He took glee in dispensing cookies to core alliance mates, competing in challenges, contributing to camp life and scheming by the water well. But what did Jericho Malabonga enjoy most about being on Australian Survivor? "I think one of my goals was to make a difference to people and bring light in the game," the flight attendant from Victoria tells WHO. "The fact that I even made friends on the island was just a massive benefit."
That's not the only plus for Jericho, a superfan of the US version of Survivor — he outwitted, outplayed and outlasted 23 other contestants to win $500,000 and the title of sole Australian Survivor on the show's second season finale, which aired on Ten Oct. 10. WHO spoke with Jericho, 25, about his victory.
Q: You've been waiting for a while since the series finished filming to know if you or Tara Pitt had won the game. Were the possibilities spinning in your head?
A: It's so funny. I rocked up to the reunion and was like, 'I can't wait to see everybody back together again, and see them in normal clothes!' That was what I was looking forward to the most. I just thought I was going to be happy for whatever the outcome was more than I was going to be upset for me.
Q: When host Jonathan LaPaglia asked you about the close friend you made in the game, he meant Luke Toki, but you hugged runner-up Tara first. Can you describe the bond you had?
A: Tara and I had a strong relationship in the game. I had found out that she was Christian as well, and that was amazing. It wasn't an alliance like what other people had. It was a bond through faith, which sounds weird, but it was real.
Q: It looks like your teddy bear, Foofy, survived the elements as well. Did he get worse for wear out there?
A: We did maintain him but there was a point where it was raining, and we didn't have any more dry logs, and we were at that point in a desperate situation and we thought, 'Oh, should we use the fluff?' But then we just couldn't because the teddy bear became part of Survivor. I would say, 'Foofy lasted here for 18 days longer than Joan,' you know what I mean? Without a single vote! So if anything, who's the real Survivor? Maybe it's Foofy!
Q: Your brother Paul got a chance to join you on the Asanga beach. What was that like?
A: We have watched Survivor since childhood. We would always go back home and look forward to the show and be like, 'Oh, I reckon I could do that!' We were always more fans of the villains, probably because they were game players, not that the heroes weren't, but I always felt like when there was a unanimous decision, the villains were the ones who would change it up and sabotage everything. So I was a fan of that. People would be like, 'Jericho, you couldn't do that. You couldn't even hurt a fly!' But I thought, 'You will get a new taste of me, a bit of flavour with me. I'm not a vanilla Christian. I can mix it up!'
Q: What new things did you learn about yourself in 55 days in Samoa?
A: Literally, everything I never thought I was capable of doing. It's literally because of Survivor stretches your abilities in the sense that you are deprived of food, and this weather is something you have no control over, and so for me to be able to withstand it, I feel like my mentality is limitless. You know that movie Limitless where you can do all things? I felt like I could do whatever! I had that machete in my hand and I felt like it was an extension to my limbs and literally I'd wake up in the morning and I'd have a machete and people might think I was crazy, but I couldn't live without it! I would chop coconuts and amazing.
Q: So what will you do with $500,000?
A: I haven't been able to wrap my head around it, and because I haven't wrapped my head around it, I think it's still not real. I'll still do my work because I have never been orientated in the way that one big thing is going to change my entire life and I'm going to stop doing whatever. Because I'm still young and sometimes when people get things like this, people can just go sporadic, I need to put protections in place until that hype is gone and I have a better mindset and I can make wise decisions.
Q: Are you still the 'Cookie Monster?'
A: You know, I'll talk to Arnott's. Just joking! No, seriously, the fact that I have even been labelled that, I find it an honour. I think that's why Australia fell in love with me and I'm just going to represent that.
Q: You idolised US player Aubry but now you have moved beyond her and have taken out the title. How proud are you to be a part of Survivor history?
A: The fact that I'm, like, even chosen to be in this game is already jaw-dropping, and then to even get this far and take it out, I'm pinching myself still.
To read more about Jericho, pick up WHO on newsstands this week.