It’s hard to interview someone returning to play Survivor when you haven’t even seen how or what they did the first time around. That was the situation when I spoke with Malcolm Freberg in May 2012 as he was getting ready to depart for Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (premiering Feb. 13 on CBS). It was only two weeks after he had finished filming Survivor: Philippines (which would not air for another four months). Luckily, I did have a few things to go on. I had met and spoken with Malcolm on location for that season, and had watched him play out there for the first few days, so I at least had some familiarity with him and his game.
What I found most interesting about Malcolm coming back is that he became only the second returning player — after Russell Hantz — to go back-to-back seasons in which none of the other contestants had been afforded a chance to watch him play. Portions, if not all, of the first seasons of Rupert Boneham, Stephenie LaGrossa, Bobby Jon Drinkard, Amanda Kimmel and James Clement had aired before their second consecutive appearance, so other players were familiar with them. Malcolm, however, would be a complete question mark. I asked Jeff Probst if he thought that was an advantage or disadvantage. I also wanted to hear from the player himself how he felt about being a Survivor Mystery Man.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s it like to go from being a super-fan of the show, to a player, to now a returnee?
MALCOLM FREBERG: It’s flattering, but not completely unexpected. I always thought if you’re going to do something you have to assume you’re going to be successful at it. That’s just the inner arrogance I’ve been gifted with my entire life. It’s been a head rush for sure. It’s really thrilling. And there is a moment of starstruck-ness each time I keep running into other returning players, so I need to get over that real quick.
EW: You’ve only had a break of a few weeks. How are you doing physically right now?
MALCOLM: Yeah, I’m not in the same place I was the first time. I had three months to train and get my body in shape for that first go-round. I’ve had almost, what, two or two and a half weeks, and I’ve just been eating ice cream and just drinking beer in my apartment. I haven’t done anything really to get ready. So you’re gonna get a slightly different physique this time around, until the starvation sets in. I’m confident I’ll be bigger than everybody else and hopefully it comes down to the mental more than the physical, as it always does.
EW: The only previous returning player that nobody got to see play before he came back was Russell Hantz in Heroes vs. Villains. Do you think that helps you in that nobody can pre-judge you, or does it hurt you in that it makes people nervous that they don’t know anything about you? How do you think that plays out?
MALCOLM: Yeah, I’m the first one since Russell and there is definitely a stigma attached to doing this now, and you have to imagine that people are going to be wary to approach you. I’m like a wild card. Nobody knows what they are going to get if they team up with me. It’s just going to take me to be my super charming self those first couple of days to show them I’m not like Russell or a five-foot narcissistic, crazy evil strategic munchkin. They’ll get the height thing for a first glance, but they won’t know what to expect. I’m the only one creating a first impression on that beach the first day and I’m going to have to be very careful to make sure it is a good one.
EW: You look around and see the other people coming back and you see a bunch of people from certain seasons and you’re flying solo from your season. How do you think that impacts things?
MALCOLM: Just looking around, there are a few people that are going to have past relationships from their seasons, and it’s kind of going to be fun to see how that works out because that might not necessarily be the healthiest thing going into it. I don’t have anybody that I know. I’m the new kid on the block here. And I’m going to be counting on somebody to be looking for a new relationship for me to have a chance in this game. So I’m flying blind without an ally going into it, but sometimes that works in this game.
EW: What did you learn from your first experience out there that you’re bringing into the game this time?
MALCOLM: Like any sporting event, you go back and look at the tape or think about how it went, and you learn things about yourself. I know I have some strengths in this game now. I need to make sure I play those up this time around or put myself in a position to use them. And it turns out I do have a couple of weaknesses I need to avoid this time in order to keep myself around. You learn a lot about yourself and it really gives you the ability to come out swinging on day one as opposed to that learning curve that new players have that I had just a couple of months ago. That experience really plays a big factor. You’re not a rookie anymore. You’re a veteran going into opening day rather than the guy who just got called up from the minors. Experience is going to play a huge factor for everybody out here. And knowing what you can and can’t do is a huge advantage.
EW: Do you think having already been in that same location for Survivor: Philippines gives you a leg up on the competition in terms of knowing the terrain?
MALCOLM: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the advantages I do have of being a returning guy coming back to back. I was just where we are all going. I just spent almost two months out in the Philippines. And that knowledge is one of the advantages I have to kind of counter-balance that wild card stigma coming into the game. I know what the fishing situation is. I know how to get the coconuts, the resources we have available, just the entire environment. All these guys have played Survivor before but I have location-specific information that I will be able to share and dole out at will. And I’ll definitely be giving it out strategically and not just willy-nilly. It’s definitely going to be an advantage and I’m just going to have to use it early on to make myself more valuable those first few days.
EW: Who among the returnees are you looking at as potential allies or people you want to stay away from?
MALCOLM: Looking at the guys, I think Erik might be a good one to stick with. He’s a young, naïve kid — I always try to keep one of those in my back pocket. But the overwhelming feeling for me just looking around at this group of people that I’m with is that I’m much more intimidated by the girls than the guys that are here. From a strategic standpoint, at least. If you throw out some of the names of these guys — Phillip Sheppard, Brandon Hantz — and then look at some of these girls and the way they played the game the first time around, there’s definitely more of a mental, strategic threat from some of the women than there is from some of these guys out here.
EW: Who’s the one person that really surprised you that you’ve seen so far?
MALCOLM: Francesca is here. I mean, I was like, “What? Really?” I’m surprised I recognized her. I remember she had a mouth on her, but not much else. So that is kind of another wild card thing and if it turns out I’m down in numbers quickly, both of us not having necessarily a huge relationship with anybody game-wise, could be something I have to take advantage of.
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