Murtzcellanious: Murtz Jaffer Interviews Survivor: Fiji's Sylvia Kwan

Undoubtedly the best Survivor interview that I have ever done, this is a must-read. Sylvia is open, honest, candid, funny and amazing.

Murtz Jaffer: Hey Sylvia.

Sylvia Kwan: Hi Murtz.

MJ: Hi, how are you?

SK: Great!

MJ: So you’re an architect and you were on Survivor. Can you tell me a little bit about the strategy that you drew up before you went out there?

SK: Hahahaha. Good play on words. Well, my strategy was developed from conversations with a lot of people who had watched Survivor a lot more than I had including my sons and my husband. And they said to me, everybody, ‘do not be a leader in the beginning.’ ‘Do not stick your head above the radar.’ ‘Just go low low low key, quietly, do your work.’ ‘Go pick up the firewood.’ ‘Go bring the water for the tribe.’ ‘Don’t make waves.’ That was my strategy.

MJ: I think it is fair to say that your game was severely impacted right off the bat when your tribe said that you were the leader. That you were the one that they all looked at and respected. So when Jeff pulled you out, and you saw that there was an uneven number of people, did you think ‘oh my gosh, that’s a threat, they might even get rid of me before the game starts’?

SK: Well, you know, fortunately I never had that thought. Because if you should have seen the look on my face, it looked like I was going to collapse! (Laughs). Instead, what was going through my mind was now that they are even (nine and nine), now that I have to select the tribes, what am I going to do? What you didn’t see on TV which I should tell you was really interesting was that he (Jeff Probst) actually dragged it out further. Made my life even more suspenseful! So Jeff said ‘so Sylvia, what do you think we ought to do with you?’

MJ: (Laughs).

SK: Like my suggestion was going to have any impact right?

MJ: Right, well I would think that you would have said ‘well put me on either team,’ because then whichever tribe you went on would have the majority right?

SK: Ooooh! I should have said that! Darn, I didn’t. But I said, because I was kind of looking at the short-term benefits, I said ‘Jeff, what I think should happen is that I should step out of this game and watch them play.’

MJ: (Laughs). You didn’t actually say that, did you?!

SK: I did!

MJ: And what did he say?

SK: He said, ‘well yeah, you’re right. You don’t have to play this challenge, you’re not going to have to play this challenge but we’re sending you to Exile.’ I said ‘NO!’ And there’s good news and bad news on Exile, he further said. ‘The good news is, you’re going to find an immunity idol clue.’ ‘The bad news is, it’s full of snakes.’ Poisonous sea snakes. I said ‘oh my god!’ And then apparently he said (and I didn’t hear it, but maybe you heard it) because I think by then my mind went blank, but he said when I got back that I was going to join the losing tribe. Did you hear that?

MJ: I did. I did hear that. But I am sure that it’s a different story when you are watching it on TV and you’re actually there.

SK: I didn’t hear it. But you know, honestly, think about if he had done what I said. What if I had just gone in and watched them play and I am just kind of like an observer and then when they’re done

MJ: You can just basically pick up the pieces.

SK: Yeah. Exactly!

MJ: Right, right, right. Now, let me ask you this. What was the thought process in the way that you divided the teams? I think you did an absolutely phenomenal job. I loved the strategy of basically picking one person that’s like older like Gary and then balancing him with like Yau Man for example. How did you pick them?

SK: None of the above. Isn’t that funny? How you saw it you know you saw the results. And the result to me was almost completely incidental.

MJ: Because everybody was saying that like ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe how poised she was’ because I really believe that you could not have picked better teams than the ones that you did.

SK: Really?

MJ: Yeah.

SK: Okay, let me tell you what I did! Here’s what happened

MJ: DREAMZ! Tell me about Dreamz.

SK: Oh, you knew about that?!

MJ: You’re talking to Murtz Jaffer, of course I knew.

SK: Oh man, you’re a good researcher!

MJ: (Laughs). So he told you that all of the young people had basically gotten into this alliance of 10?

