Alumnus Q&A: "Survivor" contestant Malcolm Freberg ’09

by Elise Higgins | 5/2/17 12:05am

Malcolm Freberg ’09 recently finished competing on “Survivor” for the third time. As a strategic, social and physical threat, Freberg was one of the show’s most popular players and was therefore brought back to play on “Survivor: Caramoan” and “Survivor: Game Changers” after debuting on “Survivor: Philippines.”

What inspired you to go out for “Survivor”?

MF: “Survivor” started back when I was 14 years old. I came from a really strict family, and we weren’t allowed to watch TV growing up so “Survivor” starts as the only show I grew up with, and it was a dream since I was a teenager. I was at Dartmouth actually the first time I applied. I made a tape in our dorm room, sent it in and I got a callback from them. I think I was in class or something when the call came through, and it was from a blocked number, and I immediately knew who it was and probably freaked out and left class, and the professor got mad at me. That didn’t end up working out, but I was kept in the system, and I applied two more times before it actually worked out.

How would you say your first experience on “Survivor” was compared to your other two?

MF: Experience plays a huge factor in these things, like a rookie in any sport versus a veteran. I was more calm, cool and collected after the first time It’s just so damn exciting — like you dream about doing something for that long and you finally get your chance. The first day when you get to the beach, everyone is very serious and trying to make sure that they make the right alliances and get in with the right people, and I was just laughing like a giddy schoolgirl the entire time. So one of the coolest parts is the excitement of the first couple days — it’s definitely one of the best parts for a lifelong fan.

Did you notice a difference when you were brought back, particularly between playing with mostly rookies, half rookies and half returning members and then all returning members?

MF: On my first season there were returning people, so I’ve never not played with somebody who has played before. And what you pick up on really quickly is that they have a huge advantage because they know the ins and outs of the game. There’s a lot of subtle stuff you never see on television like knowing how to interact with producers, how to take hints and how it’s gonna feel at the beach that the new people just don’t know so there’s actually a massive advantage once you’ve done it once before. And, personal opinion, any season where they mix new people and veterans, the veterans have just an overwhelming advantage it’s not even fair.

Coming back for this season, you said you were a “game changer” because of your introduction of the “live” tribal council. Can you talk about how you’ve seen that introduction influence and shift the game?

MF: For over a decade really, when you get to tribal council, usually it’s a done deal. Everyone knows for the most part what the result is gonna be, minus someone pulling out a surprise immunity idol. I came up with these things before I even got out there, like what are some things that make sense that no one has ever tried before? For me, if you have an advantage like an immunity idol, just pulling it out to get rid of some votes didn’t seem like the best leverage of it. And there’s a way to force the time if you have everybody sitting there about to vote — you can really screw with people by throwing a wrench in the plans before you actually go vote. So I thought up the idea of pulling out idols at tribal council before I ever got out there. And ever since then, especially because they now gave us this moniker of “game changer,” I get asked the question.

How did it feel to be voted out due to a new twist this season where you were not voted out by your own tribe but by another tribe? Does it make you feel more or less settled?

MF: It was a bit of a rollercoaster in the moment. I was crushed, and they did me a favor not showing how hard I was crying afterward in the final words. It goes back to the same thing: as a lifelong fan of the show, I always wanted to do it, and three was sort of a soft limit for how many chances you get at it. So in my head, it had already been like this is gonna be the last time, and then for it to end like that out of nowhere on some nonsense was really, really hard to swallow in the moment. By the next day, I was 100 percent fine because the first times I can look back on three or four different things that I did wrong that cost me the win toward the end of the game. This time, I don’t know what the hell you wanted me to do so I don’t lose sleep over it. Because I know that there are things I could have changed in the other seasons. They stick with me in the nightmares much more so than last season because that’s just bad luck.

As both a fan and a player, how do you appreciate the different aspects of the game?

MF: It’s hard because as someone who has loved it from the beginning, I just want to put 20 people out there — no twists, no changes. I want really basic challenges, and I want to learn about the people more so than having to keep up with a new twist every 10 minutes which is a lot of what this current season is. I’m not trying to be critical — I understand why they do that because they have to keep it exciting for casual fans of the show, which is why the show gets to keep going for 17 years. So I understand and appreciate it, but I’m definitely a purist at heart. I would love it if one time they just did it like it was the first season, no twists, no nothing. Just let the contestant figure it out for themselves and really make it more character driven. But that’s not plausible in modern television, I don’t think.

As someone who has come back and played three times, do you think it’s better to win once and be done with it or to keep going despite not winning and gain a reputation as a really good player?

MF: If I had won that first time, I wouldn’t have come back for back-to-back seasons. The only reason they brought me back was because I lost. It’s hard to say if I had won, if I would have come back for this season. It would be really tough because the more distance you get from it, the more you want to go back and do it. You get the chance to do it once and someone says, “Hey we love you, can you come do it again?” — that’s not an easy thing to say “no” to. People do it all the time, but often they say “no” for real life reasons. It’s very rare that someone isn’t interested in playing again.

What are you doing now that you’re not on “Survivor”?

MF: I work as a freelance journalist. I do food, drink and travel writing for digital outlets. I’m in [Los Angeles, California] at the moment for a gig, I’ll be in South America for several months, then Africa all summer traveling for work.

Do you have any advice for aspiring players?

MF: My go-to advice for people trying to apply is don’t go to casting calls: make your own tape and send it in. That way you can practice it and get it just like you want it. At a casting call, you have one shot to impress people and if you flub it, it’s over. You can always re-record yourself. And remember that they don’t care if you’re the greatest Navy SEAL or all-American football player or expert tribal man; they put pageant queens out there all the time. All that matters is that you’re great on television. When you’re making your tape, you have to talk about why you would be good in the wilderness, but much more important than that is convincing a casting department that you would be entertaining television. As for how to play the game, it’s very open-ended. But if you’re a fan of the show, and you get the chance to go out there, take the time to enjoy it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.