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Michael Yerger On Why He Got So Emotional Playing Survivor

The youngest castaway of Ghost Island reflects on his gameplay and why his emotions ran high.
Posted on May 3, 2018 | 02:50pm

Being the youngest player on Survivor: Ghost Island and winding up on the wrong side of the numbers time and again, 18-year-old Michael Yerger had the odds stacked against him. 

STREAM: Full Episodes Of Survivor: Ghost Island On CBS All Access

Still, the lifelong Survivor superfan made the best of his situation and managed to make it well past the merge and onto Jury. Unfortunately, after host Jeff Probst revealed a double-elimination twist and the castaway was unable to swing the vote, Michael's game came to an end. 

We caught up with the latest cast-off to talk about living his dream, getting emotional in Fiji, and if he thought his plan with Donathan would actually work. 

How did you feel when Jeff dropped the bomb about it being a double elimination?

Michael Yerger: Oh my God, I was terrified. I knew that just from the history of the game so far, swaps and switches, that was not my thing at all.

Knowing another one was coming definitely didn't excite me. So yeah, that sucked. Especially with the group I was placed with. It was a really hard position to be in. 

How does that change the politics around camp when there's a huge shake-up in the game like that?

Michael: It definitely made things interesting, all being at the same beach but being separated into those groups. It was almost funny because you're strategizing in your own group, because you know what Tribal you're going to, but then you're also crossing groups and trying to figure out what's going on at the other tribe to set yourself up better that way.

So it was actually a really interesting dynamic. From a fan's standpoint, I thought it was fascinating and a really cool twist. But obviously in my game, my livelihood, it didn't work out best. That was not ideal, for sure. 

What was your strategy going into Tribal, when you got back to camp after the Immunity Challenge and had to figure out how to play this thing?

Michael: It was to work off the previous relationships I had built. Kellyn and Laurel, mainly. Kellyn I had gotten really close with; I spent pretty much my entire game with her. So I knew that she'd be willing to hear me out.

Dom and Wendell, frankly, they wouldn't give me the time of day to even pitch myself or give an option for a move. They were pretty closed off. So that was hard, I had my hands tied as far as they went.

But I really worked with Kellyn and tried selling that lie, tried causing some chaos at Tribal, and I went to Laurel and she, of course, was saying "Oh, we're on the bottom, original Malolos have never gotten a break, blah blah blah!"

I was confident that me, her, and Kellyn could pull off a Wendell blindside. I went into Tribal feeling like they were on board and ready to make a move. I felt good after trying to strategize and pull something together after that challenge. 

So you felt good going into Tribal. Can you describe the feeling when you see people start strategizing at Tribal? I imagine that's super nerve-wracking, especially when you feel like you've got a hold on the situation. 

Michael: For me, having Dom and Wendell whispering was actually very exciting. I knew going into Tribal that Dom didn't really trust my Idol lie, I knew that he wanted bonafide proof that showed it, so when I saw them talking, I thought everything that had been said thus far at Tribal had maybe swayed their thought process.

I was excited to think that maybe they were considering turning on Kellyn and keeping me around for another week. Of course, it goes either way. It's very nerve-wracking like you're saying, but also exciting feeling like there might be hope for a different outcome since I knew I obviously didn't have an able and wasn't able to save myself. 

So, speaking of not having an Idol, we have to ask: Did you really think Donathan would let you borrow you his Idol to fake people out?

Michael: [Laughs] I really did, honestly. He had told me previously that he was willing to play the Idol for me, that he was willing to make a move to keep original Malolo strong.

I didn't think it was too far off to request that of him. Especially since I had found half that Idol and worked with him thus far to come up with something. I hated that I wasn't able to leverage it.

I honestly think it would've been smart for his game, because if people thought that I had an Idol, they wouldn't ever question him to have one. I don't understand some of that, but of course he was doing what he thought was best. 

We saw you get emotional a couple times throughout the season. What did playing the game of Survivor mean to you?

Michael: Oh, man. It was everything. I'm sure you know a little bit of the story, but having watched it since I was eight, with my mom, it's been a huge bonding thing for me and her. It's something I always looked forward to on Wednesday nights.

It's a lifelong commitment and fandom of the show, so seeing Jeff Probst and playing the game and doing the helicopter reward and doing the eating challenge, it just brought me back to this little kid playing in such a big, complex, adult game. It was absolutely unreal.

I wouldn't trade the world for it, even given my lack of luck and power and what not. Absolutely incredible experience.

Getting to bring my mom out to Fiji, obviously not to the loved ones visit, but having her in my Ponderosa and being able to really live the full Survivor experience really means the world to me and most definitely got to my heart and choked me up a couple of times. [Laughs]

Would you do things differently if you could do it all over again?

Michael: Most definitely. I think both of the Idols I played did protect me to a certain extent, but of course I would've loved to pull of major blindsides with them. Gauging the reaction on the James Idol and rallying a better plan with the stick are both big regrets of mine.

I had to turn on Steph and James, both close allies and friends of mine, but I wouldn't necessarily say I regret it because that was necessary for me to stay in the game. I mean, not taking a bigger charge in challenges and having more of a pull there is something I regret.

There's a million things I could've done differently. I can't beat myself up about it, but of course you could sit there and go on and on and on about different outcomes and what could've been done differently. 

What did you learn about yourself during your time on Survivor?

Michael: I learned that I can really keep trucking if I keep my head up. Of course it sounds cliché, being positive and all that, but in the game really nothing went my way... really ever.

It really taught me a lot that having faith and staying positive and not losing patience and kindness towards other people will pay off in the long run. I think that's a huge life lesson and great to develop social skills like that. I definitely feel like I grew a hell of a lot as a man and as a human. 

Watch all-new episodes of Survivor: Ghost Island on Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS and CBS All Access.