Pop Crave caught up with Matthew to discuss his early exit from the game, the tribe dynamic on Ratu before he left, what his strategy would have been in the merge, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!
Hey, Matthew! So sad to be speaking with you today considering the circumstances. We now know that you made the unfortunate decision to leave the game due to your shoulder injury. What was making that decision like, and were there any thoughts of possibly sticking it out a little longer?
Yeah, I mean, I had every tool to make it to the merge. I had an idol in my pocket. I definitely could have, and that was the conversation: Can I make it to the merge, make it on the jury, and then see this to the end in a different fashion? Not necessarily as a contestant, but still as a participant. But through the medical examination — and they don’t really show this with Doctor Will — the extent of my injuries was very, very bad. And, you know, they can’t give me an x-ray. They can’t give me an MRI — all those things in the field. I couldn’t raise my arm past my shoulder level, so I had to make the right decision, for the health of myself, to leave the game. I had surgery this past November and there was a laundry list of things that happened: I fractured my humerus [so badly] that piece of it broke off and had to be taken out. I fractured my scapula that had to be reattached. I tore my rotator cuff. I tore my labrum, which is the capsule of your shoulder. My subscapularis muscle had to be reattached. Like, it was massive. I mean, we’re talking about three major surgeries all into one. So it was the right decision to do.
How are you feeling now?
I’m doing great now. I’m well ahead of my physical therapy goals. I’m working with Ohio State’s sports medicine team and they’re treating me like a college athlete. So my progress has been to get me back to that fighting, training mode, and I’m back to doing full workouts. They’ve been excellent at getting me back to being in that athlete mode. And so I’m back to full trainings for that second chance call. If it ever happens, I’m gonna be prepared and ready for it.
We also sadly didn’t get to see your exit in the episode. Were you able to say your goodbyes to everyone at Ratu?
No. I asked about that and I really wanted to have the opportunity, but they told me that that was not going to be an option. Had I had that option, I would have passed my idol on. At that point, Kane and I were strategically very much aligned so if I had the opportunity, I would have passed my idol on to Kane — if I could have done it in quiet. But if I had to do it publicly, I would have given the idol to probably Carson or Lauren to put a target on them.
While climbing that rock in the premiere, you had a confessional about wanting to tick off as much on your ‘Survivor’ bucket list as possible. Can you share more about what that moment may have meant to you, and your reasoning behind it?
They don’t really show it but in the drone, you can kind of see that there’s something weird up there. And so that was my driving [force]. I was like, “There’s something that’s not right.” And one of my mantras going into this, as you know, is [that] I love the outdoors and I love nature. I spend a lot of my time out there. So I’m looking for things that are not nature. That’s going to be the way to an advantage. That’s going to be the way to a hidden immunity idol, you know, all those things. And so I’m looking for something that sticks out. And that’s what I saw. And so that’s what I went after. Had I climbed up there and climbed back down and nothing would have happened, it would be a nothing-burger. I wouldn’t really care. But I did fall and so that changed the direction of the game, and certainly the game for me.
You were the second contestant to leave the game due to an injury, following Bruce in the season premiere. What was your relationship with him like at Ponderosa? Were you able to bond with him over this shared experience?
So here’s a fun fact about Bruce and I: We were both in final casting together in 2019. We were both supposed to be in season 41. So when we got onto the mat before our first challenge and I saw his face, I was like, “I know that guy! I have to get to that guy. Because if I get to that guy, we’ve got something that nobody else has. We have that moment.” And so I was like, “I need to get to him.” So when I saw Bruce go down, I was like, “Oh gosh, no!” But when I got to Ponderosa and we were able to have that exchange of like, “We’ve actually kind of met. We’ve seen each other,” it was a hug of old friends seeing each other again for the first time. So I have a great relationship with my fellow castmates — I love them all — but there’s some people that understand my journey a little bit better, and Bruce is one of them.
There was a scene where Kane expressed to Carson that he couldn’t talk about a lot of his interests with the older members of Ratu. Did you feel a similar disconnect with anyone on Ratu?
They don’t really show it but I’m actually a big nerd too. I love the Jedi. I love ‘Star Wars.’ I’m a huge Marvel fan. So there were a lot of things that gravitated Kane and I to each other. On the flip side, if you look at Lauren and Brandon, they were talking about a lot of popular artists, music, and things like that. I listen to classical music predominantly. I don’t know… I just don’t know who these people are. So that’s where [in terms of] the social game I was like, “Oh, gosh, this isn’t good,” because I can’t even enter into these conversations since I don’t know who these artists are. I don’t know their songs, you know? And so that was a thing that I had to navigate. That was one of those things that kind of put me on mark that Brandon and I are probably as close as we are, so that had definitely affected my game of seeing how the social connections happen.
