As the winner of Survivor: Cayagan, Tony Vlachos seemed poised to go the distance on Survivor: Game Changers.
Even his early strategies—hunting for idols, building a spy bunker, and immediately trying to form alliances—felt like the types of moves a real game changer might make.
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Alas, a second victory was not in the cards for the Jersey native, and, by the end of the two-part season premiere, Tony's torch was snuffed.
We caught up with Tony to talk about him clashing with Sandra on Game Changers, whether he'd come back for another season, and what the deal was with that secret spy bunker.
What was going through your head when your name was first called at Tribal?
Tony Vlachos: I was expecting all of them to be my name ... Oh, man, I was devastated. I was more disappointed in my tribe mates, like Caleb [and] Aubry.
I was more disappointed in them, that they went along with the plan to get rid of me, because we were trying to keep the tribe strong.
I was surprised that they wanted to get rid of a threat like myself. I could shield them, I could protect them; they could use me as a negotiating tool later on, at merge time. They could throw me under the bus.
Instead of them getting ousted, they could just say, "Here we go. We're offering Tony on a silver platter for you. We'll go with you and get him out."
I was surprised that they wanted to get rid of that, you know?
You did start your game with such a headstrong attitude. You went in immediately looking for idols and building your spy bunker. Do you think that worked against you?
Tony: No, absolutely nothing I did worked against me, until the point where I heard Sandra and Troyzan mention my name. So everything—all the shenanigans and antics I was doing—that was Tony being Tony, and that's exactly what I wanted them to think.
And that's exactly what it was. It was me, in your face, doing what I do all the time: just clowning around and being a jokester.
But behind every joke lied the truth. So there was some strategy behind the jokes, as well.
But everything was totally fine. I didn't get voted off in the first [Tribal]. I wasn't the first one gone. Even though I was running around the jungle like the clown that I was, running around like a maniac, that didn't have any effect.
What was the beginning of the end was me hearing Sandra and Troyzan talk about me in the middle of the night, off to the side.
It looked like you and Troyzan and Sandra had some tension at Tribal. Can you shed any more light on how that transpired?
Tony: Well, before I heard my name being thrown out there, it was myself, Sandra, Caleb, Malcolm, and Aubry—we formed an alliance of five strong, and everything was golden up to the point that I heard Sandra and Troyzan mention my name.
When I was working on my spy bunker, they came walking towards me, and snuck around, and I heard them saying my name ... So, at that point, obviously, she was against me, and obviously I was against her, because I thought she'd turned on me at that point.
That's when it all went downhill for me.
You had only just started working on your spy bunker before you were cast off. What were you planning to do with it once you had finished?
Tony: Man, I was still in the middle of renovations! I was still renovating my spy bunker, trying to make it look good.
But going into the game, I knew I wanted to eavesdrop on the other players. I needed some intel to use against them, in case I was on the chopping block.
So, what I did was find the water well, where most people congregated and talked strategy, and what I was doing was, I was throwing a bunch of debris, a bunch of branches and sticks and leaves—all kinds of stuff—throwing it to the side where I knew I was going to dig my hole, to go underground.
I wanted to put that there just to get their eyes to start seeing that. Every time they'd go get water, I wanted them to see that debris there, so they would think nothing of it later on.
Nothing would change, nothing would be out of place, later on when I would be hiding under there.
I wanted to hear everything that was being said by everybody, and I could use all that information that they said, and I could have pitted that information against them, each one of them.
What surprised you the most about your time on the show this go-round?
Tony: I was surprised they didn't come gunning for me right off the bat, like I was expecting. I really thought they were just gonna say, "You know what, Tony? We just saw you recently on Cagayan, how deceitful you are, how cutthroat you are, and we want you out." I thought that that was going to be the theme, you know, "Get Tony out as soon as we can."
I was surprised that it wasn't.
We all started talking, laughing, and having a good time. That's when I was like, "All right, I'm just gonna be Tony! I don't need to try to hide behind anybody. I'm just gonna let them see me as the jokester that I am," and that's when I [said], "I'm gonna go look for the idol, guys!"
Obviously, they knew there was some truth behind it, but, at the same time, it's hard to take that seriously, you know what I mean? "This guy's just a maniac. Just Tony being Tony," like I said—and it worked, man!
I was in all their good graces, and we were all having fun, all having a good time, and they let their guard down a little bit with me, you know?
Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Tony: No. Everything that I did, they took no offense at my game whatsoever—except at the point of hearing my name. That was it; that was my downfall. I heard my name, and that's when Sandra and I clashed heads. That was it.
Other than that, my game was going smooth. I had the alliance with Sandra, with Aubry, with Malcolm, with Caleb—we were good!
You know, we had Jeff Varner we could have gotten rid of—not really a threat enough to protect any of us; Hali, not a threat enough to protect any of us.
Who else? Troyzan! Not a threat enough to protect any of us. We had those three easy outs, right there! They really couldn't offer any protection for us later on in the game.
This is obviously a season full of game changers. How did your second time on Survivor differ from the previous one, in terms of gameplay?
Tony: I could have used my deceit and all of my lies, my conniving and scheming, but I couldn't with those people, because they knew my game. So, everything that came out of my mouth, they took it with a grain of salt.
The [top] player was Sandra, and that's what happened; I clashed with the best player of this game. She won twice! You don't win a game like Survivor two times by just going out there like, "I don't know what I'm doing. They're just gonna award me the million dollars!"
It doesn't work like that; you have to know what you're doing. You have to be good at the game, regardless of what your strategy is. It doesn't matter that I got to the end.
The fact that [Sandra] won two times makes [her] a great player.
What did you learn about yourself this time around?
Tony: I learned that I don't have what it takes to get to the end of Survivor two times in a row! [Laughs]
And Sandra does. She has what it takes. She got there twice in a row, and she might get there three times in a row.
What advice do you have for future castaways?
Tony: My advice to anybody that wants to play this game is, it is not worth it to go on that show and lose. If you go on the show, you better go with every intention of winning, and you have to do whatever it takes to win, regardless of what people think about you after the game.
You're not going on that show to lose, because it's awful.
Would you come back for a third go-round at some point?
Tony: If I was asked today, I would say, "No."
Two months from now, I might. Right now, I'm running off emotion. I just watched myself get snuffed, and I said, "You know what? I'm done." That's it. I'm a one-hit wonder; my time has ended.
[But] knowing myself, how impulsive I am with decisions, absolutely [I would come back].
If they call me an hour from now, I'll be like, "Oh, yeah, I'm down! I'll go back." But right now, right this minute, as we're talking, I think that Queen Bee [Sandra] stung me so hard that it hurts, my answer would be "No."
Watch all-new episodes of Survivor: Game Changers on Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS and CBS All Access.