Survivor: Jamal Shipman reveals what we didn't see

Jamal Shipman’s first big move on Survivor: Island of the Idols was… to take a nap. (At least that’s the way they showed it on TV.) But after being portrayed as sleeping on the job while his alliance partner Molly was voted out, Jamal reset and regrouped — providing many memorable moments along the way. Throughout his run on the show, Jamal served as one of the voices of social conscience of the season, often providing cultural context to the activities and actions happening out on the island.

But Jamal’s voice in the game was silenced after he was blindsided on last week’s episode. What was he feeling as he had his torch snuffed? Does he blame his loss on his ill-fated visit to Island of the Idols? Why did he play his hidden immunity idol for Noura? We connected with Jamal via email after his ouster and asked him all that and more, and the fan favorite also revealed a ton that we didn’t see — including on that trip to Sandra and Boston Rob.

Jamal also shared his take on the production intervention due to Dan’s inappropriate touching, and talked about how his relationship with Jack became even closer after a comment that easily could have driven them apart. Read on for answers! (Also read our exit interview with Kellee Kim.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, I think you got totally hosed with that Island of the Idols “lesson.” It basically contradicted every single lesson all season about being bold and taking risks! What’s your take on how that ultimately impacted your game in terms of not only losing your vote, but returning with that handwritten parchment?
JAMAL SHIPMAN: Yeah. Ultimately, my visit to IOI didn’t help me stay in the game as much as I needed it to. Going far in that immunity challenge and being on the wrong side of the votes that first tribal, I was already a target, so I was hoping for something a little more useful. That being said, I had a blast out there. Unfortunately, they couldn’t let that segment breathe like everyone else’s visit. If they had, you would have seen some great brainstorming about what to do with the blank parchment.

We considered writing a letter from one person to another talking about blindsiding a member of their alliance. We talked about writing up a fake hidden immunity idol clue to send someone on a wild goose chase. I finally decided to go with the plan to give Dean a fake legacy advantage, so that if his alliance members took the bait, they would secretly vote him out in hopes of receiving the legacy advantage from him. The funny thing is that even though I’m out of the game, my sabotage of Dean is still a possibility. Through that fake legacy advantage, I live on in the game!

Oh… and for the record, I was explicitly told that I couldn’t make it into a hidden immunity idol or an extra vote.

You were silent as Jeff snuffed your torch. What were you feeling as the vote came down? Anger? Disappointment? Confusion? What was going through your mind and what were you feeling?
I guess all of those words are good ones. You know… it’s really hard to describe. As the votes were coming in, I was hoping that my conversations with people helped them see the value of keeping me. I had a couple of scenarios kicking around as possibilities. Janet told me about her idol, but there was nothing I could really do with that information without putting myself in jeopardy. I talked with Janet about the possibility of giving me the idol, but at that point we were thinking she would catch most of the votes, and I couldn’t ask her to sacrifice her game for me. Even when I felt like I might get the most votes, it would still be asking her to expose herself to going home. If I told people she had one, that wouldn’t have changed the split vote plan because they played it like she had an idol anyway.

If just two people saw value in keeping me, then Karishma would have gone home. If I had a vote, then I could have tried harder to be a part of another plan, but I was powerless. That’s probably why I was so resigned to the outcome. At that point, there was nothing more I could have done.

Now that you’ve played the game, if you had to self-analyze, what would you say were your biggest strength and biggest weakness out there as a player?
I see the game of Survivor as much more complex than this question implies. For example, some might say that my tension with Noura and Kellee last episode shows a flaw in my social game, but, ironically, it was exactly that tension that led Kellee to decide that I should stay and Jack should go. So can we really say that that was a weakness? I imagine some would say that arrogance or feeling too comfortable was a weakness. But I see it as showing my alliance that I’m trusting of them so they should be trusting of me.

The times when I was blindsided (Molly, Jack, and Kellee’s votes), I had every indication that I was a part of the majority’s plan and I wanted to convey to them that I was solid with them. They betrayed me. How do I counter that? Also, the blindside votes weren’t against me. So, I must have been doing something right to stay in the game.

Some might say I came out too hot in the challenges and made myself a threat. Well, much like Aaron, I was already a threat. For people who look like us, there’s no avoiding it. The best way to stay safe is to stay far away from Jeff Probst at night. Basically, I reject the premise of this question!

You played your hidden immunity idol to save Noura last week. Why did you play that for her?
I’ve been surprised by how confusing this move was for people. Even with what was shown, I feel like it’s pretty obvious what I was thinking. You have to remember that we have limited information out there. I knew absolutely nothing about Kellee and her moment of inspiration. I had been suspicious of Dean and Karishma from the moment we swapped to their beach. I was so afraid of being played by a secret alliance between them that I was convinced that they were about to pull one over on us.