Jamie also mentioned that if she could have chosen which tribe to originally be on, she would have chosen Soka due to its “high vibes.” How did you feel about the morale at Ratu?
The morale was actually really great but there was no chaos. There was a very low tension. Jamie led us through meditations but there wasn’t high energy. There wasn’t a lot of like, sneaking around, because I was injured. People were really watching me. So our vibe was very chill at Ratu. After that first tribal, I kind of scared everybody. But then we started to kind of groove and found the ability to trust each other in challenges, and we started winning. So we were doing great. The biggest thing for us is that there was just no food on our island, so getting that fishing gear was massive because the island was not helping us.
Speaking of Jamie, I’m curious to know more about your relationship with her. I couldn’t tell if she was someone you wanted to keep around or if she was completely expendable to you, especially after revealing to Carson that she had your tribe’s (fake) idol.
So Jamie and I had so much, personally, in common. We could talk plants. We love life. So it was very easy. But when we got into strategic talk, it was not happening. It was like two different conversations. So the idea of giving her that fake idol was to create trust. And I needed her to find it in front of me because when you find an idol in front of somebody else, you’re like, “Oh, this is awesome! This is for us! This is us!” And so because that strategy talk wasn’t happening, I needed to create that bond. That’s why I gave her that idol. It was to obviously get [her] trust and make her a number for me, but then also have that built in trigger, like, you’ve got a fake idol and I can put a target on your back. That again just lowers my threat level and puts the target on somebody else’s back, which is obviously something that you always want to do. And so I wanted to find a new way to do that.
What was Ratu’s tribe dynamic like at this point in the game? We know that you wanted to build up a relationship with Carson, but haven’t seen much discussion about what all of Ratu would do in the event you lost an immunity challenge.
Brandon and Lauren were trying to present that we should keep Carson calm because we’re gonna vote for him. Kane and I were like… I just spent days getting Jamie as a number and we know that Lauren has this extra vote, so I need that third person and I have to go after Carson. So immediately Kane and I were like, “We got to hit him hard. We got to go after him.” So Kane, you know, being younger and being that nerd, I’m like, “Dude, talk to him socially. Do all of those things.” I’m going to him with information. I’m going to start telling him that Brandon and Lauren are lying to you. They’re not giving you the full truth. Here’s what’s actually happening. So we were trying to pull Carson to our side because if we had gone to a tribal council knowing that Lauren has the extra vote, we would need me, Kane, and Carson to be a solid three, since she’s going to use that extra vote. That of course is a 3-3 tie, we go back as a three, and vote one of them out. So that was the strategy — We have to secure that third person. And so we went after Carson very, very aggressively.
You were a naturally good gameplayer and many fans saw you making it to the end. So I’m curious, what would your strategy have been if you made it to the merge?
My strategy was to continue to act in ways that put other people’s spotlights on other people, and kept me moving in the shadows. My plan was to play a very subversive game where people didn’t see what was happening, and then come out and make some big moves. But also, at that point, I have some tools in my belt. I had a hidden immunity idol. Maybe I could have found another one. I put myself in a position where I can flip and make some big moves and really get that resume building towards the end. So then when it gets to that final tribal council and I say, “Okay, you seen what I’ve done. Let me tell you what else I’ve done,” jaws drop. There was definitely a method in how I was going to get there, but there was not a map saying, follow this, follow this, follow this. It was to be fluid, be adaptable, and use the moment to create what I needed.
Carolyn had a moment during her feast with Danny and Brandon where she realized that she had to protect players like herself and Yam Yam, who weren’t necessarily the most physical out there. Do you think you would have gravitated towards the quirkier players like them, or aligned with the stronger players?
The plan was to try and get Tika aligned with us and go after Soka. And we, as a group, talked about sending Brandon because we thought he would connect with Danny the best and get those conversations. As you can see, it really did play out that way. So that was good. But obviously with Carolyn observing that situation, [she] did exactly what she needed to do and went after those stronger players, which was ultimately our goal. We saw Soka as being the most well-rounded, strongest group as a tribe. And so we wanted to take them out.
Any fun Pondoersa moments to share?
Oh my gosh, Pondy was so much fun. The ‘Survivor’ team is just awesome. We wanted to have a dance party and so they contacted the art department. The art department brought over black lights and body paint, so we all did glow-in-the-dark body paint and then had a dance party. It was fantastic. And then, you know, having drinks and talking until two or three o’clock in the morning as a group is just like, amazing. It was one of the best nights that I’ve ever had. I mean, [when] you get older and you become a parent, it’s very, very hard to make friends. I’m not gonna lie. And so here I am, and I made 17 great new friends. The best part is that they all have background checks! They’ve all been mentally cleared to be sane people, and so it was like, “I can be friends with you!” [laughs]
New episodes of Survivor air Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.