“Survivor” Champion Tony Vlachos – “I’m Going to Be as Ruthless as Possible”

“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 “Cagayan” (2014)

Name: Tony Vlachos

Age: 45

Hometown: Jersey City, New Jersey

Current Residence: Allendale, New Jersey

Occupation: Police officer


Gordon Holmes: I’ve got a crazy idea for you.

Tony Vlachos: Oh no! I’ve maybe had too many of those.

Holmes: Hear me out. When you get to your tribe camp on the first day, don’t run around like a maniac and scream that you’re looking for idols.

Vlachos: (Laughs) Nope, I’m going to be quiet. There are enough personalities out here that I can just sit back and watch them.

Holmes: Whenever there’s a newbie season and someone tells me they’re worried about being voted out first. I’ll tell them, “There’s always an (expletive deleted).”

Vlachos: (Laughs)

Holmes: Now, I don’t think you’re an (expletive deleted).

Vlachos: Good. I appreciate that.

Holmes: Just don’t be an (expletive deleted).

Vlachos: I was THE (expletive deleted)! But you know what that was? I was overcompensating for my fear of failure. I didn’t want to lose. I won one and didn’t want to come in and lose. So, I overcompensated by being a jackass and doing stupid (expletive deleted). And it didn’t work out.

Holmes: Is there something to be said for as a former winner you’re playing with house money?

Vlachos: No, because it’s money you still want. I care if I lose, I don’t want to lose. But, I’m not afraid to lose. That’s a big difference.


Holmes: What’ve you been up to since “Game Changers”?

Vlachos: Same thing as before, I went into real estate. I got lucky, the timing was right. I bought a property, flipped it. I bought another property, flipped that. So, I’m doing real good with that. And now I’m building a nice big house for my family. I left it in the middle, so right now my wife is back home with studs, you know what I mean? She’s with my two babies. It’s tough leaving her behind.

Holmes: That check will buy a lot of drywall.

Vlachos: That check will buy a lot of drywall! Insulation too.


Holmes: You haven’t been told a theme yet. You haven’t gotten a buff with a logo on it. What do you think’s going on here?

Vlachos: I think it’s an all-winners season. (Laughs) But, the stakes are so high because this is the best of the best. Twenty years in the making.

Holmes: During “Game Changers” we were all rooting for you because you’re so entertaining.

Vlachos: Aww…thanks!

Holmes: But you were a big fish in a small pond. And now, you’re a…big fish in a big pond? Maybe even make the argument that you’re a medium fish?

Vlachos: I don’t know man, I might be a small fish!

Holmes: It’s amazing that we’ve found a place where someone like Tony Vlachos can blend in.

Vlachos: The only way I can blend in is if I’m quiet. I can’t go into the game like I did in “Game Changers,” racing around like I’m a knucklehead. The timing was off. I prepared myself for “Game Changers” by fantasizing about what I could do. How can I make it interesting? Which new tricks can I come up with?

Holmes: The spy bunker was truly inspired.

Vlachos: (Laughs) Thank you! But, that’s what screwed me up. This time around, I’m doing the same thing I did when I won. I’m going to go into the game and handle everything situationally. That’s what’s hopefully going to work out for me this time. I’m going to play the player instead of playing the game.


Holmes: So, spy bunkers, clone rocks, all of that is out the window?

Vlachos: No pre-meditation of nothing.

Holmes: Sitting on a stump, with a pair of knitting needles.

Vlachos: (Laughs) Yup!

Holmes: Who wants a pair of socks?

Vlachos: Yup!

Holmes: Tyson, you look like you wear a size eleven.

Vlachos: Yup! Until I see an opportunity. The first time I played I wasn’t waiting for opportunities, I was creating them. And that’s what I’m going to do again.


Holmes: Right now you’re one of ten dudes in a tent.

Vlachos: Yeah, that’s right.

Holmes: Do you think that’s what this season is? Ten guys in a tent?

Vlachos: I wish! I’d be halfway there! I’m sure there are ten girls somewhere else. For some reason they’re keeping us separated, I don’t know why.

