With seven players left in the game, there was nowhere to hide on Wednesday night’s episode of Survivor 43. And for Las Vegas native, Sami Layadi, that couldn’t be any truer following his decision to blindside Karla Cruz Godoy at last week’s tribal council.
Sami seamlessly played the middle for quite some time, dating all the way back to his days on the original Baka tribe, where he worked closely with Elie and Jeanine while relaying their information back to Owen and Gabler. Once the merge hit, he heightened this strategy by working with the short-lived group of seven, yet still maintaining relationships with the players in the minority. Sami made it his mission to not only form close bonds with every player in the game, but turn on them at any given moment, provided the move benefited his game. This made him dangerous, and because of it, he emerged as one of this season’s most dominant players — all at the age of 19. In the end, his gameplay caught up to him, resulting in the first truly unanimous vote of the season, where he became the 12th eliminated player of Survivor 43, and the fifth member of the jury.
Pop Crave spoke with Sami about why he turned on Karla so shortly after the James vote, why he never viewed Jesse and Cody as threats in the game, the jury’s reaction to his real age, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!
You’re officially juror #5! How do you feel about your entire Survivor journey now that your elimination has aired?
Oh, man, it’s been nothing but positive. How could you complain? You got to go to Fiji. You got to play this amazing game that people put so much work and so much love into. And on top of all that, I’m biased… best cast ever! I think we have the best cast ever. They are the most amazing people. My experience was so, so meaningful to me.
Going back to the James vote, you made it a priority to clue in Karla, saying that you wanted to work with her moving forward. Then you voted her out in the next tribal council. Can you talk a little bit about that decision and why you had a change of heart in working with her?
For the James vote, what I told Karla was, “James is gonna use his Knowledge is Power to take your idol.” That was the scheme I came up with to get her to vote that way. And so when she actually did vote the way I told her to and freaked out about it, I was like, “Okay… she probably has an idol.” That’s not something you want to have in the game, because I didn’t have an idol. If I don’t have an idol, I don’t want anyone else to have one! At this point, we knew Cody also had an idol, but I thought he was kind of more non-threatening, and we didn’t know about Jesse having the other idol. When Cass won immunity, I was like, “Oh, crap. I don’t want to vote off Noelle,” because I just told her that I was going to work with her, then I’m down on numbers. So I said, “Let me vote off Karla, then we’ll vote off Noelle.”
You were voted out unanimously, even after voting with Owen last week. Why do you think that was?
I give a lot of credit and respect to everybody that was in the game. But on the day I got voted out, I felt pretty comfortable with Owen and Gabler, so I give them a lot of props because they made me feel really good about the position that I was in. And you know, I think at the end of the day for Owen and Gabler, the rationale behind voting for me was, “He sunk his ship and he’s playing hard.” When there’s a chance to make it from seven to six, you take that chance because it can be make or break for you in the game. Also, especially after that tribal council, when people saw the way the jury was reacting to me… I don’t think people took that very well. I don’t think anybody wanted to see what I had up my sleeve, or pocket, in a final tribal setting.
A plan to blindside Cassidy seemed to be in the works but that obviously never came into fruition. Do you have any insight on what flipped the vote back onto you?
It was supposed to be Cassidy the whole day, is what I heard. It flipped to me at the last second because Jesse went around and kind of tried to get a gauge on everybody about whether they were still wanting to work with me or not. And Jesse thought I was dead in the water. I thought I was a little bit dead in the water. But to my delight, well, I guess maybe not to my delight because it was my demise… everybody told Jesse they still wanted to work with me and that I was still somebody that they wanted to go with moving forward. So Jesse used the fire making thing as an angle to get me out of the game. And you know, to be completely honest with you, I was never too confident that it was going to be Cass. People made me feel somewhat safe that day. But it was more of like a, “I might make it out of this!” It wasn’t like, “Oh my gosh, I’m fine. I actually somehow did this.” No, no, no. I’m smart enough to know when I’ve screwed up. I’m smart enough to know when something didn’t go my way. At that point, the game didn’t go my way and I knew I was probably in trouble.
Speaking of Cassidy, you lied to Karla and told her that Cassidy threw her under the bus to you. Do you know if Karla ever went back to Cassidy with that conversation?
I don’t. I don’t know what happens going forward. We’ll see. As far as Cassidy goes, it’s always funny to go back on the what ifs in this game. And you know, with Cassidy, that’s a big what if that I have. We had a really good relationship up to the point where I voted for Karla. Cassidy, Karla, James, you know, they’re the people who clued me in on voting for Dwight back then. So we had a very good relationship and I think that we could have done some damage in the game going forward. But you know, here I am. I blew it.
