Reality TV-loving Utahns are no doubt familiar with Todd Herzog, the 22-year-old Pleasant Grove native and former Sky West flight attendant who became Survivor’s youngest openly gay winner at the close of this season, Survivor: China. One of several gay contestants to appear on the landmark program, Herzog is only the second contestant to call Utah home (the first, then 21-year-old Neleh Dennis was the runner-up on the fourth season Survivor: Marquesas).
I caught up with Herzog on his way home from a Utah car dealership, where he used a portion of his $1 million prize on a 2008 Mazda RX8.
“It’s black and fully loaded. Oh, I’m so excited!” he exclaimed.
JoSelle Vanderhooft: You’re from Utah originally?
Todd Herzog: I was born and raised in Utah. I went to school at Pleasant Grove High School and went to Utah Valley State College for awhile. I came out at 19 and started dating my best friend and we moved to Seattle together. He ended up cheating on me and broke my heart. So I move back to Utah where I got an internship at Walt Disney World, so I moved to Florida to work there for a year. Then I went back to Utah to go back to school and then I got my job as a flight attendant. I got transferred to Denver where I lived for about a year again. Then I came back to do Survivor.
JV: Are you still in Pleasant Grove, or have you moved?
TH: I am in Pleasant Grove right now. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Pleasant Grove, though.
JV: You’ve been watching the show since you were 15?
TH: Yes. I’ve been a die-hard crazy fan since I was 15 years old! And I knew, the second I saw it that one day that I’d be on Survivor. I can’t believe I actually did it and that I won.
JV: Did you learn how to play so well by watching the show?
TH: I definitely think kind of being a student of the game has taught me to see different strategies that have worked and the ones that haven’t worked, like the different alliances people have created. It’s taught me basically how to win the game. I noticed the people who go far in the game are those who start [strategizing] the second they get out there and don’t stop until the second they’re done. It sent me through an almost Survivor paranoia state, but I’m really glad I didn’t stop thinking.
JV: Tell me a little about China this year.
TH: China’s unbelievable! They sent us to a country that’s thousands and thousands of years old with all this culture. They focused a lot on letting the contestants see that culture. I got to spend the night on the Great Wall, I got to see Shanghai before we started playing, and some of Beijing. The Wei River was involved and temples and Buddhist ceremonies. I feel extremely blessed to have been able to take part in that.
JV: So, did you hang out a little bit after the show was over, or are you planning to go back?
TH: I didn’t get to hang out in China for one day, even. As soon as I was done, because I was at the very end, I was in China for six hours and we got on the plane. As far as going back, I would love to see it again, but at the same time I tell myself it was such an experience and such a once in a lifetime thing that I almost don’t want to ruin those memories by going back with expectations.
JV: Back to the game. What was it like to have the camera crew follow you? Were they always there with you?
TH: Camera crews were there 24/7. But the thing is, they’re not allowed to interact with you at all, so they end up becoming what we call bushes.
JV: [laughing] Bushes!
TH: Yeah, it’s like, hey there’s a bush! It walks!
JV: Are you still in touch with anyone on the show?
TH: Yeah I’m still really close with Courtney and Frosty, especially.
JV: Do you think you’ve formed a lasting friendship with them?
TH: Oh, being thrown into the jungle with these people bonds you in a way you can’t explain. These are friends for life.
JV: It came down to you, Courtney and Amanda at the end. Why do you think the jury ultimately picked you?
TH: I think in the end, they got to ask us questions and I did a really good job at answering. I was surprised at myself. I felt like I was on a debate team! I basically said what they wanted to hear, and I think a lot were able to see I had a passion for this game for lots and lots of years. I mean, the other two were happy to be there, but it wasn’t their life long dream and I think it showed.
JV: Any plans for the rest of your money, or are you going to save it for awhile?
TH: I’m gonna do some traveling, see a bit of the world, and I am going to invest the money and make it last. My big purchase was the car, but that’s it.
JV: What careers are you considering pursuing now?
TH: I can honestly say I have no idea. That’s what I’m so frustrated with. In high school everyone was like, “I wanna be a doctor!” I was like, “I wanna be on Survivor.” And I did it! So now I’m like, cool. I’m 22 and my goals are accomplished. What next? There’s always a possibility of going back to college, but it’s a possibility of not knowing what to go into, ultimately.
JV: Have you considered doing something with television?
TH: I would love to host! I look at Jeff Probst [Survivor’s host] and I’m like, your job is amazing. But I’m no actor, that’s for sure. Competing on another reality show I’d do in a heartbeat. I’m all about games.
JV: I know there are other reality shows where contestants from Survivor have competed. Have you been approached by anybody to be on one?
TH: Uh… possibly, but I’m not allowed to comment! Anybody who does approach me has to go through CBS. CBS is strict, which is really frustrating because there are some really awesome opportunities out there, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
JV: If I’m not mistaken, the next season is going to be the all-star reunion in Micronesia?
TH: It’s going to be half all-stars and half die-hard fans, so ten previous contestants and ten brand-newbies competing against each other.
JV: Will you watch it?
TH: Oh of course! Next season I’m rooting for the fans!