Why Law Student Hali Couldn't Argue Her Way Out of Elimination: Hali reveals her five passions and thoughts on the core power trio

John Cochran, simply known as "Cochran" to Survivor fans, competed on the show during Season 23 and walked away as Sole Survivor on Season 26. After the most recent castaway Hali Ford had her torch snuffed by Jeff Probst, Cochran sat down with the former Survivor player for a Q&A. Read on to hear how the interview played out.


By John Cochran

After the exhilarating rush of blindsiding Kelly last week, law student Hali Ford seemed to be building some positive momentum. All she had to do was convince Tyler (who appeared eager to make a move) and Sierra (who hated her tribemates) to flip over to her side. Unfortunately, despite a stirring Tribal Council speech about Merica’s rich history of flipping, Hali was voted out in a blindside that left her and her allies speechless. Earlier today, Hali and I spoke about ally management, Survivor jury duty, and — oy — Dan.

Cochran: Last week’s Tribal Council, in which Jenn’s surprise idol play resulted in the blindside of Kelly, was obviously shocking and exciting. But, looking back, do you regret making Kelly the target of your vote, instead of Mike? Or Rodney? Or Dan?

Hali: It should have been Mike. Mike and Joe had developed a really close relationship out there. I don’t know if Mike conned us, or if he was genuine. I think he was genuine in that he did like the No Collars. Kelly was his number one girl, though, so that was the absolute worst person we could’ve voted for if we really wanted Mike in the first place. But yeah, we definitely should’ve gone for a strategic player. We voted for Kelly because, out of all the Blue Collars, she seemed like the most diehard Blue Collar. She was hard to read. She was kind of this wildcard we thought we needed to take out, so we did. But that was not a good strategic vote. I wish it had been Dan, for Pete’s sake.

Cochran: What are your thoughts on Dan’s characterization of you, Jenn, and Shirin as Joe’s minions? What was the actual power dynamic within the No Collar alliance? Who was running things? Who was just following orders?

Hali: Well, I thought that was a fascinating characterization considering that Jenn, Shirin, and I were planning on giving Joe the boot and were all equally disappointed when he won immunity. No one was going to keep Joe around — he was too good! So that wasn’t the dynamic. I mean, we all liked each other. But as far as the power dynamic goes, I would say Jenn and I were a block. That’s how I saw it. Joe was definitely involved in the conversations, but I wouldn’t put him at the core of our alliance, because he wasn’t.

Cochran: We touched on one of Dan’s comments, but let’s talk more broadly about some of the dialogue about gender happening this season. Dan, Rodney, and — to a lesser extent — Mike have all shared their opinions on how to communicate effectively with women. And, as we saw with Dan’s bizarre lecturing of Shirin last night, it isn’t always pretty. What’s your take on gender relations in “Worlds Apart”? And how did it affect your game?

Hali: The psychological dynamic — and especially the way Shirin and Sierra were bullied — overpowered my cold strategy that I had before the game ever started. My advocate self kicked in and I just kind of let my passion guide a lot of what I did out there. So yeah, I was super pissed. I didn’t have anything personal against Dan or Rodney or any of the guys — they never said anything mean or rude to me. But that’s because I’m not like some feminist advocate; I’m like a traditional girl. I’m not really offensive to chauvinist men. It’s not like I’m passive; that’s just how I am. So I understand why maybe I don’t ruffle feathers in the same way Shirin does. I don’t know what went on with Sierra — that still boggles my mind. But yeah, the sexism in this season is just mind-blowing. I mean, Dan’s gonna be slapping Shirin around? Are you kidding me? Pretty disgusting. I just wish that women’s alliance had come together to stick it to them.

Cochran: One of the most important elements of Survivor is identifying the players who feel disenfranchised or on the periphery of their tribe, and making them feel appreciated and valued. You did a great job of picking out Shirin as this type of player, and impressively recruited her for your No Collar alliance. How did you pull this off?

Hali: I liked Shirin — I never disliked Shirin. The only thing I didn’t like about Shirin was her and Max, and the person she was around Max. So, with Shirin, we actually had this alliance forming from the moment that she went in for an “alliance hug” and I hugged her back. And we did that because I enjoyed talking to her. She’s obviously an intelligent person. I think we had personal chemistry out there. Also, she didn’t have anyone on her side — so anyone being nice to her, she would take it. And then as the game went on, after Max was voted out, I pulled her aside and was like, “Hey, we’re gonna talk about this. I know this probably freaked you out, but here’s what was going on. I still want to play this game with you: I like you.” So we developed that, but I started doubting her at the merge because she was just running around talking to everyone. I didn’t know where her head was at, and I overestimated her acting potential; I overestimated her lying ability.

Cochran: Although you managed to pull over Shirin, you were less successful when it came to securing Will’s loyalty. After last week’s vote — when Will was misled by Mike into voting against you — it seemed like Will could have been open to reconnecting with his fellow No Collars. Where did things go wrong with him? What could you have done differently to win him over?

