Most seasons of Survivor have someone to provide us with comic relief, and for “Survivor: San Juan del Sur,” Keith Nale was that guy. The 53-year-old firefighter gave us more laugh-out-loud one-liners – and shots of him spitting – than maybe anyone in the show’s history, as this Survivor newbie became an unlikely fan-favorite. On Wednesday night’s episode, who would have thought that Keith would have gotten so close to a million bucks. He was in fact, just short of the grand prize.
Keith had never seen Survivor prior to playing this season along with his son Wes, who was apparently more of a fan (although his gameplay didn’t show it). An early trip to Exile Island gave Keith an Immunity clue and he went on to find a hidden Idol, probably without knowing what the hell the thing was. Luckily for him, his Hunahpu tribe rarely went to Tribal Council, so he was able to carry his Idol with him past the merge.
Keith’s lack of game knowledge prevented him from ever being in a real strategic alliance, although he was so likeable as a person that people didn’t mind keeping him around. Despite his so-called “lack of game knowledge” that I just referred to, Keith played his Immunity Idol at just the right time, saving himself but unfortunately sending his son home in his place.
But almost before everyone’s eyes, Keith became an individual challenge beast, winning several competitions to further himself in the game. His presence as time went on made many players panic, as they eventually realized that if Keith were to make it to the end, he could win. This suspicion was confirmed when Probst asked the jury at the Live Reunion to re-vote assuming Keith was in the Final Three, and the vote showed that Keith would have actually had enough votes to win.
But Keith didn’t win, falling just shy of the Final Three, losing the Final Immunity Challenge. He tried to make a case for himself to stay, but was unable to convince Jaclyn to do so.
I spoke with Keith about his so-called lack of game smarts, his time in the game and why he ended up casting his winning vote for Natalie, despite his bitter jury statements directed at her…and trust me, the interview becomes even funnier if you can picture it in Keith’s authentic Southern accent:
Keith Nale: Tom!
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: Keith!
Keith: Hey, it’s Tom from the Examiner! How are you doin’ Tom?
Tom Santilli: I’m doing great, it’s really cool to talk with you, you know, you were a fan-favorite this season, everyone loved watching you.
Keith: That’s crazy. Man, there are some good fans around here. I wasn’t shootin’ for fan favorite, I was shootin’ for the million, but I came up a little short, Tom.
Tom Santilli: People kept saying over and over that you didn’t know the game. But you did last 38 days out there and won several challenges, you must have been doing something right.
Keith: Man, you took the words right out of my mouth. I wasn’t a super-fan, I couldn’t tell you who the fifth person was voted out of the tenth episode, but I thought I did pretty damn good for not being a super-fan.
Tom Santilli: Did you take offense to that then at all, when people just kept saying over and over that you don’t know how to play Survivor?
Keith: Aw no, not really Tom. I’m kind of easy-going and everyone has the right to their own opinion. But I’m sitting there in fourth place, and even that’s a pretty hard pill to swallow. But I’m looking at Josh sitting over there looking at me, Jeremy is sitting there looking at me. I’ve outlasted some pretty good players.
Tom Santilli: How did that make you feel at the Reunion Show last night, to learn that you would have won the game had Jaclyn taken you instead of Natalie?
Keith: Don’t ask me that Tom, that’s crazy! (Laughs) Hey, I knew it was going to happen. I’ve watched a few Finals in my day and I knew Jeff was going to ask that. I kind of knew whether it was me or Natalie sitting over there. I kind of knew Jaclyn wasn’t going to win and I kind of knew Missy wasn’t going to win. So the way I kind of looked at it, it was me and Natalie for the million, and I think they knew that too, and that’s why I was sitting there at number four.
Tom Santilli: You had dominated a lot of the challenges throughout the game, but that last challenge, you and everyone else, just looked like you were moving so incredibly slow. Just talk about the physicality of the game, and did you surprise yourself with how well you were able to do?
Keith: You know, I kind of did. From day one, you start going downhill. I mean, I can’t make it on a spoonful of rice each day, and I mean I’m not the only one, every one. I went from 161 pounds to 143. And you’re right, out there at the end, I looked like Skeletor sitting out there. I just couldn’t put that puzzle together. The one before I had done pretty good, but that running up and down that monstrosity of a hill they built out there, yeah, (laughs) I was giving it all I had and it didn’t look like I was moving at all.
Tom Santilli: You had some pretty harsh things to say to Natalie during the Final Tribal Council, about how you didn’t appreciate the lying. But you ended up voting for her to win. How come?
Keith: Yeah, they didn’t show it, but I asked all three of them that question. That the last all three of them ever spoke to me was a lie. I didn’t know if I wanted to make them feel bad, but yeah, Natalie was well-deserving. She played the best game, she was a gamer. I was just trying to hang in there with her.
Tom Santilli: When I interviewed your son Wes, he seemed to be a little bit jealous that you got all the best one-liners this season…
Keith: (Laughs) Aw, Wesley’s a good ole’ boy, I don’t know where I dream this mess up at. Maybe just mental stress and no food for 38 days out there. I don’t know where I come up with all of that. Some of it you regret and some of it you say, well, I don’t know, I guess that’s just me. I don’t know where they come from. But Wesley’s a good ole’ boy but I liked playing with him. I don’t know if I’d do this by myself. At least I had someone I could have some trust with.
