Warning: This article and video contains spoilers on the preview episode of Snake in the Grass.
Combining elements of Survivor and The Mole, Snake in the Grass drops four players off in the Costa Rican jungle for 36 hours, where the group competes in a series of challenges. However, one of the players is actually a saboteur trying to prevent them from winning the challenges that will give them clues to the identity of the Snake in their midst. If the group figures out the identity of the Snake, they split a $100,000 prize among the three of them. If they are wrong, the Snake keeps all the money for him or herself.
While Snake in the Grass officially premieres Aug. 1 on USA, the show aired a special preview episode June 26 on NBC featuring Yul Kwon, Earl Cole, and Malcom Freberg of Survivor along with Jeff Zausch of Naked and Afraid. (The installment will air again on USA on Aug. 15.)
In the episode, we saw Earl emerge as an early Snake suspect thanks to his seeming inability to throw a small object to shore during a challenge. But misdirection clues referencing "passing the bar" and tangling with an alligator that seemed to point to Yul (who holds a law degree) and Jeff (who was even wearing an alligator belt) confused the group. That confusion enabled the actual snake of Malcolm to go undetected, landing the three-time Survivor player the $100,000 prize.
Chase Bjornson/USA Network Earl Cole, Jaff Zausch, Malcolm Freberg, and Yul Kwon on 'Snake in the Grass'
EW reassembled the fearsome foursome to get the true story of what really went down out there both during filming. And we learned that Malcolm's covert gameplay actually started before the game even began, as the wily strategist (and lover of adult beverages) bribed a hotel employee to bring him enough booze to get super drunk… and super sick the next morning.
That subterfuge gave Malcolm the Snake a cover for not performing well in the opening challenge, but it almost got him pulled from the game before it even began. The group not only revealed that, but also spilled intel on other thigs we did not see, like how Yul got legitimately sick, why Earl messed up throwing the object to shore, and much more.
What were the players told when they were first approached about the show? When did Malcolm learn he was the Snake? And why was everyone so laser focused on Yul as the culprit? Watch the video above to enjoy the entire wide-ranging chat, or read some of the highlights of the conversation below.
On what they were told about the show when they first signed on:
YUL KWON: They were pretty vague about it. They told me it was a combination of Survivor and an outdoor escape room, and possibly Mafia. And I was like, "Oh, that sounds super interesting." So I was in.
EARL COLE: I was not told one thing about this show. They just said, "It's going to be a great adventure. It's like nothing you've ever done before." That's all I was told.
MALCOLM FREBERG: At one point during the process, I was told The Mole. Somebody just brought up The Mole, which I had watched back when, how old was I, 13, 14, back in the day. And I went back and rewatched young Anderson Cooper before we came out. But no specifics, just vague hints and comparables.
JEFF ZAUSCH: All they told me was "It's a social experiment and you can be the winner." Which I like, because coming from Naked and Afraid, there's no real one winner at the end. And it's always driven me crazy that there's no one winner at the end because I'm a competitive person naturally. When they told me it was a competition, I'm like, I'm in.
YUL KWON: When they told him he gets to wear his clothes, he was like, I'm in.
On if they knew about the other players before the game:
EARL COLE: Nope, no clue. I didn't even know other Survivors were even involved. I thought this was completely different. That's how they sold it to me. It's just going to be a new adventure you can do something different.
YUL KWON: We didn't see each other until right before we got on the helicopter. And then I saw these guys and immediately, of course, I recognized Earl and Malcolm. And then Jeff, I was like, "I know this guy, he looks so familiar," but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But I eventually I realized it was Jeff from Naked and Afraid. I'd seen his season. I just didn't recognize him with his clothes on.
EARL COLE: I actually saw Jeff when we were sequestered, but I didn't know who he was. So I didn't think anything about it. If I would've saw Yul, the gears would started turning like, "Wait, what am I doing?" But I saw Jeff, but didn't have a clue. Sorry, Jeff. I had never seen Naked and Afraid at that point.
JEFF ZAUSCH: I didn't even know they were the cast members for the show. I thought they were maybe camera guys or something. They all knew each other from the previous group. I had no idea until they started literally showing us how we put our harnesses on for the helicopter. And then I realized, "Oh shoot, those are my teammates/competitors."
EARL COLE: That's right. Because I remember seeing Jeff and I thought you were the host. He had the hat on, he was dressed in all the survival gear. And it's like, "Oh, he must be the host of the show." And I saw Yul. Malcolm looked familiar, but I had never seen his season yet, but then I started put it all together. I still thought you were the host even we were getting on the helicopter!
Chase Bjornson/USA Network Jaff Zausch, Yul Kwon, Malcolm Freberg, and Earl Cole on 'Snake in the Grass'
On when Malcolm learned he was the Snake:
MALCOLM FREBERG: We were in Costa Rica, I was already in the hotel and it was the day before — I had 24-hours notice, essentially. The way these things work is that room phone rings, you're going to come get picked up, I got walked into one of those obscenely large conference rooms, it never needs to be that big. And then the producers just sat down and then said "You're the Snake," and they explained how the game works.
I don't think these guys had any idea about clues or challenges at this point. I was told how it was all going to work and I didn't know necessarily some of the finer points, but I knew there were going to be two challenges.
