Poker Pro Anna Khait: "I Kept My Profession a Secret on Survivor 32"

Anna Khait survivor
Anna Khait

CBS reality show Survivor keeps on snagging talent from the poker world.

It’s fitting considering how much bluffing and reading other people is required in the game of Survivor.

Jean-Robert Bellande, Jim Rice, Garret Adelstein have all appeared on the show but East Coast grinder Anna Khait is set to debut on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng next month.

Khait was gracious enough to do a quick interview with us and give us an idea of what to look forward to in the upcoming season.

PokerListings: Word has filtered out there were three medical evacuations from your season. Was it as physically demanding as it sounds?

Anna Khait on Survivor
Anna Khait in a CBS promo photo for Survivor

Anna Khait: It was extremely physically demanding out there. I was surprised how real the elements were once I got out there.

It is one thing to watch Survivor on TV from the comfort of your living room couch and it is a completely different thing to actually experience the torrential rain, the heat and the 130 degree weather during challenges.

I didn’t realize how quickly the heat and lack of water would take its toll on us. There were no water breaks during the challenges. Once you're competing in a challenge you have no time to grab your canteen, your primary focus is to win the reward or immunity

The combination of having no water and the sun beating on your back during challenges that can last up to two hours is extremely demanding. It was definitely one of the toughest things I've ever experienced in my life.

PL: Did your background in strategic thinking from poker help you in any specific ways you can share with us?

AK: My poker background definitely helped me out there. Strategically, there are many similarities between poker and Survivor. There is a different strategy during the beginning, middle and end game in both Survivor and poker.

The experience I've had with reading people also worked to my advantage in the game. And of course it involves a lot of luck!

PL: The most obvious comparison to your season/role is Garrett Adelstein who was also part of a brains/brawn/beauty season. That didn’t work out so well for him. Was that on your mind as you started play?

Anna Khait
Anna Khait at the WSOP

AK: Yes, naturally being a poker player I assumed that my game would be compared to the other poker players who played Survivor. I re-watched their seasons and many others before going out there.

I had a good idea of the game I wanted to play and I made the decision to keep my profession out there a secret. I didn’t want the other players to know that I played a strategy game for a living.

Once I was out there my mind never wandered to how previous players fared, I just focused on my own game and what I needed to do everyday.

PL: Another thing Adelstein said was “people knew how to play” right from the start. Was that the same for you?

AK: I think it was the same for me. You have a pretty good idea which alliances you want to form once you meet your tribe. Once everyone breaks away on the first day you start trying to figure out who is aligned with who and who they would want to come after, it’s game on!

PL: Any hints you can leave as to your performance on the show? Any chance you will make an All Star season?

Jean-Robert Bellande
Jean-Robert Bellande still holds the best record for a poker pro on Survivor.

AK: You guys will have to wait and see :) But it was an incredible journey! I really enjoyed the experience despite how strenuous it was.

I hope America likes what they see and wants to have me back on, that would be amazing! I would definitely do it all over again.

PL: What will be the biggest surprise we’ll see this season?

AK: There are some amazing new twists as always! Survivor never disappoints when it comes to reinvigorating their show with new plot twists.

PL: Poker pro Fatima Moreira de Melo won a European version of Survivor but as far as the US versions track record of JRB, Jim Rice and Garrett has been pretty poor. What has kept poker players from having success on the show?

AK: Yes, it was very exciting to hear that a female poker pro won a European version of Survivor. She is a beast and congrats to Fatima! Survivor, just like poker, involves a ton of luck and you need things to go your way.

I really don’t think judging JRB, Jim Rice or Garrett’s performance on the show is something I want to do. I think the assessment that poker players haven't had success on the show is unfair and the sample size is hardly relevant.

PL: Your Twitter feed has some pretty strong positions on political issues like gun control, terrorism and the Obama presidency. Where did you develop your political views? Where would you categorize yourself on the political spectrum?

AK: I stumbled onto politics a few years ago and have been doing research ever since. Politically, I consider myself a non-partisan libertarian.

I think our forefathers did an amazing job with the Constitution and it is what makes our country unique from the rest of the world. If you want to understand my views on politics do a little research into Dr. Rand Paul. He is by far the best candidate regardless of your political affiliation.

rob mariano survivor all star
The legend: Boston Rob.

PL: You tweeted today you’re back at the Borgata for some more poker? Safe to say you’re still in the game, whether you won or lost Survivor?

AK: [Laughs] Of course I still play poker. Poker is one of my biggest passions. I mostly grind cash and tournaments online in NJ. I don’t tweet about it so many people assume that I no longer play but I study and play as much as I can.

Most people play out of their bankrolls and aren’t willing to take the time to study so that they can move up in stakes. I love playing live as well, and I hope to make it out for some more live tournaments this year.

PL: Sexism in poker – obviously an ongoing issue and something you’ve Tweeted about – even suggesting the “man gossip” is so extreme you “question your profession.” Any improvements since you’ve been back in the game?

AK: I think some of the outrage by the professional female poker players has substance and is well founded. I have felt it on and off the table. That being said, I try and pay no mind to the negativity that comes with being a female in a man’s world.

I think that as a community we should just focus on an individual’s play and not an individual’s body parts. I love poker for the same reason that men do, because it's a game of strategy and skill. Sadly, sexism exists in all facets of life and not just the poker industry.

I’m happy that some women in poker have found the strength to stand up for themselves when they’ve felt violated but I am also aware that poker is not unique in this regard.

PL: Favorite Survivor player of all time? Favorite cast mate? Any long term bonds you made on the show? Any advice for future contestants/poker players who want to get on?

AK: I don’t think I have a favorite Survivor player but if I had to choose it would be between Boston Rob and Parvati. They both understood and played the game so well.

I have definitely made some long lasting bonds from my show. I can’t wait until America gets to know them as well! My advice for future contestants who want to get on the show would be to soak up any life experiences that come your way, and tell Survivor casting how you grew and learned from them.

PL: Hardest thing about it you never imagined? Would you go back to Cambodia?

survivor 32 cast
The complete cast of Survivor 32

AK: The mosquitoes at night were the hardest thing for me. The moment I laid down on our bamboo bed all I could hear was “ZzzZZzZZZzzZZz”.

It was as if I stuck my head into a glass box that contained 10,000 mosquitoes. The noise itself was loud enough to keep you up all night. But once I was able to find a spot in the bed I would try to stay still so as not to wake anyone up, and that’s when they started biting. I would itch myself all night until I fell asleep.

Since I wore shorts on the show all I would dream about was having a blanket or a pair of pants to protect my legs. They were completely destroyed after the first few days. I might hold the record of the most mosquito bites on the show if that was quantifiable!

[Laughs] I did not have not one millimeter of bare skin on my legs, they were completely covered with bites. It was horrible! Not only were these mosquito bites itchy but they would also get infected. The bites would swell up and hurt even more.

Safe to say that I have some permanent reminders of Cambodia, the scars on my legs. (Hint: wear pants when you go out there!) With all that being said, yes I would do it again.

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