With former players and fans of Survivor worldwide celebrating one of the biggest, boldest and most bombastic games played in Australian Survivor history, if not the global franchise, it does sting slightly to see King George Mladenov not reach his final Tribal.
“I literally had the biggest target on my back probably in Survivor history, playing as a returning player, and the fact that I made it down to day 46, and I made it to the finale, is incredible,” George told 10 Play.
Playing first in Brains V Brawn a few years ago, King George faced “one of the most bitter juries in worldwide Survivor History” and knew, on his inevitable return to the game he had to course correct.
“In terms of my physical body, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I know I’m not going to outmuscle all of the athletes on my tribe, but I knew I had to do everything I can to become the strongest version of George we’ve ever seen,” he explained.
“In terms of my social and political game… I played the first time, if we’re going to use a political analogy, as if I was in Opposition,” he continued. “So, I was on the bottom but making decisions and deals with people to vote people out, but I was never in a comfortable majority and it created a lot of bad blood with people.
“This time, from day one in the game, I was in the majority alliance. And yes, I had people sniping at me non-stop, but I had the social capital and the political goodwill to make sure that I wasn’t voted out.”
From the merge onwards, it was all about managing those relationships he had built earlier in the game while simultaneously making sure he was not the target, but also always had a door to open.
“If you looked at how I would play at merge with people like Shaun, I gave Shaun an opportunity to work with me. I gave Nina an opportunity to work with me… the most surprising thing was I made peace with Simon very quickly and brought Simon into the fold,” George said.
But the biggest change to his game from Brains V Brawn to now was how he approached the challenges. The first time around, George said he wanted to conserve his energy and time into strategy.
“That is what that bitter Jury held against me right at the very end, and that was the hurdle I couldn’t overcome,” he said. “This time, I never gave up any single challenge. I won an endurance challenge. I participated, right to the very end.”
Getting this far in the game, with such a massive crosshairs on his back, George was flanked with allies having made final deals with Liz, Matt and Gerry separately, and attempting to play them against each other to make sure the they never hit that target.
But after Liz won the final individual immunity of the season, it all came down to one vote where Gerry, Matt and Liz all finally saw him for the major threat that he was.
But not making it to the final Tribal where he could pitch his case to win a season that he ruled over, George doesn’t seem slighted, rather he celebrates what he calls “the best game in not only Australian Survivor history, but I believe worldwide Survivor history”.
“I played the perfect game. I got right to the end when any reasonable person thought I would not be in that circumstance, I outpoliticiked everyone, I out-strategised them. I had the best social game out there in Samoa and all of those factors aligned for me to get to the final episode,” George said.
“But the problem I had was this: I played such a phenomenal game that Liz, who is such an incredible player herself, realised that if I went to the end I would win. And then Matt realised that as well.
“Basically, if I didn’t win that finally Immunity Challenge I was the dead duck for the first time. And I got voted out for the first time in 94 days of back-to-back play,” he continued.
“Glory or death wasn’t hyperbole, glory or death was my strategy walking into Samoa on day one. I told myself I’m going to play the most glorious game in Survivor history and, even to my surprise, I did.
“The fact that I walked into Samoa telling myself glory is the mission, it was mission accomplished as far as I was concerned. I got to that final Tribal Council, I got to the final episode again, I got to a final challenge, I’m one of two people in Australian Survivor history that’s played two final Immunity Challenges. I’ve played the best game in Survivor history and everyone around the world has recognised that,” George said.
“I feel very proud of myself, I feel so proud that I’ve represented Western Sydney so magnificently on the global scale and I’ve shown that if you’re someone that sticks to their guns, sticks to their values and can be pragmatic through street smarts and book smarts at the same time, you will succeed.”
If he had a big target on his back walking into Heroes V Villains, it’s now tripled in size after such a celebrated season, but George isn’t ruling out another shot at the game of Survivor.
“I’m telling myself I’m happy to go back to the commentator's seat on Talking Tribal… but the one thing King George is still missing is his crown, and the only way I’m going to get that crown is if I play again.
“Wait and see, I might be able to go back and play Survivor for a third time. Or a fourth and a fifth time until I win.”