“Survivor” Champion Michele Fitzgerald – “There’s No Blueprint on How to Win”

“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 “Kaôh Rōng” (2016)

Name: Michele Fitzgerald

Age: 29

Hometown: Freehold, New Jersey

Current Residence: Hoboken, New Jersey

Occupation: Business Development Manager


Gordon Holmes: What’ve you been up to since we saw you last…other than winning the Xfinity “Survivor” Power Rankings?

Michele Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Yes, besides that, I was a bartender at the time. “Survivor” gave me a chance to reflect and decide what my next step in life should be. So, I moved into the travel industry. I moved into educational travel for a little while, sending students abroad, which was really fulfilling. And now, I work for a hotel company. It’s an all-inclusive hotel company, so I get to take agents to my hotels, schmooze them a little, do tequila tastings. Sunset cruises, it’s a great gig.

Holmes: Holy cow, I get to come here and do things like this. I’m thinking, I have the greatest job ever. But, then I hear this?

Fitzgerald: It’s a good gig.


Holmes: This isn’t written in stone, but I’m pretty sure if you pull off this win, they’ll get you one of those giant heads over there.

Fitzgerald: I would love that. (Laughs) I don’t know if I want my head quite that big, but I’m coming for the crown. Here’s the thing, it’s a bigger crown if you win against all winners. It’s the best of the best.

Holmes: Is that what you think is going on here? All winners?

Fitzgerald: Yeah, from what I gather, I’m with the girls and they’re all winners. Either way, it’s going to be epic.

Holmes: So, ten women on an island, and that’s it?

Fitzgerald: I think it’s going to be ten women and then ten men.

Holmes: That would be amazing if it was true.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Wouldn’t it!

Holmes: If there are any men, and I’m not saying if there are. Who do you think it is?

Fitzgerald: I think they got the O.G. (Richard) Hatch. Hopefully Ethan, I think he’s great. Mike (Holloway), “Boston” Rob, I don’t know. I’m excited to see whoever it is. Because I already didn’t expect this group of women. I’m already off kilter a little bit. I’m not sure.

Holmes: Is there anyone you don’t want to see?

Fitzgerald: Hmm…

Holmes: Other than me.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Everybody has pros and cons to working with them. Everybody is on an even playing field, but there are layers of threats. How cutthroat were they, how much did they mastermind their season? I think I land on the lower tier which is in my favor. However, the higher-tier players, I hope they’re out there because I want to win. I want to win against the best.


Holmes: What do you think people remember about you and your game?

Fitzgerald: I think they probably remember that it was a really controversial win. It was a…tough…season. A lot of medical evacuations. Cambodia was especially grueling. So, people tend to remember those situations. And for me in particular I think they think that I played an old-school game in the new-school era. That’s really untraditional these days. We see a lot of flashy moves, big gameplay. And for someone to come in and lean toward the social aspect, people were taken aback. I think it’s a testament to my gameplay that I was able to do something a little more untraditional these days and get to the end.

Holmes: You referred to your win as controversial. I’m assuming you’re alluding to the fact that many critics believed that Aubry (Bracco) should have won.

Fitzgerald: I was against two fierce competitors and the audience loved them, naturally. They’re both amazing. They played a flashier game than me. So, people were in one corner or the other. That made it a big topic of conversation.

Holmes: Does that put a chip on your shoulder? A chance to prove the first win wasn’t a fluke…ow…

Fitzgerald: You OK?

Holmes: I got sunblock in my eye.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Aww…that sucks.

Holmes: I don’t blame you.

Fitzgerald: Thank you for not blaming me, but that is the worst. I wouldn’t say it puts a chip on my shoulder. That feels really negative like I have something to prove, and maybe there is a little something I have to prove to myself and inadvertently to other people. I want to win and I want people to look at my season and say, “She deserved it then and she deserves it now as well.” I really want that experience. I want to play a superior game to last season for me. I think I only used one tool in my tool box and I have a lot more that I want to show. I want to show multi-faceted Michele.

Holmes: Is that an advantage that people have only seen social Michele when knife-wielding Michele is lurking in the background?

