Bradley Kleihege is proud of his role as a villain on Survivor: Ghost Island, but he never expected the reaction he got from some viewers. During our one-on-one interview with Bradley, he had strong words for people who sent him death threats on social media. Plus, he served up a secret about his current bond with Stephanie Johnson and explained why he’s really not a dick in real life.
SheKnows: Your elimination was definitely a blindside. Tell us about it.
Bradley Kleihege: I was genuinely surprised. There was definitely a feeling in the pit of my stomach where I was not 100 percent sure it was going to work out the way I wanted it to going into Tribal, but it was still surprising.
SK: What gave you the feeling it may not work out in your favor?
BK: We got back to camp after the Immunity challenge, and the energy was a lot different at camp directed toward me. I was like, OK, something might be up. I spent the afternoon trying to figure out if something was actually up. To Dom’s credit, he did a really good job making sure it didn’t seem like anything was up that I would catch on to. I didn’t have any evidence that anything was actually up. I figured I was just paranoid. Because I didn’t have any evidence, I didn’t want to go into Tribal Council and blow it up to try to get the vote off of me. What if they actually weren’t planning on flipping on me and I ended up getting myself voted out based on my Tribal Council performance? I was so unsure about exactly what was happening that my best move was just to play along as if everything was OK and hope that it actually was. I didn’t think they would go for me that night. I thought I would have another couple of Tribals before I was in trouble with either Dom or Chelsea. I went with it. That’s why I said, “Everything is swimmingly. We’re all getting along great.” Not really, but that’s what I was going for.
SK: There appeared to be some conflict with you and a few of the other contestants. Did they target you out of frustration, or is there another reason you were voted out?
BK: I would be sure that Donathan and Libby voted for me because they were bugged by me, but they also had no other move. What you didn’t see at that point is, Dom didn’t consider me just to be annoying. He is a really good Survivor player. If there was nothing more than what showed on TV, he would’ve kept me to the end. He would’ve known he could sit next to me and he would’ve won. He’s smart enough to know that. There was a lot more to it. At that point, almost everybody in the game perceived me to be a threat because of what I had been doing at Malolo. Domenick thought I was voting out people with kids because they’d be a jury threat later on. That wasn’t what I was doing. I was loyal to Dom. After the first swap, I heard he’d been telling everyone that first chance he got, he needed to get rid of Kellyn or myself. It was definitely a strategic vote for him. I think he made the move a little too soon, but in terms of whether or not it was a good move, it definitely was a good move. At some point, I would’ve had to turn on Dom.
SK: You mentioned in your elimination episode that you didn’t want to be perceived as a dick. That being said, do you think the other contestants actually viewed you as a dick, or was that perception only through the show’s edit?
BK: I think it’s mostly for the edit, but I’m not gonna say it’s 100 percent for the edit. I wanted to be a villain. I wanted to be ridiculous. I wanted to be an extremely exaggerated version of myself. That’s what I did, and that’s who I was in the game. Are there elements of that in me? Am I impatient? Yes. Do I have a short fuse with certain people sometimes? Yes. But I think a lot of it was me playing it up. I wanted to go in there and make the show as entertaining as possible. Last week when I said, “I’m underestimating myself. I’m fantastic. I’m playing an A+ game,” those are things I would never say outside the game. The things I would say outside the game would be said under pretext where every single person, without any doubt, knew I was being facetious.
SK: What was your strategy behind wanting to be a villain?
BK: My strategy with it wasn’t so much a strategy. I’ve been watching the show since I was 9. I always loved watching the villains. I want to be the villain. I want to be the person who is just ridiculous and looks kind of a little nutty. Those are the people I enjoy watching the most on TV. I really did go in with the mindset of being such a massive fan of this show, I wanted to do my part to make it as good a season as possible. Had I been able to maneuver to the end, half the people left I could probably beat, and I think half the people left I would lose to. That’s based on what I knew on day 19 about everybody. I think it would’ve been really fun. I think the fans enjoy that, and that’s what I’ve seen on the internet. I wanted to be a Survivor character because I grew up watching them and loving them.
SK: Who is your favorite Survivor villain?
BK: I love Courtney Yates. I think she’s fantastic. On my original application, it asked, “What Survivor are you most like?” I put Courtney because we both seem to have this push for having two cents to give about everything and not having a whole lot of patience for knuckleheads in the group. The one thing I will say about wanting to be the villain, though, is I was very careful, and I am in my daily life, when I am joking around and purposely being silly. I never want to be malicious and I never want to be a bully. I wanted to make sure on the show I was a light-hearted villain — a villain that was making fun of myself probably more than I was making fun of anybody else.
SK: But as a reality TV villain, social media can be brutal. What feedback are you getting from fans who watch the show? What’s the reaction to your character?