Holmes: If there are women here, who do you think made the trip?

Vlachos: I’m pretty sure Sandra is here. Kim Spradlin…you know, from what I read on the Internet.

Holmes: That’s the thing with the Internet, they don’t let you post untrue stuff.

Vlachos: You know what? Lately it has been. Denise, Sarah, Natalie…those are all names I’ve seen out here. All the guys I saw on the Internet are here except for Richard Hatch.

Holmes: Any of those women you’re concerned about?

Vlachos: The only people I have a connection with are Sarah and Sandra. Sandra, she voted me off of “Game Changers,” but I ended up spending a lot of time with her pre-jury. We got close out there. We didn’t talk game, or future game, but we formed a bond. Sarah won season 34, I didn’t get a chance to play with her, but she gave some nice words to me, she said she learned a lot from me. So, we got to talking and you could say we buried the hatchet.


Holmes: You’re a friggin’ house of fire when you play.

Vlachos: (Laughs)

Holmes: Is that what a seasoned player would think of you if they watched your game?

Vlachos: They’ll think I’m erratic. Crazy…wild…silly.

Holmes: What do you do with that? I want to work with people I can predict.

Vlachos: They’ll get to meet the real me. It’s the game. I’m in the jungle running around half naked. It’s me being me. But, meet the real me. It’s a devious game, you have to break promises. It’s not easy to do. You have to fight within yourself.

Holmes: With newbees, I always ask how they feel about lying. They’re always, “I don’t give a (expletive deleted)! I’ll lie to anyone!” And it’s easy to lie to nineteen strangers. But, you don’t stay strangers for long.

Vlachos: Oh yeah, wait until you start sharing rice. You’re starving, you’re freezing. The weather…you empathize for each other. And you look them in the eyes and they’re helping you by voting with you, but then you have to turn your back on them. It’s like me and LJ (McKanas). I played an idol for him, he played an idol for me. Then I had to backstab him. Trish (Hegarty), I went all the way to the end with that girl. It’s devastating. Especially when you make a promise and they believe that promise. And for the moment, that promise might be true. I made promises I believed in, but days go by. I can’t sink with that ship. It’s hard to do.


Holmes: So, when we were walking up here you hinted that there were some pre-season shenanigans in “Game Changers.” What did I miss?

Vlachos: These people think they’re movie stars or celebrities or something. They’re just a game show contestant. They all hang out together, they do these events together, and I don’t associate myself with that. Whenever there’s a returning season, the odds are stacked against me because they know each other. And not so much that they’re making deals, but it’s easier to vote someone off that you don’t associate with. And that’s the biggest difference in a returnee season. It’s always in your head; who knows each other? Who’s in bed with one another? And it’s hard because you can’t get a read in the game of what happened outside of the game inside the game. I’m going to be looking for that. Who knows each other? If I see two people who I know know each other and they’re trying to separate from each other to act like they’re not working together? That’s a red flag. That’s the first person I’m going to target. That means they already know what they’re going to do.

Holmes: Did anyone reach out to you?

Vlachos: No, that’s nonsense. I don’t do any of that. There’s only one winner. And especially a season like this? Who doesn’t want to win the Super Bowl of seasons? Who doesn’t want the ring? I’m hoping they’re smart enough to say, “Screw this alliance I started before the game.” You can have the exact same resume as Rob and he’s going to win because of his popularity and notoriety.

Holmes: Do you want me to talk to Probst and see if I can get him to create some kind of championship ring?

Vlachos: (Laughs) Yeah! A Tyler Perry ring!

Holmes: For years I’ve been on him to replace the immunity necklace with a championship belt.

Vlachos: Oh man, that’s nice too. But yeah, a “Survivor” 40 ring…oh snap. Tell him that was my idea too.

Holmes: I’ll give you full credit.


Holmes: You’re not supposed to communicate while you’re in lockdown, but people wave and nod and whatnot. Any of that going on?

