Romeo Escobar Post-Finale Interview (2022)


At long last, Survivor 42 has arrived! Every week, Parade.com‘s Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.

The tale of Romeo Escobar on Survivor 42 is truly a play in two acts. Through the first half of the game, he was on top of Ika, confident in his position and always in the majority. Then things turned like a pageant queen on a runway once the merge hit. Romeo suddenly was scraping the bottom (like his preferred method of eating rice), constantly a name being brought up yet never going. In the last stage of the game, he hoped to reverse that position, making a fake idol and even winning the final Immunity Challenge. But for those who ask, “What’s in a name?” Romeo’s name contained a perception that he unfortunately could not overcome, giving him a third-place finish.

In his day-to-day life as a pageant coach, Romeo is used to supporting strong women. And he found one on the island in the form of Drea Wheeler, who he quickly joined up with. Though he would call himself one of the “skinny guys” of the season, he was a fat cat on Ika, making all the strategic decisions alongside Drea. At the next stage of the competition, Romeo got more confident in himself both as a player and a person, and was ready to get even more control in the game. Unfortunately, that manifested in a feeling that all eyes were on him, breeding paranoia that did not look good to prospective allies. In fact, not only did Drea quickly decide to leave him as her number one, but he became a possible target in the very first vote after the merge. It would be a position Romeo would get all too familiar with.

In the postmerge, Romeo earned himself a title, what he would refer to as the “In Case” vote. After not having his name be on the chopping block at all, now it could never leave. Though exhausted by the stress, Romeo laid back in the pocket, knowing that the big threats would take each other out and the underdogs would take over. And indeed it did. After Maryanne Oketch brought him in on the plan to blindside Omar Zaheer, Romeo publicly claimed to have an idol, hoping it would finally get his name out of the list of options. He then followed that up by impressively winning the final Immunity Challenge, defeating the competitive “goliath” in Jonathan Young. Romeo took Maryanne to the final day, believing she was the one he had the best chance of beating. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. While he performed admirably explaining his game to the jury, the person he brought to Day 26 cleaned up the jury votes, leaving Romeo a lovely second alternate.

After the finale, Romeo spoke with Parade.com about the moment he felt he wasn’t able to win, all of the various relationships and alliances we didn’t see, and how his family reacted to him coming out to his tribe and them in turn.

Related: Read our Survivor 42 pre-game interview with Romeo Escobar

You just got to relive a hell of a couple of days in the finale. How are you feeling having watched it all back?
I’m doing great, Mike. I mean, it’s a game. It was a dream of mine since I was 14 years old to get to play this amazing game. Hhey, listen, I thought I was going to be first one voted out. And so did my family! My friends are like, “Wait a minute, Romeo. We know you’re a huge fan. But you’ve never been camping. You just learned how to swim to go on Survivor. You hate bugs. You’re probably one of the most least equipped person to be out there. But one thing I do have, Mike, is that, when I put my mind to something I do, I’m going to do it. So I knew that if I went on Survivor, I might not know everything about the outdoors, or I might not be the strongest physically or whatever. But I knew that I was going to make it far. And I did. So I’m fine. It’s a game. I take nothing personal. I actually feel like I’m blessed.

What was your reaction to your edit, especially the way people talked about your paranoia and lack of worth ethic in the postmerge?
My edit was so interesting. And I’ll explain why. A lot of times people go on the show, and they have just this monotone edit. They’re always at the top and then they get voted off, or always at the bottom and get voted off. I had both! IWhen I started the game, I was at the top. I felt like every single person at Ika was in danger at one point except me. I knew that even if our tribe would be decimated, I would be the last person standing. Then when the post-merge came, I went from the CEO of Survivor to the janitor of Survivor. I was at the bottom and I had to claw my way to the end. So it was interesting. And I knew what was coming. I couldn’t say anything. So when you see all the fans talking all this crap. I’m like, “Just wait. You’re about to be surprised.”

Well let’s start at the end. You put in a good effort at final Tribal Council, with even Jeff commending your fight. What did you think your odds were of winning going into that night?
The biggest lesson that I’m going to take away from Survivor is that perception is not always reality. And I knew that as a superfan going into the show. But unfortunately, with sleep deprivation, the starvation, the the the anger of being at the bottom, you just kind of forget that the way that people perceive you might not necessarily be the truth. But at the end of the game, that’s how they perceive you, and that’s gonna affect you.

