Mike Turner says final Survivor Tribal Council was like ‘falling off a cliff’

Mike Turner says final Survivor Tribal Council was like ‘falling off a cliff’

Published May 26, 2022
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Mike Turner did it all in the finale of Survivor 42. He won the huge final five immunity competition, even overcoming a challenge beast in Lindsay Dolashewich who came into the contest with an advantage. He gave away an immunity idol. He won the final four fire-making challenge against Jonathan Young. HE EVEN SCORED HOBOKEN POINTS!

But the one thing Mike could not do was win the million dollars. The retired New Jersey firefighter came up short in his bid to be named Sole Survivor, only gaining one jury vote to Maryanne Oketch’s seven (and Romeo Escobar’s zero) in the final three. Was Mike shocked by the jury result? Which votes surprised him? And did the 58-year-old’s integrity platform ultimately do him in?

We chatted with Mike shortly after the finale aired and got his take on everything that went down, including that lie Omar Zaheer told him about Hai Giang bragging about manipulating him like a puppet, and whom he would have voted for to win had he lost to Jonathan at fire. (Also make sure to check out our full episode recap as well finale interviews with Maryanne, Romeo, Jonathan, and Lindsay.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, how much pizza did you actually eat during that after-show?

MIKE TURNER: I’m going to tell you right now, I couldn’t get enough. Listen to this: I’m a Jersey guy. Pineapple pizza is a no-no in Jersey, but they only brought pineapple. I said, “Give me three pies.” I kept stuffing my face. I had so much pizza. I lost about 32 pounds when I was done with the show. By the time I got done with that pizza, I gained about 15 back.

Let’s get into the final vote. You said that if you won at fire, you were going to win the game, so obviously you must have been feeling pretty confident heading into that final Tribal Council.

Yeah, I actually did feel very confident, and quite frankly, I think that was probably my downfall. I played the game hard from day one until day 26. And when I won fire, I let my guard down a little bit. I’m saying, “What could they say wrong about me?” But sometimes you don’t notice the room is dirty if you’re standing in the room. I didn’t notice my room was dirtier than what it was, until I stepped down and started hearing them talk about it.

And kudos to Maryanne, she came in guns a blazing, she spoke well. I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I could have been. I didn’t expect the adversity, but that’s why you got to play every minute right to the end of Survivor.

It looked like you went into final Tribal on the integrity platform, and then once the jury kind of called you out on that a little bit that you lost your footing in terms of presenting your case. Did it feel that way to you?

Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. Because mentally, I should have been prepared to say, “You’re right. Hai can say, ‘Oh, you said you’re with me, and then you blindside me.’ Omar [can go], ‘You’re my friend, and then you go against me.'” And, in my mind, I had all great reasons why I did. I still think I had to do it. I don’t think I would’ve went to the end unless I took them out. But maybe I shouldn’t have based my whole platform strictly on the integrity of it.

Again, we’re playing Survivor, so I just maybe misunderstood how they would take it. And I thought they would look at me more as, “Hey, Mike is a guy of integrity, but he’s also playing a game.” I equate it to when I play poker, if I have a pair of deuces and another guy has a full house, and I bluff him with deuces, he’s pissed. Equally, he’s pissed at himself too. And he looks at me and says, “I’m really pissed Mike, but I got to say, you got me good.” And then we become friends. And maybe that’s not how they perceived it. I should have looked at it from their side of the coin.

What was going through your head as you felt everything slipping away in real time?

You know what it’s like? It’s like you’re falling off a cliff, and you see the last little vine hanging off the cliff, and you go to grab it, and you get it. But then you realize there’s grease on that vine and you’re starting to slide. And before you know it, you slip and you fall off the mountain. And that’s what it felt like out there.

I felt like I had it in my grasp. I was holding it. And as it went on, I almost couldn’t catch up to what was going on out there. And the fact is that I was still hungry. I was beat up. I was tired. Mentally, I didn’t come in thinking that’s how I was going to be questioned. And the truth is, who I blame? I blame myself. It’s me. I should have been more prepared. They asked the right questions. They had the right to ask those questions, and I wasn’t prepared. And quite frankly, Maryanne played a good game. Kudos to her.

It’s interesting because usually in Survivor, those votes are locked before final Tribal Council even starts, so it’s very unique to see all those hands at the after-show go up and say they were leaning your way and switched. Was that hard? I know you’re stuffing your face with pizza at this point, but as you’re hearing people say, “Hey, I actually was thinking of giving it to Mike and I didn’t”?

If I’m being a hundred percent [honest], I’m not so sure all those people felt that way going in. I think some of them were locked in already. I think when they raised their hand, it looks good, but I think some were locked in already and I don’t blame them. It doesn’t matter really if they raised hands or not. At the end of the day, what happens, happens. And everything happens for a reason. So I understand that. Could I have handled it better? Probably.

I just spoke with Maryanne and I asked her if any of the votes surprised her. She said the Rocksroy vote surprised her. Any votes surprise you?

Lindsay’s vote surprised me. I thought Lindsay was a Jersey girl. We worked hard together. I think she took it very personally when I chose Jonathan over her. I get it. That’s the only one that really surprised me. Other ones, some I thought could have went either way. I felt that I had a chance at Rocksroy’s vote. I felt I had a chance at Omar’s vote. Listen, I didn’t think I was going to clean slate it, that’s for sure. I felt there was votes out there I couldn’t get, but I thought I could win five to three.

