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Survivor's Ciera Eastin: I Was an Underdog

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Monty Brinton/CBS

The last time Ciera Eastin played Survivor, she infamously voted off her own mother.

So when Eastin decided to play the game again, she knew she would be targeted early as a threat. After all, if she’ll vote for her mom, she’ll do just about anything.

But something funny happened on this season – everybody was a threat in some way. As a result, Eastin made it for 26 days despite being on the wrong side of the numbers after the merge.

As she scrambled to stay alive, she begged the other contestants to “just play the game.” And they did: Eastin was only eliminated after PEOPLE’s own Stephen Fishbach was protected by an immunity idol.

Eastin, 26, talks about her game that we didn’t see – and whether she’d ever play the game again.

Ciera Eastin of Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance
Monty Brinton/CBS
Did you know it was going to be you?
I had no clue that my name was going to be written down. I definitely thought it was going to be Kelley Wentworth before me. But that being said, a lot wasn’t shown. Kimmi and Stephen came to me earlier and said that they wanted to get rid of Wentworth, so I thought it would be her name written down.

Either way, you would have been safe if Jeremy hadn’t played his idol for Stephen.
I was definitely surprised by that play. Jeremy seemed to be on board with getting rid of Stephen, at least from my perspective. I knew he wasn’t okay with it, but since everybody was on board, he was like, “Okay, I’m not going to go against the grain.”

Jeremy didn’t decide to do it until the tribal council, so it was a definite blindside.

So when did you know you were screwed?
The first time I saw my name, I knew it was going to be me. I knew there would be two votes for Kimmi because Wentworth and I had voted for her. But, yeah, I knew. The second I saw my name, I knew.

We didn’t see a lot of you during the first half of the game.
Well, I guess when you’re winning, there’s not a whole lot that needs to be done, and you don’t know where people’s loyalties lie. A lot of it is just talk. You never get to see the votes play out. So there wasn’t a clear division, and I didn’t have to go to tribal council until the time when Woo went home. So you didn’t see a lot of me because we were winning.

There was a lot of worry that you were sneaky since you voted off your mom. How did you counter that?
With second-time players, I didn’t really have to explain that. It would have been very different if I had been playing with first-timers. People who played the game before know how it works. Here’s what I said: “The majority voted off my mom, and I had to do it, too, to prove my loyalty.” I also made it clear that this was second chances and I wanted to play the game differently this time.

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Did you feel like a target from the moment you got onto the beach?
Oh, yeah. I definitely felt I was going to be a target. There was also a lot of pregame talk and pregame alliances from the minute the cast was announced. And honestly, not one person reached out to me. I didn’t have a conversation with anyone pregame. So I thought, “Crap. nobody wants to play with me.” I heard that other people were setting up alliances before the game began and I thought, “Dang it! Am I really that bad that nobody wants to play with me?” [Laughs] So I was super worried, feeling like I was going to go home early.

So how did you make it to Day 26?
It was a good thing that we were winning at the beginning because I was able to get to know people a little deeper. Had we lost right off the bat, it would’ve been more difficult to convince people of who I am.

But surely you had some connection with these people before the game began, right? Monica played with your mom. You played with Vytas. Vytas’ brother played with Terry. The Survivor family is small enough that you had to know these folks.
I definitely heard a lot of that. What’s funny is that me and Monica had never even had a conversation before this season. I might have met her at my mom’s finale, but other than that there was nothing. Vytas and I were close, but he was on the other tribe. Honestly, it was probably a benefit to my game that he went home as early as he did. But I wasn’t as connected as people thought.

Want to hear more from Ciera Eastin? Check out the audio interview below to hear her exit interview with two-time Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino!

So let’s pretend that the idol hadn’t been played and Stephen went instead of you. What was your next move?
I would have wanted Joe gone. I mean, you saw that Joe lost a challenge and didn’t go home; that was a big mistake. I would have fought to get rid of him. Then I would probably have gone for Jeremy, but he has so many people protecting him. Once Stephen and Joe were gone, that might have opened up people like Tasha and Kimmi to make a few more moves.

Who would you have wanted to sit next to at the final Tribal Council?
I kind of felt good against most people. I felt like I had a compelling story. I think I played an aggressive game as an underdog. I would have wanted to win one immunity, which I know people think I can’t do, but I did do it my first season.

Were there goats you wanted to sit next to at the end?
Hmmmm … well, I guess Abi, but I wouldn’t call her a goat. She’s someone who rubs people the wrong way, and she wasn’t necessarily calling the shots. But Abi has some great insights. And she has relationships going on both sides. So she wasn’t a goat, but she was someone I thought I could beat. And maybe Keith. His game is different. I don’t know how if he intentionally does things or if he doesn’t. He seems clueless, but maybe he’s not.

I loved the Ponderosa video. Savage didn’t want you there.
Oh yeah. [Laughs]

It was so awkward.
People handle the game extremely, um, differently. That was a lesson to me – just because I’m able to put everything into different compartments doesn’t mean that Andrew could do that. So I just killed him with kindness. I’d be like, “Savage! Good morning! Want some coffee? How’d you sleep?” I just kept being nice to him, and we were eventually able to bury the hatchet a little. We’re just very different people. He’s very bro.

When you played in Blood vs. Water, you probably flipped one round too late. Was that a consideration for you this time?
Oh yes. I wanted to make moves quickly. As soon as the merge hit, I kept thinking, ‘I can’t let certain people go too far, too long.’ I did that the first time, and I wasn’t going to do that again.

So it was a big commitment for you to play again. You’re a wife and mother. Are you glad you did it?
Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I love Survivor. I really do. It’s been life changing for me, and it’s so much fun. And honestly, it’s fun for my family, too. It’s tough to be gone that long, but I have such an amazing support system to hold down the fort for me. I would play again until I won!

Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.