Vlachos: Nah, we talk about stupid (expletive deleted) but no game stuff. I’m pretty impressed actually. This group is nice, the respect each other. “Game Changers” was crazy. Everybody was loud. Brad Culpepper was (expletive deleted) talking strategy in front of everybody.

Holmes: (Laughs)

Vlachos: (Laughs) It was crazy. But this isn’t just winners, it’s great winners.

Holmes: Maybe they’re not interested in proving anything to anyone. I’ve done this before, I don’t have to impress anyone.

Vlachos: I’m hoping their egos get the best of them so they can fight it out and I can sit back and watch.

Holmes: With your knitting needles.

Vlachos: Exactly. Who needs socks?


Holmes: Alright. (Gordon reaches into his bag)

Vlachos: Uh-oh…it’s game time.

Holmes: You are very correct. OK, here are the nine gentlemen you’ve been hanging out with. Tell me the four you’ll work with and the five you’ll kick to the curb.

Vlachos: Boom…boom…boom…boom. Ben, Wendell, Ethan, and Yul. I don’t think any of these guys pre-gamed.

Holmes: It’s that important?

Vlachos: Yes. I know these guys all play poker together; Jeremy, Rob, and Tyson. Nick is a scary fella, man. He has this crazy eyes look to him. I’m not going to vote him out. But, I’m also not going to align with him because I’m scared of him. He’s a scary dude. Adam is a bit naïve. He’s a bit young. He’s gonna fall into the trap of Rob. Rob’s gonna trap him with Jeremy and Tyson.

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

Vlachos: Oh snap, man. It’s tough. They’re all very likable. (Expletive deleted) None of them.

Holmes: You’ve got to pick one.

Vlachos: I’ll go with Ethan. I think he’s a forgotten player. I don’t hear too much about him. I don’t remember much about his game. I’m sure it was good. But, Yul is smart. He’ll outtalk me. And he’s very likable. Wendell is very charming. And Ben’s another charming dude. So, Ethan by rule of elimination.

Holmes: You’ve made yourself a very charming alliance there.

Vlachos: (Laughs) Yeah!

Holmes: OK, of the other five, who goes first? And I know it’s not Nick because you’re afraid of his crazy eyes.

Vlachos: I am! “Boston” Rob first because I’m afraid of his pre-game alliance. He knows everybody, he’s dealt with everybody.


Vlachos: I tell ya, I thought Richard Hatch was going to be here. Or maybe the last winner.

Holmes: Chris (Underwood)?

Vlachos: That was horrible, man. That was gross.

Holmes: He’s a super nice guy, but I tell you, if you put a gun to my head the day of the finale and said, “Which one is Chris and which one is Eric (Hafemann)?” I couldn’t have told you.

Vlachos: (Laughs)

Holmes: I was watching thinking; I have to interview this guy tomorrow and I know nothing about him.

Vlachos: Man…I can’t believe they did that. That just ruined the whole…oh my God. What happened to the concept of, “When your torch is snuffed, you’re dead.”

Holmes: It’s that. Being voted out is being cast out of the society to die. But, you’re also sending them to go hang out in a relatively politics-free environment with the jury. The whole point of this thing is to put people on the jury and have them want to reward you. You were an (expletive deleted), but you were their (expletive deleted). There’s an art to that.

Vlachos: Thank you. (Laughs)

Holmes: But he almost didn’t put anyone on the jury! And also, I think paranoia is vastly underrated on this show. You’re always worried when two people sneak off into the woods to talk. They didn’t have to deal with that at all.

Vlachos: Nothing. Nobody’s walking off and talking about you. It’s gross, man. What was Jeff thinking?

Holmes: He loves second chances, loser brackets, that kind of thing.

Vlachos: They didn’t play the game. They stayed on an island playing with themselves. I was sour about that. They went camping and then they collected their million-dollar check.


Holmes: Some of these folks have never had to deal with these new-age twists like idol nullifiers and whatnot. Is that an advantage for you?

Vlachos: I guess it is. It’s a bit much, it’s too much. Nullifiers, extra votes, taking away votes. Just go back to one idol. Whoever finds the idol plays it and that’s it. Unless it’s me that’s finding them.

