Michele Fitzgerald On How ‘Survivor’ Viewers Miss ‘Intangible’ Elements of Game

Michele Fitzgerald

CBS Michele Fitzgerald in "Survivor: Kaôh Rōng" (2016).

Michele Fitzgerald is known for being a “Survivor” winner who faced some backlash from fans for similar reasons as Erika Casupanan last week, with many fans saying they believed their respective co-finalists should have won instead.

Recently, Michele, who won season 32, “Kaôh Rōng,” and placed third in season 40, “Winners at War,” spoke out about Erika’s win, and how certain elements of a winner’s game are difficult to translate on-screen.

Michele Notices Similarities In Her & Erika’s Winning Games

Last Thursday, Michele sat down with Rob Cesternino to discuss the finale of “Survivor 41,” the season overall, and Erika’s unexpected victory. During their discussion, Michele acknowledged the similarities in their game, while also expressing her joy that “Survivor” saw its first female winner since 2017. “I’m so, so psyched that another girl won,” she said. “I really didn’t think it was going to happen this season once we saw Shan [Smith] go, but oh my God, I’m so stoked for it.”

Both Michele and Erika played largely under-the-radar games, with perhaps more emphasis on the social element than the strategic; Michele herself acknowledged in the interview that Cesternino was “not booking the most strategic mind for this.”

Furthermore, neither Michele nor Erika attended Tribal Council for the entirety of the pre-merge portion of the game in their winning seasons. Noting this similarity, Michele explained, “I really resonated a lot with her story of coming from a place of a winning tribe, and then she had to kind of do that much more to catch up.” She added that Erika’s small stature made her appear as though she might not be worth much, saying “she already has this stigma, probably, going in that she has to do that much more to earn the respect of her peers.”

Referring to Erika not having to attend Tribal until the merge, Michele commented on how she understood how deep the game can run even when players like herself or Erika go over two weeks without having to vote anyone out:

Not only didn’t she not have to play, but again there’s that perception that she has to prove herself that much more. So I really resonated a lot with that, and she played really hard in the endgame, and I felt that that’s kind of where I fell as well. And just…a lot of people didn’t think she was going to win. I think she was the dark horse of this whole tribal, and I felt that for myself as well.

Michele added that Erika had a “great final few episodes,” and that her Final Tribal Council performance was “so good. She crushed it. She crushed it.”

On the public reaction to one’s win, Michele said, “it’s a difficult thing. And hopefully she’s not getting too much on social media.”

How Certain Elements Are Hard to Translate On-Screen

Michele also commented on zero-vote finalist and third-place finisher Xander Hastings (another placement which Michele holds). She explained how she was surprised Xander received no votes, given how good his game seemed to viewers at home, including herself:

He had a really interesting and tough battle in the beginning, then coming into the merge in a really difficult position with a huge target on his head, being able to navigate that, and somehow always being able to slide by and get to the end…while also being a massive target. So I thought he played a great game. I was sad he didn’t get any votes, honestly.

Michele went on to say that, unlike many other zero-vote finalists, whose games are often not respected by fans, “I thought he played a wonderful game. I was really, really shocked that he got no votes.”

However, Michele went on to discuss how there are certain parts of the game which people in the game can see but viewers at home cannot; certain elements which are simply not communicable through the edit. This, she explained, is likely not only why Xander received little respect from the jury, but also why Erika received so much, even if the audience couldn’t exactly see why. Of these “intangible” elements, Michele said:

This is the jury management portion of the game that’s so difficult…It’s like these intangibles that don’t translate to TV always, it’s like the way people make you feel, and how you garner that respect, or how you make yourself seem sincere. It’s a difficult thing to do honestly, because you can’t change the way that you are. [Xander] could be the most sincere person ever, but if other people aren’t reading it that way, then you have to throw your hands up and be like, ‘what more can you do?’

Michele is certainly speaking from a place of authority – although runner-up Aubry Bracco played a very strategic game in “Kaôh Rōng,” there were several jury members who negatively perceived her game as “fear-based,” something which the audience at home largely did not see. They also saw a great deal of acumen in Michele’s game which did not translate on-screen, resulting in her win in a 5-2 vote.

On this type of game, which can result in quite a bit of backlash after it is aired, Michele said, “The social game is such a subtle thing…But when you can do it, [Erika] obviously had an intangible thing that everybody saw, and that’s always going to be hard for the viewers to understand and respect.”

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