Jesse and Cody have been highlighted as a duo quite a lot this season. Besides a moment from Gabler last week, we haven’t really seen many people mention them as targets. What was your perception of them in the game, and why do you think Jesse, specifically, was able to survive tribal council this week?
Jesse and Cody were able to remain safe because I feel like people looked at them the same way that I did. I didn’t see them as threats, not even for one second. The only time I saw Jesse as a threat was after the vote at 8 when Noelle got voted out. Then I was like, “Oh, crap. Jesse’s a threat. This sucks.” But you know, Jesse was very quiet around camp. He tried to not pitch in all the time. He tried to keep his opinions to himself. And that was very smart of him. Cody was somewhat the same way, except when you tried to talk strategy with him, he was just like, “Alright, Sami. Let’s just do this real quick. This is what’s gonna happen? Okay, cool.” Obviously, there were longer, more thought out talks that were being had that weren’t with me. And that’s why I felt that way. They were very good at managing their threat level.
What do you think your odds of staying were if Karla didn’t win immunity?
Had Karla not won immunity? I want to be honest, man, I think I was in trouble either way. But, you know, had Karla not won and Cody not found the advantage, I think that my chances of staying are a lot better. I think that if we had the traditional, one person safe, six people aren’t, it would have been interesting to see what shook up. But I’m gonna be honest with you in saying that, and it sounds stupid, but I was happy about that moment. That was a really cool moment to watch them conquer that thing. Although it wasn’t the best for me and my game, I’m able to separate the two. I’m a Survivor fan. I’m a huge fan of this show, and to watch them break a challenge like that was mind-blowing.
You were the only player this season to use your Shot in the Dark. What do you think made other players in your cast hesitant to use it?
I think there’s always that little fear in the back of your mind like, “What if I’m wrong? What if I shouldn’t use it? What if I’m okay, and I’m not doing the right thing here?” But for me, it’s a little easier in a smaller group to know, “Okay, this isn’t really working.” Most of all, I didn’t want to play this game scared. I didn’t want to play fearful… withdrawn, keep my fists up, but don’t throw the punch yet. I’m like, “Yo. I’m throwing the punch, bro. This is it. This is the last rodeo. This feels like it’s my last chance.” And so I was ready to leave everything out there.
So we know you were playing the middle for quite some time, especially during the merge. What was the reaction from the other jurors like when arriving at Ponderosa?
I had some questions that I had to answer. But that’s another thing that reinforced and made me feel better, as I really felt like I was a threat in this game. It didn’t take much explaining for them to understand the game that I was playing. I feel like I could have played into final tribal council to where I could have easily explained my position and my point of view because I did build a relationship with each juror that was there.
You kept your real age a secret for the entire game. Did you end up revealing it to the jurors once you arrived at Ponderosa, and if so, what was their reaction?
Yeah, I did tell them at Ponderosa. They were actually pretty shocked, like, everybody was pretty shocked. They’re like, “Yeah, this man is crazy.” Then Noelle was like, “Listen Sami, I gotta tell you something. I’m a Paralympian. I was on the United States track team.” And I was kind of like, “Okay, wow. I have done nothing in this world yet. But yeah, that was funny.
What aspect of your gameplay would you say contributed most to your elimination?
I truly just think that I got too caught up with… I kicked the dust up a little too much. I think that in this game, it’s important to know when to strike and when to not. I knew that for a very long time and did so well with it for so long. But I got to a point where I was ready to just throw caution to the wall and go for it. And you know, it makes for some fun things to watch; It’s fun to watch somebody talk like that, but it’s not really good for getting to the end and winning this game. Another thing is that I think I started undervaluing important relationships. With Gabler, I stopped paying him as much attention as I should have. I stopped giving Cass the time of day. I stopped giving Owen the time of day, sometimes. It wasn’t smart of me to burn those relationships with people that were in, you know, stronger positions than myself.
Final question! I’ve been asking all of the jurors… What was the first thing you ate at Ponderosa?
Which one, bro? I’m telling you right now, I didn’t break an immunity challenge record, whatever. I have it on record. I broke the record for the biggest Ponderosa food order. And so I’ll pick one of them. The pepper steak was phenomenal. That was great. But I had three of them, so… [laughs].
New episodes of Survivor air Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.