Hali: Your guess is as good as mine. When I talked to him the day after the Kelly vote, I was like, “What’s up, Will? I’m getting weird vibes from you.” And he was like, “You all didn’t involve me!” And so I told him we would reach out more to him. But he didn’t want to play the game with us; he said he wanted to play with grown-ups. And as far as what we did wrong, I guess we should have involved him more as a strategic player, but I don’t know if that would’ve really changed anything, anyway. He didn’t seem to like us.

Cochran: While it’s obviously great to have close allies, do you think the strength of your bond with Jenn and Joe may have been unappealing to other prospective allies, who were afraid they’d always be an outsider to your core power trio? Part of what might make joining the Blue Collars seem more appealing could be how dysfunctional and fractured they appear. Do you think that’s why Tyler ended up remaining with them instead of voting with you?

Hali: My theory is that Tyler saw Carolyn as his tightest alliance, and Carolyn was not interested in working with us. And he probably saw himself as on the bottom if he did side with us, and maybe he felt like he was in more of a power position with Carolyn.

Cochran: The other important vote you were unable to secure was Sierra’s, despite her apparent enthusiasm for an “All Girl” alliance. How confident were you that you had Sierra’s support? And why do you think she ended up sticking with her fellow Blue Collars, even though she clearly disliked several of them?

Hali: I’ve got two theories — and I think it’s the latter — but the first one is that Sierra’s just weak; she was following like a puppy dog; and didn’t have the balls to do the flip. She wasn’t a colonist — she stuck with the empire. The more likely theory is that she didn’t think she could win if she stuck with us. She thought she was a more likable person if she stayed with the Blue Collars. That’s the only thing I can imagine with her not wanting to go with the girls: she saw herself as a rose among thorns with them.

Cochran: Assuming Dan had been voted off last night, how were you hoping to see the rest of the season unfold? Were you committed to the new “All Girl” alliance?

Hali: Yeah, I was down. I was 100% red-blooded into that plan. That was my number one plan. I wanted that to happen. We would’ve picked off the strong guys one by one, and just carried on through. I wanted to be there with Jenn and Shirin at the end, but that’s just because I liked them. I’m telling you — I came into this game thinking I’d play cold, and I just played with my heart.

Cochran: There wasn’t a dry eye in the Cochran household when you delivered your heartfelt Tribal Council speech about Merica being a nation built on flipping. Was that compelling plea the product of your law school education? Do you feel like your legal background helped you in this game?

Hali: I checked a lot of my hard gameplay, rat-race experience that I had gained from law school at the door when I landed on the No Collar tribe. And also just the summer I had before going on the show, it caused me to rethink a lot of the ways that I was not living my life the way I wanted to. But in law school, you do learn a lot about being slow to move and to listen and to be ahead of other people, and I think it definitely prepared me. But heck, I think a lot of what I learned in Survivor is going to help me as a lawyer. I wish I had tapped into it more, honestly.

Cochran: On CBS.com, viewers can watch video of your arrival at Ponderosa after Tribal Council. In this video, you discuss your belief that Shirin was responsible for your elimination (and seem to think that Will was still on your side, when he had in fact joined up with the Blue Collars). Where did this suspicion of Shirin come from? And how did you feel once you learned that Will hadn’t actually been on your side?

Hali: I watched the Ponderosa video this morning, and I was more blindsided when I watched that video than when I was blindsided in the game. Because, in the game, such a big part of the last few days for me was the Will factor. After the Kelly vote, I was certain it was Will who flipped. I really questioned him. I told Joe the next day, “You have got to work on Will — he’s going to flip if he’s not flipped already. I can feel it.” So when I saw that Ponderosa video, I was like — I just don’t remember the series of events that convinced me so deeply that Will was on our side. And literally, like aliens erased my memory. So I don’t have a lot of good information for you there, because I was suspicious of Will, but something must have changed my mind.

Cochran: Earlier in the season, you made reference to the fact that surfing is your “number three” passion in life. What are numbers one and two? And, just for the hell of it, what about numbers four and five?

Hali: Well, it’s hard to understand my life without Jesus, so that’s number one. Number two is friends and family. Number three is not surfing — I’d put the criminal justice system and injustice in general. Surfing will come in fourth, and fifth… there are just so many things I’m passionate about.

Cochran: Watching the show, you struck me as a player who was really underestimated by her opponents. Your handling of Shirin was very skillful (and in a subtle way that can often go unappreciated), and you seemed to have a strong social game. Who else do you think is being underestimated?

Hali: I’d give Rodney that designation.

Cochran: You’re the first member of this season’s jury. What are you going to base your vote on at Final Tribal Council? What do you look for in a winner?

Hali: I care about people who develop a story throughout the whole game. I like to see character development. I like to see strategy development. I like to see consistency. That’s what I’ll be looking for.

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