By Kurt Chirbas
Julia Landauer ’14, a 21-year-old professional racecar driver and Stanford undergraduate, recently took part in “Survivor: Caramoan,” the latest installation in the long-running reality series. Landauer sat down with The Daily to talk about being voted off the show, her lack of screen time, being compared to the flavor vanilla and the possibility of a return appearance.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How has it been watching the season progress on national television? I imagine it must be a unique experience because while you lived through the events, you are now watching the editorial decisions and tribe mates’ confessionals for the first time.
Julia Landauer (JL): Yeah, it’s been really interesting watching this season. It’s always funny to see yourself on TV, and I’ve only ever seen that in respect to racing, so this is definitely different. I will admit that it’s been frustrating at times to not have very much screen time. That being said, I still have a bunch of people who come out and watch it with me every week. So it’s been fun.
TSD: What has been the response on campus after the episodes have aired? Have professors or fellow students recognized you from the show at all?
JL: I’ve had a lot of people recognize me, which is funny and it’s really great. There was someone who was on the ladies’ swim team who came up to me in Ricker Dining Hall and asked for a picture. And she totally made my night. We made each other’s nights, I guess. Then, my TA in CS 105 had seen me on the show. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s weird to meet people who say, “Oh, you are on ‘Survivor.’” Some people are really jealous [and] others have never seen it before, but it’s always a lot of fun.
TSD: Like you mentioned before, one of my biggest complaints with “Survivor” this season is that we didn’t get to see enough of you. The way the season was edited marginalized your role in the game. When did you realize that the edit was going that way, and how frustrating was it to watch?
JL: By the third episode, when I still hadn’t seen a lot of myself on the show, I started to worry that it wasn’t going to be a super favorable edit. That being said, I embraced it and still had a lot of fun with my lack of screen time on Twitter and Facebook. All of my supporters were having a lot of fun with it too. So I made the best of it, but it definitely was not ideal.
TSD: Since we did not get to see a lot of your game play, could you talk a little bit about what your strategy was?
JL: I had originally planned to go out a little under-the-radar and not make any moves right away because you want to keep with a strong tribe to make it to the merge. However, once we had the tribe swap, that strategy wasn’t really going to work any more. I had to adapt it a little bit. Michael [Snow] and Matt [Bischoff] and I were scrambling from day one of the new tribe, but it didn’t seem like anything was going to work. We felt like we were kind of doomed. I was getting pretty bad vibes the day of the immunity challenge, and I hadn’t even gone against Phillip [Sheppard, a returning player] yet. When I was feeling that sense of insecurity, I just decided, “OK, it’s time for me to try and make a big move.” It didn’t work, but I gave it my best. I just think there wasn’t a whole lot that I could have done differently. A lot of people were saying it just looked like there was no light at the end of the tunnel for the fans, and I was included in that.
TSD: How do you think your game would’ve been different if there hadn’t been that tribal swap or if you had drawn orange paint and gone to the new Gota tribe?
JL: Life would have been grand if I had gone to the Gota tribe because I would’ve been on a winning tribe for the first time that season. Even if there wasn’t a swap, I was sitting in a pretty good spot on my alliance in the original fans’ tribe, and I was feeling in control. We knew that the merge was in the next week or so — the next couple of episodes — so we thought if we have to go back to tribal, we can get rid of Reynold [Toepfer] and Eddie [Fox] — the people not in our alliance — and that would’ve held us off for the merge. But that didn’t happen either, which is too bad.
TSD: Fellow tribe mate Phillip Sheppard expressed plans to make you a “double agent.” In other post-game interviews, however, you expressed doubts that he really was sincere about his intentions, which is why you made an attempt to get him eliminated. What made you doubt that Phillip really wanted to take you under his wing?
JL: Yeah, so he had given me this speech about how he wanted to make me a double agent. He said, “You’ll be safe with me.” But…he never talked with me about strategy. If I tried to bring something up, he wouldn’t have a conversation with me. And that wasn’t really encouraging. He had talked with a lot of other people too, so… here was a chance he was still being sincere, but I wasn’t going to bet on it. Because I had that reaction, that was what led me to approach Dawn [Meehan, about trying to get rid of Phillip], which may or may not have been the right decision. But there [weren’t a lot] of options to choose [from].
TSD: In last week’s episode, Phillip referred to you as “smart, but not college-educated like myself.” Was that just Phillip being Phillip, or did you not tell other contestants that you are a Stanford student?
