Joe Mena (‘Survivor’ 35) exit interview: Ben Driebergen ‘outplayed me,’ comparisons to Tony Vlachos [PODCAST]

Wednesday night on CBS, 35-year-old probation officer Joe Mena was eliminated at the end of a special two-hour episode of “Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.” An on-screen hashtag read #MissionComplete, referring to the core four alliance of Lauren Rimmer, Devon Pinto, Ben Driebergen and Ashley Nolan sending home the controversial figure from Tolland, CT. We recently spoke with Joe about how his arch enemy Ben “outplayed me,” how he found all of those hidden immunity idols, and whether he embraces comparisons to former “Survivor” winner Tony Vlachos.

Listen to Joe Mena’s “Survivor” 35 exit interview podcast above, or read the transcript version below.

Gold Derby: Hey Joe, how are you doing?

Joe Mena: Hey man, what’s going on?

GD: I’m good. You made it all the way to 8th place on “Survivor,” which isn’t too bad. But you really wanted to win this thing, didn’t you?

JM: Ah man, I said it every day out there. Anything in between Day 3, Day 38 it was irrelevant to me. I was out there to win it all, so I played every day like it was my last day and I wanted to win, but unfortunately I took the “L” so I’m a loser. GD: Well you’ve joined a great group of people who didn’t win, if that makes you feel any better at all. JM: Eh, I guess I’ll take it.

GD: You and Mike were on the bottom since the merge. It was just a numbers game. No matter how hard you tried, none of those Heroes and none of those Hustlers wanted to flip. So what was your reaction when they came to you, Devon, Ashley and Lauren, right before the JP vote and they said, “Let’s do this. Let’s make this a group of five.”

JM: Well, my thing was, I was well-aware that it was gonna be a Hustler purge and there was no way to really survive that unless you were aggressive, and I played aggressive since the very beginning. So what I did was I was really vocal around camp as far as what should happen and that’s when I decided to kind of cause a little mayhem and really push buttons and make people play. I was pretty open with everybody and I told them, I said, “Listen guy, you’re playing a good social game, people like you but you gotta make a move. This is a game that is not just the social aspect of it, it’s strategy as well and if you just think that you’re gonna go to Final 3 and say, hey, my social game was great, some people may not respect that. And I’m the type of player that I’m aggressive so I may like and vote for someone that was also aggressive,” right? So I’m like, “I may not respect that, you gotta play the game a little bit more” and I would talk to Lauren about being at the bottom so I think finally it caught on.

GD: And now that you know that Ben was actually a part of the secret group, are you willing to admit that he actually outplayed you?

JM: Oh absolutely. I am not Alan Ball by no means. I am not bitter, I’m not a sore loser. Hats off to Ben. I am not Alan Ball. I was actually upset that Ben… what did he do, he clapped or something. Like I expected him to do cartwheels and everything because me and Ben were going at it. The guy did not like me. I did not like him out there. We were going at it. So the fact that he outplayed me, he outlasted me, he outwitted me, kudos to him. So it was never personal. I think it was a little more personal on his end, he really didn’t like me, but kudos to him. He deserves an Oscar award. This guy was acting. I had no idea he was playing both sides and I had no idea that they would allow him to do that. That was just a dumb move on their end.

GD: Yeah, he did clap behind you.

JM: Yeah I’m disappointed, I expected more because we were going at it. We were going at it.

GD: Chrissy also threw some shade at you. As you were walking out, she goes, “That was an incredibly tight alliance.”

JM: Well that’s Chrissy. Chrissy’s Chaos Kass, I mentioned it so many times. The edit won’t show it, but she’s a Chaos Kass. She has no self-awareness of how people perceive I’ve her. Playing a great game, good game and like I mentioned, you don’t know what the jury’s gonna vote on. She’s playing a good game. I’m not a bitter person so to me, I may not care that she has a good social game or a bad social game if she makes it to the end of not, but others do. And this is a game that, most people cried when they got voted out, it’s an emotional game. So it may be difficult for the jury to separate the two, or maybe not. That’s just Chrissy though. She always throws daggers, she doesn’t know. She’s just playing a good game. To her it’s just numbers, she doesn’t know that you’re playing with people, you know?

GD: A lot of people were playing quite emotionally like Ben he really got offended by a comment you made about whether he swore on the Marines but you didn’t play with emotions. Was that part of your strategy?

