Marty Piombo, 48, went from pulling the strings of Team Geezer on Survivor: Nicaragua to scrambling for his life every week after the tribe reorganization and subsequent merge. The technology executive from Mill Valley, Calif., finally ran out of moves and wound up on the phone with PEOPLE dissecting what went wrong.
How has watching the show been for you considering you get to see every back-jungle deal and slanderous confessional?
I have a thick skin so more than anything seeing what everyone says from week to week has been interesting. True players and lovers of the game know what is said is part of the course of the game. You let things slide. I felt everything I said was either in good fun, like the grand master chess thing, or was strategic, like calling Jane out as a threat because of her sob-story life. I never said stuff to be hateful. Jane said things about me as a father last night that were deplorable and showed her true character. She doesn’t know anything about who I am outside of Survivor.
She often said you didn’t give her the time of day. True? And if so, why not?
She says I never tried to work with her, which is simply not true. I made an attempt in the beginning to get to know her, but it was clear we were not going to mesh. She came up to me within the first few minutes of the game and said, “My husband died, I really need the money so please don’t vote me off.” I have suffered more hardships and loss in my life than her and Chase combined, but I would never have used it like that to try to get leverage. That conversation really soured me on her. And I wanted to play the game with strong, honest, smart, good people. That’s why I got along with Jill so well. And even Danny because he tries his hardest despite physical limitations and I knew I could trust him.
What one move or event contributed most to your downfall?
The tribal switch 100 percent. Jill and I were chosen solely for the purpose of elimination. We were not chosen with swing votes in mind or for what we would add to the team. From that switch on, it was an uphill battle for me and I felt I did a pretty good job lasting as long as I did. I had a decent chance of convincing them to side with me last night and a good shot at final five.
Did you believe you had changed Sash and Brenda’s vote to flush the idol and get Jane out?
I packed my bags because it was a little less than 50-50 that my plan would work. I was asking them to switch up their whole team and plan with that vote, so it was a long shot, but stranger things have happened. You can tell what I was saying was getting to them. Like the way Sash’s head moved right after my torch was snuffed.
Did you ever think, Maybe I should shut up, step back and stop playing so hard?
This is who I am. I couldn’t have played the game any differently than I did because of that. I was never going to be the guy who floated under the radar, didn’t make bold moves or didn’t strategize. Everyone says I talked too much at tribal but that’s the only time when you can air everything out to everyone all at once. I tried to use it to my advantage. When I went off on Jane and tried to explain why she was such a huge threat to take to the end, I started to make people realize that.
Anything you regret?
Not working with Holly more. In the beginning, she did a lot of things that everyone saw that made me write her off because she seemed unstable and not long for the game, like siding with Wendy Jo or taking Danny’s shoes. But she pulled it together and proved to be a smarter player and an honest trustworthy person. I wish I’d spent more time working on building a relationship with her.
Some fans are still mad at you for playing a hand in the demise of Jimmy Johnson.
That vote was unanimous so it wasn’t just me on that one. I loved all of my time with him. And who wouldn’t? He’s a great man, who told great stories, but we were there to play a game. Someone had to go and he simply wasn’t strong enough. It was hard for me at 48. He’s 67. He also announced to me that he was going to play without any alliances. For as much as he says he loves the show, that just isn’t a smart play. Sure that means you don’t have any strong affiliations to go against me, but it also says that you’re not with me either.
What player does it sting the most to have gone out earlier than?
NaOnka. She made it hard to be around her. She would have never lasted on the older tribe. We just wouldn’t have put up with everything she did even if she was a smart person to take to the end because no one would vote for her. Danny and I would look at her every week and think, “How is she still here?” And Jane because she was erratic, older than me and probably gets too much satisfaction from outlasting me.