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Runner-Up Austin describes how being an alternate changed the way he played Survivor

Runner-Up Austin describes how being an alternate changed the way he played Survivor

Runner-Up Austin describes how being an alternate changed the way he played Survivor

Austin Li Coon. Photo: CBS.


By John Powell – GlobalTV.com

He went from an alternate to finishing in second place. Austin Li Coon, the 26-year-old grad student from Chicago, was never supposed to be on Survivor 45 but at the last minute was subbed into the game. Austin made the most of his experience by not only finishing second and making two of the strongest alliances of the season but he also stumbled head-long into a showmance with eventual winner, Dee Valladares. Austin though has absolutely no regrets about how everything played out.

John Powell: Congratulations on finishing second! How are you feeling today?

Austin Li Coon: It was an epic finale! At the end of the day, especially for players who don’t win, we just want it to be a really good season. This was an excellent way to tie a knot at the end of the season. So, I’m feeling good! It’s been a ton of fun watching this whole season! So nothing but good things.

John Powell: You have had some time to think it. Do you have any plans for the money?

Austin Li Coon: A lot of its going to go to student debt for sure, just paying off school. That’s going to be a big part of it. Maybe I’ll go on like a little vacation, do a little trip. I have also spent a lot of money visiting a lot of the cast members and going to watch events. I think that’s pretty much all of it.

John Powell: Many fans are wondering what is the status of you and Dee’s relationship? Can you give us an update?

Austin Li Coon: I know this isn’t what the fans want to hear but for this (interview) I am super happy to talk about stuff in the game but we want to keep the post-game stuff pretty private right now. It is just that so many things are happening. The finale just aired and it just is an extra thing to deal with. It just makes things even more crazy so we’re going to keep that private for now.

Dee Valladares, Austin Li Coon, Kellie Nalbandian and Julie Alley. Photo: Chuck Snyder/CBS.

John Powell: It was explained on last night’s finale how you were an alternate and that you weren’t even scheduled to play. You also made the comment that you were “playing with house money”. Did the fact that you were an alternate change the way you approached the game?

Austin Li Coon: Yes! It’s like when I saw the Beware Advantage. It took like two seconds to think about it. Of course, I’m opening it because in my mind even if I was first voted out, previously I wasn’t even going to play at all. Every single day out there was the greatest day of my life! There were some benefits of not being able to overthink things. I think I would have played a little bit differently (if I was schedule to play) because as an alternate I didn’t put myself mentally on the island because I didn’t want to break my heart when I went back home. I was studying for mid-terms at Ponderosa before the game began. I was trying not to think about it too much.

With that a little extra preparation time maybe I would have been able to play a little more cutthroat? Who knows? I just am so grateful for the opportunity to play! Every day out there was awesome! Even losing I just feel so thankful I made it to the end. I was never supposed to play and I played all 26 days! I got three votes! I got idols and I won challenges! I caught fish! It was the full, full, full experience!

John Powell: At the final tribal council Dee admitted to some of her lies and deceptions. Looking back at that, how do you feel about those situations and how were you able to make that separation between personal and game? You seemed to do that very well through the whole series.

Austin Li Coon: I have the mentality that if you’re willing to blindside people then you have to be willing to be blindsided yourself. It’s not a one-way street. I can’t expect the jury members to be able to separate the game from personal and to be able to judge us objectively if I’m not willing to do the same thing too.

I kind of just tipped my hat. That was a good game move. I understand it. That’s kind of why I was able to separate it. I think what was harder for me was just understanding that other people can also separate things too. I knew personally I was able to separate it but I was worried that other people might not be able to as much and I let that affect some of my decisions.

Austin Li Coon is awarded immunity necklace by Jeff Probst. Photo: CBS.

John Powell: You were fortunate enough to have two really strong bonds going through the game. You had Drew on one hand and you had Dee on the other. What was it like to work with Drew especially because he was the intellectual and he’s the mastermind but in all honesty you both came together and you contributed to everything as far as your your alliance was concerned.