SK: Yup. The Dreamz story was that there were of 10 of them, they formed this alliance and the two leaders are Liliana and Rocky. And they are all young and they all decided to vote you four old people off.

MJ: Let me stop you right there. What I wanted to ask you was, these 10 people, when they got together and put this plan in place, what were the old people doing? Did you just allow them to go off? Didn’t you know that was what was going to happen?

SK: Of course not. We were building the shelter. Now, can I just tell you that the four old people were building the shelter?

MJ: I am not surprised.

SK: Can I just tell you that we were doing our job. Because that’s our work ethic.

MJ: And so instead of working, they are putting this evil scheme together. So how did that impact how you picked the tribes?

SK: Alright, so what I did was as you noticed, I wasn’t that obvious. I didn’t start with them (the two leaders). What I did was, honestly, the reason that I started with the women first was because I knew them better. I felt like I knew almost every single woman 10 times better than I knew the men. Because you know, it’s just woman-bonding.

MJ: Totally, totally. It makes complete sense.

SK: So I just went ahead and did the women because I thought, okay, I am going to get that out of the way and I knew that Liliana was on Tribe A (whatever that was). Then the first thing I did was didn’t I pick Rocky

MJ: I think you did. I think you picked him relatively early.

SK: So what I did was by picking Rocky first or among the first of the guys, I made sure that I didn’t paint myself into a corner. I got rid of him early and he was opposite whatever tribe Liliana was on. And then after that, I knew that I had split the women four and four. Sorry, I meant half and half. Whatever it was, I can’t remember who they were. And so now I was left with the remaining men that had formed this alliance. I knew that there were people like Edgardo, Alex, Dreamz of course, but Dreamz didn’t matter

MJ: Mookie

SK: And Mookie. I knew that. Was there anyone else that I forgot?

MJ: No, I think you got the power players.

SK: Okay so then I knew that it at least had to be two and one or whatever. So I knew that I had to split those but then here’s what happened. At the very end, the whole time I am doing this by the way, Jeff is in my ear going ‘now, are you sure you are doing this equitably’ and I am looking at him going ‘Jeff, shut up. I don’t care. I just want to split those 10 people up.’ I paid no attention to the physical relevance.

MJ: And it is so fascinating because it completely worked out that way.

SK: So then I suddenly realized, oh my goodness, that I had put a bunch of smaller people on what would be the Ravu tribe and I had a bit of a panic moment when there were only two left. There was Edgardo and Mookie.

MJ: And so you put Mookie on the weaker team because you thought he was stronger?

SK: Exactly. And I think I was right. Mookie was very strong.

MJ: Now, why do you think Dreamz tipped you off? If I am Dreamz, and I am in this alliance of 10, I don’t want to make any waves. So why do you think he came up to you and said, ‘hey, we gotta break this up.’

SK: Oh, he was very clear why. He said to me, ‘Sylvia, they did it. I was with them. I said okay. I am not okay with it anymore. It’s not right to kick you all off.’ He felt really bad. This is what he told me. Do I believe him today? I don’t know.

MJ: (Laughs).

SK: How do I know? First of all, I left Dreamz and went to another tribe. And secondly, I never saw him again. So I don’t know if what he told me was actually made-up or real. Now that would be intriguing huh?

MJ: That would be a good question for Dreamz.

SK: I can’t wait to talk to Dreamz after this whole thing is over and find out if he was just jerking me around!

MJ: (Laughs). Now tell me what was it like coming back to Ravu from Exile Island? Did the tribe hold you responsible for the loss since you put them together. Like ‘she’s the one responsible for our loss because she’s the one that put our lame team together?’

SK: Yeah.

MJ: Is that how you felt?

SK: In a nutshell, yes.

MJ: So then how did you work your way back in?

SK: I never did.

MJ: And that’s why you’re here talking to me?

SK: Uh-huh. I never was able to. I tried to do a number of things. I tried to get close to Yau Man but Yau Man was a man who was looking out only for himself.

MJ: (Laughs).