JM: It’s not even a strategy, that’s kinda who I am. Unless you are a close family member of mine or a friend, I’m not gonna be offended. There’s nothing you could say or do to me that I’m going to be offended and I think that’s a strength in the game of “Survivor” that I respect gameplay. I don’t necessarily care if you’re nice to me ‘cause I know you’re probably bullshitting me. You’re just being nice to me to be nice. And that’s why I didn’t get along with Chrissy I think, at times. She was just extremely fake and I’m able to kind of detect bullcrap pretty early on. And the conversations I had with people were genuine. There was conversations people were having out there that just weren’t genuine. They were just talking just to talk. So that’s that.

GD: You’re the master of finding hidden Immunity Idols. So after Mike used his Idol, what kind of searches did you do? Did you just go crazy looking under rocks and trees and everything?

JM: Well I’m not the master because I couldn’t even decipher the first clue. So I’m far from the master, you know what I mean? But I put in the effort so I out-hustled everybody, definitely. I think a few people were like, “Oh Joe got lucky looking for an Idol.” I think I’ll go back to Alan Ball, was like, “Oh he found an Idol.” Well you were on the island for 12 days and you couldn’t find it. I was the only individual in the game that was able to find two clues pre-merge and then at the merge the Idol that Ben found, I actually would take a crap there every single day. I would go there and look because I felt like there was something there and that’s where I would take a dump and I would look around that area all the time because the first two clues I had found, they were located on a tree but located on the backside of the island next to the rocks and mountains and on that particular location, that’s the only part of the island that had rocks and mountain. So I would go there pretty often and I never found it and in addition to that I would look for coconuts. That’s where the name “Coconuts” came about. Mike and I would go around, grab a stick and knock coconuts from the tree so I missed the clue at the rocks that I would look at, look around everyday, and I missed the… it was like in a container or a vase of some sort on a tree where I would normally look for coconuts so kudos to Ben for finding it because I didn’t and I looked everywhere.

GD: A lot of “Survivor” fans are comparing you to a former player – someone who actually won – Tony Vlachos. What do you think about those comparisons?

JM: Please don’t ever compare me because he is a winner and I am a loser. Tony is the man. What he did in Season 28, there’s no comparison. People said I was a Walmart Tony, I prefer the Bodega Tony version. That’s what I am. What Tony did, he’s a master of what he did. I didn’t try to duplicate his game or anything like that. We’re both aggressive, we’re both self-aware, we’re both in law enforcement, both bald-headed, both have tattoos, but that’s about it. Tony played a great game. Tony swore on a lot of things and that’s probably why he won. I refused to swear on anything. I was far from my kids. I even had an issue with really lying-lying heavily because I knew my son was gonna be watching this, and it was tough out there but Tony’s amazing and I’m far from that so, no comparison, so I’m glad that’s gonna end (laughs).

GD: Now you’re just Joe, right? No more Tony.

JM: Yeah, you can call me Coco-loco or Coco-Joe. I wish I was Tony, I wish I won. He’s an amazing player and I’m nowhere near that.

GD: You know, since the merge, the women have really dominated these Immunity Challenges, with Desi, Lauren, Ashley, Chrissy they all won individual Immunity. Is this a season where the women are just stronger than the men?

JM: Actions speak louder than words, they’re winning the Immunity Challenges, right? This entire cast were just really physical threats, everybody. I know there’s so many eras in this game but I really I call them fools all the time including myself but it’s a newbie season and so many eras but I think everyone physically they’re strong. I think strategically they’re strong but yeah, the women are just killing it. But then again a lot of the stuff was balancing and stuff. I don’t think men overall do well in challenges like that.

GD: And final question here, now that you’re a jury member I wanna know what are you’re looking for in terms of who you’re gonna vote for in the end?

JM: I’m definitely a fan of “Survivor” and I’m far from bitter. I’m able to separate my personal belief and emotions for the game. I’m gonna vote for someone that played the game, that understood the game and played it from the very beginning and could take ownership. The key thing is ownership. Take ownership of your game and what you did. Don’t try to defer, “Oh, well I did this because such and such.” No, take complete ownership of the game so I want someone that really played the game and was willing to take risks and chances, didn’t just sit back and just let things happen.

GD: Awesome well great to talk to you today. We will see you at the reunion show on December 20th.

JM: Alright perfect, thank you so much for your time.

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