BK: Two-thirds of people either love me or love to hate me as a Survivor villain. Then there are a third of people that are like the scum of the earth. They are very unfriendly. I’ve had quite a handful of death threats, which is just ridiculous. It doesn’t even bug me that much because I look at it and think these people really have nothing better to do with their lives than to find me on social media and tell me they hope I die. It’s really kind of surprising, but the outpouring of support and fans has been so much more than I ever would’ve thought it would be. It’s been really fun to see. It’s been an awesome experience. I love reading the tweets of people that say they love me, and I love reading the tweets of people that think I’m insufferable. It all just makes me laugh because I loved watching myself on TV. I thought it was really fun. I really enjoyed my character. They filmed this so long ago, and I don’t remember what I said in confessional. When I watch things where I say I’m underestimating myself and so fantastic, I’m laughing right along with everybody else. I’m like, “I can’t even believe I said that because it’s so ridiculous and so funny.” I’m having a good time with it all around. I’m trying to soak in the whole experience.
SK: Did you have anybody you wanted to go to the end of the game with?
BK: I wanted to go to the end with Jenna and Sebastian or Jenna and Chelsea. I knew there were several people I couldn’t go to the end with and have a shot of winning. Everybody loved Wendell, so I figured he was too big of a threat to take. Domenick was playing really hard, so I didn’t want to take him. Kellyn, everybody loved her and she was playing great. Michael, same deal. Had I made it to the merge, Michael and Kellyn would’ve been my biggest allies. In addition to them, I had Sebastian, Jenna and Des. Kellyn had Chelsea. Me, Kellyn and Sebastian had Wendell. We figured that was a pretty strong bunch of people and could’ve soldiered on. Depending on who I made it to the end with, I think I did have a shot.
SK: When I interviewed Stephanie Johnson, she lovingly revealed a secret about you. She said that it’s a secret you probably didn’t want anybody to know. That secret is that you actually have a soul. What’s your response?
BK: Stephanie and I are very close. We’re very good friends now. The pre-mergers have a group chat. Each week as we’re getting ready to go, we get in the group chat and say, “Hey, guys. Just so everyone knows for whoever is about to get voted out. I still love each and every one of you, but as we agreed months ago, nothing is held back in exit press. We’re gonna say whatever and it will all be fine.” If you just looked at the relationship I had with Stephanie on the show, we did bond out there, but she was still frustrated with me. It’s just funny hearing that kind of stuff. It gets back to me wanting to play a character and me wanting to come across as ridiculous because I think it’s more entertaining TV. In my real life, I’m extremely loyal and I will move mountains for the people I love. I am a good friend, and I’m nice to the people I’m around. I don’t go around trying to be a dick, and I think that Stephanie wanted to share that because there’s been a lot of people like, “You’re insufferable.” That’s generally not the case for how I’m perceived in real life.
SK: Now it’s your turn. Can you give us a secret about Stephanie?
BK: Oh, goodness. Last night, her two kids were watching the episode with me. They have met all of us from the pre-merge now. They have only met a couple of people that made the merge. They don’t know who is going home each week, so they look at her and go, “Mom, why are all our friends getting voted out?” Last night, they didn’t know I was going home, and they were sitting with me as we were watching it. As the votes were coming in, her oldest son turns around looks at me with these wide eyes and starts crying. He’s like, “Why is this happening? Why are all of our friends terrible at Survivor?” It’s great. Stephanie and I, along with Brendan, James, Morgan and Gonzo, are looking forward to getting to share the stories from Australia [pre-jury trip.] I ended up in the hospital. I get kicked out of a bar on the Fourth of July. We had a crazy time. I would say her secret is she has enjoyed playing up how terrible I am because it’s all a big joke. She’ll say something about how terrible I am, and then she’ll send it to me. She knows I think it’s funny. We’re really close now.
SK: Other than Stephanie and her kids, are there any other contestants you watched your elimination episode with?
BK: Michael was there too. Michael and I hang out a lot.
SK: How did you get on the show?
BK: I got on the show by applying. I applied five years ago. I almost made it on Cagayan [Season 28]. Then I was kind of in the process every year. I live a couple miles from the Survivor office. Lynne, the casting director, wouldn’t invite me to finals. My casting producer was finally like, “She’s never going to invite you to finals, but I think you’d be great. Why don’t you just show up at casting? If you knock it out of the park maybe she’ll change her mind.” I went. I knocked it out of the park, and Lynne sent me back home. She was like, “I’m not interested.” A few days later, she had taken a group of contestants to meet with Jeff and the network, and they kind of bombed. Immediately she was like, “I guess we need Bradley back.” Then I went into network and I knocked it out of the park again. It was quite the roller coaster. It was a lot of years of trying, but it did not disappoint. It was the coolest experience in my life and the adventure of a lifetime. I have a big group of the most incredible friends now.