On Wednesday’s season 33 premiere, which pitted two generations of tribes against each other, those born before 1983 were felled by a strategic blunder in a puzzle-based immunity challenge, leaving one tribe member wishing she’d been more of a goat so she hadn’t ended up being the season’s first scapegoat.
PEOPLE spoke with 37-year-old Gen-Xer Rachel Ako about the brand-new twist, the history-making evacuation due to a cyclone and how she felt about finding her flame snuffed first at tribal council.
First off, let’s talk about the “Millennials vs. Gen X” twist. When you first hear the concept, did you think it might benefit you, or were you worried it might work against you?
I was genuinely surprised about the Millennials vs. Gen X concept. I did not see that one coming. I was looking at the Millennial tribe and Zeke with his mustache, I’m like, “Really? He looks 45, what’s going on?” [Laughs] Looking at Ken, I was like, “He’s a Gen X?” There was just so much confusion. I was just looking for somewhere to hide at that point.
What were your immediate thoughts as you settled in? Who did you immediately size up as a threat and who seemed like a weak link?
Even being on the Gen X mat, I immediately saw myself as being on the outs. A lot of people in my tribe have kids and they’re married, and they just naturally migrated to each other. I knew I probably would have fared well with some younger people on my tribe because I don’t have kids, I’m single, so I was definitely different from Gen X.
When Jeff [Probst] was interviewing us, they were going back and forth on why Gen X sucks and why Millennials suck, and I was the only one who was like, “I feel like I’m going through an identity crisis. I appreciate what both generations bring to the table.” And then I was like, “Oops, target on my back.” [Laughs]
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Before the game even really got a chance to start, this cyclone swept through and everyone was evacuated – how scary was that?
It was very scary and there were many points where I thought I was going to die. There were guys in the tribe saying, “Someone’s going to die at some point on Survivor.” It was that scary. It was life-threatening to say the very least.
What did you do that night? How did the players get through being pulled away from the reason you were there in the first place?
When we evacuated, they brought us to a room, and I got excited – I thought it was going to be a normal room with maybe furniture and bed. I was like, “Maybe we get a break?” And then we go into the room, and it’s gutted. We’re sleeping on a concrete floor with no pillows, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’d rather almost die outside in Fiji.”
Once you got back into the game, the immunity challenge was a turning point both for your tribute and for you personally. Do you think you got a fair shake in terms of your performance in the puzzle and how that impacted the tribal council vote?
There wasn’t anyone stepping up but David. However, I wish I wouldn’t have stepped up and had flown more under the radar and been more of a goat who just let someone else do it. That might have been a better way to go out because it was just another thing to justify why I should go.
It’s an interesting thing because we saw David sticking out for negative reasons in the first couple of days, but his name was barely called at the tribal council. What was going through your head as you kept hearing your name called?
My tribe was attempting to blindside me, but I saw it coming, I knew I was going home. I didn’t think it was going to be David at all. In fact, I was like, “Is David putting on a show right now?” … They edited it, but I called David out. I was like, “I think you have an idol.” Because he was running around looking for it with this s—-eating grin on his face. I was attempting to call him out, but I was going to go home anyway.
You have the unique experience as the first person out in that you then have to spend a lot of time in the Ponderosa – how did you fill it?
I am a big reader, I did bring a lot of books, journals. I meditated. I had this goal where I wanted to be able to go travel for a few months and not have to worry about work – I just didn’t think it would come in that sort of purgatory. [Laughs] I said to myself: “Be careful, Rachel, what you wish for because you might just get it and you got it. You wanted to travel to a nice exotic place and not have to worry about work, and it just came in the form of Survivor.” … [So I tried to] take it all in and look for the positivity and the gratitude in it.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.