Survivor 45 is here! Every week, Parade.com's Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.
"So close. So close."
Not only were those Kaleb Gebrewold's final words walking out of Survivor 45, they perfectly described his journey over 14 days. The representative from the Great White North fought tooth and nail to keep his game from going south, attempting to ingratiate with any tribe member with a toothy smile and a nugget of sales wisdom. The multiple times he was in danger, he always snuck through, including a history-making Shot in the Dark play. Just when Kaleb thought he had navigated out of a corner for the umpteenth time, elimination finally claimed him, courtesy of an unlikely betrayal.
He's been called an underdog and a cat with nine lives. But the best animal analogy to use with Kaleb is "the best laid plans of mice and men." That's because, in the preseason, he had every intention of coming in and playing a big villainous game, based on the iconic baddies that got him into Survivor in the first place. But Kaleb had a much different role to play immediately, as one of the biggest physical presences on a weak tribe. Though his position got him in a dominant spot alongside Sabiyah Broderick, his sales experience taught him to never shirk a connection. So he took the tribe "pepperaya" Emily Flippen under his wing, helping her get out of the social hole she dug for herself early on. And his bond with the financial analyst yielded immediate dividends. When some cross-tribal mingling caused Sabiyah to suddenly turn on Kaleb, Emily informed him of her impending betrayal. Together, they flipped the game on Sabiyah herself, cementing themselves as the new Lulu power couple.
Unfortunately, that couple was soon to split. The tribe swap kept Kaleb on Lulu, but with five brand-new faces. And after a week of living together, the cracks were starting to show. Kaleb was the bell of the ball with Belo, making key individual bonds with everyone on the tribe, and even being brought in on an idol hunt. Unfortunately, those good graces only lasted so long. When the tribes came together, Kaleb thought he was in a great spot, reunited with Emily and in good with everyone. But Bruce Perreault already saw Kaleb as a threat, and decided to try to clip the "butterfly's" wings. The result: Kaleb throwing a Hail Mary with his Shot in the Dark (as well as throwing the Reba women under the bus). When the shot hit, nullifying a record number of votes, it was Kaleb's highest high in the game. But the lowest low was to follow the next day. Split into groups of six yet again, Kaleb pitched a plan with Jake O'Kane to tie the votes against the three Rebas he was split with. But Katurah Topps realized she was far from the top when she found out about the Lulu idol hunt without her. As a result, she chose not to force the tie, getting rid of one of her closest allies in Kaleb, and expending his last life in the game.
Now out of the game, Kaleb talks with Parade.com about his reaction to Katurah turning on him, his relationship with Emily, and everything behind that historical Shot in the Dark play.
Related: Read our Survivor 45 pre-game interview with Nicholas "Sifu" Alsup
How are you doing right now, man? In a two-week span we see you go from the highest high to the lowest low on Survivor.
Oh, that's that's my Survivor journey. I had a joke in an earlier episode, the only reason Lulu had won the reward was because losing immunity was not enough. We needed the high before the low. And that's kind of like the Survivor gods with me. They're constantly playing with me. And that's how I felt in this 24-hour span.
Well let's start with where things ended. If looks could kill, I don't know if there'd be a piece left of Katurah at that Tribal Council. How surprised were you when the 3-3 plan didn't go through? Did you immediately suspect it was Katurah who flipped in that moment?
You know what I? I wish I was as good of a sport as Sabiyah. I could just go and go do chants out the door. I was actually legitimately shocked, because I thought for Katurah, strategically, it made the most sense for us to stick together. I know it sucks being in her position. But I've had to eat crow and be humble the entire time with who I had to work with. With Emily screaming my name on one Tribal Council in front of Kendra and the blue tribe. We got freaking Bruce, and I'm just dragging Bruce for four days. At new Lulu, I knew it was tough to be in her position. But I always felt like I treated her like Emily. For some reason, she was always on the bottom. And I couldn't tell her everything in case she blew up my game. But at the same time, I always looked out for her, and she knew that.
It was a tough position to be in to tell her about, not knowing about Bruce's idol. But ultimately, I truly wanted to work with her deep in the game, I felt like we needed each other. And my pitch was basically, "This is the last time we can have agency together." And being a member of the jury, knowing I had no Shot in the dark. I really did think that if she was going to flip on me, she might have had a conversation with me. But it sounds like she was just worried that I would try maybe flip it on her, which I don't think was ever really that possible. Considering that, of course with my luck, I swapped with the only two people I called out in the previous Tribal Council. [Laughs.] That's just another day in the life over here!
