'Survivor 44's Danny Massa Talks His Conflict with Carolyn and Playing with "Zero Emotion"

Survivor 44 is here! Every week, Parade.com's Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.

"Scared money don't make no money." "This game is not won playing a comfortable game. You gotta go out of your comfort zone." "I didn't come here to take part. I came to take over."

These quotes from Danny Massa throughout Survivor 44 are emblematic of how aggressively he wanted to--and ultimately did--play. From the first day, he left no stone unturned, jumping into every challenge headfirst (sometimes literally when he was somersaulting), having a gas (again, sometimes literally), and making a name for himself as a player. Unfortunately for Danny, that meant his name was also out there as a target. And just when he thought he had cornered the Tika trio, they were able to strike first, extinguishing the firefighter's torch for good.

Danny was part of a dominant tribal performance premerge, only going to Tribal Council once. But he didn't use that downtime to sit on his hands. Instead, he took to the jungle, acquiring his tribe's idol from the birdcage. But seeing a fake idol in the bag as well gave Danny the idea to also throw a spotlight onto Matt Blankinship by leading him to it. With that idol setup, his own idol, and a growing twosome with Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt, things were tasting sweeter for Danny than dining on a piece of parchment. As his last maneuver in the premerge, he spent an afternoon on a journey connecting with Brandon Cottom, talking everything from tattoo admiration to a mutually beneficial alliance. But a third person was at that gathering: Carolyn Wiger. And Danny's behavior gave her a bad first impression of him, a reputation that would spell his doom days later.

As green buffs turned black, Danny was able to showcase his potential as a player. He made one of the biggest moves of the season when he used his idol on Frannie Marin, blindsiding his fellow journeyman in Brandon in the process. He then turned around to start targeting Frannie, feeling she was his greatest competition in challenges after he turned in a series of impressive, yet frustrating second-place finishes. Danny's idol play put all eyes on him, as he would receive at least one vote at every Tribal Council he went to after that. Even his tightest ally Heidi was game to vote him out, something she had to bury once that initial plan was squashed.

With seven players left, Danny wanted to bring Soka and Ratu together once more to break up the Tikas, by far the most solid alliance left in the game. But he learned firsthand the power of the group he was trying to go up against. First, Yam Yam Arocho won a crucial Immunity Challenge. Danny simply turned their target onto Carson Garrett, only for Carolyn to catch wise. That gave Carson enough time to go to the Ratus and get them in on a plan to split their votes between Danny and Heidi. The final nail came, fittingly, from Carolyn, who echoed Danny from a week ago by playing an idol on a former tribemate. Danny got his torch snuffed with a De Niro-esque grimace, but internally smiling that he truly played like a Raging Bull.

Now out of the game, Danny talks with Parade.com about his relationship with Carolyn (and that fateful journey), his thinking behind playing his idol on Frannie, and his side of the story with his infamous mid-challenge fart.

Related: Read our Survivor 44 pre-game interview with Danny Massa

So excited to be talking with Robert Dan Niro this morning!
(Laughs.) I haven't heard that one yet.

Oh really? Well I'm excited to be the first, though I'm imagining you've been getting a lot of reactions in the past 12 hours for being the first contestant to get their torch snuffed doing an impression.
So I kind of ran it by Jeff before. I have so much respect for Jeff and the show. To be at Tribal and have your torch snuffed, it's kind of sacred. So I'm like, "Can I De Niro face you right now?" (Laughs.) He's telling me, "It's your Tribal, man!" It was cool, man. It was a cool way to go out.

Well let's get into what led to you making that grimace. What was your reaction when Carolyn revealed her idol and played it on Carson. Did you immediately think you were going?
Oh, at that moment, at first I was impressed. Because immediately I'm like, "She had the Tiak idol. That's so cool." I love keeping things like tight to the chest, especially in this game. So clearly she did that because that would have come out, even if she told one person. When she told Carson, that was the first time. I thought that was super impressive. It's something that I tried to do; it didn't work out as smoothly for me.

But then I was kind of disconnected and detached, because it's totally not up to me. I'm like, "Alright, let's see how this stands. It could be me going home." But I went into that Tribal thinking, "Alright, it's gonna be me or Carson. Maybe Heidi." I knew they all thought I had an idol. Because I looked a lot. (Laughs.)

When it comes to targeting these Tikas, Frannie came to you a couple of weeks ago with that same pitch. You replied, "Frannie, I love you. But you gotta play the game smart!" What changed between then and this episode to cause you to target that trio?
Oh, I mean, you can see from my gameplay before. I like evening out the playing field, as I did earlier in the game. Doing this would have made it 2-2-2. So to me, I know Lauren and Jaime aren't going to trust me. But don't trust me, trust the logic. You want 2-2-2; you don't want the Tika Three where they could take it and run the course if they wanted to do that. So I thought it was a good time to strike and take one of them out. So it was like, "Carson or Carolyn, which one do you guys want to do?"

To that point, you had been working with the Ratus in the past couple of votes, despite how much the first part of the postmerge was dictated by you on opposite sides. What was it like to try to work with Jaime and Lauren, after you had just blindsided them with your idol days ago?
Oh, it was easy! To me, you could probably see from my gameplay, I don't really hesitate. I don't really do that in life, either. (Laughs.) I just want to do it. You guys are in or out. They were not in; they were out. (Laughs.) To me, I sit, I think, I detach, I see it, I think, I look, I make a move. It's my process of doing stuff.

