Blindsides are one thing. Having your fate on Survivor decided by a single stone — that is another disaster entirely.
And that’s exactly what happened to Jessica Lewis when the 37-year-old New York state-based attorney found herself in the most untenable scenario any Survivor castaway can face at last week’s Millennials vs. Gen X, with several deadlocked votes forcing the competitors to randomly pick rocks out of a sack to determine who would stay and who would go.
Unfortunately for Lewis, she got the bum rock and saw her torch extinguished by host Jeff Probst after 30 days. Lewis spoke with PEOPLE about her cruel ouster, about how her biggest victory also put her at risk and about the four-legged friend she made after her game flame went out.
I think it’s fair to say you probably got about as raw a deal as one can get on Survivor.
It really was. But you know, I don’t regret the decision at all, I regret the rock that I picked, so that’s pretty much what it boils down to. I picked the first one then opened the bag, I should have moved over.
Last week’s episode really elevated this season to one of the most cutthroat, twisty Survivors yet. How was it to be in the throes of that level of competition?
It was madness. It was one of those situations where that tribal council was pure insanity, and I think it was a good example and representation of what the season had turned into. The game was elevated on a much different level than I ever thought it would be, and you really had to be aware of who’s talking to who, what conversations are being had, and there was a lot happening all at one time.
For me in particular, I was in a really tough spot moving forward if I had done anything differently — if I had flipped — just because I had already lost loyalty on the other side. They obviously wanted me to go home one week before, then knowing who was sitting in the jury and if I had flipped I would have potentially lost the loyalty of those people who had my back including David, who had saved me. So I was in such a [dilemma] at that moment with all of these thoughts planted in my head and I knew that if I flipped, as much as I didn’t want to go to rocks, I wouldn’t have won the game. That would have been a very big hurdle I don’t think I would have been able to get over.
What would you say would have been your biggest regret do-over from the game?
It’s hard because I don’t really have any regrets, but I wish that as far as the voting out Paul would have been better moving forward if we had come together and talked as a larger group. We had a lot of smaller discussions, and what ended up happening was, I was singled out and targeted for masterminding that particular vote.
On the flip side, what do you consider your biggest victory?
I lasted an hour and 42 minutes in that one challenge, I think that was pretty sweet. Even though I didn’t win, just knowing that I stood there for that long and what my body was feeling and what I was able to do mentally in that moment and just kind of push those things aside. I thought for sure I was getting voted out that night. I had heard my name. So I was fighting really hard to stay in the game and I think that’s what helped motivate me to stay there for so long despite how much it hurt.
Ironically, that challenge made you look like an even more formidable opponent in a way …
It’s one of those situations where, and I said it in one of my confessionals, you really are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,. I’m not the kind of person that’s going to go into a challenge and not try to give it my all. I’m really going to try to win and work my hardest, but then you don’t win and people see that you are strong and that you can potentially do well in these challenges, so it is really tough because in that particular challenge I thought I was getting voted out that night so I needed to win but then by not winning I still stood out. There are so many issues and intricacies to this game.
Moving ahead to your final tribal council, Chris said in his exit interview that he was actually jealous to be able not to be in that rock draw. From your perspective, obviously things did not go your way so it must have been nightmarish to be in that scenario where you’re not under the gun and suddenly you are — and you couldn’t have done anything to protect yourself from it because you had to make this very risky calculation.
Yeah, it really was, and it’s one of those situations where you have to think about so much in such a short amount of time. I really knew I wasn’t going to win the game if I flipped, and when you’re sitting there, you’re processing all this and you’re thinking about your options, and that’s the ultimate goal of Survivor — to win. And to do that, you have to be able to show yourself to the jury. And that’s why going to rocks really shows the jury that you’re here to win because you were willing to put your entire game in a very calculated risk because you were being firm and true to your alliance. You can’t be that one person that changed it because that’s going to shine a light on you, and you’re going to have to really justify that move if you make it to the final three.
It’s one of those situations where you walk into a tribal and you have kind of figured out what the votes are going to be, it’s different because you do have a chance to try and fight for yourself. When I found out they were voting for me, I knew, “Okay, now we have to go after Chris,” and so then you have a chance to try to maneuver it and figure it out, but when you’re picking rocks, you’re just picking rocks. There’s no discussion with the rocks, you’re just picking rocks. It’s a much different mindset when that’s happening.
Because of how your elimination went down, you don’t necessarily have any specific vendettas, but was there someone after your elimination that you would have like to have seen go next?
Obviously I had a very trying relationship with Sunday and Bret and Chris, but I think that if I had continued in the game, I certainly would have been continuing to focus on probably Bret and maybe Sunday down the road just because they would have been gunning for me. But I do think that Zeke, at that point, was really the biggest target that needed to go home because he was playing such a good strategic game and really manipulated people very well.
The perfect example is how he voted Chris out and then managed to win over Bret immediately after having turned his back on Bret’s closest alliance member. And then when David basically does the same thing, Bret is immediately angry and upset with David for targeting Zeke — when Zeke had just targeted Chris. Zeke had this wonderful ability to make people feel good about whatever he was doing to them and make them go, “Oh yeah, okay, that’s perfect for me! You just voted out my closest ally out here? I’m on your side.” And that’s a skill.
So the fact that David was sitting there pointing out to everyone that Zeke was running this game, I think people who were voting against Hannah should have listened to him because who are you winning against, between Hannah and Zeke, in the final three? Not to say that Hannah can’t win, but between Zeke and Hannah what are your options there? In that moment, Zeke was definitely one that needed to go.
There’s talk of David and Zeke, who were really pitted against each other in the last episode, but would you say Zeke is the most formidable opponent — or would he be a favorite of yours if that’s different?
I love David, and I love Zeke. Both of them are excellent Survivor players. They really are phenomenal, and they should both be commended for the game play that they showed. I think going against either of them in the final three would not have boded well for me because of the level of game play that they had. If you want to go to the end against the strongest players, those two are it.
On a lighter note, did things turn in your favor once you got to the ponderosa and got to have a nice shower and a good meal?
It’s interesting you mention showers because the water was cold for a very long while. [Laughs] I was so excited, and then the water was cold. But at least I got to use shampoo. The ponderosa was a great moment to decompress from the game. I almost feel for those people who made it to the end and didn’t get to do that.
The other favorite thing was this little dog Tyler. He showed up the first night that I got there, and he wouldn’t stop following me around. I actually named him. He ended up attaching himself to the producers who were out there, and he was like their little sidekick — wherever they went, there was Tyler. He was a sweet little dog.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.