Gregg Carey thought he had it made. The Chicago business consultant was one of the final six contestants on Survivor: Palau and part of a longstanding five-member alliance – plus he’d developed a close connection with his Koror tribemate, Jennifer Lyon. So when he won a reward challenge and chose Jennifer and her friend Katie to share his prize – a day of pampering aboard a luxury yacht – life seemed good. Little did he know that, while he was gone, his allies were plotting against him, and at the next tribal council, he was shocked to find himself voted off. Carey, 28, recently talked with PEOPLE about paying the ultimate price for love.
The feast on the yacht – was it worth it?
It was a completely amazing reward. We were gone for 24 hours, we swam with dolphins, we went snorkeling in Cemetery Reef – we got pampered. That’s the thing about these rewards! They dangle them in front of you and it takes your eye off the ball.
Did you realize it was a mistake to bring Jen and Katie with you?
Jen and I were feeling the heat early in the game, so it was like, “Let’s make sure we’re not hanging out, and you keep your eye on the girls and I watch the guys.” We did that for a while – we were kind of controlling the game! But when I won that reward, I crumbled and picked Jen, and that was me digging my own grave.
How quickly did you notice Jen, and how did that relationship develop?
I consciously didn’t go into the game trying to explore anything like that. But when Koror goes on this winning streak, you kind of let the relationships fall where they may. After 24 days without going to tribal council, it was evident that Koror was a big, happy family.
Will you reconnect with Jen after the show ends?
I want to keep in touch with everyone from the season. I’m not holding any grudges.
How did the competition affect you physically?
I lost 26 lbs.! Looking in the mirror on the yacht, I hadn’t seen a body like that since I was 14 years old. When you get back you just want to eat, eat, eat, and you don’t recognize the sensation of being full. It gets to the point where your stomach is so expanded that it’s pushing up on your diaphragm and you can’t breathe. I’m back to my normal weight, but the experience still leaves an imprint.
Where do you watch the show?
Typically in Chicago with a group of 30 or 40 people, (although) I’ve had to tone it down to a smaller group because the anxiety of watching the show is a bit overbearing. I mean, I knew how I conducted myself out there and I was proud, but I know I acted like a jackass at least a dozen times. So seeing each episode, there’s like a sigh of relief. I absolutely think I was fairly portrayed.
Are you still working for the same company?
I am, but to say I’m actually working would be an overstatement. I’m not the most productive employee these days!