Let's get into your relationship with Carolyn. It seemed clear in this past episode that your way of planning that you outlined does not necessarily vibe with her way of seeing the game. To be frank, did you know she did not like you to the extent that she was expressing to us at home?
(Laughs.) Briefly here and there. I would say I knew she wasn't a fan of me. But Carolyn is very nice like; she was never a dick. I will say this: I knew I wasn't her cup of tea. (Laughs.) But always very coo,l always fun to be around, like we did the bowling. I never tried to exclude her or anything. So yes and no.

Well that segues nicely into talking about the infamous scene of you and Brandon "bro-ing" down on the journey with Carolyn sitting there unnoticed. Give me your perspective of that scene.
Alright. So I'll say this, I'm gonna detach. I'm a fan of myself, so I'm biased. (Laughs.) Brandon's a really good buddy of mine. Obviously we hung out at Ponderosa together. He's super compassionate, genuine, nice, really intelligent, well-thought person. I've seen him interact with a lot of people. I've never seen him ignore or be mean to someone. I think that the edit kind of seemed to show that. I can see myself doing that. And that's something I can learn from and be more compassionate and more thoughtful. It's always good to be more thoughtful.

It'd be very easy for me to be like, "Oh, the edit!" For me, of course, obviously, if you're gonna be real with yourself, I think that most human beings have a really rough time looking at themselves analytically and being like, "Hey, you could've do this better." It's very easy to be like, "No, no, no. Woe is me." So I'll say this. I can't witness myself. I was witnessed by people, so they would have a better depiction of how I came across. But with anybody in Brandon's life, he's not somebody who's ever gonna be rude. He's a very, very thoughtful person. So that's what I'll say.

Well let's get into, ironically enough, you choosing to use your idol to send Brandon out only a few days later. I know that you went back and forth about using it, especially when you find out Heidi leaked you had an idol to others. What made you eventually decide to use it on Frannie?
It was just straight strategic. I loved Frannie; I love Frannie now. If that wasn't the case, I still would have done the same thing. I brought zero real emotion into my gameplay. So I looked at Brandon and I'm like, "Man, this dude is so intelligent. I hung out with him. Cearly we hit it off. He's an awesome dude." I'm watching everyone else interact with him too. I'm like, "Damn, everybody loves this dude! He's incredibly intelligent. He's incredibly athletic. And he's controlling the numbers right now with the Ratus. This would be a great time."

And selfishly, from a gameplay perspective, I knew or felt pretty confident I could get an accurate read. In Survivor, more often than not, people misplay an idol. They waste it. They play it and they didn't actually change the course of what's happening at all. My game was all around this. If I got to the Final Three, I was winning. And not only am I winning, you might as well not even tune into the show. And I felt I played that kind of game. Now that being said, I think that Final Three would be a discussion, because the people I played against are pretty impressive too. (Laughs.) But that's the game I was trying to play. So that would have been a feather in my cap.

It was purely selfish. People got on Frannie like, "How did you not take him for tacos?!" Frannie knows me. She's super smart. She knew exactly what I did. It was not personal; it's strictly business. And she respects the game. I did that for me. I'm not being like, "I came and saved Frannie!" And plus, another thing, I have a lot more closer ties of Frannie, especially since Matt was gone. It just started to concern me with Frannie and Carolyn started to get tight.

Let's talk about another Soka relationship in Heidi. The two of you seemed to be a tight duo through most of the game, only for her to vote against you last Tribal Council. Even though she was denying it, did you get a sense at all that she was that one vote you had tried to figure out at the beginning of last episode?
I didn't. Yam Yam told me. Like I said, I play this game with zero emotionality. At the time in the game, I'm thinking, "There's absolutely zero logic to going after me." Heidi is a logical person. Therefore it's illogical; therefore, she's not going to do that for that reason. And you know how Survivor works, the game changes with the wind. So very easily, the votes could have been on me, I go home and then Heidi's a genius for taking out a big player. So that's just the way the cookie crumbled that time; that wound up not being the right move.

So in the moment, at the time, it was hard for me to think, "How can Heidi get it so wrong?" Because it was wrong, but very easily she could have been right, and then and then she would have been in the game with Frannie. And who knows what happens from there. So that's why, when I went up to Heidi, I'm just like, "So we're gonna get back on the same page now?" I never cared about how people voted. It's like, "Okay, what are we doing now? I love you on everything for the best in your actual real life. But in this game, I want it to work out for you in a way that things work out for me." (Laughs.)

Well, you talk about the changing of the wind. I can't help but end with what came out of your end, when you farted during that challenge against Lauren a few weeks ago. I know in a secret scene you wondered if you would make the edit. What was your reaction when it did?
I jumped out of my seat when they aired that. I jumped out of my seat like somebody just won the Super Bowl. I was so happy. I'm an absolute clown. I love all things comedy. What really annoyed me is that people are on the internet like, "Did you see how mad Jeff Probst was?" Like dude, Jeff keeled over laughing. And then what was great, which I wish I had a GoPro on my head. Because obviously, in the challenges, there is, is a lot going on. So to watch people restrict their laughter was pretty, pretty epic.

Was it actually that loud in the moment? Or was that something embellished in post?
Look at the sit-out bench! Those were far away. It's never right there. You look at Carson, Brandon, Frannie's faces. That was a loud fart. I was really proud of that fart. You're eating coconuts and you're eating a bunch of God knows what, it was not safe! It ended up working out. It was a straight air fart. But that being said, the risk you're taking, you might shart.

Next, check out our interview with Frannie Marin, who was voted out in Survivor 44 Episode 10.