JL: I didn’t tell other people that I was a Stanford student. I was thinking long-term, and if I made it to the final three, how likely were people to vote for me if I was a Stanford-educated racecar driver? I didn’t think that I would get the most votes. I was thinking long-term. Now, whether or not that was the right decision, I’ll never know, but it was what I started out with, so I decided to stick with it.
TSD: After the tribal swap, I thought there might be a chance for you to hit it off with [John] Cochran, especially since you both have similar educational backgrounds [Cochran attended Harvard Law School]. I was surprised then when I saw his infamous “vanilla” monologue in the last episode. How was it watching that confessional?
JL: It was brutal, especially because I also thought we were getting along a little bit. He was also a Beatles fan, so we had sung Beatles music together and were having as much fun as you can have on the island. Especially [having the comment come] from him — he is not the most engaging presence on the island, so I was surprised to hear that monologue. I thought he was really going on and on unnecessarily. But that’s OK. It made me stronger.
TSD: Has he reached out at all since the airing of the episode?
JL: No, he has not reached out, and I don’t expect him to. That’s part of the game, and I don’t really take it personally.
TSD: From next week’s preview, it appears that you were only one episode away from the merge. How frustrating was it to miss out on that, and what would your game have looked like in a post-merge situation?
JL: I was extremely disappointed to not make the merge. That’s the groundbreaking point of the game, and all bets are off in terms of how the game will go. Especially if Michael had been voted off instead of me, I was ready to do what I needed to [to] join a strong alliance that would hopefully take me along and set me up to make some more moves down the line. But we didn’t make it to that, so I didn’t have to worry about it.
TSD: How did the experience of playing “Survivor” compare with your expectations going in?
JL: “Survivor” was much harder socially and mentally that it was physically, which I was a little bit surprised about. And I really would be interested in seeing what it would be like playing the game when I have a couple of more years under my belt. I think being so young definitely… worked against me in a lot of ways… I’m a little low on [life experience] compared with everyone else who was playing.
That was tough. It was interesting being with people who have such strong personalities [in] an environment that was really foreign to me. I definitely think I jumped in the deep end, but overall, I think I didn’t expect it to be as dependent on luck as it was. You know, if a couple of things didn’t happen — if we didn’t have the tribe swap, if it had been fans versus fans instead of fans versus favorites, if I had gotten on the new Gota tribe instead of the Bikal tribe, if a favorite had left me a little more room — there’s just so many “ifs” that could have changed the game, and I wasn’t prepared for that either.
TSD: How do you think you would play the game differently if you were given another chance in a couple of years?
JL: I think I would be a little bit more on the offense instead of on the defense. I went into the game under the radar. If I played again, I think I would be a little more verbal about ideas and strategy, but that being said, the second time playing is so different than the first time. I think all the fans were clearly at a disadvantage, so it would be interesting to see how a Round 2 would be.
TSD: How do you think your experience as a Stanford student either prepared or did not prepare you for your time out on “Survivor?”
JL: I was thinking [that] being at Stanford and being with a wide range of people who are really competitive and really successful would help me deal with some of the characters out there. It definitely did a little bit. Also, just being really hard-working and disciplined… they didn’t show this, but I was working around the camp all the time. I think an analogy would be group work, working with other people at Stanford. It was interesting [and] it was probably more similar to racing than it was to Stanford, but I think it was a totally unique beast. “Survivor” is pretty crazy.
TSD: After the game, a lot of contestants say that the experience of playing on “Survivor” changed their lives. Do you think participating in the show will have any impact on your life moving forward?
JL: I think playing “Survivor,” and being at the mercy of producers’ edits and seeing how that played out definitely gave me a new perspective on myself. I think it also required me to grow up a little bit. I think I’m pretty mature, but it did force me to grow up in other ways that I wasn’t expecting, such as being ruthless and being at the top of your game in do-or-die situations in very different circumstances than racing or getting finals done on time. I think it was a rude awakening of what the real world could be like. Since I don’t have a lot of experience in the real world yet, I think it kind of made me grow up a little quicker than I would have otherwise.
TSD: Since your time on “Survivor” has finished airing, what’s next for you?
JL: I’m a junior, so I’m going to be finishing up junior year and then senior year. I’m going to be racing cars all summer, which I’m very excited for, and continuing trying to develop Julia Landauer Racing and get sponsorship and make it as a professional racecar driver. I’m really excited to dive into that full time beginning next year.
TSD: Thank you for your time, and I was so sad when I saw you got eliminated last episode.
JL: I appreciate that. Yeah, it was pretty much a big bummer, but that’s OK. It was a great experience and one that I would go back and do again in a heartbeat.