You mention calling out Dee and Julie. But Austin was someone you had cultivated a relationship with in the premerge, someone you wanted to work with even before visiting Reba. Did you try to bank on that to have him keep you? Or do you feel he was too far gone with the other Rebas?
I did definitely have a conversation with Austin. I think that Austin has been playing a really good game. I would have bet my Survivor life, I did not expect a six-six split. I thought it was gonna be split 10 like it normally has been. When I saw the poles, I was so excited. Because usually in those I feel like it's one male winner or one female winner, and I thought I can crush it through and take out these guys. That's why I was so surprised they're like, "We're actually splitting into six-six."
So I thought at the time that it was going to be a 12-person tribal council. And, at that time, I knew there's no more playing the middle. I needed to get my ducks in a row when it comes to getting my closest allies. I thought we had the numbers. So when I look at Austin, I thought we both had self-interest to not target each other as the bigger players and meat shields in the game. And I tried to mend fences with Dee and Julie, as I always do. But at the same time, it was a very short conversation. Because from what you saw that night from the Shot in the Dark to literally the next morning, getting that treemail, we have maybe an hour or two of sunlight before we're going to towards another challenge. It was just very little time. And that's part of the reason why it was so hard to get Katurah clued in. I would have included her in earlier, but this is really the first opportunity I even had.
Let's say you slip through this Tribal Council one way or another. You said you thought you had finally seen some light in this game. So who were you planning on moving forward with? Did you want to stick with Belo, despite the fact that Bruce was still targeting you?
I wanted to work with the Belos so badly. Actually coming in, I want to talk to the Rebas really badly. Because, when you think about shields, they have them all. You look at all these people, but then you hang out with them, and you realize, "Wow, what smart, competent game players. This will be really threatening to actually work together. They could actually come against me." With Belo, Bruce doesn't trust Katurah, Kellie doesn't trust Katurah. Kendra doesn't trust Bruce. Jake doesn't trust Kellie. Nobody wants to work with each other in there. So I'm here trying to herd sheep. I have great individual relationships with most Belos but we just couldn't get the group easily along.
And then with Bruce, what's not shown in the show was that Emily was not the only person that told me about Shot in the Dark. Jake also told me about Shot in the Dark. Kellie and Katurah were also working with me on the beach and telling me, "Listen, you're getting votes coming to you this way. We're trying to fix this." So I had multiple people where I thought, "You know what? There's probably five people who I felt really, really good about. And then Sifu, who was at the bottom, everybody knew, we could have flipped him over. Bruce, maybe we could flip him over. Watching the show, the one thing the show allowed me to do in going home early was to save my breath. Because I don't know if that would have gone anywhere.
Speaking of individual relationships, I'd be remiss not to bring up Emily. Talk to me about what made you decide to cultivate that relationship with her, despite her putting herself on the outs so early on Lulu.
I tell you this, I was exactly like most people at home. I fell in love with her screaming at Bruce on the mat on the very first day. I looked at her [and] I was like, "She's not in 2023. This is a 2003 reality TV star who somehow got onto my mat. This is unbelievable. I have to work with her." Because as much as you want meatshields, there's nothing an Abi-Maria or an Emily you can keep right here in front of you and push through this game. I wanted to work with her. She wanted nothing to do with me. I don't know what it was in preseason. But she had multiple pages in her diary about how much she didn't want to work with me.
We ended up on the same tribe. So I'm selling her for three days. And she's like so steadfast. She's like, "It's got to be Kaleb." So after that first Tribal Council, and she hits rock, rock, rock bottom, I'm telling you, it takes a very humbled person to completely 180 their position. And Emily was capable of doing it. I never gave up on her. Because I just saw potential. I saw a mode of play that was just beautiful. Not only did I love her because of this quality of being able to shoot off at people and her realness. But I also just felt like now she really needed me more than anything else. And for somebody who's always going to be a threat, I always want to work with people who need me as well.
So what was your reaction to her distancing herself from you to not stick her neck out too much and sacrifice her relationships with the Rebas. Was that something you were seeing on the beach?
One of the big problems I had [was] she brokered a little UN meeting between myself, Drew, and Austin. We had met before the mergatory challenge. It was my first conversation with Reba, where we all came to the decision that we didn't want to target each other and wanted to at least move into this next stage of the game. We don't have to necessarily be dying for each other, but we can we can look out for each other if we're vulnerable. And, at the end of the day, I don't think red was targeting me at mergatory, despite all this talk about going around at camp. But Bruce comes at me so hard. It definitely has to be me. They weren't going to turn away a free lunch.
