This week’s episode of “Survivor: Ghost Island” put a twist in the game that none of the castaways saw coming. The remaining 10 players were split into two temporary tribes with five players each, and both groups attended separate Tribal Councils. Two players left the game in one shocking night.
The second victim of the twist was 18-year-old Michael Yerger, who lied about his young age to his fellow castmates. Keeping with the theme of the season, Michael became a fan favorite on the show after finding two popular immunity idols from past seasons and using them to remain in the game while being one of the biggest threats.
Michael found the idol that belonged to James in “Survivor: China” and later also found the fake immunity idol that Ozzy had crafted on “Survivor: Micronesia.” (This time, it was a real hidden immunity idol!) With no more tricks in his back pocket, the teen was forced to lie about having yet another idol. The plan didn’t work, however, and Michael was voted out of the game.
Michael spoke with CBS Local’s Phil Stauskas about his age, his many immunity idols and the highlight of his experience.
What was the reaction from everybody else when they found out that you were 18?
Honestly, hardly anybody found out until we all went our separate ways after the whole thing was done with. A lot of the reactions were actually over the phone or through text or FaceTime or whatever. The reactions were fantastic. It was really funny to hear some of the feedback, especially from Brendan and Kellyn and Dom. They were just over the wall. But then I had actually told Libby and Chris and Jenna at Ponderosa, because we got close up there and, of course, I didn’t really want to keep hiding that.
You’re a big fan of the show, we saw that in your time out there. You found the James idol from China. You found Ozzy’s “bleeping stick.” What was it like for you to find some of the most famous “Survivor” artifacts that are out there?
It was absolutely unreal, and the fact that I got those two… I felt like it was fate for me. Not fate that I’d find idols, but just fate that the idols I found were those two. Because the one for “Survivor: China,” James’ idol, that was the first season I’d ever watched. James was my favorite character, and it just all felt full circle for me, and really just stuck out that much more in my experience as a whole.
I love the whole theme of this season. I love that they brought back those idols. I love the story, and I just couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this season specifically.
Let’s talk about that China idol for a little bit. What was probably your signature move, I’d say, was the lie about that China idol, that it was going to protect two people. How did you come up with that plan?
Me and Brendan had found the idol together. We had kept it a secret and wanted to keep that out of the picture until we had formulated a good plan, and obviously we had wanted to keep that Malolo four together. We wanted to move forward with the numbers into the merge and try and flip the tables, so me and Brendan decided now was the time. We told Jenna and Steph minutes before Tribal. The goal was to put all the votes on Bradley and blah blah blah.
But on the way to Tribal, that’s when the wheels started turning and I was just like, sitting there really discouraged. Like, this can’t be it. I don’t like a 1-in-25 shot. I’m not happy with this. I want to increase our odds. And it kind of just clicked with me last minute, and during Tribal I thought, you know, let’s go for it.
You came up with it during Tribal?
During Tribal! I just kept thinking over and over, I’m not happy with this. And I kept thinking back to the story about James, and I could literally like watch the episode in my head, just because it resonated with me that much when I was a kid. And I remember how sad it was for me to see my favorite player go home with two of them. So, I’m like, “All right, let’s do this. Let’s go for two.” Why wouldn’t people believe it? I’ve got two notes. I’ve got the whole story. I’m decently charismatic with the storytelling, so let’s just go for it and… balls to the wall.
I really wish it would have worked out differently. I hate that Brendan was the collateral damage. I love that dude. He was the closest ally in my game thus far, and I really feel guilty for all of that happening, because he’s a student of the game as well. He had so much heart in it, and it just crushed me to be responsible for that, as well as Libby. It goes the same way. But I definitely wish I would have judged the reaction a bit different when I went up to play it.
Unfortunately, last night, you did not have an idol going into Tribal. You did try to get Donathan to give you the Koah Rong idols. He rejected you pretty soundly. How did you feel about that?
Obviously it was a shot in the dark. I, of course, didn’t fully believe he would. It wasn’t out of the question for me, because he had told me that he was willing to play it for me previously when he found it. I thought, at the least, let me have half of it and try and bluff it and try to do something with this idol. But, you know, I understand his reasoning and why he wasn’t having it. But, of course, it was just hard for me, because that was one of my last plans I had up my sleeve.
As you continue in your lie of “I have an idol,” did you ever really think that you had people convinced?
Yeah, I really did. Maybe not fully convinced, because of course you can never really truly believe anything in “Survivor,” but I knew that [Kellyn] was worried that I really could, and just the worry is enough to switch things up, clearly, because there was quite a bit of chaos at that Tribal. Of course, Dom wasn’t really having it with the idol, but just kind of planting that seed with Kellyn was enough to, you know, sway the vote. And it’s so frustrating knowing that I could have stayed in by putting my vote on Laurel, but I really did feel confident about me, Laurel and Kellyn’s plan to blindside Wendell. There was just so much going on that Tribal that it was really hard to kind of judge things.
What was the strategy behind your vote for Wendell?
I had been fighting the dude the past couple votes, and I was the biggest leader to get him out of the game. I knew that bridge was already burned, so I wanted to keep chasing it. I felt like it was so apparent to Kellyn and Laurel that he needed to go — or Dom needed to go. I obviously didn’t know how close Laurel and Wendell were, so I was rallying for that hard. I thought that they thought it was the right time for that as well. Clearly not. But I definitely went into Tribal feeling a bit confident and hopeful that we might be able to pull it out.
What was your reaction to seeing six votes then, after Kellyn played her extra vote advantage?
It definitely took me back. I had to take a second and re-evaluate what was going on. Obviously her going to Ghost Island twice definitely raised a red flag, and her story about her not getting to play and all that. You can only believe unless something like this happens. So, I kind of knew instantly that it was an extra vote straight from Kellyn. But then, of course, when it was the re-vote, and me and Laurel were out of the picture, I knew I was toast.
As somebody who is a young fan and watched the show as a kid, what was the highlight of this whole experience for you?
Oh, man, that’s so hard.
Like, doing the things that really were the founding moments in “Survivor” for me is what was the coolest. Like, finding an idol, handing that idol to Jeff Probst. Doing the helicopter reward. The eating challenge. Even though I didn’t win and I had to eat a bunch of nasty stuff, it was so incredible for me to just participate in it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing right there. And just to be able to do the things I grew up watching, it sounds so cliche, you hear it all the time, but it really was just unreal, and I’ll never forget those moments. Thankfully, when I’m 80 and don’t remember anything, I can still watch this back and remember what an awesome experience it was.
You said this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You commented that you were never going to be on the show again. Do you really think that?
I’ve gotten some good feedback since then. I’ve gotten good words from Jeff Probst in an article that he wrote, which is absolutely shocking to me. It’s just so flattering to have one of the biggest celebrities and icons, for me and my childhood, speaking on my behalf in a positive light. That’s just amazing. And the thought of going back out there, and getting to give it my all a second time, I mean, that’s too much. And I’d totally be on board for it. I can only dream of doing it again. If it arises, I’m game. I’m down.
Watch “Survivor: Ghost Island” Wednesdays at 8:00 PM EST/PST on CBS.