We knew it was two days. There was a challenge per day, I think is how it was said to me. I did not know about a clue being hidden at camp. I was pissed. There's a shot of me after he says, "Hey, there's a clue hidden back of your camp." My face must have just fallen. So I had some knowledge of how this whole thing was going to work out so that the idea was, give me time to prep and think up ways to screw these three guys over.
On what Malcolm did right before the game as preparation, and how it almost got him kicked off the show:
YUL KWON: The thing that was really, really next level is the thing that they didn't show on camera. Before the game even started, Malcolm basically found out he's the Snake and he decided he's going to get piss drunk. He just gets bottles of liquor and just drinking this down... the following day, the guy is a wreck.
The first time we see Malcolm, he's splotchy and he's throwing up in front of us. Then the producers had to get a medic and do IV and all that stuff. It was clear he was not well, his face was bright red. And that was really brilliant because whenever he didn't do well in the challenges, no one ever suspected him. Whereas for me, when I actually got sick, everyone thought I was faking it. So kudos to you, Malcolm.
JEFF ZAUSCH: I didn't even understand the level that I was on with you guys. Chugging bottles before a competition? Who would do that?
MALCOLM FREBERG: I was miserable. If you're watching this after seeing it, just go back and look how I'm in genuine pain for the first 24 hours. I couldn't function. I almost puke on the helicopter. Like it was real because I couldn't fake it. I'm a terrible actor.
EARL COLE: I could smell the alcohol.
MALCOLM FREBERG: I had to pay off housekeeping at the hotel to get a bottle. And it wasn't fun. I was watching The Mentalist in Spanish and vomiting all night. A lot of people would think being sick would be a good strategy to use, but I don't think a lot of people would've taken it to where I took it. Because on these shows, you're under very tight quarantine. They're not going to let you have a bunch of alcohol before it starts because they don't want that to happen.
I had to pay off this guy to go grab it for me. It's so outside the realm of possibility was my logic for it, having to convince myself the night before, as I'm kneeling to the porcelain throne that like, "Oh yeah, this was a good idea. This is going to pay off."
YUL KWON: It paid off. I mean, it was easy to convince us because he was legitimately sick. He even fooled the producers because they almost pulled him out. They were thinking about getting an alternate.
MALCOLM FREBERG: I almost got pulled out. I genuinely had to hold the puke in until we got to the helicopter. Because this was all for nothing unless they see it. And then it scares the producer so bad, they sit me down and take my blood pressure, everything. I'm like, "Oh I think I took this too far." I could get pulled. This is not going to be good. I think I explained that I was fine, and they gave me some Dramamine or something. But that was it. I'm really struggling out there.
Chase Bjornson/USA Network Malcolm Freberg, Yul Kwon, Earl Cole, Jaff Zausch, and Bobby Bones on 'Snake in the Grass'
On Yul getting legitimately sick during the game:
YUL KWON: I just started feeling ill. I don't know if it was something that I ate, but I had stomach issues and I was overheating. I was pretty hot and sweaty. I was at one point just not feeling well, but the thing is, the more I didn't feel well, the more the other guys thought I was faking it.
EARL COLE: Oh, it made it very challenging with Yul being fragile as he is. Malcolm was like, "Guys, here he is getting sick when this is an important activity challenge we're about to do. And he's getting sick now?"
On the third clue about wresting alligators pointing heavily at Jeff:
JEFF ZAUSCH: I was pissed. I'm still pissed off! So this was supposed to be the biggest clue in the game. We were led to believe that if we won this challenge, then we won this game. We thought the clue would be the guy's name. It was going to be obvious. And then when it comes out and says "He's tangled with an alligator," I'm literally wearing an alligator skin belt from the last gator I killed! It was bulls---!
YUL KWON: Jeff couldn't stop talking about alligators — it was clearly pointed at Jeff, and it blew all of our minds. I knew that I wasn't the Snake, even though the second clue pointed at me. Maybe it's the same thing. It's misdirection. We had nothing to connect Malcolm to wrestling alligators. In the absence of that, it was hard to figure out.
On Earl's snake piece throw not making it to shore:
EARL COLE: I could have thrown the thing on top of the mountain, for sure. It was a very obscure-shaped thing and I didn't trust anybody but myself at that point. And so I took it from Malcolm, and what we do on Survivor, when you're in the water swimming and doing things, you throw your stuff onto the beach so you can put it all together, because we had to put this puzzle together. When I had it, all of the cameramen were literally right sitting there on the edge, and I had nowhere to throw it.
I had maybe eight feet of sand that I have and I'm throwing this thing at a target. It hits right there. I'm like, "Okay, I made it." And then here come the waves — washes it away. Now naturally I would've thrown it 100 feet, but I didn't want to hit anybody. That's really what happened.
On how confident Malcolm was about winning when he walked into the Snake Pit:
MALCOLM FREBERG: I would say let's call it 66 percent — two thirds confident. I'm waiting for Earl to speak genuinely when I'm sitting down there. I want to see if Earl's changed his mind because Jeff and I had a conversation the second morning where I almost blew it. I just walked away from the conversation because I was handling our Snake discussion so badly — I know my grip is slipping.
And then Earl does this really long dramatic pause before Bobby asks him who the Snake is. And I remember when Earl said Yul, I'm like, "Okay. I'm at 90 now." And then I had that play in my head where I talked to Yul on the side about throwing it to Jeff. And when Yul went for that, then I was pretty sure I had it. So about two-thirds of the way through the actual Snake Pit proceedings — which is like a Tribal Council and about an hour long — I was pretty sure I had it.
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