LJ McKanas was one cool, relaxed dude. Originally placed on the Beauty Tribe, LJ quickly found himself cast in a leadership role on his tribe and in his alliance. He is your not-so-typical alpha male, whose patient and calm approach to the game seemed to really work for him. But on Wednesday night's episode of "Survivor: Cagayan," LJ was outwitted by one of his closest allies, Tony, becoming the third member of the jury and the latest victim in what has become a string of shocking blindsides. I spoke with him today, one day after the episode aired.
Yes LJ quickly became a fan favorite, the rare memorable Survivor character who doesn't possess an over-powering persona. His testimonials seemed insightful and showed great awareness, and we quickly saw that he was really going to be a major threat to win it all. Finding a hidden Idol early on in the game didn't hurt his chances.
Post Tribal swap and post-merge, LJ still remained in the majority alliance and was calling many of the shots. The tribal shake-up brought former Brawn member, Tony, to his group and the two seemed to really hit it off, all the while noticing that they were each others' biggest perceived obstacle to winning the game. What may have began as a loose alliance between the two strategic powerhouses would soon get much deeper: At the season's most explosive Tribal Council, Tony used a hidden Idol on LJ. LJ returned the favor and played his hidden Idol on Tony. This mutual move seemed to bond the two together in what should have been an impenetrable alliance.
But this is Survivor. Only six days later, Tony was plotting against LJ. LJ began to feel comfortable with his position in the game. Yeah, that never seems to work out.
Working his magic, Tony was able to pull in Woo and the three minority-alliance tribe members to pull off the big blindside. And to think, LJ nearly won Immunity in what seemed to be a simple memory challenge.
Here is my conversation with LJ McKanas, as we discuss his time in the game, the use of his Idol and of course, all things Tony.
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: LJ! Man what a bummer to see you go! I'm sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that.
LJ McKanas: Yeah, especially myself!
Tom Santilli: So let's go back and chat a bit about the Tribal Council where Tony played his Idol on you and you played your Idol on Tony. Describe your thought process and that situation. Was giving away your Idol planned or was it an emotional response?
LJ: The funny thing about Survivor is that you have to have both. You have to do it on your feet sometimes. In my mind at that point in the game, I had already planned to have played the Idol, the Idol was already gone going into Tribal. So when it got to the point where he took it out and waived it around I knew it was going to be a decision that was going to need to be made on the fly with the minority group. So when Tony played his Idol on me, I was still in the mindset that I was going to play mine. A million thoughts were going through my mind. If they turn around and vote out Tony, I'm still going to be outnumbered. I'd have an Idol, but I'd still be outnumbered. It's a big difference in this game between talking about doing something and actually doing something. So in playing my Idol, I was basically using it to purchase some loyalty. Because in my opinion at that stage in the game, he was the only one who was actually playing the game of Survivor. So he is my enemy. I need to keep him as close as I possibly can. So to play that Idol right now, this is going to put me in a position, if this goes the way we want it to, I'm going to be with him until the Final Six, and now we can really start to get things moving in the next couple days. I wouldn't need to worry about his paranoia personally.
Tom Santilli: So to be clear, would you have remained loyal to Tony until the Final Three had he not flipped?
LJ: Not to the Final Three, no. I mean the game changes minute by minute, but the more that he was aggressive and assertive the more I considered that if I went to the Final Three with him, I was going to have a very hard time winning if he goes with me. I was playing the game. I was doing the numbers, doing the numbers and just concluded that it wouldn't be beneficial for me to take him out now, maybe not even the next vote. I just wanted to keep enough loyalty to keep the votes consistent, and unfortunately make a boring few weeks here. And then play the game. He didn't just blindside me, he blindsided Jefra, Trish and Kass. Now he made a move with the minority alliance so they now know how he plays as well. I mean, unless you're going to win out Immunity Challenges, you're going to be in a very difficult spot to move forward in this game.
Tom Santilli: It was very interesting to watch you both. You were both incredibly aware, strategic players, yet your styles couldn't be more different. He's in your face and assertive while you were approaching things much more calmly and patient. But as a Survivor strategist, do you respect his gameplay style?
LJ: Yes. I love the game, I respect the game and I understand all facets of the game. I played my game based upon the personalities and characters within the game. And he was such a strong, assertive, paranoid player that he always had an energy around him. So I hated the fact that I had to play such a boring character. What's interesting about this game is that it is like the exact opposite of acting. Acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. This is, you're living imaginarily, in truthful circumstances. So I had to offset. I had to play the boring kind of person. But I was always a threat. I didn't want to be bold, I didn't want to be big and I didn't want any reason for other people to want to be without me. And being that I was a clear challenge threat, I cannot turn off that competition. I'm going to kill anyone in a puzzle. I can't dummy that down. So I had to let the boring take over my whole body. And it was killing me to watch this show, and to reasd all the blogs and how LJ was so boring. So hopefully in the light of the future, there is another opportunity for me to play this game, where I would have a huge opportunity to become a totally different character, so people can see how I would approach the game a second time.
Tom Santilli: I find that hard to believe that many Survivor strategy-lovers, like myself, would refer to you as boring. You were much less "in-your-face" than others, but to me you had the winning approach and were one of the one's I was really rooting for this season. I hate watching players play who don't seem to belong in the game or have a respect for the game.
LJ: Well thanks.
Tom Santilli: Now I want to ask you about Trish and her conversation with Tony last night where he tried to convince her that you were sneaky. Did Trish try to have a conversation with you about that talk with Tony? It seems like had you talked about it, you would have been able to compare notes and Tony would have been outed as a liar.
LJ: Unfortunately, she didn't come to me to have that conversation. And what doesn't make sense now that I watch it...well first, I was so proud of Trish that she was like, I'm not doing it. But give me the opportunity! Call me a liar. You know how Tony is, he's paranoid. Why would I make this up? Why would I do this? And honestly, that would have changed the whole game had I had a conversation with her. I actually talked to her at one point after the show, and she told me she was sick to her stomach that she didn't believe me, or whatever. Because for her gameplan and strategy, if you're not going to do anything about it, you have to realize, OK, I now have two potential liars here and they're on my alliance and I'm not going to do anything about it. So how does that bode for Trish's future? She's just going to continue into the future guessing? I just wish that she would have had that conversation with me. And she sat on it. It killed me to watch it unfold that way.
Tom Santilli: You and Jefra were shown as being very close. How involved was Jefra in the alliance and the decision-making? She's being portrayed sort of as a coat-tail rider up to this point. Would you agree with that assessment of her?
LJ: I think up until this point, she didn't have much of a choice. I was a much clearer threat to the group. So maybe it was in her best interest to just sit back and see how far she could get. And when it came time to make a big move, make it. I mean, she did have conversations with me about when to do this or when to do that. She was kind of sitting in the back but knew we were outnumbered. I think I was sort of a security blanket for her, but she was ready to make a move, there just wasn't a time where we thought we had an opportunity to do so.
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