To that point, what did you make of Bruce clocking you having all these conversations? Certainly in the preseason, you were noticed by a lot of people for your smile and your energy. Did you expect that to carry over into mergatory as well?
No, I didn't. I just felt like at the end of the day, I don't know what he thought it was. I was I was planning on working with him. To me, not only did it make sense for me to keep him around is a big shield, but we also had our ties in Belo. Bruce's problem was that he really wanted us to come into the merge and not talk to anybody besides each other. He wanted us to be a strong group that doesn't communicate with the other side. And, to me, that's just not how you play the game. And neither did anybody else in Belo see it the same way. We wanted to kind of build relationships on the other side to just know what's going on. Because, at the end of the day, your alliance is valuable for a vote. But it's also valuable that they can bring you information that can allow you to make the right strategic moves by seeing more of the picture. And I just felt like Bruce was impeding us from seeing the picture. And then he got mad at me fo trying to build relationships with the other side, which I didn't know we weren't allowed to do.
We have to, of course, get into everything with Tribal Council from last episode. How much were you planning to play your Shot in the Dark going in? And was openly calling out J. Maya, Dee, and Julie part of just throwing something at the wall and seeing what stuck?
More or less. Multiple people told me, "Play your Shot in the Dark." I also didn't even mention, Sifu told me to play my Shot in the Dark at the last moment. And so I'm sitting here, and I'm like, "Okay, I know the votes are coming up to me." It's like when you play Mafia, and you're the only one nominated. And it's like, "Okay, well, if nobody else is nominated, then you're just gonna go home. So you have to throw in another name." I needed to give them something. And I really was between Bruce and J. Part of me just wants to throw Bruce under the bus at a live Tribal Council and see what happens. [Laughs.] But because he was safe, I just didn't think it would get me that far.
I pointed at J because I thought it was realistic, based on the fact that Reba had wanted to get her out. And I really didn't think I was throwing Dee and Julie under the bus, per se. I essentially was saying, "Listen, you're a threat right now. You won't be a threat if you get rid of her. Let me help you." That was my pitch. But I guess Reba just didn't like hearing their names at all. And so it was a grudge to hold a grudge. And of course, I just get swapped with them in the next Tribal Council. What are the odds?
Your Shot in the Dark made history, not only as the first one to nullify votes, but for you to nullify the most amount of votes in Survivor history. Talk to me about the triumph you were feeling in that moment when the Safe scroll was revealed.
I was a high. Shoutout to Mother Wentworth. "Wentworth, does not count. Wentworth, does not count." Everybody who watched that Tribal Council will remember that. And honestly, I remember her start with the clap and then the fist bump, and I'm thinking to myself, "Man, should I have blown up that reaction a little bit more?" But I was still in the game. And I knew my vote wasn't in there. So I didn't think anyone would split it. So it was a pretty high high.
You want to make a deeper into the game if you have a stroke of luck like this. I didn't know I was gonna have a stroke of "unluck" to counterbalance it immediately on the scales. [Laughs.] It's very Lulu of me. But it was a cool moment. It was a moment that was like, "Okay, this is a record, I got that under my belt." And ultimately, being on the bottom, it really tells you who your allies are. And I really think I had the clearest picture then in that moment of these are the people I definitely want to work with deep into the game. And sadly, most of them weren't even threats. But I was like, "Doesn't matter. Go with the people you can trust."
When we talked in the preseason, you mentioned how mischievous you've been in your life, and how you got into the show by watching seasons with the show's biggest villains. And, as you mentioned in your final words, things changed course vastly given your circumstances. How did it feel to go from someone who wanted to be a villain to arguably one of the season's biggest heroes?
Yeah, it was it was crazy. Maybe I am Batman. Coming in being a big threat, I really did think that I would have to play a really strategic game to get to the end. And Surivor really is just about finding the people that you can trust and building a coalition and making it to the end. I ended up having to herd sheep so much more than I thought. And the challenge of that is you do kind of get this kind of more heroic mode versus t the villain who's like, "Oh my god, I'm going to be targeted next time if I don't do something." Lulu, what a hand to be dealt. Every single person, just bop, bop, bop, bop. And now we have Emily. Who would have thought that after Night 1?
Well, to quote the aforementioned Abi-Maria, "At least you made the jury!" So I'm excited to get to see you shift into juror Kaleb mode.
As a juror, I feel like the one thing I can bring is maybe a more strategic element. Making sure that we try and stay objective as a group as much as possible and just try and vote for the best player. So I'm excited to be able to help and be a part of a jury that tries to do that. And, by the way, I didn't pack any jury clothes! I was planning on going to the end. [Laughs.] So there you go.