Julia Sokolowski lived up to her pre-season billing as one of the sharpest young women ever to play the game of Survivor. On Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor: Kaoh Rong,” Julia’s time was finally up, a by-product of Tai’s major blindside of Scot the week prior. She became the fifth member of the Kaoh Rong jury.
For a full recap of the most recent episode, get caught up on Episode 11 here.
Julia is and was actually, the youngest player ever to play Survivor. At 19, she was only four-years-old when the first season of Survivor aired back in 2000. She had always wanted to play, and actually applied for the show (a rarity these days, as many cast members are hand-picked from other sources or from Reality TV pools). She was placed on the Beauty Tribe to begin the game, and entered with the goal of shedding the “young girl” image that inevitably plagued the many young women (and men) that had appeared on the show in the past. Those players often don’t make it very far, or they are dragged to the end only to lose. It seems that Julia accomplished her goal of shattering the expectations.
It definitely helped that her Beauty Tribe was the winning tribe for much of the early part of the season. Julia didn’t attend her first Tribal Council until Day 16. She was actually on eight winning Rewards (individual or group) and seemed to be a sneaky pick to make it all the way to the end. Yes, Julia could have won Survivor, at age 19.
But it wasn’t like she floated through, not by any means. At the tribe swap, she was sent into “exile” at the Brawn Beach, the only player to be exiled in this already brutal season. She persevered and came back stronger than ever. She was good in challenges and puzzles, was well liked socially and also was not afraid to make the big move. Even after missing out on getting to know her new tribe for those first three days following the swap, she was able to make it to the merge, and seemed to be in a great spot.
It ended up being too great of a spot. Julia’s fatal mistake in the game was that she was seen as “playing both sides,” and wasn’t able to hide her conversations with the “enemies” on both sides of the fence. This made Julia a target, and it was something she was not able to overcome. Having landed on everyone’s radar, she was kept out of the Scot blindside vote, herself feeling blindsided by the move. On the outside along with Jason and this close to the end, she was seen as being a bigger threat to win the game than Jason, a high compliment. Her last chance at survival came down to an Immunity Challenge up against her friend and longest ally in the game, Michele. Michele though, beat her at the challenge, making Julia vulnerable to getting her torch snuffed at Tribal.
Michele – though a painful, difficult decision – did deal Julia her death blow in the game not once (the challenge), but twice, by ultimately deciding to vote her out. Michele had little choice really, but it still must have hurt.
I had the chance to chat with Julia today about her time in the game, her relationship with Michele, that exile trip and how playing the game at such a young age has affected her life. Here’s the transcript:
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: So Michele was pretty emotional last night after having just voted you out. Did you consider her vote a real betrayal, or did you feel like she had no real choice since Cydney did not seem willing to vote out Tai?
Julia Sokolowski: You know, it’s funny because I wasn’t necessarily blindsided by the fact that I was voted out, what I was blindsided by was that Michele voted me out. And I didn’t really realize that that had happened until I was back at Ponderosa and I was processing the vote and I was crying and there were people hugging me. I was putting the pieces together and I was like, oh my gosh, Michele voted for me. It was a knife in the heart, it really upset me and I was really distraught for a little while. I’m a huge fan of this game, so I can look at it from a strategy perspective and I understand why she did it. I think that the plan Jason and I had to vote out Tai could have been an amazing blindside, and it could have been a really, really awesome move. But in so many ways, Michele had to prove her allegiance that she was with the majority. So I respect her for doing that.
Tom Santilli: I thought you played a great, subtle game this season, but you were accused out there by many as “playing both sides.” We saw scenes where you would feed information to both sides of the alliances. So where did your loyalties truly lie? Who did you want to really play the game with and who were you just looking to play?
Julia: My one true, true to the core alliance was Michele. That was the one thing that I sort of wish we could have seen more of. Our alliance was more than an alliance. We have a really deep friendship. Michele to this day is one of my very, very best friends. I lover her to death. I would have loved to go to the end with her. She was part of my original alliance with Anna. So it would have been so cool to see the two of us sitting at Final Three together. But I think that my next step under that was definitely with Jason and Scot. I had this sort of tense relationship with Aubry during the game, because of the Peter vote and her crossing my name out. I really was mad at her and I didn’t trust her and I didn’t want to work with her. And she felt the same right back at me. Time and time again, she would say Julia isn’t loyal and you can’t trust Julia, blah blah blah. My chances of working with Aubry were slim to none, which pushed Cyd away from me, it pushed Joe away from me. So I definitely was tighter with Jason and Scot.
Tom Santilli: Would you have been able to do the same thing and vote out Michele, had your situations been reversed?
Julia: It would have been really, really difficult for me. To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have. Michele was put in a situation where it could have very easily been a 4-3 vote, and she could have still voted with Jason and I for Tai, and that’s probably what I would have done, I would have just made it a 4-3 vote. That might be naive of me, because then I wouldn’t be with the minority, but it wouldn’t have hurt her in the same way.
Tom Santilli: How big of a role did Cydney play in all of this? Had she been more on board with voting out Tai, do you feel that Michele would have definitely rather kept you in the game?
Julia: Absolutely, 100%. I think that Cydney was a huge component to Michele voting me out. I think that Cydney…the amazing thing about Cydney is that she is able to pick up on everything. She knows what’s true and what’s not, and she read me from the beginning. It’s funny because out there, me and Cydney had great moments of fun, laughing times, but there was also a little bit of tension between us. We both tried to have this Alpha female role, and we were playing different games, so I think that Cydney was what ultimately led Michele to vote for me.