Austin Li Coon: Thanks! I really appreciate that! Drew and I were truly best friends out there on the island. They (the producers) really highlighted my relationship with Dee towards the end but at the end of the day I would have done everything the same for Drew if Dee or Julie came up to me to take Emily out.

I’m telling Drew 100 per cent. I was never going to write his name down. I was going to bring him to the end with me even if it wasn’t best for my game. We connected Day One. We had a final two alliance and we had such a good time together. We always had each other’s backs. I would for sure played my idol for him had I known the votes are going that way but Drew and Dee were both so core to my experience out there and Julie too! We had this incredible relationship together. The Reba Four was so, so tight. I love them all!

John Powell: Looking back did the showmance hurt or hinder your game?

Austin Li Coon: One of my main strategies going in is I wanted to make sure that I was the most insulated player. I needed to have layers of people willing to fight for me and willing to protect me. Both Dee and Drew were going to fall on their swords for me.

I knew Dee would never write my name down. If Julie went to her and said they were going to vote me out I think she would have told me like how she told Julie. So having that was a benefit, knowing that these people were going to really do whatever they can to keep me in the game. I think where it becomes a negative is I also got so attached to both of them that I was trying to do whatever I could to move US together as a unit further in the game as opposed to just MYSELF I really, really went to bat for both of them as well. I do think that the reason why we all went far was because we had these tight bonds. We could really trust each other.

Dee Valladares and Austin Li Coon. Photo: CBS.

John Powell: I always say the best Survivor players are those who are well-rounded. You were great at strategy, great at the challenges and Looking at your game objectively, what can you say was your weakness if you had one?

Austin Li Coon: Thank you! I didn’t have that Jesse (Lopez) or that Dee kind of cutthroat mentality. I think part of was coming in as an alternate, coming with this different perspective, just being really excited to be out there. Part of it was also I formed such close bonds it was hard for me to be like: ‘Alright, X, you’re done!’ But, I tried to view everything strategically and objectively. They (the producers) made it look like I have these “love goggles on” or whatever but out there, I was still sharp that I was still thinking everything rationally. At the same time, I knew I was never going to vote Dee. I was never going to vote Drew. The only way I would take out either them was to go against them in fire. I think not being willing to write their names down that was potentially the weakest part of my game.

John Powell: Was there anything about your Survivor journey that you wish fans had seen?

Austin Li Coon: I think the Kellie blindside but they (the producers) wanted wanted to blindside the audience and they didn’t get to see all of the strategy that went behind it.

I felt like there was a lot of work that I put in to make that happen. There several little moves that I made to make that happen. For one, at the auction, Bruce loses his vote because he had the most money at the end. I actually he did bet $80 for that fish eye which is why I bid $100 to make sure that the people outside of my alliance had money and had a higher chance of losing their vote.

When I went to bite that eyeball, I made a big scene of it. That was because I wanted to convince everybody that I bid for that because I wanted to eat that not because I was thinking strategically to make sure that Bruce didn’t spend his money.

Once he lost his vote, the vote was going to happen. We’re going for Kellie and there was all sorts of the social work that went into it. Drew obviously, he was on board immediately and he was key. There was coming up with a plan and making sure it worked and talking to people like Emily to make sure that they were on board. I think a big person that I really had to focus on convincing was Dee because Dee was really getting close with Kellie. Kellie was like a shield or a potential number as well. Being able to convince Dee…those were a lot of really good conversations that we had and it’s a bummer that the audience had to miss out on all that strategy but at the same time it totally makes sense because it was a crazy blindside.

John Powell: Now it may be too early to think about this but would you ever come back to play again not as an alternate but a scheduled player?

Austin Li Coon: It is never too soon! I would 100 per cent! Every day out there was a greatest day of my life! When you’re out there and you’re miserable and you’re starving and you’re like: ‘I’m never doing this again!’ But, as soon as you have your first bite of something your first shower you’re like: ‘I’m ready to be play again! Let’s go!’. Yeah, I’d go back!

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