When the cast was revealed for Survivor: Game Changers, many fans were questioning why Hali Ford was picked to play again. Heck, even Ford herself wasn’t sure why she was labeled as a game-changer. In our one-on-one interview with Ford, she explained what strategy she followed to eliminate the doubt and revealed the method she used to get back on the show. Plus, she expressed empathy for Jeff Varner after the brutal backlash he’s faced for outing Zeke Smith as transgender.
SheKnows: Did you know the tribe was going to vote you out?
Hali Ford: I definitely knew it was coming. It was going to be a miracle if I didn’t go home. The last two hours before we went to the vote, I was like, “Oh gosh. Here we go. People are idiots.” I spent my whole day pitching to Sierra, Brad, Cirie and people I thought I established some kind of connection with to get the numbers together. There are so many big threats in the game right now. I saw Ozzy and Sierra having a hammock conversation when they were clearly working together. Shortly after that, Cirie kind of stopped talking to me. I couldn’t figure out why in the world they would be voting for me. It was kind of like everyone started stonewalling me a couple hours before Tribal. That locked it in my mind that I was in hot water.
SK: Before getting voted off, you had offered to strip down to prove to the group you didn’t have a hidden Immunity Idol. Be honest, were you really going to take your clothes off for these people?
HF: I would have done it to an extent. The actual offer on the table was Sarah the cop could do a pat-search on me. Those can get pretty invasive when cops don’t follow a person’s constitutional rights, which they never do [laughs]. I’m just joking. I was willing to be searched if that was genuinely why they wanted to vote me out. I didn’t volunteer to strip down totally naked. Even if I stripped down to nothing to prove I had no Idol, I was still gonna go home. I knew they weren’t actually going to change their mind. I couldn’t believe that was the real reason they were voting for me. It’s so dumb and clearly erroneous. While I wasn’t going to get naked, I would have let Sarah grope every nook and cranny to see if I had an Idol [laughs].
SK: In pregame interviews, there were multiple castaways — including yourself — saying that you weren’t deserving of being labeled as a game-changer. What was your strategy to overcome that doubt?
HF: When I played my first game of Survivor, my head was at home. I had things going on at home that were a lot bigger to me than Survivor, so I wasn’t engaged. I regretted that deeply. After my first season, I gunned to get back on the show because I felt like I had something to prove. Going into this game, I intended to just engage and be the person that I am. I had a lot to prove to myself, but I wanted to leverage the crappiness of my first game. I wanted to play that card of Hali is just a space cadet, don’t worry about her. Apparently, that strategy failed.
SK: After this season, do you now consider yourself a game-changer?
HF: In my heart and soul, I feel like I’m a game-changer every day, but other people are a lot better at Survivor than I am. I wouldn’t put myself in the echelon of game-changing Survivor players. I don’t think that I’m awesome at Survivor. Certainly not the same as Sandra, Malcolm, Tony or the first Ciera to get voted out.
SK: Are there any other castaways this season who you don’t think are game-changers?
HF: Uh, yeah [laughs]. I’m definitely more of a game-changer than some people who are on the show. I saw Sierra as someone who always sticks with the majority. I love Tai as a player, but strategically? You know, I don’t want to out anyone as a bad player. I’m not in a position to do that.
SK: There was a moment Zeke revealed to the entire merged tribe that he’s transgender. What was going through your mind when he spilled his secret?
HF: I was honestly thinking about him as a person and what this journey must have been like. I was feeling for him in a really deep way. In the aftermath, at this point, I’m feeling more for Varner. I feel like Zeke has been a hero and done a lot of good. I just wish people didn’t have to support Zeke by hating on Varner [for outing Zeke.] Why can’t we make this whole conversation uplifting? The hate is not necessary.
SK: Did you have any suspicion that Zeke is transgender?
HF: I didn’t. He’s such a dudey-dude. He might be a little hipster, but I was shocked. I was with my boyfriend last night watching the show and we were just talking about how there’s nothing woman about him. He’s just Zeke. He’s a great guy. I think Cirie, as a nurse, could tell by his scars. She told me she knew before he was outed, but I certainly didn’t.
SK: You first played back on Season 30, so was this the first time CBS had asked you to return?
HF: Yes, but not the first time I approached Survivor. I worked really hard to try to get back on the show. Maybe they would have reached out to me anyway, but I sent in multiple long videos with extended conversations to try to get back. I was just devastated after my first game. I was so embarrassed because it wasn’t who I am. When I was in my first season, I was completely checked out and in zombie mode because of what was going on at home. I just couldn’t be present. My pride was hurt.
SK: What was your reaction when they called and asked you to play again?
HF: Oh my gosh! I was in the basement by myself, and I just ran around the room screaming bloody murder when I got off the phone. My mom came down and was like, “What happened?!?!” I was ecstatic.
SK: Would you play a third time?
HF: I just think other people are better at Survivor than me, but I would love to go back on. I love it. It’s such a fun thing, but I also think other people should go on before me again.