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Knife wielding! I’m hoping they do underestimate me. It’d be foolish for any winner to underestimate any other winner. We got here for a reason. Even if it’s not our style of gameplay…that’s the beautiful thing about this game, you can win in any way. There’s no blueprint on how to win. If people underestimate me, shame on the them, but great for me. So, I’ll lean into that little bit. The benefit is if I can use that to shield myself and then gain momentum and traction, people won’t even know there was a snake in the grass until it bites them. That’s my hope, my goal is to form as many alliances as possible and navigate through the game in a way that’s undetectable at first and then fierce at the end.


Holmes: If we’re dealing with all winners, I think I’d have a little bit of fear that some people will be more interested in making a big name for themselves than they are necessarily in winning.

Fitzgerald: It’s hard to understand how winners might play. For the most part, whatever they did the first season is what got them the win. So, you’d think you should go down that path because it produced a win. Now, changing the trajectory could change your end goal. It depends on their intention. I want to play a little bit of different game, so I assume other people will have the same intention. I’m not taking anyone’s previous game as an indicator of what they’re going to do in this game at all.


Holmes: You’re in lockdown, so you’re not allowed to talk. But, winking and nodding happens. Have you been participating in any of those shenanigans?

Fitzgerald: I have my eye on a few people who I would definitely like to work with. I think things change when I see what their dynamics are with each other. I see a few people gravitating to each other. If I can latch onto one of those groups, that would be great. I don’t have any prior experience with any of these people. I’ve never talked to any of them before, that’s a little bit challenging and puts me at a disadvantage because I don’t know any of them. So, if they do have those prior relationships, I’m on the outs.

Holmes: There’s always talk of pre-game alliances in these returnee seasons. Have you been doing any of that?

Fitzgerald: I have previous relationships with some people, based on winning at a similar time. Some of the most recent winners have been male. There’s only 14 female winners. The rest have all been male. The past four years, there’s only been me and Sarah as winners. Since then, most of the people I know are guys. I don’t see them here, obviously. But, I have relationships with Wendell, Adam, Nick…I know them all. I don’t know how solid those foundations are, I haven’t solidified anything. But, going in it’s nice to see a friendly face.

Holmes: You mentioned that some people seem to be clustering together. If you had to guess, who do you think is flirting with each other…alliance-wise.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Yes, alliance-wise. I sense that Denise and Kim could be working together. I know that Kim was really fond of Denise in her season. I see that as a potential power duo. They both played very strong, very strategic games. I can see them bouncing ideas off of each other. I know that Sandra and Parvati have played together before. I know that’s a unifier. But, “Boston” Rob also played with Sandra in 39, so Amber is here. Is there some kind of correlation between those two? Are they looking out for each other? I would assume they’re close. There are so many little intricacies. I’ll be sleeping with one eye open.


Holmes: Alright, game time.

Fitzgerald: I love games!

Holmes: Then sister, you came to the right interviewer.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Good.

Holmes: OK, here are the nine ladies you’re sharing a tent with. Tell me the four you will work with and the five you will avoid. We like to call this Align or Malign…

Fitzgerald: Got it. My align is Denise, Danni, Amber, and Kim. Kim and Denise are really strategic. I think they played almost perfect games. I think that would be a target off of my back. They can do the strategic masterminding and I can lay a little bit lower in the alliance. And when it comes time to flip, they’d be easy people to get out. “They’re huge targets, it’s time to get them out.” They’re meat shields, potentially. I also have Amber and Danni. On the reverse side, they’re under the radar. They played pretty similar games to me. I’d like to align with people who I’d be friends with, similar attributes. I feel like those really strong relationships really paid off in my last season.

Holmes: Cool, and the other five?

Fitzgerald: My maligns! I have Sandra. I can’t give her the throne three times. We have to take her out. And, she was just on this past season. There’s a lot of hype around her. I don’t want to be aligned with someone who’s that big of a target. Parvati…oh how I wish I could work with Parvati. She was my idol through my childhood. But, that’s why I have to take her out. She has a magnetic power around her. I don’t want her to get around me or anybody who I’m aligned with and turn them. I was on the fence about Natalie. I think she’s really strong and she doesn’t hide what she’s thinking. I kinda like that. What you see is what you get. But, she did some shifty moves in there. Sarah…is she a good cop, a bad cop? Who knows what kind of Sarah I’m going to get? I can’t handle someone who’s turning on everyone every single Tribal. And Sophie…she’s the odd man out. She played a great game, she just seems a little reserved, I guess geekier? Not in a negative way, on the smarter side. I don’t think we’d naturally connect.