I also thought that Dean might be playing his idol just in case it was him, but he ultimately wanted to vote WITH me and Jack if the vote was indeed Noura like we told him it was. So, believing that all votes were going to Dean, I wanted to protect my old Vokai alliance and upon a revote, I was anticipating that we would vote out Karishma (something Karishma understood, which strained our working relationship going forward).

What you didn’t see was that me and Noura had a LOOONG conversation the night before where we squashed our beef. We talked about everything! I told her I was actually gunning for Dan after the Molly vote because she was still under the impression that I had wanted her out the whole time. She told me about her Island of Idols plan with the caller challenge, which I was still in the dark about. We left that conversation feeling really good about each other and forming a secret alliance. When Dean played his idol, I was seeing all my hard work to pull in Noura go up in smoke. In multiple confessionals I explained that I really wanted to play my idol as a counterpunch to someone else’s move, so here was the perfect opportunity! I just didn’t have all the information.

You later found out Noura voted against Jack, and she said it was because Kellee told her to. Kellee denied it. Whom did you believe?
I absolutely believed Noura. Noura wouldn’t just make something like that up. And besides, what you didn’t see is that later that night, Kellee told me that she lied to me. She said she got spooked and told Noura to vote for Jack just in case Dean had an idol, which is true. She just didn’t tell me the whole truth; she GAVE Dean the idol. So in the episode, when I said, “I feel like there’s more truth that will come out about this,” I was right.

There are so many different angles when it comes to all the inappropriate touching talk that happened in the episode, but I am curious to hear your perspective on production intervening and talking to you all about that. What was that like, and what’s your take on how much or little producers did in terms of this whole situation?
This was such a messy, messy situation. There are so many ways in which the real world and Survivor collide with each other, and this particular way has got to be the ugliest. Missy made a very astute comment during that tribal council that we didn’t see. She explained that once we step foot on that beach on day one, there is no stopping the game. For 39 days, three players will have been locked into a game that has no pause button or reset button — no save points or checkpoints. So, honestly, I think it’s unfair to put it on the players to decide if production should intervene.

The consequences for a player asking for production to get involved are monumental. Moreover, at this point in the game, with so many people thinking about who they can win against at the end, certain players start to sound like mighty good options for everyone. Therefore, I think it is a judgement call that only the producers can make. They are monitoring the camp 24/7. They need to be the ones to decide when to prioritize the safety of the players. They should recognize that we are in a situation where we cannot advocate for ourselves without the fear of compromising our endgame.

When I spoke with Jack last week about what happened with the durag comment, he felt it ultimately brought you two closer together in terms of how it turned into a bonding, teaching moment. How do you feel it ultimately impacted you all on both social and strategic levels?
Jack is great. I will start all of my answers to questions about this with that declaration because I feel so strongly about how amazing this guy is. He’s absolutely right. That conversation brought us closer together. It showed me his true character. It made me feel connected to him in ways that is hard to achieve within a game built on lies and deception. And to be clear, Jack and I had a million conversations about all sorts of things, which is why I emphasize the fact that the only way this particular conversation goes well is if you have a foundation of trust and mutual desire to prioritize the relationship.

That’s what allowed us the hear each other and understand each other. Strategically, while Jack is right that we weren’t thinking about the game in that moment, I think it confirmed that he and I were locked in to go very far in the game. I heard him say in an interview that he wouldn’t have been afraid to sit next to me at the end, so that’s what could have happened. Well… on second thought, he probably would have been more valuable to me as a jury vote… so… scratch that.

Okay, we need to know: How much did you really sleep before that Tribal Council when Molly went home?
Do you? Do you need to know this? What you need to know is that Survivor LOVES to nap-shame people. And besides, the Molly vote was decided on day 4. Molly was voted out on day 6. So, I struggle to see how anything I did on day 5 and 6 had anything to do with how the vote turned out.

What’s something that happened out there that we didn’t get to see that you wish had made it to TV?
There is so much. I wish we got to see my relationships with people. For some reason, we were led to believe that I was just a man on an island doing my own thing, but I was actually really tuned in with people. I can point to at least one heartwarming exchange with every player that I got a chance to play with. Also, I had some EPIC idol searches. I was climbing trees and rocks; I turned that island upside down looking for that thing. It’s funny that when I was the most chill is when I actually found it.

Related content:

  • Kellee Kim of Survivor speaks out on inappropriate touching incidents
  • Survivor host Jeff Probst weighs in on Jamal and Jack’s racial incident
  • The Survivor controversy exemplifies how the show reflects society — for better or worse: Opinion

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