By Jeff Walsh
Todd Herzog wanted to go on Survivor since he was an overweight 15-year-old in Utah. When he finally turned 21, the now-skinny gay Mormon flight attendant almost made it on the show two seasons ago, but was turned away because the producers felt that he looked too much like hunky Asian hottie Brad Virata?!? But, this time around, Todd made it to Survivor: China, where he made no secret about the fact that he was playing the game and playing to win.
Last night, he took home the million-dollar prize. Possibly the youngest winner of the show, and the first gay winner since daddybear Richard Hatch on the first season, Todd actually founded a Survivor club when he was in high school. He was even voted "most likely to appear on Survivor." So, this wasn't just a passing fancy for him. Online, he has his detractors, to put it mildly. He made no bones about the fact that he would lie and manipulate people to win (but if you don't, you don't win.).
Todd called us up himself Monday after waking up from an afternoon catnap in his apartment in Utah. Well, OK, actually CBS publicity called us and Todd (who was now in New York City, and had yet to sleep from winning the show 17 hours earlier in Los Angeles) spoke to us while still buzzing on the frenzy of the finale, after hours of endless interviews. Here's what we said:
Hey millionaire, what's up?
Oh, you know, just chillin'.
So, what does it feel like? You go from being a chubby 15-year-old seeing the show, gets obsessed with it, and now you're the first gay winner we've had since Richard Hatch back when it started. What's going on in your head?
Honestly, this is so overwhelming right now, I don't know what to think. It's still pretend, because after last night I haven't stopped to think for 30 seconds. It's been crazy. I'm just so excited, though.
What was harder, doing the actual 39 days in China or the much-longer time waiting for Jeff Probst to read the final votes?
You know what? That's the hardest answer I've had all day. I don't know. The 39 days was insanely hard, but waiting and being paranoid over the past four months has killed me.
It's always interesting how insane people get about this online. When people don't like someone on Survivor, they don't casually dislike them.
Oh, no-no-no-no. You know the people that hate your guts out there. They're not afraid to let you know. The message boards? They have no mercy. None.
Do they seek you out? Are the people that hate your guts showing up on your MySpace or do they stick to the boards?
I just logged on to my MySpace and I haven't been on in like two days, and I had 419 friend requests. And I've already had over 1400 in the past four months. So, it's a little overwhelming. I get mostly 'fan mail,' I guess you could say, and I'm sure they're just kissing my butt, a lot of them. But one guy said, 'I hope you get voted off soon, your attitude sucks,' so I wrote back, 'Well, I hope you break your arm.' (laughs)
The interesting thing about doing these is, by the time people know you're on Survivor, it's over, technically.
Yeah, for sure.
So, it's always weird when people say, 'I hope this happens to Todd next week,' when everything already happened two months ago or however long it is...
Yeah, we already know the outcome. It's fun keeping it a secret, and it's especially fun for me. It's been so crazy reading the message boards with people saying, 'I hope Todd goes soon,' for the past, like, eight episodes. And I'm just all, 'Hahaha, just wait. Just wait 'til you see I'm in the final three.' It's always fun keeping that secret.
And you have to keep it from everyone? Does your boyfriend know you're in the final three? Does your Mom know? How tightly kept is this thing?
Oh, it was kept extremely secret. Nobody knew. I didn't even know how far... I knew I was in the final three, but I didn't know I won.
I know that part, but no one else in your family knew final three until when?
Until last night.
Yeah, I mean, people made guesses and assumed things, but for sure, people didn't know until last night.
The last person I interviewed from Survivor was Brad Virata, which is so weird, because you two are like twins...
Are you being serious right now?
No, I read your MySpace blog.
Oh, OK, thank you, because I was like really?! When I was told that I was like, really? He's Asian, first of all. He's full of muscles.
When I interviewed him, he said was a bit upset because he had this great coming out story where he told everyone in his tribe, but it was never aired. But, aside from the stuff on the CBS website, were you identified as gay at all on the show?
The very, very first thing, like my introduction was 'an openly gay Mormon from Utah,' and that's it. That was the only time it was mentioned on the show, which was kind of surprising. I mean, I didn't hide it from anybody, but it also wasn't being thrown in their face, you know? I wanted to try and break the super-cliché of gay people today, because all you get is the drama queen snappers and not all of us are like that.
But it was no secret to anyone on the show.
Oh no, no secrets were kept.