Let’s say Romeo takes your suggestion and puts you against Maryanne at fire and you beat her. How do you do in a final three against Romeo and Jonathan?

I think I win easily. I think Jonathan doesn’t get the votes of the girls. I love Jonathan, I thought Jonathan played a great game, and I’m not even saying the girls were right about Jonathan. I’m just saying, I know that they weren’t crazy about Jonathan. I felt that Romeo didn’t play the game good enough to win. And that’s why I felt that if I went against them, I would win easily. And I’m not just saying [that] because the jury might have thought I was the best player in the whole game. I was just trying to be the best player out of the final three.

Let’s say you lose at fire to Jonathan, who gets your vote for the million dollars?

Jonathan. Jonathan was very loyal to me from the merge on. He told me about the Omar nullifier that changed the trajectory of how we played the rest of the game, because then I knew Omar wasn’t being honest with me. And then that told me that Lindsay wasn’t being honest with me.

Lindsay knew about the nullifier. I gave her three or four chances to tell me about the nullifier, and I couldn’t let her know that I knew about it because then she would tell Omar. But she did not tell me. She stayed loyal to Omar, and that’s why when it came to the final five, I couldn’t give her the idol that I promised to Maryanne.

You didn’t win the game, but you had so many cool moments, just in the finale alone! I could see the emotion on your face winning that final five challenge.

The whole season, we’re watching the episodes, and I’m getting texts from my friends: “Are you ever going to win a challenge? What the hell? You suck at these challenges!” And I’m like, “You know, I do suck at these challenges.” But I know what’s coming. I know that this is the biggest challenge of the season, and fire is going to come, and I win it.

So I’m saying, just bide your time. I played it off. I said, “Yeah, it’s a tough one, I don’t know. How could I possibly beat Lindsay and Jonathan in any of these challenges? They’re so great.” Meanwhile, I’m building up, because I know that’s what’s going to happen at the finale.

When I win that challenge, and I remember it like it was yesterday, I thought about my wife and my kids, and how proud they would be to see me out there, being so vulnerable, so beat up, so tired, and yet I was able to reach deep and, quite frankly, beat probably, at least in my thought, the two best challenge beasts that we’ve seen on Survivor in a long time.

So what’s the deal with you and the fire? Were you not making it out there at all?

No. That was absolutely strategy. So we get to Vati, nobody can make fire. I go, “I don’t want to make fire.” It fell to them. But nobody was making fire! So I said, “Okay, I got to make fire, we need fire.” I make fire really quick, and it was noticed. And I decided right then and there, I would not make fire again unless I had to.

And, in my mind, as crazy as it seems, I always thought about the fire-making challenge, that if they find out I know how to make fire, it’s going to hurt me at the end. So I never made fire again. And it was easy not to, because Jonathan really, really loved making fire. Maryanne made fire. They all made fire, so they didn’t put it on me.

All they needed to know was the angle of the knife against the flint to create the right spark. Once I got the spark and I started the corn husk, I knew that it was pine wood in there and it would burn fast. Jonathan [used] little pieces, because he was used to the wood that we used at camp. It was little small pieces of wood and they were wet. So we had to try and nurture [it] a little more. I felt pine would burn faster. So if you saw, I’d thrown a lot of husks, creating heat, then create the tepee, which gets the air under that moving, creating the big flame.

I spoke with Hai and he said he didn’t even know the true depths of Omar’s lie to you about Hai saying he was controlling you like a puppet until he saw it on TV. When did you find out and what was your reaction?

I was watching that with my brother and his family, and my wife and kids. It was such a happy moment, my family visit, “Oh, look at my kids, look at this.” And then Omar says that, and I go, “Oh, my God! Omar helped me out, he was good to me.” And then he goes, “It was a lie.” I literally fell over.

Everybody looks at me, I go, “I had no idea.” It was shocking. You can get mad at that, or you can run with it and go with it. And I felt to say, “Omar, good move, you made me look very gullible there.” But I’d rather be the guy who’s gullible and believes in people than to be the guy to question everybody, which I started to [do] after that. I started to question everybody that talked to me, that it was a lie.

So in Survivor, you just have got to be ready for everything. It could have been the truth. Jonathan told me the truth about the nullifier and the Knowledge is Power, which we never heard of before. And I trusted Jonathan because I believed in him, that it was real, and I was right. So it was right to give Omar the idol, because I knew he had to give it back because of the nullifier. So it helped me to believe in people on some hand, but on the other side, it may have hurt me. And that’s the beauty of the game though, right?

You and I could talk Wesleyan University all day since our sons both went there, but were you specifically wearing that sweatshirt because you had to miss graduation to go play Survivor?

Yeah, I wore that sweatshirt in honor of my father and my son’s wrestling coach. My son’s wrestling coach really took good care of my son when my son wrestled at Wesleyan. And I knew I was going to miss the graduation. And I remember the day he graduated, because I was nervous about it. And I’ve never missed a thing in my kid’s life, from kindergarten up until that moment, I’ve never missed any great moment that they had. So I wore the sweatshirt to say thank you to coach and to represent my son for what he has accomplished, graduating from Wesleyan, which is a fantastic school. One of the proudest things I can say is my son graduated from Wesleyan University.

Would you play again?

A hundred percent. How could you not? It’s the most iconic game in the history of games. I would go out there and play chess as a human every day. It’s a challenge.

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