Tom Santilli: Now when you played your Idol, there was a moment where you asked Wes if he wanted you to use it on him. Would you have really given up your Idol there to save your son’s game to forfeit your own?
Keith: Oh yeah. At that point, I had said a couple times before that, I’m fifty-something years old, I did pretty good, I made the merge. If they vote me out tonight I’m good with it. But when they don’t vote you out you say damn right, another few days. But Wes can run faster, he can jump higher, he can swim longer. He said he didn’t want it, that it was my Idol. But I struggled with that…for about three or four minutes (laughs). And then I had to get over that real quick.
Tom Santilli: Early in the game, it seemed like Jeremy was excited to work with you, being that you were both firefighters. What happened there with Jeremy, and why didn’t you want to work with him?
Keith: Yeah, Jeremy was a player too. He was a big fan and he knew the ins and outs of this. I don’t know why but my mouth, I went and told everyone that he had the Idol. But I legitimately thought he had the Idol because I couldn’t find it. And then I’m walking around out there one day and then it pops up and I was like, oh man, I shouldn’t have said anything about Jeremy because Reed goes and tells everybody. And that Idol is a curse, but I hung onto that thing for like 27 or 28 days before I had to play it. And I think ever since then, Jeremy was kind of gunning for me.
Tom Santilli: So do you regret saying that at that point in the game and would you have liked to work with Jeremy then?
Keith: Well, maybe not so much looking back. The good players were all sitting over there on the jury. When I saw all of these good players go, I was like man, am I doing something right? They’re all good players, but you never hear your name mentioned, so you just go with it. I looked at it like that and just played day by day. I didn’t really have anybody until right there at the end, where it looked like Natalie had saved me a couple of times. So I thought I may have been good with Natalie.
Tom Santilli: Now I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask you about this, but I have an obligation to speak to you about “stick to the plan.” It sounds like you’ve been getting a lot of gried about that, even at home…
Keith: (Laughs) Yeah they’re hammering me pretty good at the firestation. I mean I’m the Captain over there and it’s everything I say. I’m supposed to be able to tell them you go do this or you go do that, and they say, “well that’s not the plan, that’s not the plan.” Well it’s going to be the plan today! (Laughs) But yeah, looking back at that, Reed was hammering on me pretty good. And I knew he was going to, but he was hammering on me a little too good. You just don’t sit around and let people talk to you like that and it finally got to the point where I broke and I just said shut up Reed, let’s just stick to the plan. That was my, or rather Wesley’s, downfall. I just couldn’t take it no more (laughs).
Tom Santilli: You were pretty emotional out there, especially when concerning Wes. What did this experience do for your relationship with your son?
Keith: Yeah, Wesley is a great kid, no problem with him. He’s got a job. He’s not in jail. Me and my dad had a good relationship and I think me and Wesley do too. It was fun, it was fun playing with him. Like I said, I’m not sure I would have done this without him.
Tom Santilli: Any jealousy over your experience from the other son that was at home?
Keith: Well, come to find out, I wasn’t Wesley’s first choice! I guess his little brother was his first choice, and I said what are you talking about? What do you mean I wasn’t your first choice? He said he was going to bring his little brother first, but they already had a brother/brother team, so they insert me, second choice, and I had to start holding up real quick. But no, it’s been good, shoot.
Tom Santilli: What do you know now about Survivor that you wish you would have known coming into the game?
Keith: Aw man. Well I know you can’t just go out there and be the super player. I think staying down, getting you a couple of alliances works a lot better than just saying I’m the man. Because if you just say you’re the man, you’re going to be going to the house real quick. I’ve seen people coast and I didn’t want to coast, but I didn’t want to be the man either. I just wanted to be in the middle. And hey, it worked out. I just wish I would have wised up a little earlier and gotten a guy with me. You know, being in the final four women really beat me down.
Tom Santilli: Yes, you had a great quote last night…one woman is enough to handle, right?
Keith: (Laughs) Hey one is plenty for me! Much less four hens! I thought I was a rooster in a hen house and that would have worked out all fine if we were chickens. But it didn’t work for me too good.
Tom Santilli: Well Keith, you’ve been really entertaining to watch, I don’t know one person who has had anything negative to say about you.
Keith: Well hey, that sure is comforting Tom. I had a great time. I hope they do like me.
Tom Santilli: Are you now a fan of Survivor? Are you going to watch every episode moving forward?
Keith: You know I might be, I kind of like that. Now I can be like the armchair quarterback saying what in the hell was he guy thinking about? You’re supposed to do this, not that! Yeah I’m an old pro now!
Tom Santilli: (Laughs) Yes, you can even have your own Survivor blog…the “Stick to the Plan” Blog…
Keith: (Laughs) Golly, you’ll never let me live that down. But hey, call me in a couple months and I’ll tell you how I feel about that.
Please check out one of my favorite Survivor sites, SurvivorFever.net.