Ken: “Everything I did out there was purely strategic”; Matty: “Gabon humbled me immensely”

As Survivor Gabon, wrapped up, there was no one I wanted to watch crash and burn more than Ken Hoang, whose arrogance about his alleged control of the game pissed me off. Back in Africa in June, however, he was the opposite of arrogant, and was that same Ken again Sunday night.

Ken Hoang

Ken, who lost 25 or 30 pounds (from 115 to 85 or 90) and has been taking a break from gaming, laughed at himself, his actions, and his status as this season’s villain–well, villain strategist, since there were plenty of other villains. “I’m a fan of Survivor so I knew that all the past Survivors who were cocky enough to ruin their shot always get voted off, and this season, I was that person,” he said.

As to his apparently hypocritical insistence that Bob admit he was lying even as Ken was lying to him, Ken said, “I just wanted him to admit that he’s playing the game and he lied to me. He kept on saying that he played the game with integrity, he was a man of his word. If he had just told me that he lied to me, it was a game, he had no way to keep his promise, I would have given him my vote.”

“I wasn’t upset, I just wanted him to admit it. He didn’t admit it, Just admit it, dammit–we’re playing fucking–I’m sorry–we’re playing Survivor. Come on, dude, just admit it,” he added. Ken said Bob is actually “a grumpy old man; he would yell at me a lot of times and I bit my tongue a lot of times. They edited him to be the good guy and, of course, it’s Eden, they edited to me to be the bad guy. I understand; it’s TV.”

Ken said he was annoyed with the way Sugar branded him the mean one even when she “went out of her way to humiliate Randy,” and also said he didn’t lie intentionally to her. “I didn’t think I was lying to Sugar but it turned out that Ace was lying to me,” Ken said.

“How do you determine who’s good or evil in that game? Everybody has lied at a point. It’s Survivor–come on! And she wanted the good guys to win, and it made me kind of feel bad that I trusted her so much and she portrayed me as the bad guy,” Ken said. “Out there, I treated everyone with respect. Whoever was in my way, I got rid of. … Everything I did out there was purely strategic.”

I also asked Ken about a non-controversy controversy that never actually made the show: In post-season interviews, Charlie said that Ken called him “homo” and “fag” while on Fang (but not to his face), and a conversation about that alleged name-calling took place during the Tribal Council when Charlie was voted out, but that was edited out. So was part of Ken’s voting confessional statement when he votes for Charlie but insists “it’s not like I’m homophobic.”

“Oh my god. The whole homophobic thing, I don’t discriminate against anybody; I actually like diverse people and I have nothing against gay people,” Ken told me post-finale. “The thing was, I was wondering if Charlie was gay or not, and everyone was like, yeah, he’s definitely. I found out he was gay once he started talking. I have gay friends; I know he’s gay,” Ken said, perhaps not making the best argument possible.

But he insisted he never called Charlie that: “No, I don’t even use the word.” So why did Charlie think he did? Ken said Randy essentially made it up and that it was Randy who used it, and that jibes with what Sugar told me at the finale, even though I didn’t ask her about it at all; she just mentioned that Randy used that word to refer to Charlie.

“Randy’s like, what if Charlie wanted to snuggle with you? I was like, oh no, I would rather snuggle with the hot girls out here. And then Randy said the f-word, and I was like, no,” Ken said. “Once Randy got to Kota, he hated me and GC and Crystal at that point, and Randy has never had any gay friends, so I guess he tried to say everything he could about me, Crystal, and GC–he said everything bad about us and it got out of hand. When I finally met Charlie at Nobag camp, he kind of felt distanced, and I thought, wait a minute, I heard from Susie that Randy was talking about me calling Charlie the f-word, and I was like, maybe he still thinks I’m a homophobe or something like that.”

At Tribal, Ken said he brought it up and said, “Charlie, I never called you the f-word,” mentioning it because he “wanted to make that clear” before voting Charlie out. “It was more a strategic vote. I didn’t want to compete against him in immunity challenges and I knew he was all-liked around, and that was dangerous.”

Matty Whitmore

When I ranked the cast on likability, I wrote that “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see my list flip entirely.” That happened more for Matty Whitmore than anyone else. Initially, he called himself “an honest asshole” and “a fool,” but starting with the first challenge, proved himself to be quite different.

At the finale, I asked him what changed since his own description of himself wasn’t accurate, and he said, “Going into the game, I probably had a little bit of arrogance to me, I probably had a little cockiness, because I’ve never really been tested, I’ve never been pushed. Being pushed and being tested in Gabon definitely alters your thinking and perception of the world, and plain and simple, just humbles you. Going into the game, I was a little more confident and arrogant, and Gabon humbled me immensely.”

“This just gave me a little bit more understanding of myself and who I am, and not to be so afraid of myself and run from myself all the time, and sit there and face the demons and the heartache and hardship, and not to run from it. Just face it,” he said. Matty is continuing to work as a trainer and said he finished work on a book that “promotes weight loss through a way of live” that “kind of replicates the lifestyle we live on the west side of L.A.”; it’s called The West Side Diet.

I asked about the game, but he said he doesn’t have regrets and “I’m good; I don’t want to reflect too much on it.” There’s some of the Matty I saw before the show started.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.