Post Mortems

Survivor: Michele Fitzgerald Details Her Bumpy Road to Finale Night — 'I Can Handle Whatever They Throw at Me'

Survivor Winners at War Michele Fitzgerald

Warning: This post contains spoilers from Wednesday’s Survivor: Winners at War finale. 

Survivor‘s Michele Fitzgerald may not have won the grand prize, but she did prove herself to naysayers as a social assassin one should never underestimate.

Despite her arduous path to the final three, Fitzgerald held multiple alliances throughout, amassed loads of fire tokens thanks to her masterful social maneuvering and won two critical immunity challenges that were key to her survival. But it wasn’t enough to cement the victory; she placed third in a 12-4-0 vote. (Read our interviews with winner Tony Vlachos and runner-up Natalie Anderson, and click here for a full recap of the finale.)

Below, Fitzgerald talks to TVLine about the limitations of playing from the bottom, surviving criticism from her past and helping dismantle the game’s dominating alliance.

TVLINE | When you left Fiji last year, how did you think you did at the final tribal?
I pretty much knew it was going to be Tony. All the people who told me they considered voting for me let me know, so I was not surprised I didn’t receive a vote. I’m actually glad they let me know so my expectation was curbed [on the night of the finale].

TVLINE | How was the experience of the virtual announcement? Were you bummed to not have the live show?
I was a little bit bummed. Obviously, we all hoped to be out in L.A. celebrating with our whole cast, but I got to do that last time. I think one of my biggest regrets from Season 32 was that at my finale, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my family because I was so focused on my cast and the chaos around winning. So this time, to be able to sit in my living room with my family and my boyfriend felt really intimate, so I really appreciated that as well. It wasn’t all bad!

TVLINE | Your social game was phenomenal! What do you think was the pivotal move that helped you go deep into the game?
I would say the immunity win that got me to the final five was probably the most important thing for me. There was absolutely no way I would’ve gotten there without it. Nobody would even look at me, let alone strategize. Without that, I never would’ve been sitting in the final three. I made so many moves in the beginning, pre-merge, that I’m so proud of, that were more feathers in my cap and made me more proud. But the biggest move was probably my immunity win.

TVLINE | Natalie’s return seemed to open up a lot of options for you. Were you glad it was Natalie who won the battle back, or were you hoping for someone else?
I was so glad it was Natalie. We had this really fun dynamic at the end of the game. Me and her are [both from] Jersey, and I actually had never met her before, so we just connected. I was so grateful it was her. There were a few people I didn’t want to come back in. I definitely burned some bridges along the way, so you hope those people aren’t the ones who come back in. I just wanted somebody who was open and willing to work with me after a week-and-a-half of people not strategizing with me. I just wanted somebody who wanted me, honestly! [Laughs]

TVLINE | What would your ideal final three have looked like, had you gotten to decide?
I would’ve loved to be sitting there with Sarah and Natalie. I think it would’ve been really cool to have three very strong women at the end. I feel it can be a little bit challenging sometimes when women have to go against men. This is something that Sarah touched on. Sometimes men come in and are perceived to be stronger by nature because they come in with all of this confidence and bravado. Our game is a little more subtle as women. I do think it can be an uphill battle for us, for our journeys to be respected, even if we play the same game. Sarah played a very similar game to Tony, yet she had the struggle of being respected. So I would’ve loved to sit there with them and fight it out with two girls.

TVLINE | Why was Denise sent home instead of Sarah at the final six tribal?
Natalie and I pulled Sarah and Denise aside separately and said, “Hey, are you willing to work with us in this game after this?” Denise really didn’t have much to say, but Sarah basically pled her allegiance to us. I think that that opened the door for that Ben conversation. She would’ve burned a bridge if she had not voted Ben, because that was basically what she had pled to us at that tribal council.

TVLINE | You guys certainly did a great job dismantling that alliance once Natalie got back in.
Ohhhh, yeahhh. [Laughs]

TVLINE | Despite coming up short this round, do you feel you got enough closure from the criticism and negativity you faced as a result of your Kaôh Rōng win?
Yeah. I was proud of my Kaôh Rōng win. So many people had negative things to say about it, so I was glad I was able to go out here. I played 78 days, never got voted out and I played a very strong game this season. If anybody had any doubts about my win, I do feel like I proved it.

TVLINE | Was there any part of your strategy that didn’t make the edit that you wish was shown?
Honestly, I have to tell you, I’m not really sure I had a strategy. I was just flying by the seat of my pants day by day, and hoping I could survive. A lot of people look towards Day 39 and are like, “Here’s how I want my journey to look to get there,” and I just think, “How can I put one foot in front of the other and get to the next day, so I can survive and get to Day 39 and plead my case?” There was nothing I felt particularly proud of that did not get shown. I loved the edit they gave me, and I’m happy with it.

TVLINE | Were there any non-game moments that happened out there that you wish fans could’ve seen?
There was a reward that me, Denise and Sarah had that was Italian food, and we got really drunk and were laughing and had a great time. I wish that was shown. But in general, just being out there with all of the legends that I had grown up watching, like Parv is so giggly and fun, and Boston Rob is exactly how you think he is. There were so many little moments. I was like, “Oh my God, I feel like I’m in my TV screen, this is insane!” So it was a blast!

TVLINE | Do you have any regrets in the game?
I do have some regrets. I think sometimes [after] being left out of the vote, there were conversations I could’ve had to clarify my position with people who I felt I was in alliances with. For instance, Nick or Jeremy. I think if I had said — and I think we did have this conversation a few times — “What’s going on, why am I being left out of the votes, how can we get back on the same page, how can you bring me in and how can we work together? This is the information I know, this is the information you know, how can we piece this together to make something happen to shake up this game?” I think so often we said, “OK, Jeremy and Michele, we know we’re together, we know we have each other’s backs,” but I don’t think we were really on the same page a lot of the time, and I wish maybe we had communicated better. I think just being more open in my conversations with my alliances.

TVLINE | Jeff Probst calls you up for another round. Are you in?
Oh my God, if Jeff called me today, I would pack my stuff up, take my hungover ass to the airport and risk getting corona[virus] to be on the show again! [Laughs]

TVLINE | Would you want to go up against newbies next time?
I don’t even care who I’m up against. I think I’ve shown that it really doesn’t matter who I’m up against, I just adapt. I can handle whatever they throw at me. So Jeff, any season you have an open spot, I’m in!

TVLINE | You’re on the record! You’re going back!
On the record! Send it directly to Jeff!