Tom Santilli: You were exiled right at the time of the tribe swap, which was a huge blow since the others were able to all socialize, let alone the fact that you had to fend for yourself out there. What was going through your head as you were all alone on that beach during that time?
Julia: I was really distraught out there, I was really low, probably the lowest I’ve ever felt as a human being, to be completely honest with you. And I was nervous about going back into the game. I figured that probably at that point, everybody knew that me, Michele and Anna were pretty tight, and so the best option was to split us up in any way they could. So when I got back to the beach and realized that Anna had been voted out, I wasn’t shocked but I was nervous. And I knew that I was the next easy vote. So I just had to do whatever I could to scrape my way through. Until that point, I was kind of on this beach vacation. Our tribe was strong, we were killing the challenges, and life was good. So that was the moment that I started playing Survivor. You can see my game change from there on out, and I think it set me up for the rest of my game.
Tom Santilli: It’s sort of an honor to be considered a huge enough threat where people want to vote you out. But how surprised were you still that the others decided to vote you out first instead of Jason?
Julia: Yeah, I knew that me and Jason were on the chopping block but what had surprised me about it was that I had voted with Aubry, Cyd and Michele the past couple votes. I voted Nick with them, I voted Debbie with them. And I told them I was voting Tai and I voted Tai. I was loyal. Even though I was playing both sides, I was loyal to them, so I thought they should at least give me this, this last one. But nope, no mercy (laughs).
Tom Santilli: A lot was made of your age this season – you are the youngest female contestant ever to play Survivor, at age 19 – do young people at that age have any real disadvantages in the game of Survivor?
Julia: No, I don’t think so at all. I think anyone can do it. I mean, look at Joe even, you could call him “Aubry’s second-vote.” But he’s playing a great game for his age. I don’t think your age really matters. If you have the guts and the strategy and the wit to keep up, you can do it. Obviously your physical ability is a piece of it, but you don’t have to be a superstar athlete, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist, you just have to be with it and know what’s going on. In many ways, I think college students have an advantage, because our job right now is a social game. We’re social people. I mean I live in an apartment now, but when I left for the show I lived in a dorm. I’m totally used to socializing with people and now networking for jobs. My life is a social game and navigating that. Going into this game was perfect timing for me.
Tom Santilli: You talked in your Ponderosa video (on CBS.com) about how great it felt to be “unplugged” from the real world while on Survivor, and that as a 19-year-old, your entire life is spent looking at screens. Now that you’ve been out of the game, how much of that “unplugged” way of life did you carry back into the real world with you?
Julia: Well once the show has been airing, it sounds terrible, but I’ve probably been on my technology more than ever (laughs). Just keeping up with what’s going on on Twitter and social media. But for a while I definitely tried to restrict myself for a little bit. And I just have a different kind of viewpoint on it, I just don’t rely on it as much anymore. That doesn’t mean that I’m not on it, it’s just no longer my lifeline. It was definitely eye-opening, and it was super-nice. For the first time, I felt like stress free at Ponderosa. There wasn’t this constant connection to everything.
Tom Santilli: You had mentioned Joe…that’s nearly a 50-year age gap you have with him. But on either end of that age spectrum, do you feel like it’s challenging to relate to those that are that far away from you in age? Was that a problem for you in any way out there?
Julia: I think that for me it was easier than Joe, because there were a lot of twenty-somethings out there. Everyone was kind of younger in general. So I think it was tougher for Joe. It’s generational. We were just talking about the technology piece, we just grew up in different times. Yes Joe has tons of wisdom and a lot of great stories, but it’s harder for me to…and I respect Joe in many different ways…but it’s harder for me to want to strategize with him when we just don’t think at the same level.
Tom Santilli: We’ve hit on “life after Survivor” a little bit already, but again as a 19-year-old, what sort of mental, emotional or physical stress – if any – have you carried with you or are you dealing with now that you are back to reality?
Julia: The thing that was really tough right when I first came back was, we filmed like a year ago, so it’s been a really long time. So that was really hard, to keep everything secret and all of your feelings are bottled up. There’s obviously some emotions and it does take a huge physical toll as well. You could see that my skin was in pretty rough shape, I was eaten alive by bugs, I developed sun poisoning, and you just lose so much muscle and get weaker and weaker. So the physical aspect was more difficult than anything else. Now it’s been really fun watching the show at school. I’d say that Survivor really has two main audiences: That die-hard fan-base that has been watching the show since its inception, and then I think a huge group is young kids. It’s been really cool, because everyone sort of has their own fan-base, and I have a bunch of these really young kids who say, hey, she’s not that much older than I am, I can do that! It’s been really awesome to receive that feedback. And now my college campus is really into it. I walk down the street going to class and people will stop me and be like, oh hey, your that Survivor girl! It’s really cool and people are really into it. They ask me strategy questions, I went back home to Vermont and had gone to my middle school a couple days after I think it was Debbie’s boot episode, and someone was like, “why didn’t Neal give Aubry the Idol?”, and it was like a 10-year-old kid (laughs). It gave me a lot of confidence and light, and really just inspired me. Really the whole experience has inspired me in so many different ways. I really loved it and it means so much to me.
Be sure to join me next Wednesday for another episode preview, full recap and instant analysis, and of course, the next exit interview next Thursday.
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