Loyalty: That was a key component of Ken McNickle’s strategy on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X. Although Adam Klein won unanimously, Ken McNickle told us on the red carpet that he was expecting several votes to swing his way at the final Tribal Council. He also revealed more behind his decision to blindside David and explained why he refused the opportunity to compete on Survivor when he was first offered the chance back in 2012.
SheKnows: Walk us through your strategy. Did you think loyalty would play such a big part of your game?
Ken McNickle: I’m loyal to a fault. It’s one of those things you try not to make a fault. In the business world these days, everyone says, “It’s just business. It’s not personal.” We develop these ideas that we’ve gotta be superficial, cutthroat and an animal if you want to succeed in life. I want to show people you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to be deceitful, you don’t have to manipulate and you don’t have to be cutthroat to succeed in life. It might get you momentary success, but that longstanding success that really sticks happens through trust. The game has evolved into such a cutthroat game where at times it almost seems cutthroat simply for the sake of being cutthroat. There are moves that make no sense that are made simply because people want that reputation. They want, as Will said, a résumé. I’m not about that, but I’m also a fighter and a warrior. I knew that at some point in the game, I was going to have to make a really difficult decision. I was just lucky it didn’t happen until the very end of the game.
SK: Speaking of difficult decisions, you ultimately voted your strongest ally, David, out of the game. When did you make that choice to drop your loyalty with David for strategy’s sake?
KM: It was a progression. When Dave was in the game, Chris was constantly talking about, “Dave’s a genius. Dave’s a genius. Man, I can’t believe this guy. Look what he’s become.” Everyone was talking openly about Dave’s transformation and how he’s grown. Bret, and a few others at the very end of the game, were like, “This guy is gonna knock us out of the water.” Whenever Dave spoke, everyone would get quiet. I was watching the jury respond to him, and I knew he was gonna clean house. If he’s there at the end of the game, no one stands a chance. Dave and I have talked numerous times since, and he knows why I made the decision that I made. Out of the game, he and Jess are my top alliances and closest friends. I love them genuinely in real life immensely, but my daughter comes before anything on this planet. I know how winning this game would have impacted she and I. I knew against Adam and Hannah there was at least a shot. Against Dave no one even had a chance.
SK: Did you expect a unanimous vote for Adam?
KM: I didn’t expect it to be a blowout vote. I’ve had people [on the jury] come up since and say, “Had I watched the season first, had I known what you did on Gen-X and how you got to the merge and flew under the radar to get that bull’s-eye to come down [they would’ve voted for him.]” That first day on the merge, Jay and Taylor were talking about getting me out. The next challenge, I came back and used my shirt as a sling and wincing with how much my shoulder hurt. I was fine, but I made it a point to show them I wasn’t a threat. At the end of the game, Chris expressed how impressed he was for Adam to convince Ken to flip on Dave. But Chris said tonight, “You did that. Sorry.” What I did wasn’t as clear as I would’ve liked it to be in the game, but if you watch it you can see what I was doing. I guess I should’ve had a little more ego in the game to speak up and toot my horn a little bit more so people would’ve known what I was doing. But, again, that’s not me and it would’ve been hard to do.
SK: Going into that final Tribal Council, were there any jury members you were expecting to vote for you?
KM: Jess. I was expecting a vote from Dave. I was expecting a vote from Jay, possibly, with the connections he and I had. Sunday I was expecting a vote from. Chris, I honestly thought I would as well. I honestly thought I had at least five to six votes there. I felt really solid about Sunday, Chris, Jay and Jess. I knew I had at least four on lock with another few possibilities.
SK: Before Jeff Probst revealed the winning votes on live TV, how confident were you?
KM: There’s always still hope, right? Until something is definite, there’s always hope. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but who knows? That’s kind of how I am. There’s always that glimmer of hope. But after the first few were for Adam, I knew that was it.
SK: What was your daughter’s reaction to watching you be such a heroic character on Survivor?
KM: My daughter sees that every week. She’s a bigger hero than I am. I have a 6-year-old who goes out and helps the homeless with me. You see her talking to two men who’ve lived on the streets for years, where most of the population ignores them. I see her sitting there for an hour talking about how awesome Dr. Seuss is and why she loves reading. One guy came up to me and said, “I want that. I want children. Talking to your little girl, I know I want that.” That’s his motivation for getting clean and off the streets. The other guy is sitting there knowing he has children, and he’s missing them dearly. Engaging with my daughter, he comes up to me and says, “I need to get back to my kids. I need to kick this struggle. I need to get back to them.” She’s 6 and she’s inspiring people to pull themselves up off the streets and kick addiction. How many 6-year-olds have that kind of power already?
SK: How did you get on the show?
KM: I was always a fan of the early seasons, but I went off the grid for about six years. I didn’t have TV or cable for almost 12 years, which I loved. Through some connections at CBS, in 2012 they asked me to be on [Survivor: Philippines] right in the middle of a football season where I was coaching young kids who are used to people not fulfilling what they say they’re going to do for them. I had to say no, and I turned down a chance at $1 million to be a coach to some of the most amazing kids I’ve ever met. About a year ago, they reached out again. They saw the change in my life and it all worked out.
SK: Last question. The conversation about you on social media has been filled with people gushing about your good looks. What does that feel like? Are you getting marriage proposals or anything?
KM: I’m getting a lot of interesting proposals. Everything from escort propositions to marriage propositions and a lot of other things. Honestly, I’m a pretty quiet guy. I’m a small-town kid who has spent most of his life in towns with just a couple thousand people. I’m not looking for flings and wild, crazy woman online. I’m looking for a good woman who can step into me and my daughter’s life who can be a role model and solid partner for me. The attention is funny. I love the support. People have been really kind. It’s strange, but it’s sweet.
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