SK: No, I mean seriously. He was smart and he knew that his number was up any day now because he was also considered a weaker member of the men’s area. So he was chopping coconuts and later on when we got fire, he was making water like there was no tomorrow. He basically said that he was going to work until his skin falls off because otherwise he thought they were going to vote him off. So he was looking out for his viability. The only person that responded to me in a positive way was

MJ: Rita?

SK: Rita. But at the end, even she didn’t come through for me per se.

MJ: Now when you got back, were you surprised that they voted Jessica off, because first of all, I didn’t see that coming and secondly I just don’t see how they could start the game by voting off the hottest girl ever!

SK: Oh I know

MJ: And I know that you and Jessica had like this bond so you must have been shocked and I don’t think I have read anywhere what your reaction was to seeing Jessica gone.

SK: Well, you should write it down then because nobody has asked me! But I am telling you. Jessica and I, and Cassandra and I really bonded in different ways. Jessica and I bonded because for some reason, the two of us gravitated toward each other. We found out that we were the two sleepyheads. We both had narcolepsy. And so while the rest of them were running around and you know screaming at each other, or flirting with each other, or kissing each other or humping each other whatever they were doing

MJ: (Laughs).

SK: (Laughs). The two of us, I swear to you, were like ‘shut up, we’re going to sleep.’ So we would like spoon and we would sleep in our little spoon thing. Whether it was raining or whether it was cold, or whether it was noisy. And so when I came back, I knew she was on Ravu and the first thing I said after everybody said hello was ‘oh, where’s Jessica because I am going to sleep with her tonight.’ And they all looked at me with the most sheepish look you have ever seen on anybody’s face and they said ‘ooooh’ and then they went on to explain what happened. Honestly? Hearing what happened, Murtz, I am thinking they really had no option. Think about it.

MJ: To be honest with you, Sylvia, I have seen every season of the show many times and this is the first time that the boot completely came out of left field. Because she’s young, she’s athletic, she’s good-looking, she’s got the thing going with Rocky. To this day, I don’t understand that first vote. I am sorry to say your vote made sense, Erica’s made sense, but Jessica’s made no sense at all.

SK: Well, who would you have thought?

MJ: What do you mean? On the first vote? I’d say somebody annoying. Like Rocky or something.

SK: Ahhhhh.

MJ: You know what I mean? Jessica was soft-spoken. She was athletic. She was young. She’s exactly what the first boot isn’t supposed to be.

SK: No, she’s supposed to last until the middle.

MJ: Precisely. You know your Survivor!

SK: The pretty ones they keep around for eye candy. Not to mention the fact that she was the sweetest person on earth. I love Jessica, more than I can say. The thing is, at that point (and I hate to tell you this) but the men were considered important. And nobody knew that Anthony wasn’t going to pull his weight at that point. It was too early. And Yau Man, the reason that they didn’t vote him off is because he was chopping coconuts until the cows came home.

MJ: One of the things that I didn’t understand was why you were picked to go back to Exile Island for a second time. Didn’t Moto think that would give you even more of an advantage (with the hidden immunity idol)? I guess they don’t know about the whole thing.

SK: No, no, no. They knew that I was going to get that idol clue. Here’s what I think. I can only conjecture at this point. My guess is that they knew that I was already on Exile and I was isolated from my tribe. They also saw me on the main island when we were all together acting all leader-like and I think that they might have guess that I could potentially become a leader and therefore a threat for the merge. You know, with my brain thing going? So they probably thought, ‘if we sent her back a second time,’ she will be so isolated completely from her tribe that we won’t have to worry about her anymore.

MJ: Now you also said that you seemed to have a pretty close relationship with Rita. Maybe you can explain why the heck she voted for Earl. That totally came out of left field!

SK: That vote was I think her biggest mistake, honestly. First of all, in her defense what she said to me was ‘Sylvia, I will never vote for you.’

MJ: So she didn’t lie to you obviously?

SK: Correct. But guess what I heard? ‘I’m going to vote for Anthony.’ That’s what I heard! So can I give you another confession? I told her about the idol.

