Survivor winner Adam

Adam Klein became the 32nd person to ever win Survivor last night, winning a unanimous final vote over Hannah and Ken. Adam’s journey towards victory was one of the most emotional the game has ever seen, with the fact that Adam was playing the game while his mom suffered from lung cancer, and as we learned last night, succumbed to the illness just one hour after Adam returned home from the season.

I had the chance to chat with Adam today about his time in the game, his story, and his take on this season and all-things Survivor. Click continue reading for the full transcript.

Tom Santilli, Hey man! How are you and congratulations!

Adam:  My voice is a little hoarse by this point with all of the interviews today, but I’m doing great, this is a dream come true.

Tom: So you’re going to blame your sore throat on the interviews and not on the Survivor after party last night, huh?

Adam: (Laughs) Um, what after-party? I don’t know what you’re talking about. (laughs)

Tom: Well hey, congratulations again. Your story, obviously, was one of the most emotional stories we’ve ever seen on the show from a winner, but I loved what you said at last night’s Live Reunion Show, that for you, this is not a reality show, this is not a “storyline.” This is your real life. If you could just expand on that, because I thought that was a great perspective to bring up to the audience.

Adam: So I’m on the Survivor sub-Reddit, you know. I read all the articles. I read your stuff, and all of the articles. And I see some of the comments online already where people are like, oh Adam, why does he keep talking about his mom? This story is old, we’ve already heard it. But of course I’m talking about it, because that is my life. That’s what matters the most to me. And everything I did in the game was in that context. It’s not just a story on TV, those were real emotions, and they still are, that I’m actually going through.

I mean some people just don’t realize, my mom actually had Stage-4 lung cancer, and this is my best friend, and I’m actually going through these human emotions. Some people, maybe they just haven’t experienced loss in their lives. I think most people get that I’m going through something very real. And it was my story during the time I was on Survivor.  I absolutely think that it was irrelevant in terms of me winning the game, I think I win the game with or without that story, and I think the rest of the jury members would corroborate that. But this was what my truth was out there. I mean, I may have set the record for the most tears ever shed on Survivor.

Tom: That’s quite possible, quite possible. Does it surprise you at all, though, that people watching Survivor have been conditioned so much with all the lying and backstabbing, that when they hear real stories like this, their first inclination is to think that you’re using it for sympathy or as some sort of a game move?

Adam: No, because people are going to say what they want to say. It is hurtful. But in the end, I know that what I was doing out there was real. I was building real bonds and real connections with people, and I was playing a very strategic game. Some people want to separate those things, but they’re all connected. Yeah, like when I decided not to play my Reward Advantage, it was 100% genuine in that I did not want to steal someone’s Loved Ones or other reward. But it can also be the right strategic move. It can be both. I knew that there was a very good chance that it would win me some favor, and whoever I gave the advantage to would likely take me along with them. That was a risk of course, as Jay did not necessarily have to take me, but it was also human. Right? So you can’t separate it.

Tom: Going into Final Tribal Council, did you have any feeling that you were going to win? And what was your ideal Final Three as the game went along and you were down to seven or six people left?

Adam: As soon as the last Dave vote was read, I had felt very confident that I had just won the game. I went into Tribal Council feeling very confident, and I left Tribal Council feeling even more confident. From pretty much the beginning of the merge, I knew that I had wanted to go to Final Three with Ken and Hannah. I was also very tight with Jessica, we had sort of an across-the-aisle deal with Bret, where my side wouldn’t target him and his side wouldn’t target me. There were some other combinations of people that I maybe wanted to go to the end with, but I thought that Ken and Hannah were the surest combination in terms of my ability to win the game.

Tom: As you may now know, you are now only the fifth winner ever to win the game with a unanimous vote.

Adam: Crazy.

Tom: You felt like you were going to win, but did the fact that it was unanimous come as a surprise at all? Were there any votes you weren’t sure of or were surprised to know that they voted for you?

Adam: I honestly felt really, really good leaving the last Tribal Council. Everyone had given me a question and an opportunity to really show them…I mean, Final Tribal went on for a lot longer than you see on TV, and I was able to articulate, step by step, every decision that I made throughout the entire game and why it made sense for me at the time. And sure, there were times where I wasn’t necessarily in control in terms of deciding exactly who was going home, but often times that was deliberate. Like when Sunday went home. That was a deliberate decision to take a step back. Because like I had stated at the previous Tribal Council, the people who kept stepping up and saying, this has to go my way, they would become the biggest threat in the game and they would get their heads chopped. So I would take a step up and take a step back, take a step up and take a step back. But I was never the biggest threat in the game.

