to be seen as a threat because of his affiliation with Rob. So, something I can say to Tyson is…am I going too long.

Holmes: Nah…have at it. You’re staying here all day anyway.

Klein: Yes. And it helps me to visualize this.

Holmes: Good, cause you’re my winner pick.

Klein: No, I’m not! Something I could say to Tyson is, “I’d love to work with you and Rob.” And I do have a connection with Rob through poker. Me, Tyson, Rob, Rob Cesternino, and Shirin (Oskooi) all played a game of poker together in Reno. It was a charity poker tournament, I won it heads up against “Boston” Rob in the final two. And when I won, I won $5,000 for charity, no one else got anything. I immediately offered to donate $1,000 of the money to Rob’s charity for coming in second and I thought he’d played the best poker that day. And Rob’s attitude towards me shifted instantly. Before that, it’s not that he didn’t have the time of day for me…

Holmes: No, I understand. There’s just a way that Rob is. I don’t think it’s negative.

Klein: Right. I just didn’t think he saw much value in me. I was just another person that was there. But, the moment I offered to donate to his charity, I thought that he respected me. And his whole demeanor changed. I may have made a very important, potential million-dollar shift in his perception of me. So, Tyson and Rob together, I could tell them I want to work with them, but I know how Tyson is. He likes having a plan B and I think he’s going to be nervous about his association with Rob. So, I can say to him, “If push comes to shove and the tide starts to turn against you guys, I will be there to protect you. It’s unlikely you and Rob can go to the end together, but if the train is going to hit one of you, I’ll be there for you.” It may be one of the few things he doesn’t tell Rob about. Wendell would have been an align, but you’re making me malign five. He’s here because he has a relationship with Jeremy. I like Wendell a lot, we’ve hung out socially and get along really well. I think Wendell gets along with everybody. There’s an image that Wendell has that he’s been making the rounds. He’s been going to a lot of events and making a lot of friends. And for that reason I worry about his longevity. He could be an early target.

Holmes: Of these four, who’s your ride or die?

Klein: I have the most loyalty to Ethan. I don’t know if I can beat Ethan in the end. I think if Ethan and I get to the end together, people will see it as Ethan’s doing. So, I’ll only take him if I think I can win.

Holmes: Of these five, who’s the first out?

Klein: I think Nick is first out, not because I want him to be, but because I’d be scared to go after Jeremy early. I’d be scared to go after Tony early.


Holmes: OK, this question is dumb.

Klein: (Laughs) Why is it dumb?

Holmes: Trust me.

Klein: I don’t get to align or malign the girls?

Holmes: If there are girls, how would we know which ones? So much mystery. OK, if an alien landed, which scene would you show them to prove to them that “Survivor” is awesome?

Klein: I would show a highlight reel of Jay and I’s relationship.

Holmes: Does it end with you guys sharing an apartment?

Klein: (Laughs) Yes! For now, but who knows what’s next. To be living with someone that you cannot trust within the game but can trust outside of the game, I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than that.


Holmes: If Jeff let you choose a twist for a season, what would you go with?

Klein: Honestly, what makes “Survivor” best at its core is when the show trusts the players to play and gives them as much room to play as possible. In this last season finale (“Edge of Extinction”), there was no room for social or political maneuvering in the final six. Was there even one normal vote in there where people were voting as standard on “Survivor”? There were so many idols and so many advantages and with the fire-making twist which…ugh…don’t get me started. It takes away what I love about the show which is; you have to survive the vote. An idol here or there makes for really entertaining television. But, when someone is going home because they’re the only one without an idol? To me, that’s not good television.

Holmes: Maybe your twist is at final seven or eight, no more advantages.

Klein: If I had my druthers, if the fire challenge is staying, I’d move up the round to final six. So at final five you have a true vote. There’s got to be one vote where everyone is vulnerable. If you get voted out because you’re the biggest threat in the game, you deserve to be voted out. You failed. The whole point of “Survivor” is to make people think that they can beat you in the end and to have them be wrong.


Holmes: Real quick, let’s do some Best Defense. I’ll give you a reason someone could use to target you, I need you to argue against it.

Klein: OK.

Holmes: That Adam is such a nice kid. Everybody loves him. I don’t want to sit next to that at final Tribal.

Klein: I kind of hope some people will say that to boost my image at the end. But, I don’t think many people will be saying that.

Holmes: True or not, that’s an angle someone could take to target you.

Klein: There are a lot of nice guys here. There are people with far better stories if you make it to the end. I hope people want to vote for me because I’m a nice guy, but that’s not going to cut it on this season.


Holmes: Look what he did to poor Jay. Stabbed his best buddy right in the back. Can’t trust this guy.

Klein: I was very direct with Jay. I told him that morning that I was voting him out. It was the most difficult thing I had to do in the game. I’m not going to (expletive deleted). If I tell you I’m with you, I’m with you. And if I say I’ll take you to the final four, but not pick you to go to the end, you should believe that because I’m not going to lie to you about taking you to the end.


Holmes: What was the whole deal with stolen food and Taylor (Stocker)? Seemed shady. Can’t trust that guy.

Klein: The worst thing I did was keep Taylor’s secret. If you want to steal food or do something devious, I am a reliable ally. I am with you. Play your game. As long as we are good, you and I, as long as you don’t vote me out and covet this relationship, play your game and I’ll see you in the final three.


Don’t miss the premiere of “Survivor: Winners at War” – Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 8 pm ET.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @GordonHolmes