Holmes: Then you want to have at least six.

Vlachos: Then it’s OK!


Holmes: Here’s a dumb question; an alien lands…

Vlachos: Where?

Holmes: Right here. They’ve never seen “Survivor” before. You have to show them a clip that explains why you love it so much.

Vlachos: I like the Jonny Fairplay clip where he tells people that his grandma is dead. And then he goes in the confession and says she’s watching “Jerry Springer” right now! That’s funny. You lie, you do whatever you have to do.


Holmes: If Jeff allowed you to pick a twist, what would be your request? And it can’t be something like Tony has an idol dispenser on a tree.

Vlachos: (Laughs) I would say give everyone that’s playing a million dollars. Thanks for coming, it’s a beautiful season.

Holmes: They’d have to do that after-the-fact or it’d be a boring season.

Vlachos: (Laughs) Yeah, if you’ve already got that money it’ll be like the people on Extinction Island.

Holmes: “Tony, the tribe has spoken.” “Whatever Jeff, I’m getting paid.”

Vlachos: Edge of Extinction, give me my check!


Holmes: OK, we’re going to play some Best Defense. I’ll give you a reason why someone will target you. You tell me how you’d get out of that predicament. Tony is a force of nature. He finds idols, he gets people to flip, let’s get him out now.

Vlachos: Listen, for that reason, I’m the (expletive deleted). All these other people are likable. You have Ben, likable. Yul, Rob, Jeremy, Wendell, all likable. I’m the (expletive deleted). Who are you going to sit next to and win? Not them.

Holmes: The problem with that is you are likable.

Vlachos: Am I? (Expletive deleted)

Holmes: That’s what I keep saying! You won your season. If a snake bites me, I’m not mad at the snake. That’s my own fault. You’re just you and you don’t apologize for your game. You’re a fun, likable guy. If you stab me in the back?

Vlachos: Aww…he got me.

Holmes: Yeah, what can I expect? It’s what Tony does.

Vlachos: I appreciate that. I didn’t think I was likable.

Holmes: You’ve got to be more of a jerk.

Vlachos: (Laughs) That’s some Russell (Hantz) stuff. He would have won twice. And now that I know what it’s like to lose? It’s sad to hurt people’s feelings by stabbing their back. But when it happened to me? It’s not so bad. So this time around, I’m going to be as ruthless as possible to win. I came here to win. I don’t care how ruthless I have to be. I want that ring!

Holmes: I’m talking to Jeff about that tonight.

Vlachos: Only if I win! I don’t want anyone else to get it.

Holmes: If Adam wins, just cut him a check.

Vlachos: Could you imagine? That’d be awesome!

Holmes: But if it’s like one of those monster Super Bowl rings? How do you even wear it? It’s like the size of a tennis ball.

Vlachos: David Samson had one of those on. It’s a monster.

Holmes: I’d only wear it for formal occasions or if I was trying to impress someone.

Vlachos: It’s like my Tyler Perry idol. I only wear it sometimes when I go out.

Holmes: You still have that?

Vlachos: Yeah! It’s a nice piece of brass. I love it man.


Holmes: Alright, I’m out of questions. I’m just gonna say; you’ve got to win this for us.

Vlachos: Believe me, I’m gonna try.

Holmes: (The Hollywood Reporter’s) Josh (Wigler) dropped me a line. He’s already crossing all of his fingers for you.

Vlachos: I’m just worried about the pre-game. Like in “Game Changers” I said to Malcolm (Freberg), “Who’s Hali (Ford)? Let’s get rid of her, man. She’s not a shield for any of us. She’s nobody.” He says, “OK, Tony.” Later on, they’re sitting on a log and she says, “Hey Malcolm, do you still own that motorcycle you picked me up on?” I was deflated man. My stomach turned.

Holmes: It sounds like your head is in a good spot. And the deeper you get into the game, the less that’s going to matter. And there’s always going to be someone who sucks at challenges, someone who isn’t helping around camp.

Vlachos: Their egos are going to get the best of them.


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