But with the votes, I felt pretty confident with most of the votes. There was Jessica, who even though we were aligned in the game, I know she was very close with Ken, and I know that it hurt her a little bit at Final Tribal that I told her that Ken and Hannah were my ideal Final Three. Because had I ended up voting out Jessica, that would have been a betrayal of sorts. I would have loved to have gone to the end with her, but my family comes first. But besides Jessica, I was pretty confident with everybody else’s vote.

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Tom: Hannah had come into that Final Tribal Council with guns a-blazin’. She was very confident and tried convincing the jury that she had been in control often times, and that you were more of a coattail rider. Did Hannah’s forcefulness at this Tribal take you off-guard at all? And was there any truth to what she was saying, or was this just Hannah’s perspective of her own game?

Adam: I absolutely did not take any offense  at her coming at me, I’m glad she did it, because I was happy to come back at her and I felt like I had a very strong argument to make, in terms of why some of her strategic decisions may not have been the best. And how I had then recovered from those decisions. But I love and respect Hannah so much, she loves the game and played the game so hard. I think Hannah’s only miscalculation in the game was that she didn’t see how much respect I had from the people we were putting on the jury. I had very strong relationships that she just wasn’t seeing. I was intentionally hiding them from her, and I knew that we both wanted to go to the end together, because she thought she could beat me in the end. That was made obvious when she voted out Sunday. Because Sunday was someone that I thought Hannah might have had a chance against in the end. About being in strategic control, I actually agree with a lot of what she said at Final Tribal. When she was like, Adam is trying to take credit for all of my moves, I was like, no, no, no, no, absolutely not. I will take joint credit for the moves that we made together, but there were some moves that you decided to make on your own, and those were the moves that almost cost all of us the game. One of them was the Bret vote, which I think was a huge mistake from her perspective.

Tom: I ask this of every winner, but trying to take a step back, where do you think your game ranks among the all-time Survivor Winners?

Adam: Well I think Tyson and I are in a special category of winners, where we had to pull a rock, right? Each of us had a specific spot in the game that you could point to, where luck absolutely had to be on our side in order for us to get to the end. I definitely think that for me, going to rocks was the right move and the right decision, because I was demonstrating loyalty. And there was this incorrect perception of me at the time, that I was this schemer or flip-flopper, or whatever, but that night I showed everybody that I was there to play this game with my alliance. And for all the talk about voting blocs and all of that stuff, it was a distraction away from the fact of what I believed to be a solid alliance of six. And all the talk at Tribal Councils was to confuse everybody else into thinking that there was still room for movement. So I think I played a loyal game to the alliance that I had put together, consisting of people that I thought I could beat in the end, I had very strong relationships.

I think it made for great television the way they portrayed me as having sort of a little downfall in the game, with the mistake of telling Taylor too much information, and the show made it look like it would be my downfall in the game, and that I would be voted out next or soon after or whatever. But in reality, in the actual game, I was not in danger. I had a strong alliance and while people talked in passing about, oh Adam is tough to work with, like Zeke, he never seriously considered voting me out. So I was able to play this game riding the middle, lifting people up as threats that had to be taken out before me and also recognizing the hierarchy of the group, to know who I would be able to beat in the end.

So all of those things considered, I feel like I played a very strong strategic game. I think that the edit of the show showed some moments that I did not have very strong social connections, but I think the final vote shows that I did have strong social connections and that I was playing a very strong social game.

Tom: This was a great season of all-new players, but we saw last night that next season will consist of all returning players. I know this is an ongoing online debate in the Survivor community, where some love all-new player seasons and hate returning player seasons, and vice versa. You’re a super-fan…where do you fall in this debate?

Adam: Well of course, leading up to Season 33, I of course wanted all seasons to be all-new player seasons, and now post-Season 33 I think all seasons should be returning player seasons. (laughs) But no, some of my favorite seasons, like my top two favorite seasons are Pearl Islands and Cagayan, and they’re both all-new player seasons. Well I mean, I guess these are my favorite seasons, not counting Millennials vs. Gen-X of course.

Tom: Well hey Adam, to win Survivor is an amazing achievement, but to do it over this amazing cast of super-competitive, likable people is even more special. Congratulations man and thank you for sharing your life with us.

Adam: Thank you. I’m so honored to have been a part of what I consider to be a really special cast, a really warm-hearted, special group of people. If any of your audience wants to donate to help with lung cancer research, the link to do so is

Photo Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS