Sometimes, people play a good game of Survivor, but lose because of bad luck.
That happened in Survivor: Worlds Apart.
Carolyn “Mama C” Rivera certainly had the chops to win the show, but she ended up on a season where likable, athletic Mike Holloway went on an immunity run and was unable to be voted out.
Brash Bostonian Rodney Lavoie Jr. put together a successful alliance, but he also fell victim to Holloway’s immunity run. Sierra Dawn Thomas made it to the final five without making a single enemy on the jury. And Will Sims – who looked like a clear early boot – somehow stuck it out until day 39.
But in the end, Holloway walked away with the top prize, leaving the four other contestants to reflect on getting so close to the million dollars.
They talk with PEOPLE about their experiences below:
Sierra Dawn Thomas, 5th Place
It really felt like you played a quiet game.
I didn’t play a quiet game at all! I can be loud, annoying, opinionated. Just ask Rodney (laughs). You know, I do think I was a nice person out there, and that doesn’t always make good TV, so you didn’t see a lot of me.
Why do you think you were targeted at the Final 5?
I had played a social game; I didn’t have enemies on the jury. Besides that, I had been on Mike’s tail through every challenge. So they decided they couldn’t keep me around, because I think I could have made a case to win.
How did the show’s edit differ from what you experienced?
You know the show all focused on ugliness and sexism, and that’s not how I remember it at all. Yes, we’d get in arguments or screaming matches, but then we’d all go out to surf. You saw the worst moments, but not the best moments.
You did seem to enjoy the whole experience. If you got the call tomorrow to go back out again, would you?
I’d be on a plane yesterday with my bags packed! If they said the word, I’d drop everything and play it again!
Rodney Lavoie Jr., 4th Place
You got a villain edit. Was it justified?
They had heroes with Joe and Mike, so they had to have villains. I think I was more comic relief than anything. I was doing impersonations, drinking games without alcohol. I was having fun out there.
But you said some harsh things.
It’s like that commercial: When you’re hungry, you’re not yourself. I was just there to have fun, to play the game.
Well, most of the other cast members said you weren’t a mean guy.
I’m not. Sierra and I would dance or have rap battles. I’d make jokes, tell stories. And I liked the people out there.
You weren’t a student of the game before you played, but you actually did have some strategy.
Bro, I had a lot of strategy. After the merge, I put together an alliance of Tyler, Will, Mama C and myself. Three of us made the final four.
But then there was Mike.
I was gunning for him after the auction. I used his behavior in my strategy and it worked. But then he won five immunity challenges. He was playing inhuman Survivor. He outplayed us, and respect to him for doing that.
Will Sims II, Tied for 2nd Place
You surprised me by making the final three. Did you surprise yourself?
I knew I was going to go out there and just play the game, do my best. And I did. I got to play with a lot of amazing people, and I just did what I could do to make it far in the game.
RELATED VIDEO: Get a Tour of Jeff Probst’s ‘Spectacular’ Pad
At the final four immunity challenge, you had a moment as you put the immunity necklace around Mike’s neck – which really meant that he had won the game. What was going on there?
I was showing respect to a good player. That was why I did it. We were all exhausted. We hadn’t eaten in days. And we had a moment.
Was there any part of you that was sucking up to the immunity winner, so that he’d keep you around?
No, not really. Mike had played a great game and I wanted to respect him for it. That was my motive.
Now this came across as an ugly season, including the incident with you and Shirin. How are things now?
We’re a close-knit cast. You didn’t see the times we were singing and dancing. We really did like each other. In Survivor, you’re playing a game where you have to slit each other’s throats, and you’re hungry and tired and have your moments. But there were a lot of genuine moments, too. And we said what needed to be said [at the reunion].
On another note, how much weight did you lose?
I lost 35 lbs.! When my wife saw me, she said, “You’re still cute!”
Carolyn Rivera, Tied for 2nd Place
You’re 52. If you had won the game, you would have been the oldest female to ever win the show.
Don’t even remind me! I really wanted to be the oldest female contestant to win, and the second oldest contestant overall! I really wanted that record. But I do have a few records of my own. I think I was the contestant who found a hidden immunity idol earliest in the game without a clue. And I am pretty sure I was the contestant who held onto the immunity idol for the longest.
And you won a couple immunities.
I loved that. I loved playing and competing and winning immunities. Really, I loved everything about playing Survivor, but it doesn’t get better than winning immunities.
It’s too bad you can’t go back on Survivor for the second chance season.
I knew if I didn’t win this season, I wouldn’t be voted in to go back so soon. I couldn’t campaign like the other contestants because I was still on the show! That was frustrating.
Did you think you stood a chance of winning the season?
I knew that Mike had played well, and I didn’t know who was going to vote for who. I felt like I had played a strong game, and I could explain that. And then I left it in the jury’s hands. But I’m proud of the way I played Survivor.
So you didn’t win, but Mike did. Is he a worthy winner?
Oh, absolutely! He played a great game. Really, everybody was playing hard; we had a really aggressive group out there, and everyone gave it all they had!