Holmes: Of that five, who’s first out?

Fitzgerald: That’s got to be Sarah. If you hear people talk about how she played in her first season, everyone loved her. And then she stabbed everyone in the back. I don’t want her to get in people’s heads and have emotions for her. I want to nip it in the bud.

Holmes: Of the four, who is your ride or die?

Fitzgerald: I think my ride or die…is Kim. I love Kim’s gameplay. She was incredible her first time. She took Chelsea (Meissner) to the end with her. If I could be her Chelsea, that would be great. But, I’d get her out before that. I don’t necessarily want a ride or die in this game, but she’s the closest.


Holmes: You’ve played a more recent season. You’re going to be used to the newer twists more than a Danni or an Amber. How does that work to your advantage?

Fitzgerald: I think you have to take it as you get it. This game moves so quickly. Someone’s always inventing something new. (Rick) Devens proved that. He hid, re-hid, and then it was a fake idol. This game is constantly evolving and changing. People who played a while ago might not be prepared for that, but as soon as the game begins you see it happening. I’m not sure if it’s an advantage to play a more recent season, I played an old-school game anyways.


Holmes: OK, an alien lands and you have to show them one scene that proves that “Survivor” is awesome. What scene do you show them?

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) I think the scene where Parvati used two idols in “Heroes vs. Villains” was probably my biggest geek-out moment in all of “Survivor.” If I could bottle up the joy I had in that moment and give it to the aliens, they will fall in love with “Survivor” as well.


Holmes: The Sia money has become a weird new wrinkle to this mess. Is that something that crosses your mind at all?

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) I don’t necessarily care about the Sia money. I’m focused on the million.

Holmes: So, if people want to eat chickens, you’re going to be like, “Have at it.”

Fitzgerald: I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers out here. I think the Sia money is great because it rewards the viewers’ winner. And I do love that, but I’m here for the million.


Holmes: Probst decides to do you a favor and allows you to pick a twist. What are you going with?

Fitzgerald: For me…I really loved the jury removal twist. It worked to my advantage, so I’d like to see that again. Maybe it’s a little bit of me being sentimental. It just gives you that little bit of confidence that you need at the end at remind yourself that you’ve got this. And, it’s the last impression you leave with the jury.


Holmes: I’ll give you a reason someone will use to try to get you out of the game. You need to defend against it.

Fitzgerald: OK.

Holmes: Michele is tied for the most challenge wins by a female winner. I don’t want her getting to individual immunity.

Fitzgerald: The thing about my season is I was up against some “weak” people. I had a 72 year old, I had Aubry who isn’t known for her physical prowess. I had Tai (Trang) who’s a little Vietnamese guy just running around. Everyone was pretty weak at the end.

Holmes: You kicked the (expletive deleted) out of a puzzle.

Fitzgerald: Yes, I did! (Laughs)

Holmes: That was my favorite moment.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Thank you.


Holmes: She lives under the radar. She didn’t have to go to a single Tribal before the merge.

Fitzgerald: That’s a tough one. I was under the radar my first season, but that’s because we won. I was playing the game…wait…I don’t know if that’s what I want to go with.

Holmes: Yeah, you’re making things worse.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) How do I back this up?

Holmes: You’re the champion. I’m just here to make sure you’re prepared.

Fitzgerald: Thank you, you are prepping me. I live under the radar. I don’t know. I guess I’d have to say…circle back.

Holmes: I’d try, you think an under-the-radar player is going to win this season? With Parvati and Sandra here?

Fitzgerald: Oh! I like that!

Holmes: When that little gem earns you a million bucks, don’t forget who your buddy is.

Fitzgerald: I won’t forget.

Holmes: You can take me out for tequila shots like all of your hotel clients.

Fitzgerald: (Laughs) Yes! Perfect.


Holmes: She’s got that invaluable Power Rankings experience. Too powerful!

Fitzgerald: Absolutely. (Laughs) The Power Ranking experience is from the couch, it doesn’t exactly translate to how you can read people. It means reading an edit, not necessarily a person.

Holmes: I think you’re ready.

Fitzgerald: That makes one of us!


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