MJ: You know what, you just took my question away. Because my next question was when you left see, one of the things that I really liked about your game was the fact that as soon as you got to Exile Island and you read that first clue, you were like ‘I can’t tell anybody about this because I don’t want them finding out.’ So immediately, I was like she knows how to play. So was there this like sense of duty to you about helping out the people that helped you?

SK: Right. Exactly. What happened was that Mookie was so angry at Anthony that day. The last day. In fact, right after the challenge was completed (the eating one), he came up to me and he said ‘We HAVE to get Anthony out of here he is so annoying!’ He was just so angry. So I am thinking, great, my butt is saved for another day. So he goes and talks to this and talks to that. My mistake was that I never talked to anybody directly myself because he was doing it for me. So what happened was somewhere along this conversation, they switcheroo’d. I am pretty sure it was Earl. See, Earl had Anthony’s back because they had this black alliance going. And he already lost Erica and he wasn’t about to lose Earl. So I am pretty sure that Earl changed the vote.

MJ: See, the reason that Survivor is so good is because it is an individual game. People playing for themselves. No loyalty. If you have any kind of an advantage, why would you share that with Rita? I guess only because you knew that it was all over for Sylvia.

SK: Now remember, the mouth-eye thing. The mouth to me was ‘oh, we’re voting Anthony off.’ The eyes told me they were voting me off. I didn’t believe them. I had a pretty strong game play that I was going to be taking the hidden immunity idol clue with me and I thought why not give it to people who cared so much for me. Rita, of course

MJ: It’s true. It’s true. It makes sense

SK: Does it?

MJ: I mean it does if you’re like a caring person which I guess you are.

SK: I guess not because

MJ: She didn’t really end up having your back. Rocky said that he and Mookie were partners-in-crime at Ravu and this was clear at the food challenge when Rocky stood up for Mookie’s taunting of Lisi. This was strange because Rocky voted for Mookie at the first tribal council. Did they really call the shots at Ravu and how did they become such fast friends?

SK: It just happened kind of naturally. They realized they were the two strongest males. But let me tell you something else. I think Earl was quietly leading the tribe and nobody knew it. Now I realize it.

MJ: And finally, when you watched the episode where Yau Man said that he ‘searched’ you for the idol, how hard were you laughing?!

SK: I wasn’t laughing. I was peeved.

MJ: Are you serious? I thought that was the funniest moment of all time!

SK: Are you serious?

MJ: Yeah, you didn’t think that was funny?

SK: I thought it was really annoying and sneaky of him.

MJ: Wow, we voted that as one of the funniest moments in Survivor history.

SK: Oh, isn’t that funny? It’s great. I love it.

MJ: What’s next for you Sylvia?

SK: Just pounding the pavement, being an architect now and designing some great projects here in San Francisco.

MJ: Sounds great, thank you so much.

SK: Thank you!

Sylvia Kwan was born in Hong Kong, where she lived for eight and a half years before moving with her parents and five siblings to Los Angeles. After graduation from high school, she relocated to the Bay Area where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Architecture degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

Kwan is the founder and Chairman of a renowned architectural firm located in San Francisco. As Chairman, she is responsible for strategic planning and development for her award-winning firm. She has resided as the Board Chair of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and currently serves on the board of a number of Bay Area non-profit and for-profit boards. She is also a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Kwan is especially proud of designing the interiors of Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park), home of the San Francisco Giants.

Kwan describes herself as creative, energetic and determined, and according to her husband, holds the unofficial title of “Ultimate Consumer.” In her spare time, Kwan plays tennis, skis, hikes and plays golf. She’s also happy that she finally learned how to swim, because it was sink or swim as a Survivor contestant. Kwan’s never met an exercise routine she didn’t like, keeping in shape with Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi, and any new type of gym equipment introduced.

Kwan resides in Marin County with her husband of 26 years, Denis Henmi. They are currently building their dream house, a mid-century modern creation that was inspired by years of designing homes for their clients. Kwan and Henmi have two children, Drew, 18 and Derek, 15. Kwan was born on August 18, 1954.

Survivor: Fiji airs on CBS on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Survivor: Fiji airs on the Global network in Canada on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

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