'Survivor' 2017: Malcolm Freberg reveals the side of episode 3's tribal you didn't see

ByHannah Shapiro

Hannah Shapiro was a runner-up on Survivor season 33: Millennials vs. Gen X.

Survivor fans watched one of the wildest tribal councils to ever happen on episode three of Game Changers Wednesday night. Usually tribal councils air on screen for about four to seven minutes, but the episode three tribal council was shown for a full 12 minutes. We saw whispering, group huddles, idols, betrayals and chaos. The victim of the madness: Fan favorite and handsome strategist Malcolm Freberg. 

Malcolm was as shocked as anyone that he found himself fireless at the end of the night. As a former Survivor player, I know that tribal councils last hours and audiences see only a small portion. So I had Malcolm himself fill in the gaps.

Malcolm answered all my questions. I wanted to know everyone's motives that night, what the game plan was and why, and what we missed sitting at home in the comfort of our living rooms. Here's his side of the tribal council that got this type of reaction.

Mic: How did you feel going into that tribal council? What was your personal game plan going in?

Malcolm Freberg: We all felt great going into tribal — we were up 6-5. Hell, we thought it was unfair to the other tribe. For me personally, having seen how crazy tribals can get when there's uncertainty on the table, I wanted to keep everyone as calm as possible. Which you wouldn't think would be a problem with a bunch of veterans — but it obviously was.

As someone who has been a part of a hectic tribal council with my name on the block, it is a very specific emotional experience. How were you feeling during it? Did your gut tell you something was off?

MF: For the first two-thirds of tribal, even after some of the huddles had taken place, everything still seemed fine. And even after J.T. started panicking towards the end — which you didn't see on TV — I still felt like I had several layers of insulation from being booted. So while it was absolutely nuts that night, it felt like half a dozen things needed to go wrong for me to get sent home. Unfortunately, every single one of those half dozen things happened.

Was the vote from your tribe truly live? Jeff Probst loves his live tribals. Was your team ever planning to change what they were going to do?

MF: The vote from my tribe for Sierra was decided back at camp and, honestly, was a pretty straight-forward decision. We didn't see any reason to change it; based on our combined knowledge about her, the consensus was that Sierra would never find an idol. The only way she'd be protected was if someone handed it to her, and the odds against that were massively long — someone on that tribe would have to have found it in the first place, then be willing to pass off that protection in an unprecedented tribal council and put themselves at risk without any information to make that decision. That'd be insane gameplay, unless, say, someone from our tribe told them exactly who we were voting for.

Explain Hali to me. Was she actually trying to help you guys or was she playing both sides? Then explain J.T. to me. Did you see him talking to Culpepper? What is your opinion of his "move"?

MF: I adore Hali but have given up trying to explain her. My take is, she was genuinely trying to help us, but we were trying to help her too. We didn't know her position on the other tribe, and didn't know she could help us with this vote, so we tried to insulate her and told her to vote with her new tribe. That'd give her plausible deniability, and we'd hook up with her down the road.

We all were shocked when J.T. jumped up to talk to Culpepper, but at the time, I still wasn't all that concerned. He insisted all he'd told Culpepper was that he (Culpepper) was safe. My understanding was that he would have flipped had he thought the other tribe agreed to vote Sandra, but he realized they weren't going that direction and were voting me instead, so he re-flipped to Sierra. But to this day, I don't understand the logic behind flipping in the first place — you've got to go back to camp with the new Nuku tribe, after you've betrayed them. It doesn't make sense.


Were you concerned about idols going in? Why did your gang choose to put the votes on Sierra?

MF: All our plans — and we discussed this stuff for hours — were in anticipation of an idol, and that's a big part of why we voted Sierra. Consensus was, she'd be the last person to have one. The only other name people really kicked around was Culpepper, but we knew J.T. loved Culpepper and we needed to keep J.T. happy, so we never truly considered it.

There are always things we miss watching at home since tribal councils last HOURS. As I know. What didn't we see on screen, before and during tribal?

MF: The biggest thing was J.T. panicking. In the back-third of tribal council, before the vote, it was obvious that something was wrong with him — I'm assuming that he'd caught on that new Mana wasn't voting Sandra like he wanted, and instead was targeting me, his BFF. And, knowing that he'd told them about the Sierra vote, he'd basically screwed us. So multiple times he told new Nuku "We've got to change the vote." But when we'd ask why, he wouldn't fess up to what he'd told Culpepper. I can only assume that's because he was trying to keep his hands clean and not look like he'd just royally messed up. So we didn't see any reason to change it, again, because the idea of her having an idol or someone handing it to her seemed infinitesimal.

Is there anything you could have done differently?

MF: I'm sure the mega-fans will come up with a billion different scenarios that would have worked out in my favor, but in the real world, in the moment? I still can't come up with anything I could change. The idea that one of your closest allies (J.T.) would give away the one key bit of information that could wreck you (the Sierra vote) still doesn't make sense to me. There's no way to see that coming, because it's so damn irrational. And fine, you can possibly invent better plans for my tribe before going into that tribal, but ours gave us a, say, 95% sure-fire way to take out a strong physical player (Sierra) who's tightly allied with the opposition. The only thing that could possibly have undermined that plan was something that no one thought a season of veterans would be stupid enough to do: Blabbing our plan at tribal. And then J.T. happened.

How would you sum up your Survivor: Game Changers experience in one word?

MF: Short.

Survivor gets better and better. I may be biased, as I spent some time hungry and on an island, but I think Survivor is still the best competition reality show on TV. Tune in next week to watch the island craziness continue.

Mic has ongoing Survivor coverage. Check out our main Survivor hub here.