So at the end, I realized, “Oh, crap, I’m in trouble. It doesn’t matter what I do. I’m not going to win this game. But I’m going to get myself to the end to at least prove not to them or to necessarily people back home, but to myself, that I could do it on my own.: Nobody had to drag me to one of those final three seats. So it felt good. Going into the final Tribal cCuncil, I knew that I was going to lose. So I just had to pick who did I want to win the game of Survivor and the million dollars besides me?

Interesting! So what’s that moment before Day 26 when you realized you had lost the game?
I think it was probably the conversation that I had with Mike at the end when he was trying to plead his case to not make fire . What they didn’t show is that he basically explained his whole game, Maryanne’s whole game, Jonathan’s whole gamem and my whole game. And then I realized, “Oh, crap. They don’t know the game that I played.” And neither did the fans. I’m glad that in the final Tribal Council they left in where I said I had an alliance with everyone, because I did. They just didn’t show it.

What were some of those alliances?
I had the “Under Birdies” alliance with Omar and Maryanne. We called it that because Omar hates dogs. So we said, “Fine, we’re not the underdogs. We’re the under birdies.” They never showed that alliance. I had an alliance with Jonathan that they never showed. We were called “Biggie Smalls” because he was biggie and I was smalls. They didn’t show that either. They didn’t show the long conversations that I would have with Lindsay. Me and Lindsay were the only ones that slept in that shelter. Drea and Maryanne slept by the fire, while the guys slept separately on the floor. So me and Lindsay had this huge shelter all by ourselves, and we would spend hours at night talking about guys and food and dates. We had a great relationship. When I went into the game, I said I was 30. I was actually 37. Mike was the only person that knew my real age because he was the old man. They didn’t show that, even though my alliance with Drea broke, we still had that connection. So I had relationships with people.

Talk to me about how that fake idol came together in the finale. Had you been working on it for long?
I knew that, even though Lindsay was perceived as the bigger threat at that point, they were still emotionally going to keep her just for one more round. Because they liked her so much more than they liked me at that point. They felt that she deserved it more. It was very apparent that those that those four felt like they deserved to go to the Final Four. So they were going to let me lose at five and then battle it out amongst themselves. So the only way to stop that was a fake immunity idol.

What they didn’t show is that Mike forced me to show him my fake immunity idol. They did not believe me, so they wanted to see it. Ity looked exactly like the one that he had, only mine was blue and his was green. I pulled beads from my torch. I pulled beads from my canteen, and I slowly started tying them together. I had already seen what they looked like, as Drea had showed me her. So I was like, “I’m gonna just make it look the same”. And while I was talking to Maryanne, I’d be doing one of these. (Puts his feet up on the chair, hiding his hands.) I’d be like, “Oh really, that’s interesting” and be making my idol the whole time. Because I knew that even though I had already told them I had it, they didn’t believe me.

So Mike wanted to see it. I told him, “I’ll show it to you after the challenge.” So I was like, “Crap, I have to create one!” (Laughs.) So I created one and I showed it to him. And he’s like, “Yep, that’s it. That’s exactly mine except blue. Where did you find it?” And I was like, “What does that matter? I have it and I’m making Final Four. So y’all have to decide who was going.” He’s like, “Well, then it’s got to be Lindsay.” That’s how I played my game. Just make it one more vote.

You notably only voted correctly in the postmerge three times. But you said in the finale that was purposeful. Can you elaborate on that?
I always knew who was being voted out, because they would tell me. Omar would pull me to the side and say, “This person is voting for you. But don’t worry, you’re not going.” Then Jonathan and Mike would pull me and be like, “You’re good.” Then Maryanne would tell me, “We’re good.” So I always knew who was going. But the perception of the edit in the audience, they don’t realize that. They’re like, “Why is running around throwing all these random votes?” W

The reason why is, even though I knew who was going, what happened if the main target pulled out an idol? If the main target played their Shot in the Dark, and it worked? Or if the main target had an advantage that we didn’t know about? Who was going to go? Who was in “in case” person? Always Romeo. I had to throw votes on another person in case the main target didn’t go. So guess who was going? Not Romeo, the person that got Romeo’s vote. I very much was in the loop. They were all strategic. Besides the Hai vote that I strategically placed to kind of unravel him and let everybody see that he was losing it. But all my votes were definitely strategic.

You spoke about supporting strong, young, independent women in your day-to-day as a pageant coach. And I couldn’t help but notice you did just that when you brought Maryanne to the end at the Final Four. How did you negotiate that idea within the incredibly individual game that is Survivor?
I will admit that that decision to bring Maryanne was almost 80% emotional. Because how do I justify working with young women a lot who look exactly like Maryanne, and then cut her loose? I couldn’t justify that to myself, even though I knew that I had a better shot against Jonathan. I just didn’t feel good. Plus, Maryanne was so supportive of me the entire game. They didn’t show it in the edit, but we were very close. She was always the first one to say, “Hang in there.” They showed a little bit in this episode in the challenge, like, “Don’t say that about yourself. You’re going to do good in this puzzle.” And then when I won the final immunity, she was the first one to hug me and say, “You did it for the little guy.” So it was an emotional decision. And I knew that either way I was going to lose, so I rather lose to her than to the other guys.

Let’s talk about the merge when you get “demoted” to janitor. There’s a lot of talk about your paranoia, which put you on the chopping block. Interestingly, Hai told me, “Romeo wasn’t paranoid because he was on the bottom. Romeo was on the bottom because he was paranoid.” How do you respond to that?
Again, perception is reality. That was not reality. The edit shows I was confident in the first part of the game because I knew I had the numbers. I was paranoid when I realized I didn’t have them. I immediately noticed as soon as we got to the merge. What they didn’t show in the edit was why I was left out of that eight-person alliance if I’m supposed to be Drea’s number one ally. I’ll tell you why.

Again, the edit didn’t show that I had a very close relationship with Tori. Drea saw that, and she questioned, “Why is my number one Romeo best friends with my nemesis Tori? I have to cut him and leave him out of my alliance.” But what they also didn’t show was that she told me about the eight-person alliance. She said, “Hey, this alliance formed. You’re not part of it. But don’t worry, you’re gonna fit in there. Rocks and I are not going to vote you out because we had an alliance.” So of course I’m going to be paranoid, Mike! You left me out of the Alliance. All these people don’t want to work with me. I have definitely the right to be paranoid. Everybody was paranoid out there. I was always at the bottom and I knew it right away.

Amidst all the strategy, you have this incredibly personal moment where you talk about having not come out to your family and being someone you aren’t to be accepted. What was it like to come to such a big realization in such a stressful game?
I mean, they say Survivor. strips you of everything. You cannot not be yourself. One of the things that people didn’t know is that I went in lying about everything. My job, my age. In reality, like I’m a three-time Emmy award-winning television producer I am a pageant coach, but that’s a side gig. I’ve traveled the world to six continents. I’ve worked with every single celebrity. I’ve done some amazing things. But what would happen if I went in there and told people that? So I went into the show with a lie. And not being able to be myself from the jump messed me up, along with not eating. And one thing I couldn’t lie anymore about, or just play off because it was a part of me, was my sexuality. So being honest with myself and honest with my tribe, it was like a release.

Coming back home, I was a bit nervous. I mean, my immediate family knows about me. I live my life out. It’s just the religious extended family didn’t know about me. But I was pleasantly surprised. I received phone calls, text messages from my family crying, saying, “How could you think that we wouldn’t love you? Nothing changes! We don’t care.”

That’s beautiful. And I know the fandom had a strong response as well.
Absolutely. People from the community told me, “You inspire me to be more free.” Children were telling me, “Oh my god. I’m watching Survivor with my parents. And your story is me. And I can’t tell them.” Them parents would message me saying, “I was always so against the possibility of my children being gay. But seeing you just made me think of it differently. I’ll love them regardless.”

The most touching a message that I got was from someone living in Iran. I didn’t know they showed Survivor in Iran! Maybe he watches with VPN, I don’t know. But he reached out to me and he says, “I live in a very conservative Muslim country. And I’m gay and I’m closeted. Seeing you be on Survivor and be your authentic self, come out, and be comfortable has inspired me to be comfortable with myself. I feel like I can now just be more free, even in a society that isn’t so accepting as they are here in the States.” Messages like that really touched me. I meant what I said on the show. That to me feels like I’m the real winner of Survivor.

Next, check out our interview with Survivor 42 second-place finisher Mike Turner.